I don’t have any childhood memories of my father when he was sober. The most vivid ones are those of him arguing or being physically violent towards my mother. I never liked hearing or seeing him like that and I felt it was my duty to try and protect my mother. This led to several trips to the hospital for me, as it was never going to be an even match. I was effortlessly thrown out of the way, but often that spared my mother from further harm. He was only able to control himself when he could see it was upsetting his children. I guess it was partly for that reason I didn’t grow to hate him. I am his son, first and foremost!
I grew up wondering how my mother could have wanted to be married to a mean drunk. I got tired of receiving battle scars from being thrown against walls or whipped with his belt, but I as a persistent little tyke and kept on defending my mom. When the divorce came through, I was very happy that my mom wouldn’t have to endure any more of his temper.
Those of us that were not yet 18, had to sit through visitation with him. This often consisted of him driving to pick us up, stopping by a liquor store so he could buy 12 cans of Iron City or Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, going to his apartment, watching him drink and tell us all the things he planned to do (none of them were nice), and going back home in a car with a drunk behind the wheel. That he was able to maintain control the car and didn’t have an accident was amazing.
He stopped drinking about 8 years before he passed on to the next life. In that time, my children were able to see a man that I never knew. He was kind and loved having children around. He relished telling them stories of how great a father he had been to his kids. I never tried to correct him with the awful truth I knew, as I wanted them to have a grandfather that reminded me of my own grandfather. The picture he painted was a myth as far as I knew, but it was of a man, my mother could have loved.
He hasn’t been among the living for over 23 years now. I recently got to read some letters he had written many years ago before I was born. It gave me an insight I needed. They were written at the worst of times, during World War II, and they depicted a man doing his best to keep those he loved the most less worried about him.
His depiction of his situation was always up beat and never hinted at what he was doing. The only way I knew of what he was up to, was by looking at where he was on the timeline of the letters and knowing history very well. He was on the front lines of some horrific battles. Yet he never revealed anything that would have hinted at that. He earned his Corporal and Sergeant stripes on the field, but never said anything about that (the envelopes revealed the change in rank and in less than a month he went from being a private to being a Sergeant based on letters 2 weeks apart). The way I could tell when he moved to the front lines was a simple deduction, he griped that all the packages from home went to the front line troops first. Later on, he said the packages were coming in fast and were well received.
I only learned from my uncles that served in the same theater as him, of what my father was doing during the war. My father never talked of such things. When I asked him, all I could get was that he would wished he had never seen or did the things he had to do and hoped no one else would have to experience those things.
I write this on my father’s birthday. He was a man I feared as a child, but now, as an adult, I can honestly say I truly am glad to be his son! Thank you for your service, Sergeant Richard G. Henne!