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When John Lennon was gunned down outside of his New York City home on Dec. 8, 1980, he was only 40 years old but had already left an indelible impression on generations that internalized his messages of peace and togetherness, and of love and unity.
Still, the loss was immense.
My dad, Roop, turned 30 years old only one day before Lennon died. New York and the United States were still relatively new to the Indian immigrant.
When my father arrived at the borough of Queens in the summer of 1976, Lennon had just been granted his green card, after having been threatened with deportation following his arrival in the city five years earlier on a visa.
Although Lennon was revered by many, he also was viewed as a radical and disliked by others, including President Richard Nixon's administration. It also didn’t help that he was married to Yoko Ono, a Japanese immigrant who was an accomplished artist and outspoken about human rights. Ono was granted permanent residency in 1973.
Beatles' trip to India fascinated my father
In his youth, my dad cared more about music and sports than he did politics. Aside from playing cricket and listening to Hindi songs, rock ’n’ roll and The Beatles dominated his life in India. In 1968, when the band visited his homeland for a Transcendental Meditation retreat, 18-year-old Roop was overjoyed about their visit, reading about their whereabouts in the local papers.
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Two years later, when Michael Wadleigh’s "Woodstock" documentary screened in Mumbai’s movie houses, Roop became entranced by Jimi Hendrix and the idea of blue jeans as a fashion statement. Seeing images of Lennon in denim throughout the ‘70s only furthered his desire. When he finally made it to the United States in 1976, his first paycheck would go to buy his first pair of jeans.
In 1979, only weeks before meeting my dad, my mom, Loretta, spotted Lennon and Ono in Midtown Manhattan on her lunch break from her secretarial job. She was dumbfounded by how casually they were strolling along the sidewalk, no bodyguards, and that she suddenly found herself walking behind them. But before she could muster up the courage to approach them, a crowd began to form. Within seconds, the couple ducked into a store and out of my mother’s sight forever.
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Lennon and Ono's union was prevalent in my parents’ minds when they first met. The power couple projected an idea of strength over adversity as well as helping to normalize an interracial relationship.
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Loretta was already the product of a mixed marriage, after her Puerto Rican mother married her Italian American father in 1957, and her ambition to see and understand other cultures only increased as she got older.
She used her savings from her secretary job at a travel agency to take discounted international trips. Before she met Roop, she had already visited India.
When the two finally met on a blind date, her knowledge of his homeland was as impressive as her passion for The Beatles. She had grown up idolizing the Fab Four, and when she found out John and Yoko had moved to Manhattan in 1971, they represented a world of possibilities beyond her neighborhood.
My parents married in January 1981, only weeks after Lennon’s death, holding ceremonies at both a Catholic church and a Hindu temple in Queens. In their own small way, Roop and Loretta wandered down a path already cleared for them by John and Yoko, as well as their parents who were open-minded enough not to resist change, even if there was some discomfort.
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Though their union was not a success, my mom and dad never stopped their love for The Beatles. The band was seldom mentioned during my childhood but signs existed. In the mid-1990s, on a visit back to see his family in India, my father met Sir Paul McCartney at an airport in Mumbai and even shook his hand. He called collect to tell us. It was a thrilling moment in our family.
And when my older brother, Ravi, married Sara in 2021, he let Mom choose the song for their mother-son dance. She selected “In My Life.” Primarily written by Lennon, it was the first song to largely reflect his own life.
While Mom and her first son swayed slowly together, Dad and I both wept at our chairs as we looked on.
On Nov. 2 of this year, the final Beatles song “Now and Then” was released, using Lennon’s vocals lifted from his 1977 demo with the help of machine learning. I played the track for my mom and dad separately. With each encounter, few words were spoken but tears were shed as John’s voice pulsated from the speaker, like a ghost from the past, and a reminder of who they once were.
Each time I play it on my own, I can see my parents’ plight much clearer, and I can only imagine how beautiful and painful it all was.
Raj Tawney is an essayist and journalist whose work largely reflects his New York-area upbringing and multiracial identity. His memoir, "Colorful Palate: A Flavorful Journey Through a Mixed American Experience," was released on Oct. 3. Find him at rajtawney.com
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How John Lennon and Yoko Ono became a model for my parents' marriage