TORONTO — A few strands of hair is about all that stands between John George Dryden and proving whether former prime minister John George Diefenbaker, always assumed to have been childless, was his father.
Yet coming by hair or other genetic material that would finally determine if he was a “Diefenbaby” is proving elusive for Dryden, 42, who is still coming to terms with having lived a lifelong lie about his origins.
“Right now, I’m basically lost,” Dryden told The Canadian Press.
“My main goal is to find out who I am and who my father is (but) I think I’m a Diefenbaker.”
Dryden, of Toronto, certainly bears a striking resemblance to “The Chief,” who died in August 1979.
“In some pictures, it’s like looking in a mirror,” says Dryden, who goes by George.
“Even the way that I talk sometimes.”
One thing is certain: A DNA test in June proved the man he had always assumed to be his father — once prominent lawyer and federal Liberal Gordon Dryden — is not a biological relative.
The paternity matter would likely have sparked little interest outside small circles had it not been for a long-standing and ugly squabble that prompted Dryden to sue his family for $30 million late last year.
Among other things, the suit alleges Gordon Dryden “emotionally abused” him during his childhood and later disinherited him.
The allegations have not been proven and Gordon Dryden has not yet filed a statement of defence.
It was during legal work for the lawsuit last fall that a cousin “dropped a bomb,” says Dryden’s lawyer Stephen Edell.
The cousin said it had always been a quiet family rumour that Dryden’s mother, Mary Lou Dryden, may have had an affair with Diefenbaker and that led to his conception.
Dryden says he was shocked when the DNA test confirmed Gordon Dryden was not his dad.
“For somebody who knows who their father is, it seems kind of strange; but I went for 42 years thinking I was a Dryden, and I just found out…that I’m not.”
He approached his ailing mother in hopes of learning the truth.
A staunch conservative and known confidante of Canada’s 13th prime minister, Mary Lou was “very Marilyn Monroe-ish” in her day, Dryden says.
She did admit, he says, to having seen Diefenbaker privately around the time he was conceived in late 1967 or early 1968 — a few months after marrying Gordon Dryden.
The former PM would have been 72 at the time. She would have been in her mid-30s.
She also told him his father’s name was John.
Dryden has not been able to follow up because he no longer knows where his mother is. He believes her husband is keeping her away from him.
Either way, only DNA testing can show if Dryden is Diefenbaker’s son or if he needs to keep searching for his long lost father.
Because none of the former prime minister’s relatives would co-operate, Dryden turned to the Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the University of Saskatchewan looking for artifacts for DNA testing.
It would only take, for example, a few strands from a hairbrush.
On Friday, much to Dryden’s disappointment, the centre said an extensive review had turned up nothing useful for DNA testing.
“If we had found a treasure trove of Mr. Diefenbaker’s DNA, then we would have shared it,” centre director Michael Atkinson said in an interview.
If a link was proven, Atkinson said, it would force a historical rethink of the man who was Conservative prime minister from 1959 to 1963.
“Historians would have to really sit back and ask themselves if the Diefenbaker that they knew and they understood — the personal passionate politician and the personal passionate individual husband — was really all there was to Mr. Diefenbaker,” said Atkinson.
Dryden stressed he has no interest in taking action against Diefenbaker’s family or estate.
The money sought from the Drydens, in addition to damages, is what he figures his share of the family wealth would be, he said.
While nailing down Dryden’s paternity might be of some help to the lawsuit, Edell said its effect on the “terrible human-interest tragedy” would be less tangible.
“It would certainly help, in his mind, exorcise a lot of demons of his past,” Edell said.
“This revelation that, after all this hell, he might actually be the son of somebody as significant and as praiseworthy as the prime minister of Canada…is medicine for a tortured soul.”
Edell called again on the museum to let the DNA testing company decide what might be of value.
Gordon Dryden, now in his mid-80s, refused to discuss the matter.
“I’m not going to comment on this,” he said from his Toronto home. “You’ll understand why.”