Daniel "Chip" Henley, 48, died suddenly on May 6, 2009. Funeral Mass is in St. Aloysius Church, Caldwell, on Monday at 11 a.m. Visiting is in Farmer Funeral Home, 45 Roseland Ave. (at Eagle Rock Avenue), Roseland, on Saturday evening from 5 to 8 p.m. Interment is in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Caldwell. Chip was born in Montclair and was a lifelong resident of Caldwell. He received a B.S. degree in biology from Cook College-Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in 1983. Chip was a self-employed jewelry designer and maker. He was the son of Jane Blessing Henley and the late Daniel John Henley; brother of Jane Puleo (husband Nick) and Katherine Henley (husband Dan Martindale), and uncle of Lauren Puleo, and Caroline and Thomas Martindale. In lieu of flowers, donations to West Essex First Aid Squad, P.O. Box 662, West Caldwell, N.J. 07006 or American Heart Assn., 1 Union St., Suite 301, Robbinsville, N.J. 08691 would be appreciated.Years ago, when I was in grade school, my mother became involved with a man named Dan Henley. A tall and large man, often grinning and prepared to offer a giant bear hug to friends and family. As my brother cessna182 noted almost a year ago, he really took care of us and easily accepted us as if we were his blood. A bigger heart you would not have been able to find.
Much of who I am today, I can trace back to that period of my life. I was closer to him than my natural father in many ways, and closer to him than my second stepfather (the latter due to my own hangups and perceiving of him as "getting rid" of Dan unfairly). Dan was in many ways a professor of life, encouraging me to think and learn at all times. Instead of teaching me how to play catch, Dan took it upon himself to teach me algebra. Instead of learning about the Yankees current lineup, he encouraged me to learn about history. Dan was a Renaissance man*, familiar with a wide variety of topics enough to encourage a young mind to look further into whatever topic caught my attention. Any question I had, he encouraged me to find the answer to it, and helped me do so. Puzzling through problems and obstacles using reasoning, logic, intuition, and other intellectual tools was his greatest gift to me.
*: yes, a flaw that I came to see what problems it caused him later in life
He and my mother quillter introduced me to a myriad of things at a young age, from Shakespeare to sushi. Playing Dungeons and Dragons from the age of eight or so, the two wrote pencil and paper role playing game modules for Iron Crown Enterprises. Rusak? The name of my World of Warcraft character? Came from a god of destruction they named after me (says a lot about their view of me as an adolescent, eh?) They encouraged me to game master as well as play, fostering my story telling skills, creativity, and imagination.
This year, as I'm getting conned back into taking part in the New Jersey Renaissance Kingdom, I remember going to ren faires with them as a young child. 21 years ago, I was at the first NJRK - and the next few. I won the costume contest at a New York faire as a child, and went to many other faires with family and friends. Every faire we went to, I watched Dan wheel and deal and bargain with the shopkeepers.
Dan's high school and college friends were wonderful, like a family to me, and really instilled in me a desire to surround myself with good friends to make my life richer. Frank the doctor and DC Comics fan, Geoff, the other Dan, Bill, etc. Bill lived with us for a while, and was probably one of the most influential people in my life - Bill got me into computers. Without Bill teaching me to learn how to program on his Apple ][e, and him encouraging me how to creatively circumvent primitive copy protection schemes on my 8088, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. Bill gave me a hunger for computer games, a desire to understand how computers tick, and the fundamentals of how to learn that. CyberSphere? WoW? My present career? All trace back to Bill. My brother and I both owe a lot to Bill.
Every year his friends would go to one of the NY faires with him, engaging in a friendly wager where the men competed at all of the games throughout the day. Bill would win at knife throwing, Dan would win at the test of might, etc. I believe the winner bought drinks for the rest. Some of my fondest childhood memories come from trips with them to the ren faires, or playing D&D with them. And they weren't the only RPG companions my parents had, the local comic book store's manager hosted an evening that they frequently GMed at, and I met Scott - one of my closest friends through the chaotic and tumultuous period of high school - through that. He met me as a nine year old child to his fifteen years, and when I was fifteen and suddenly in a new town without any friends, that twenty-one year old helped me find friends and learn a lot about love and life.
