This is no Ordinary Memoir . . .
Kathryn Lively, author of Little Flowers
Reviewing Father's Touch, Donald D'Haene's memoir of growing up as
a first generation Canadian to Belgian immigrants, has been one of the most
difficult things I have had to do. It is not because I disliked the story;
as you might suspect, my delay concerns mainly the actual subject matter of
the story. This is no ordinary memoir.
True-life stories of sexual abuse at the hands of parents are not very
populous in the published world, and there is a part of me that wishes books
like Father's Touch and Sue William Silverman's Because I Remember
Terror, Father, I Remember You (reviewed elsewhere) did not have to be
written, that the authors did not have to be subjected to the terror that
inspired such work. On the flip side, one must commend D'Haene for his courage
and his decision to share his story, if only to serve as a reminder that abuse
does happen and that inaction among others does not erase the problem.
Donald D'Haene and his siblings were first generation Canadians, born to Belgian parents who crossed the Atlantic for the promise of a new life in a new world. Yet for the matron D'Haene there was little solace in a marriage where her husband had established control soon after exchanging vows. When Daniel D'Haene decided to join the Jehovah's Witnesses, the family came along with no questions asked. As the family grew, so expanded the senior D'Haene's tyrrany, which would eventually manifest itself in unsavory activities with his children, including one in particular Donald called
Throughout much of his childhood, Donald and his siblings were unwilling
participants in The Game. It was not until the refusal of the youngest child
to be initiated into these secret rituals that Donald's mother learned of the abuse.
Subsequent reports to Kingdom's Hall resulted in investigations, disfellowship
for Daniel and much harrumphing, but little action beyond that. Never during
the course of the abuse and the time thereafter (during which the D'Haenes
divorced and Donald moved his mother and siblings elsewhere) was the family informed
that legal action could be taken against Daniel D'Haene. When the elder
D'Haene finally was accused, the end result for the adult Donald was a
botched case and a sentence that hardly befitted the crime of many years of
sexual and psychological abuse.
Father's Touch angered me, as well it should have. This is a
story written in parts, beginning in the present where Donald and a companion
travel back to the places of his childhood. Vivid memories of fellow
parishoners - now strangers - and former homes segue vividly into D'Haene's
flashback narration, which features somebody D'Haene refers to as "the Other
Donald," the numbed self the real Donald left to the mercy of his father to
withstand the abuse. Reading Father's Touch, I could not help but
wonder how common this phenomenon is among sexually abused youth (Silverman,
in her memoir, writes of "Dina," an identity associated with her own experiences).
D'Haene writes honestly, and shows great skill for detail and narrative.
Father's Touch is a raw, emotional story of survival, coming to terms
with a traumatic past and moving beyond for a better present.