BUTCH, MY SON WHO NEVER WAS
– Reconnecting with the foster son after 44 years –
He phoned me out of blue in one Fall evening in 2011. I hadn’t seen him nor heard from him for 44 years. He asked, “Are you Tad who had a foster-son in Vancouver? You called him Butchie, didn’t you. It’s me, Henry.” How did he find me! Yes, we had him, a foster child, for nearly five years in a house on 14th Avenue East in front of the lovely Clarke Park, between Commercial and Clarke. He and our daughter, Evelyn, grew up like brother and sister. Evelyn was born when Butch was two years old. We could watch them playing in the park between holly trees on the grass from the front window. About ten years ago, Evelyn found him on the internet and had a few exchange of email. But he stopped, according to Evelyn.
I don’t remember why we called him “Butch” while his real name was Heinrich Haruo Lichtwer. Now he calls himself Henry. He came to us, my ex-wife Chieko and me, when he was 18 months old. His father, Gary, came and left him with us with one suitcase of clothes. His mother Suzie left father and son for another man or, maybe in retrospect, could have been kicked out. Gary was working as a lumberjack on the Vancouver Island and had no way of looking after the boy alone. That must have been in 1962 or thereabout. We took care of him until he was 6 years old and loved him as though he was our real son. We started to talk about adoption, if Gary’s personal situation was unchanged a little bit longer. We were devastated when Butch went away. Gary found another person and got married. Of course, we had no choice but let him go back to live with his birth-father.
After he left us, he came to visit us on the way home from school a few times. He inspected every corner of the house, helped himself to snack, and kept asking, “How come I don’t live here any more.” One day he stayed until it was almost dark. So I drove him to his new home. But he stopped me a few doors away from home and wanted to get out. It was obvious he didn’t want to be seen with me, coming home in my car. Gary came one day after that and told us sternly to send Butch home immediately if he came again, which he never did.
Gary and Suzy were introduced to us by Kathleen Greenbank, who had been a long time missionary in Japan working as Principal at Yamanashi Eiwa Girl’s School in Kofu, a couple hours train ride North of Tokyo. She wanted us to help them making friends in Canada. Gary was a German immigrant who met Suzy in Japan when he went there for holiday. He worked in the interior B.C. at various lumber camps and often left Suzy alone. She didn’t have any friend in Canada.
During those days, I had a thriving group of Japanese speaking young people at the church who recently came back to Canada. Suzy fit right in. She made many friends among the Kika-Nisei (Returned Nisei Canadians.) They were the peculiar group of Canadian born young people who were shipped to Japan immediately after the war from internment camps with their parents. The scheme was called “Repatriation.” They grew up in Japan. The went to school in Japan and spoke only Japanese. They needed to get together for support each other in the still hostile atmosphere of Canada. They did not fit into the group of Canadian born and bred young people – called Nisei, because they spoke English only and were Canadians in all intents and purposes, while Kika-Nisei were more Japanese than Canadian.
When the WW II ended, the Canadian government devised a scheme to send the Japanese Canadians, who had been living in the appalling conditions of the internment camps in the interior British Columbia, to Japan. It was called “Repatriation” but designation was a misnomer. Many of them were Canadia born Canadians, and Japan was a foreign country for them. The government offered internees two options: going to the Eastern Canada to resettle on their own expense, or going to Japan on Canadian government expense. A majority chose to go to Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg. But many others really didn’t have much of a choice financially, considering the appalling treatment they received and the hostile environment in Canada. About three thousand were shipped to the war devastated and starving Japan before it was stopped by the Senate which repealed the law. During the late 1950’s, they were allowed to come back to Canada. Many young people, though they were Canadians, didn’t have English language because there was no English language schools in Japan when they were growing up.
Suzy learned to drive from Kika-Nisei friends and went to a trade school to become a hair-dresser. Now she had her own money and friends, she began to have her own life in Canada. That in the mean time was the cause of friction between her and Gary. In 1962, they had Henry. They moved to Vancouver Island soon after. I had no idea what happened there.
When Butch arrived, we had no child of our own. We had not idea how to change diapers when the need to do so was urgent and obvious. I remember looking at the little guy all wet and smelly, screaming his head off. We didn’t know what to do. We looked into the suit-case and found what we thought to be diapers and tried to figure out what to do with them. This was the pre-disposable-diaper days. Feeding was no problem. He had enormous appetite.
A first few month, he cried a lot missing parents, went to the window crying “Mommy, mommy.” He insisted to go out to look for her. So we walked a lot with him. Rain or shine, day and night. Whether this became his habit or by nature he loved outdoors, he loved to go outside for a walk. In his bed time prayer, he always added, “God bless outside.“ We had a dog called Dinah, a chocolate coloured mut with some Pomeranian. The dog was, like the saying goes, the boy’s best friend. She was always with Butch every time we had a walk. The city was not requiring leash on a dog during those days.
