Denise's Pieces - Non-Fiction
Pick of the Month
June 17, 2002

A Quote for Father's Touch

...The autobiographical account of one manís journey to spiritual, emotional and physical freedom is at the heart of Fatherís Touch, a tragic tale of abuse, incest and helplessness. But this book is also about hope, courage and determination, one that enables the Ďmulti-facetedí Donald to survive his past and retain his sanity. While many will consider the subject matter in Fatherís Touch depressing and/or disgusting, which it is, Mr. DíHaene presents his story with a dignity and honesty that is not only admirable, but he also provides help in his own special way to those who may be experiencing the same trauma he has dealt with his entire life. DíHaene stresses that just because the abuse stops, that doesnít mean the victim no longer suffers. DíHaeneís struggle against the legacy of his childhood has taken him one painful step at a time toward self-acceptance, confidence and self-worth..."

Read our review of 'Father's Touch'

An Interview with Donald D'Haene

Denise's Pieces: While Father's Touch is a somber, heart-wrenching story of a young man's personal torment, you, through your writing, bring a sense of having come to 'terms' with your past. At what point in your life did you come to the realization that you had to tell your story. What compelled you to take your journal and create a book?

D'Haene: When I was at the vortex of the storm, I literally stepped out of the situation and said, "There's got to be a reason why I am going through this!" Two decades ago, I first considered writing a book. But it wasn't the right time. I didn't have the maturity and objectivity I have now. There was never a question whether I would write a book. It was just a matter of when.

Denise's Pieces: Your style of switching the point of view from present tense to past tense gives the story a unique sense of stability. What encouraged you to develop it in that manner?

D'Haene: The fact that I disassociated from my painful experiences in the form of Other Donald means that having more than once voice comes naturally to me. The hardest part of writing my book was settling on just the right structure. Once that was decided, I thought it was very important that there be three voices: Other Donald that experienced the abuse, Thinking Donald that functioned intellectually and Now Donald, the narrator's voice that brings perspective and analysis to the story.

Denise's Pieces: Did you have difficulty finding a publisher? Was the book rejected at all or were you fortunate to find a publisher early?

D'Haene: I am one of the lucky ones: I sent very few queries out. I felt American Book Publishing and Father's Touch were a perfect fit. They agreed.

Denise's Pieces: Your story went into a great amount of detail regarding the failure of others to help you and your family at the time. Church members and those in law enforcement seemed hesitant to investigate and take action against the abuser. Today, the public is much more informed and fairly quick to take action. Still, there is always a waiting game. What kind of advice would you give to someone now, who like you, is forced to wait for the justice he or she so desperately seeks?

D'Haene: Victims should educate themselves. Hopefully my story will help do that. Don't be afraid to fortify yourself with good therapy. Avoid people who don't validate your feelings. I believe the fact that I survived does not detract from the tragedy of my family's situation. Church Elders and the Justice System completely let us down. Yes, the Elders excommunicated my abuser. But sending us home with him only isolated us further. His shame became our shame. What should have been labeled a crime was instead called "a sin". And as far as looking for justice? Justice is a relative term. The travesty of our trial will prove to be a real eye-opener for victims, lawyers, and judges alike. I believe that my book's release will be the first time my family has seen justice. Finally the true story is told and my siblings', Mother's and my own experiences will be validated.

Denise's Pieces: What is the most difficult hurdle you faced in writing this book? (for example, finding the time, putting it all together, organizing, etc.)

D'Haene: The answer is very clear to me: finding the right structure. That alone required more than a year of rewrites. In terms of content, it was most painful to write about my sister's abuse, the early years of my mother's hellish marriage and the trial. I still have not expressed rage over my own experience. But I experience anger at the drop of coin for what my siblings and mother have experienced. Their experience is more real to me than my own. They are constant reminders of our past. My abuser's successful manipulation of his immediate family and members of new faith also angers me. I am also angered by my fellowman's ignorance of the emotional devastation that sexual abuse victims experience. People do not seem to understand that their having tea and biscuits with my abuser might be a tad insensitive to his victims.

Denise's Pieces: Could it be said your mother provided the relief, if not the buffer, between you and a father who obviously had no sense of fatherhood? Was it her religious faith, or just her inherent nature to be a basically "courageous and decent" person trapped into making the best of it for herself and her children?

D'Haene: Mother was a loving, caring, person whose faith enhanced the qualities that she inherently possessed. But her lack of education and comprehension of her childrens' experience with abuse and her reliance on her faith above all else also innocently contributed to our whole family's dissociation from our experience. She did the best she could.

Denise's Pieces: Related question: the background you diagram for her includes a strong religious devotion and an old world sense of expectations. Given she married a man whose values too were largely shaped by these preconditions, do you think your home, aside from the abuse, was typical of the culture where the man was king and the mother and spouse was referred to as, "Wife"?

