Republican First Lady wannabe Cindy McCain has always said she's an only child — which came as a painful shock to her two half sisters. McCain's parents both had a child from previous relationships, but as was often the case a generation ago, these children were really treated as second class citizens.
Kathleen Hensley Portalski, 65, is the product of Arizona beer baron Jim Hensley and his first wife, Mary Jeanne Parks. Hensley and his second wife, Marguerite "Smitty" Johnson, had Cindy 11 years later. Cindy's other half-sister, Dixie L. Burd, was born to Johnson before her marriage to Hensley.
Kathleen Portalski told National Public Radio that being ignored by McCain has made her angry and hurt. "It makes me feel like a nonperson," she said.
How sad that anyone has to feel that.
Unlike today, where divorce settlements allow ample time for fathers to see their children — and many dads now are asking and getting joint custody — agreements years ago gave fathers little time with their children. Also, there wasn't as much effort by fathers to see these children and integrate them into their new family because there was a stigma around the word divorce (the divorce rate remained below 1% throughout the 1940’s) The idea of a "perfect" intact family and living up to that image was the driving force in society.
Portalski has told reporters that her father Jim would see her a few times a year, usually around Christmas and birthdays, and called “occasionally.” He also helped with school clothes and tuition. Later, he would also send some modest sums to Portalski’s kids.
Since there was no Firstwivesworld.com then — nor stricter laws enforcing child support payments based on income — many children like Kathleen were not integrated into their father’s new family.
Yet she also knew that her father lavished attention and gifts on Cindy, which was a painful reality she learned to live with and accept.
The rift between McCain and her sister Kathleen erupted after their father's death.
"Cindy started it at Jim's funeral in 2000," her husband Stanley Portalski told the Post. "She started saying she was his only daughter and only child and blah, blah, blah. It was quite a strange performance with her sister and nieces and nephews sitting right there in front of her. But Cindy's kind of strange."
“It’s as though she’s the real daughter,” said Portalski to the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. “I am also a real daughter.”
Finally, Portalski and her family felt they couldn’t hold it in anymore and responded to NPR.
While Cindy inherited his multimillion-dollar beer fortune, Kathleen received only $10,000. The pain for Portalski is as raw as ever. But now she’s also inflicted some on Cindy McCain by exposing her existence.
Ironically, Cindy McCain’s relationship with John McCain has some similarities to her parent’s relationship. Jim Hensley divorced Kathleen’s mother Mary and married Cindy’s mother Marguerite. As FWW reported in “Does John McCain’s Divorce Matter?" John McCain divorced his first wife Carol soon after meeting Cindy.
But Cindy did live a blended divorced life with the children from Carol McCain, John’s first wife. Sydney, Doug, and Andy grew up being part of Sunday suppers, baseball games and holidays with their subsequent half siblings, Jack, Jimmy, and Meghan, who were produced from the union of John and Cindy McCain. The McCains later adopted a daughter, Bridget, now 16.
Therefore, Cindy is a stepmother who brought all the kids under the family umbrella. She just didn’t do it for her own half siblings.