Long before I met Carol and her three daughters, I had another, very precious family. Pamela, my oldest, was born in Chile in 1976. We lived down there as missionaries for five years. Pam was the darling of the locals: cute, blonde, vivacious, and full of hugs and kisses. She was a textbook baby and toddler. She was a joy, and the kind of child that would encourage you to have six more. Jessica was also born in Chile in 1979. She was a loving challenge. The textbooks didn’t cover her temperament. She was strong willed, loud and determined. After having Pam, we wondered if someone had switched babies in the hospital. “Jessica, can I help you with that?” “No! I want to do it myself!” “Okay. Well, can I help you do it by yourself?” Long pause. “Okay.” Darlene was born in Tacoma in 1982 after we moved back to the States from Chile. She was a textbook child similar to Pam. She was pleasant and happy. Sadly, she developed Type 1 diabetes by the time she was only 2-1/2. She has lived under the shadow of that disease since then.
Their mother, Bente, was from Denmark, and after we separated, she moved back there with the kids. It was tough emotionally to have them so far away. My personal and spiritual life was a mess. Though I had a job, I struggled financially. In Denmark, the State would provide support to Bente while the kids were in school. That, together with child support, would allow them to live comfortably without her having to work. Plus, unlike in the States, Bente had a support network of family and friends in Denmark. Though hard, looking back, it seems like it was the best move for her and my daughters.
With 5,000 miles separating us, it would have been very easy to just lose contact with them. This was the 1980’s. There was no email, internet, cell phones or texting. It was snail mail and land line telephones. Thankfully, Bente was very good about allowing me time with the girls, even encouraging them to talk to me. I will always be grateful to her for that. She has been very generous and kind. We scheduled phone calls. The kids were bored with that. I recorded songs and stories on cassette tapes. I would sing a song on tape. They would learn it the way I sang it to them. Later they would be embarrassed because I used the wrong words. One of my fondest memories was talking on the phone to Darlene when she was small. Somehow, she connected with the song, “Daisy” from the Gay Nineties. I would sing that to her over and over, and she didn’t seem to tire of it. I learned later that they not only listened to the tapes I sent, but also memorized most of the songs.
Visits were expensive. I would try to see them once or twice a year. Sometimes I would fly over there. Sometimes they would come over here. It was never easy for either of us. It meant changes in time (nine hours), routine, food, activities and friends. I was often guilty of being a Disneyland dad: trying to cram a year’s worth of fellowship into one or two weeks. Sometimes the girls pushed back, but mostly they indulged me. I am so grateful that they didn’t give up on me.
Fast forward thirty-some years, and happily, I still have a relationship with all of them. Pamela is married to Kenneth and lives near Copenhagen. Jessica is married to Ray and lives in Tacoma. She is an up and coming country western star. Darlene is married to Lars and lives just south of Copenhagen. She has successfully managed her diabetes and has three beautiful children: Ingrid (13), Agnete (10), and Norman (8). On our last trip to Denmark, we spent a week in a vacation home in the country with all of our Danish family. The grandkids have learned a lot of English, and we were able to communicate with them far more than we ever have before. We discovered that we all like ice cream, movies and Legos. It was a wonderful time of bonding.
As I look back, I am painfully aware of things that I could have done differently or better. I see the mistakes I’ve made, and the hurt I’ve caused. I am sad that I wasn’t a better husband, father and grandfather. And yet, amazingly, I have two families that are blending together, that tolerate me, spend time with me and care for me. I am blessed, and do not deserve it. But will accept it nonetheless.
All your sons will be taught of the Lord; And the well-being of your sons will be great. (Isaiah 54:13)