One October day Butch and Dinah disappeared. That was not the first time, but it was the longest time he was away without adult’s accompaniment. We called the police and one of us walked around the neighbourhood looking for them. At one point, a policeman came to our house to check if they returned. They hadn’t. When we described how the boy and the dog looked like, he said, “Ah, I saw them.” He told us where he saw them. It was quite far away. It was getting dark by the time they came back, on their own, and like a typical Vancouver autumn day a thick fog came down. Without making fuss, Butch said, “I’m tired.” He wanted to eat something right away. I asked him where they were. He said, “I knew where we were. Dinah knew.” The dog and the boy were inseparable. Probably the dog led him home. Not long after Butch left us, Dinah died being hit by a car. Dinah was buried under an apple tree, because she liked eating apples.
Butch loved outside anytime all the time. We tried everything to stop him making a get-away: locking the door, put a harness on him, everything. He was too clever and crafty to be stopped by whatever we devised. It all started when he came to us, wanting to go out to look for Mommy. Even if he was not looking for the parent, he might have liked outdoors anyway. We were lucky that we lived in the house with a park in front. Many large trees, grass, tennis courts, etc. We tagged him with a piece of cloth, name, address, and phone number in every piece of clothes.
One day, a man from a service station phoned and asked, “Do you have a boy named Henry? He is here.” It was near the house, but a couple of blocks away on Commercial Drive. So I rushed there to pick him up. The man at the gas station told me, “He asked me to fill up his tricycle.” He cycled that far without us. At one point, it became quite a handful. So when Chieko became pregnant with our own first child, we asked my mother-in-law to come from Japan to help us.
Butch loved to sing, whatever the song was. When there is a music playing, or whenever anybody is singing in record or in person, he joined in. Words and music didn’t match, of course, but didn’t matter. He sang his heart out. So he loved the church. One year, I was on Sabbatical working on my Master’s thesis and was going to church as a member of the congregation, not as a minister. He always came with us and fully participated in the service, singing or praying. His hymn didn’t sound like anything others were singing but no matter; he sang his heart out. His “Amen” after the prayer was the loudest in the congregation.
One song that made sense was “I love you yeah, yeah, yeah” by Beatles. I remember him singing it on the swing with the boy next door, back and forth, high and low, “I love you yeah, yeah, yeah…” forever. By then he must have been four or five. It must have been Spring time. Birds were chirping. Flowers were blooming. Dinah joined the celebration, “Bow, wow, wow – I love you yeah, yeah, yeah” in dog language. He was a happy child.
One summer we drove to Sacramento, California in our station wagon. I was going to take a summer course at the Pacific School of Theology at Berkeley. Chieko, Butch, Evelyn, and Dinah stayed at the home of Chieko’s sister-in-law in Sacramento. We divided the back of the car into three sections. Front, of course, was the driver and a passenger. Immediately behind us was a play pen for Evelyn, well padded of course, and the last section, again well padded, was Butch’s own play area. It was the days when no seat belt or baby seat was required. We left the back window slightly down for ventilation.
In a motel, we noticed a few missing pieces of clothes on Butch but didn’t take too much attention; he lost his pieces of clothes anyway. Next day, when we stopped for lunch, he was missing one shoe. Not serious until at one point while going in full speed on a highway I heard him shouting, “I’m fishing.” I looked at him on the mirror. He was letting a skip lope flying from the open window. So I stopped the car to confiscate the rope, and noticed he had no shoe.
It was on the road about ten metres behind. He was throwing away his clothes one by one. He was bored. What a rascal! He was an active child, couldn’t stand the boredom.
In March, Muriel invited me to join her for a trip to Victoria, B.C. where she attended a conference. So after the conference, we took a ferry to the mainland to see Butch, Henry, When I propose this reunion, he was not sure. He was scared. When I saw a big man just like a man I saw in a photo at the exit of the ferry landing, I saw a man of mixed emotions. He and I hugged, but a moment later he looked away crying. As soon as we went into the car, the first thing he said was, “They never apologized.” I assumed he was referring to his father and step-mother. He never stopped talking about his abused childhood. I do not want to go into the area outside of my own experience. But it was a horrific story. It is almost like a miracle that he ended up normal. We met his wife, Claudia and two shy sons. We had a wonderful time starting with a pub lunch, good chatting session at his home, and a walk on the beach.
He told us later that he was scared of seeing me again, because I might be disappointed to find how he turned out to be. Nonesense! I was so happy to see him.
Yesterday, he phoned me from Surrey, B.C. where he lives wishing me “Happy Father’s Day.” I have a son? He is now 50 years old, married to Claudia, and two sons, Cameron and Brendan, 21 and 19. Wow!
June 19, 2012