I missed not having a dad in my life.

My mom never talked about him. All I knew was that his name was Henk and that my mom and Henk divorced after I turned two.

In school, I dreaded the question teachers and kids asked, “What does your dad
do?”

With a crushed heart, I would reply, “I don’t have a dad.”

As a child, I did not know how to share the pain of not having a dad or who to share it with. I struggled with my identity and with the question of why I was one of the few children without a dad in his life. Mostly, I really, really missed my dad.

The middle and high school years were extremely difficult because I had no dad to guide me into manhood. I questioned my existence, struggled with self-esteem and had a hard time trusting people. My rage and anger at Henk for robbing me of life without a dad also grew.

Why did he leave? How could he leave? If he is still alive, why didn’t he come back?

By the time I graduated high school, the pain dwindled into acceptance but never disappeared. Although I surrendered to the reality I would never meet my dad, I hung on to a glimmer of hope for a reunion with him. If it did happen, I wondered how I would react.

In 1983, twenty-six years after my parent’s divorced, fate gave me an opportunity to answer my question. It began with a phone call from my brother.

My brother told me about how he had introduced himself to a man while on a visit to San Francisco. The gentleman said he knew another man with the last name Hilling. That man turned out to be our dad’s brother, Theo. My brother got his number and I
called Theo who put me in contact with my dad, who was living in Brazil!

My reunion with Henk began with a letter, followed by a phone call and eventually a flight to Brazil.

At the time I owned a business. I closed it and committed to spend time with Henk and his new family for six months. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I did not want to pass it up even if it meant losing my business.

Father and child reunions after so many years are rare. When it does occur, it is difficult for father and child to bury the hatchet and renew their relationship. I decided to let bygones be bygones and gave Henk a clean slate. No animosity. No judgment. No assumptions. No expectations. No drama.

During the first five months there weren’t many opportunities for a one-on-one chat with Henk. who had a full-time job and family responsibilities.

Much of my time was spent bonding with Henk’s wife, Claudette, and children Heady, Dewi and Anna Lisa. In addition to the good fortune of my reunion with Henk, his new family embraced me with open arms. Claudette treated me like her biological son
and Henk’s daughters treated me like their biological big brother. I felt so lucky to have finally become part of a real family.

My time with Henk and his family proved to be more than just a reunion of father and son. As I observed Henk’s mannerisms and interaction with his family, I began to develop a greater understanding of who I was. I recognized qualities, characteristics, and personality traits as well as shortcomings Henk and I had in common. My time with Henk and his family turned out to be very therapeutic.

One of Henk’s traits that impressed me was his pride. Henk took great pride in every aspect of his role as a loving, passionate, dedicated, involved husband and father. There was no doubt that Henk loved his family. He demonstrated it every day with public displays of affection.

Henk also took great pride in his job as draftsman for one of Brazil’s largest energy companies. On my lunch visits to his office, I met many co-workers who shared their respect and admiration for Henk.

I felt proud to call him my dad.

Henk’s pride for his work is what led to the defining moment of our reunion. He invited me to visit one of the power plants he helped design, which was located in the middle of the Brazilian jungle. During the drive, we had alone time to share more of our personal stories of life without each other.

Three hours into the drive, Henk pulled to the side of the two-lane road near a creek surrounded by miles of banana trees. He turned off the engine and finally shared his side of the story.

“After your mother asked for the divorce, we went our separate ways. I stayed in Brazil and she moved to the Netherlands with you and your brother. I was devastated. I tried many times to contact you through letters but I never received a reply. I lost track of time and didn’t know your whereabouts. Sometimes I feel I didn’t try hard enough to find you and your brother. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there for you. I hope you will forgive me.”

As I listened to the pain in Henk’s voice, the many why’s I had asked about Henk no longer mattered. While I wallowed in my pain of life without a father, I never thought about the agony of my dad’s life without a son. I realized Henk had missed me more than I had missed him.

“Dad, I accept your apology but it is unnecessary. I’m so grateful we met and I love you!” I told him.

Later that day I made a pact with myself. If I ever became a dad, I would do whatever it took to be a hands-on, involved dad for two reasons. One reason was an unselfish one. I would not want my children to experience the life I had without a father.
The second was a selfish one. I would never want to experience the emotional pain Henk endured in a life without all of his children.

Today, I am proud to have fulfilled my pact as a father to three boys, who are now adults.

Henk passed away in 1995. Although my relationship with him only lasted twelve years, I have many fond father/son memories I still cherish today.

But I still miss him.

from Dads Behaving DADLY 2: 72 Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern
Fatherhood Copyright © 2015 Motivational Press. Reprinted with
permission. Edited from original.