with Donald D'Haene, author of Father's
Donald D'Haene talks about the writing of his book, sexual abuse in the
church and his ongoing faith, his screenplay, the importance of catharsis,
the "incest exception" clause, the sequel to Father's Touch, his other
projects and more.
Magdalena: In many ways Father's Touch is
quite timely, with a wide range of sexual abuse cases and coverups coming
to light in the Catholic church, around the world. You mention in your
book, "what should have been labelled a crime is instead called 'a sin'"
The Church Leaders in your book are, to some extent culpable in your
abuse. Do you feel that there is something inherent in organised
religions, particular fundamental ones, that encourages this kind of
Donald: Monsters use religion; religion doesn't
create monsters. Consider just one of the three faiths my molester has
professed at one time or another: Jehovah's Witnesses. This religion
doesn't even believe in premarital sex -- there is no way they are
responsible for my molester's actions. Unfortunately, society has this
need to deflect responsibility from the perpetrator. History has shown,
child abusers count on it. Nevertheless, the Elders handling our case did
made the mistake of viewing our father's abuse of us as a sin and not as
the crime it was! Yes, they personally failed us. But I long ago gave up
the expectation that all in the world is true and just.
Magdalena: Has religion failed us? Why do you think that is
(or isn't) the case?
Donald: I put it this way: I haven't
got a problem with God. I'm just dissappointed in some of his disciples.
It is man who twists His word to their advantage. Both of my parents
belong to different faiths. Both of those faiths teach that I will die at
God's hands; my mother's: that I share the same fate of my father; my
father's: that he will go to heaven and I will go to hell. What a world we
live in, if a victim's fate is worse than that of his molester's? I think
I'd rather go to hell than join my father in heaven.
And yet there is faith, and hope in your book. Have you personally
found a viable alternative for spirituality in your life?
Donald: I have faith in the power of truth and honesty. In
a bizarre way, I probably am more Christlike today -- now that I belong to
no organized religion, than I ever did professing to be a Christian. Isn't
it better to be honest about doubts and a personal shipwreck of faith,
than to be a hypocrit and profess a faith that isn't matched by works and
Magdalena: You're working on a screenplay of the
book. Is it a very different process for you from the actual writing?
Donald: Actually, translating my own work
for the screen is quite enjoyable. The creative process is wonderfully
challenging. Even during the difficult times when I was writing my memoir,
I kept reminding myself, 'I have survived. I'm travelling back for a
worthwhile cause. I never have to live that same life again!' Again, there
is comfort in the truth.
Magdalena: Talk to me about the
"incest exception" clause. Why do you think this clause exists?
Donald: The "incest exception" is the special opportunity
the law gives to certain sex offenders in most states. It allows offenders
related to the victim by blood or marriage to be charged with "incest,"
instead of "child sexual abuse" or "rape of a child." This "charge
bargaining" is a covert form of "plea bargaining," and it can allow
predators who grow their own victims to escape prison. This clause exists
to 'help' everyone but the victim. The "incest exception" flourishes
because prosecutors are elected on the basis of their conviction rates,
without regard to the actual sentences handed out to criminals. Worse yet,
the intrafamilial abuser escapes prison time and reenters the community.
Victims who are considering charging their perpertrators must educate
themselves for this harsh reality: the benefits of asserting oneself don't
necessarily depend on happy outcomes, legal or otherwise.
Magdalena: Were you worried that this wasn't only your
story to write. That you were also impacting on (and writing some parts of
the stories of) your mother, your siblings, your partner Maurice, etc.
Donald: My siblings wanted me to write our story more than
I even did. My mother and Maurice were equally supportive. Other than
accurately portraying their experiences, that was not my worry. I was more
concerned with my portrayal of characters outside my family. That's why I
changed almost all their names --even the court officals. I felt this is a
universal story. Naming names would detract from my story. As well, I
spent countless hours making sure I was fair in my portrayals of religious
figures and faith in general.
Magdalena: Have there been
any negative repercussions.
Not yet. Well, perhaps
my father's response to my book: www.fatherstouch.com/letter
Magdalena: The reviews and acclaim for your book have been
very positive. Are you surprised at the impact you are having? The support
Donald: The response has been overwhelmingly
supportive from every continent in the world. On the other hand, I think
I've always had turbulent brilliance. After five years of hard work,
people seem to think my book is outstanding. It was hell getting it there.
Even at my most painful moments as a child, I'd step outside myself and
wonder if there was some reason why I was going through all this. The
response to my story is inevitable; to my writing very rewarding.
Magdalena: You also mention on your web site that you are
working on a second book. I note that you have published some fictional
stories. Will your next book also be a memoir/sequel (the 'Tis to your
Angelas Ashes)? Or are you planning to delve into fiction.
Donald: Considering the fact that I view Angela's Ashes as
my favourite book of all time, I appreciate the comparison. Yes, my second
book will continue the journey where Father's Touch left off. The
challenge will be to top myself. The good news is Part II is equally
Magdalena: In what way is the writing process
different in your second book from your first?
most difficult part of writing Father's Touch was developing the right
structure. Once I have determined the structure of book II, I think I will
work the same way.
Magdalena: Do you feel that there is an
important catharsis involved in telling, and facing a painful story like
your own? Would you encourage other abuse victims to work through their
own painful stories?
Donald: Probably one of the most
important things a victim needs to do is tell their story. I caution
victims to be selective. Many people will say the wrong things -- count on
it. Tell you story to a therapist or social worker if possible. If you
don't feel comfortable with one, find another. Their experience and
objectivity will save you much heartache.
me about your acting work. Is this a different Donald, or do you see some
connection between Donald the actor and Donald the author?
Donald: There definitely is a connection, but I confess the
best acting job I've ever delivered is playing the main character in my
Magdalena: What's next? Tell me about the most
interesting projects you are currently working on.
A production company will be producing a short film based on just the
first chapter of my book. I will be writing the synopsis, playing myself
and working as a consultant on the film. I also have been asked to review
books for RebeccasReads.com
I feel this is an exciting new opportunity
to free my mind in the works of other talented authors. First up: Booker
nominee, Joan Barfoot's Critical Injuries
Read our review of