Musically, Dan was a massive influence. Dan was a connoisseur of classic rock, and was willing to discuss it for hours at the drop of a hat. From Led Zeppelin to Lynyrd Skynyrd and everything in between, Dan introduced me to lots of music I would have been otherwise without. While cessna182 gave me the gift of heavy metal, Dan taught me all about rock and roll.
Dan held a wide variety of jobs through the time I knew him, and was often running a few things on the side. Making and selling jewelery, working to create a network of non-profit organizations, whatever project he had brewing up there, he was pushing. Dan was a master salesman, and amazing barterer. One Red Paperclip reminded me of him, particularly of the day Dan caught and brought a fly on a string to a faire, trading it and trading it to see what he could work his way up to.
Not to speak ill of the dead, but Dan was not perfect. He was not the perfect man, husband, or father. In retrospect, hindsight being 20/20 and whatnot, I've seen the flaws and understood things better now than I did in the moment. But I loved him, and during the second divorce I argued with all parties (my mother, my father, and Dan) that I most wanted to live with Dan. This didn't happen, and he slipped out of my life. He kept in contact with my mother's family, but being young and Dan not sticking with a permanent address or online address often, he was oft hard to get a hold of.
We saw Under Siege together one night, as a sort of visitation. We went to Bill's wedding together, which I was honored to have been able to attend. A few times I visited New Hope, I'd run into him. One time he was selling books and candelabras by the river with a partner, another time he was selling sports memorabilia, another time he was selling art while also bouncing. Everyone in the tight-knit local artists community knew him, and every store I walked into for the rest of the day I was recognized as "Dan's son". But I stopped going to New Hope for a while, and a few times I returned I didn't see him. Instead of immediately running into him at the second or third store, I had to ask around for him and still couldn't find him. The last couple of times I went to ren faires with my mother's family and Dan's friends, he wasn't with us, and we discussed how hard it was to track him down.
Last fall, I was with jedimentat, at a faire in Pennsylvania, when she commented how surprising it was that we hadn't run into him. As we walked down the path, I saw a jeweler with grey hair, a full beard, and jewelery in tackle boxes... Certainly it couldn't be. We hung out by his stall for a while, trying to get his name, to see if it was him, if he would recognize me, anything. He left the stall in the hands of a couple who didn't know his last name, much to our furthered frustration. Finally he made a comment about Montclair or Caldwell, which was enough of a sign to me. Tearfully, I gave him my full name. "I'm your stepson." We both burst into tears, we hugged, and jedimentat cried as well. We chatted and caught up for the rest of the day, I found out how all of his friends were, and updated him with all of my friends and family that he knew. I watched him wheel and deal with customers, and old memories flooded back over me like a river. Yes, this was Dan. The smile, the hugs, the sharp mind, the humor, everything was there. We exchanged contact information.
Unfortunately, we didn't contact each other. jedimentat later told me about how she had recognized him from her years of involvement with local faires, and told me sad stories of him wandering around faire sites drunk, which broke my heart. He had made comments about living out of his car while I saw him, and hoped the best for him. I told cessna182 about my encounter, and about all that jedimentat said. Horribly, I never passed along his contact information to my brother either.
Three weeks ago, jedimentat and I were back in New Hope, reliving our second date together. Near the end of the evening, I saw him from a distance. He called out to us, trying to sell us jewelery, not recognizing us between the darkness and his failing eyes and his glasses that didn't look up to prescription being held together by tape and hope. It being late and me feeling shame at having not contacted him and me wishing he had recognized me, we walked on. Three weeks later, I woke up to an email informing me of his death three days ago. I regret not stopping and talking with him again with every ounce of my soul, and feel an incredible amount of guilt.
Dan was one of the most important figures in my life. Whatever he might have done, whatever he might have become, he helped make me who I am today - and some of the things I love the most about myself I can trace to him, directly or indirectly.
When Dan's father died at a young age, a comment was made that stuck with me. His father was incredibly inquisitive, studying computers and learning everything he could about the early Macs he had in his study, which was filled with books about a cornucopia of topics. "Now he finally understands how it all works."
I can only hope for such a thing for Dan.