Throughout his rise to superstardom, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has called his relationship with Wayde "Rocky" Bowles "incredibly complicated," even if his father was a regular childhood presence. Lisa Purves told Sports Illustrated that she was 18 when she first contacted her father for the first time, and he hung up. Rocky hung up on her several years after she tried again. She asked other wrestlers over the years to speak to him on her behalf, but nothing happened.
"I was really embarrassed that my father didn't want me," Lisa said. In 2017, Lisa, now 53, decided to make a documentary about children whose parents knowingly separated from them but could not find any subjects willing to talk. A friend then suggested she make the film about herself.
"I started doing research on what happens when you abandon a child, how it affects their life," she said. "And I'm like: This is exactly me. Problems with self esteem… . All the s– that it lists is me."
Wayde Bowles began wrestling in his 20s, training in Ontario and rings across Canada, performing under the name Rocky Johnson. Rocky toured North America for 15 years, winning dozens of singles and tag titles along the way, culminating in the first Black WWE tag team title he won with Tony Atlas.
Una Sparks was Rocky's first wife whom he married in 1966. Together they had two children, Wanda (born in December 1962) and Curtis (born May 1965). After the demands of pro wrestling strained the marriage, Sparks asked Rocky to remain in Toronto but decided to live on the road as a wrestler. When the couple divorced in 1978, they had been apart for many years.
Having officially changed his name, Rocky Johnson married again to Ata Maivia that year. Rocky and Maivia already had one child, born May 2, 1972. Dwayne Douglas Johnson, who would one day become famous as The Rock.
Lisa Purves was born Oct. 26, 1968, in Vancouver. According to her mother, Vera, she met Rocky through a mutual friend, and they moved in together soon after their first date.
Lisa says Rocky traveled to a wrestling show when Vera was four months pregnant. He told Vera he would be back, adding "P.S. : I still love you" at the bottom. The last time he called her was the night before his daughter was born, and he signed the letter "The Rock." Shortly afterward, she discovered that Rocky was already married with children.
"She always thought he would come back," Lisa said. "When I was old enough to understand, she started telling me some bits and pieces."
58-year-old Paula Parsons' mother, Thelma, met Rocky in Toronto when she was 19; they dated for two years. Thelma gave birth to Paula in May 1964, a year and a half after Una Sparks gave birth to Wanda. That year, Thelma dropped Paula off with her parents, who raised her.
Eventually, Paula learned who her father was from her mother. Rocky called her twice: once when she was relatively young and once when she was 16. "Promises after promises," she recounted. "I'm going to come see you. I'm gonna do this; I'm gonna do that. You get your hopes up that he's going to come. I'm finally going to meet my dad. And nothing comes of it."
"You cry," she said. "Then you say: What did I do that he doesn't want anything to do with [me]?" In 1967, Rocky Johnson's fourth child, Trevor Edwards, was born in Montreal. His mother, Doreen, raised him alone.
People used to tell Trevor he looked like a rising star when Dwayne Johnson first appeared on the wrestling scene around 2000. His mother (who died in 2015) was never forthright about his father, but he knew that she was an avid wrestling fan, and Rocky wrestled around the time he was born in St. Catharines.
After Trevor married, he settled in Toronto, near the home of Rocky's younger brother by eight years, Jay, who adopted the wrestling name Ricky Johnson long ago. Rocky and Ricky once tag-teamed in Hawai'i's NWA Polynesian Pacific promotion, but they weren't particularly close.
In June 2017, Trevor, now 55, discovered Ricky's residence via Facebook. He buzzed the apartment and left a message explaining their connection. Ricky called back, inviting Trevor Trevor to visit, and noticed Trevor's mannerisms and walk.
They ran a DNA test the following day, which eventually matched the nephew and uncle. Rocky's son Adrian Bowles has spoken out the most about growing up without a dad. "For a long time I was burdened by the weight of my own sadness, and I became angry," he says. "That was the fuel. I thought of my father every day of my life. Standing in a mirror, looking into my eyes, having a conversation with myself about why [he left]."
Adrian was born to Carolyn Bowles on April 24, 1970, in Truro, Nova Scotia, and she raised him on her own. Having grown up near the poverty line, he had a difficult upbringing.
Adrian said he learned about his father's identity when he was around 10 years old. "My mom, she can't even tell the story; she starts to cry." Rocky called Adrian for the first and last time when he was 40, in 2010.
"It was a good conversation," Adrian said. "A little gratifying, I suppose—but a little late. It kind of stirred things up inside."
Aaron Fowler was born June 17, 1970, in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Fowler recalled that his mom told him about his real father when he was about 15, but that was the last time she told him about him.
In his early 30s, when he shaved his head for the first time, his coworkers said, "Oh, you look like The Rock!" After he talked to his wife about taking a DNA test in 2020, she encouraged him to do so. Ancestry.com returned the results two months after Rocky died of a heart attack at 75 years old. In addition to Adrian Bowles, Aaron tracked down Lisa Purves online as a half-sibling match.
As The Rock's half-siblings explained to Sports Illustrated, this is not the story of their wrestler-turned-celeb half-brother. They know Dwayne has nothing to do with their hurt. "Dwayne doesn't owe us anything," said Lisa."We just want to be recognized," said Paula. "We sat on the back burner forever. [Rocky] was our dad just as well as Dwayne's."
Over the weekend of a family reunion in Toronto in 2018, Lisa arranged for her newly discovered relatives to share a six-bedroom Airbnb. A camera crew was on hand to capture the moment. In looking back on the event, Paula called it "the greatest moment of my life." Lisa described it as "a healing weekend."
During that get-together, Lisa arranged for more DNA tests, and the results confirmed that they were all Rocky's children. However, Lisa believes that their father had even more children. "I'm still searching," she said.0comments
Just Call Me Lisa is the tentative title of her film, which is still in production. While she has suffered personal attacks over the project, Lisa wants others to know, "I'm [talking about this] now because I have been silent my whole life about what hurts me the most. It's time to finally have my voice heard, so I can be free of my painful past."
Lisa expressed hope that other people would be able to heal by listening to her story and the stories of her siblings. "There are millions of other kids just like me," she says, "and I want to [tell] people: Face your shame. If one person heals from watching this documentary, then putting my pain in public is worth it."