Interview with Donald D'Haene, author of Father's Touch

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 abuse?

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.

Magdalena: 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 deeds?

Magdalena: You're working on a screenplay of the book. Is it a very different process for you from the actual writing? Equally painful?

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:

Magdalena: The reviews and acclaim for your book have been very positive. Are you surprised at the impact you are having? The support from readers?

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 eventful.

Magdalena: In what way is the writing process different in your second book from your first?

Donald: The 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.

Magdalena: Tell 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 life: me.

Magdalena: What's next? Tell me about the most interesting projects you are currently working on.

Donald: 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
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 Father's Touch