Saturday October 4, 2014 – an evening full of festivities that ranged from St Martin Lutheran Church’s 8th Annual Germanfest to Paradise Fall’s fall bonfire. As I look back, all I can think is that the last thing I offered my dad in conversation was that life can sometimes be tough, but the tough doesn’t last long, all you have to do is hold your breath and keep family close, and eventually it is all okay. It was an odd goodbye but it definitely stirred some uneasy feelings in the pit of my stomach. I struggled with the next week and decided to write When Life Hands You Lemons post in order to try to stay focused.
Monday October 13 – official email from my dad – Please Read I love you
I read. And now, everything is different.
My new reality…
My dad is divorcing my mom. He is choosing another woman, Linda, from Church over his family. He is the church president and she is his secretary. He has moved out of the Henke home and into her home. He left. He is excited for his new life and hopes I understand. He loves me…I think.
My closest friends wonder if I’m angry or what I’m feeling. For those of you who have wondered, what the heck is up with Sarah? This might be new to you and I promise to be better from now on. I needed time to bind with my husband, my family and to process our new reality. Honestly, I have feelings of practicality…it is what it is, choices are made, those choices had nothing to do with me, they were his to make, we are all adults. I am all reactionary at this time. But I do have feelings. Sometimes they are overwhelming other times stoic. I just know that I view my dad in a completely different way and I can never unsee the new man who stands in his place. I miss my dad.
I’m sad. I am mourning the future that I thought I was going to have by moving back to Kansas. I’m mourning my dad. I know he isn’t dead, but everything is different. I’m sad because I know he did not choose the family he created. He chose to walk away at age sixty-nine from a life he built. This choice is baffling to me…obviously I think we are awesome and cannot comprehend why anyone would chose to leave. I’m sad because I see my dad as a shadow of a dead man. Sure, he is still my dad and I will always be his daughter. But everything is different. He is no longer the strong vibrant warrior that has fearlessly protected his family and name. He is no longer the man that God chose to be our leader, courageous, and strongly driven. He no longer loves his wife extravagantly more than anything on earth. Maybe he never did. He is just a man who walks into another man’s home bought for a wife and makes himself comfortable. He can buy all new furniture for that house. Put up new shutters and paint the walls…but it will still never be his house. He did not create that home, no matter how comfortable he is there, it’s not of his creation. The odd thing, from my perspective, is that he was not chosen by his mistress. He pursued a woman as she was becoming a widow. The love of her life died, her husband suffocated in his own blanket or pillow or something, not quite sure on the full story but…I couldn’t even imagine the guilt that must have on a caretaker of the bedridden. But maybe she was distracted with my dad as he inched his way in. Ultimately, I am not sure she would have scampered off to start a life with my dad if her husband was healthy and living, and so from my relative reality, my dad fills a void, a need…an emptiness which resided in her heart.
I get it. I understand the need for a moment of clarity, to find yourself when life starts to move too fast, to remember what is important. I know what it feels like to want to run…but run laps, return home, don’t’ talk to strangers. Leaving is like a heavy coat on a hot day removed. It is freeing, exhilarating, refreshing. Who doesn’t want to just leave the tough stuff behind?!? But we leave the tough stuff behind together and we pick up the pieces that matter most and starting rebuilding. Leave the tough stuff behind selfishly and someone has to pick it up, someone has to deal with it, someone has to be responsible. As an adult child going through a parental divorce things are just different. There is an understanding of personal choices, needs, and decisions. As adults we have a bigger view of what it takes to be a good adult, to have successful marriages, and the meaning of family and friends. We have a true sense of what we would do, what we have done, and what could happen in the future. We can relate to the need for momentary flight, the fear of life, and the excitement of starting something new. I have no anger for his actions as they are of his own. Choices are made every day and it’s the way we all react to them that demonstrates our character. I am just going through my own anger for trying so hard to be perfect for him. For trying so hard to win my dad over and working so hard to right all the mistakes a normal child and young adult makes. It was truly wasted effort. He still left.
I’m disappointed. I realized his reality was not that which is shared by my mom, sister or I…his reality was falsely created in his own warped mind and perpetuated in the commiseration of his friends. What he thought was real was misinterpretation due to a confined perspective. He left without communicating to anyone that truly mattered…his family. My reality is my own. I hope that my reality is shared by those I love because I include them every moment of my day. We talk every day. We worked through tough decisions and sadness together. We are never alone. We find purpose and strength in sharing our lives with those we love. Now that I know, I was not loved reciprocally by my dad, I understand why he shared so much with his friends and mistress. He actually loved them truly where we were just there. I’m sure there is an emotion that he holds for us…but it may not be the same emotion I know as love.
I’m thankful. I have lived a great life with a great family. We had all the quirks most families do and my sister and I we were raised with love and devotion. I will forever be a Henke. I have memories that only a Henke has and they are my own. My dad was the first man I ever loved. He was my hero. He loved me the best he could. The only thing I ever wanted to do was to make him happy and proud because I was so incredibly happy and proud to be Vic Henke’s daughter. I am his. I am blessed he was saved in Vietnam to come home. I’m humbled for his past life he left behind to find my mom. I am strong today because of 32 years within one family. I am thankful for the time I have had selfishly with my dad. I am thankful that I had one family for 32 years and that I did not have to share. My half-sister never knew Vic, my dad took no responsibility outside of court ordered requirements he fulfilled. She was a secret he never spoke of or acknowledged. There is EXTREME guilt in that statement of selfish happiness as I know she and her mom must have suffered immensely so I could have one family.
I’m honored. My dad held his breath. He chose us for the best parts of his life. He held his breath long enough for me to have him at every important moment to date as one family. I love knowing he was by my side. I love looking back at the pictures. I love looking back at the smiles. I love closing my eyes and remembering everything about those moments of happiness. And if he was suffering through life, I’m glad he suffered long enough to give me those moments. They were pure happiness to me. That happiness can never be taken away.
I’m hopeful. With the years remaining in an old dad’s life, I hope that he can finally find peace in his choices, take responsibility because he made them. I hope that he can be thankful with a happiness that overflows with his new family with new step-children and step-grandchildren. I was sad to say goodbye. I’m still sad that everything is forever different. Looking back on that October night, I knew I should have challenged him on that…but my regrets are in the past and the outcome would remain the same. I must move forward with hope and my family. I owe it to them to be the best wife, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, co-worker, and stranger than I can be. The world deserves my best. I will always be his daughter; he will always be my dad. But everything is different.