D'Haene: I believe the patriarchal structure of the family home provided a safe haven for our abusive father to maintain master of his domain for a longer period of time without fear of disclosure.

Denise's Pieces: You've written that television became a significant source of inspiration and a window to this world outside the tightly restrictive confines of family and heavy church influence. Do you recall envying characters, situations, peers as portrayed on, for example, "Leave it to Beaver" or "Father Knows Best"?

D'Haene: Oddly enough, I never watched those two shows until years after we had left our father. I escaped in sitcoms where the female was the dominant force in the family or situation comedy. ie. Bewitched, I Dream Of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, The Doris Day Show. I avoided shows that had any resemblance to our family dynamics.

Denise's Pieces: You didn't become a vicious, resentful adult bent on extracting vengeance from a new community of victims. Some who've suffered such prolonged victimhood do. What prevented that, given what the judge in the trial called a "hellish" background?

D'Haene: My siblings and I all concur that we learned basic goodness from our Mother. It is because at least one human being showed us unconditional love that, although scarred, we were not destroyed by our Father's abuse. He robbed our spirit for a period of time but he could not kill our will to live.

Denise's Pieces: You've written: "When you make mistakes, people rewrite your history." You describe an instance of such when a couple from your congregation suggests you and family change your names as D'Haene struck them as tainted. Your father is slapped on the hand by the church, but you and your family must make the changes.

D'Haene: The path of the victim is perpetual revictimization. The path of a molester is a rollercoaster of destruction. I hope my book will educate people and make them aware of that harsh reality. Educating the public is our only hope to change this fundamental truth.

Denise's Pieces: Do victims abused within the church - any stripe, brand, or flavor - tend to be sacrificed in the interest of preserving the reputation and internal wisdom of the church? It seemed so when the Aylmer congregation wanted an acknowledgement that it "hadn't done that badly" for you and the family. Do you ever wish you hadn't been so accommodating?

D'Haene: On the contrary, I wish I had been more accommodating. My mother, siblings and I experienced so much unnecessary pain and sorrow because we thought we could change the system from within. How much better it would have been to just pack our bags and move elsewhere. That is not weakness. It was a different world a generation ago. We were fighting an insurmountable battle. The point is not looking for justice as much as realizing it isn't always possible.

Denise's Pieces: After the ineffective trial, when your father dodged prison for several counts including sodomy and bestiality, did you ever wish you would have jumped to your feet and halted the proceedings? What advice could you now offer for those seeking to bring their abuser to justice?

D'Haene: After hearing countless other victims' tales, witnessing several other court cases, and many survivors' disappointing experiences with people of faith, I really don't think things have changed enough in the two decades since our trial. Molesters still get a slap on the wrist, victims still receive stigma and shame, and religion still provides a haven for a molesters reign of terror. I would recommend victims receive extensive therapy before even considering charging their perpetrator. And unless, the victim has a strong and loving peer support system in place the process can be another experience with abuse. I have to ask, is it worth it? In my case, yes. I went from a weak wall-flower to a extraverted, charismatic dominant force to be reckoned with. I discovered I had a strength that everyone surrounding me not only took for granted, but discounted and discouraged. Each case must be considered individually based on the needs of each victim.

Denise's Pieces: Wilf Graham, your counselor, after you had graduated from high school, observes: "This family was done a grave injustice through blindness and ignorance. They were treated badly by a system that was meant to protect them." He cites the metaphor you so effectively borrowed from a rearview mirror: "Objects are closer than they appear" describing your father as the ghost skulking about and closer than you may want to acknowledge. Has time and your remarkable positive outlook exorcised this demon?

D'Haene: Unfortunately time is not the great healer people hail it to be. Instead of focusing on exorcising "the demon", my father, I found it is healthier to replace him with loving people who positively reinforce my self-worth, who never discount my experience, who allow me to be imperfect, angry, forgiving -- whatever and whoever I am. The demon is a constant reminder of my resilience and will to live. It's important to know where you've come from to appreciate where you are and where you want to be.

Denise's Pieces: Other than writing, what do you do now for a living?

D'Haene:I have my own cleaning service. So I call myself, a starving artist who isn't starving!

Denise's Pieces: If you could meet anyone, past or present, and invite them to your home for dinner, who would it be and why?

D'Haene: Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mendella. Not because I consider them perfect. Rather each was/is individual, human, intelligent, self-sacrificing and unforgettable. Their message: change the world through love, peaceful demonstrations and good works.

Denise's Pieces: What is your favorite: Book, Movie & Animal?

D'Haene: Book - Angela's Ashes By Frank McCourt
Movie - All About Eve
Animal - Giraffe

Denise's Pieces: Are you planning on doing any book promotions or speaking engagements in the US? And if so, where and when?

D'Haene: My publicist and I will be working together to that end. I will post any such developments on my web site.