A courageous look at a personal hell  
By Herman Goodden -- London Free Press
Publication Date January 24, 2002

The first time I heard of Donald D'Haene, I was editor of Scene magazine and trying to work up some enthusiasm for that magazine's annual cover model contest.

Like a lot of fellows, I've always been indifferent to what strikes me as the higher neurosis of high fashion. Hemlines could go up or down or straight to the dumper for all I cared. I shouldn't have been on the committee to choose that year's winner, because, frankly, I didn't know what we were looking for.

The big prize was a makeover, followed by a professional photo shoot. This struck me as a kind of insanity. Having just chosen the best-looking girl out of a pile of photos and CVs, we'd then pass her off to a small army of beauticians, stylists and consultants, who'd work her over until she looked like someone else. Where was the sense in that?

"Maybe we should be choosing the homeliest girl," I helpfully suggested. "Someone who could actually use a few pointers in improving her appearance." This was met with stony silence.

Then Donald D'Haene's rather unconventional submission landed on my desk. He'd included one picture of himself as a very striking looking man and another picture where he was beautifully decked out in a polka-dot dress, complete with matching hat and white gloves.

What larks a guy like this would have with a makeover, I thought. He might come out looking like Miss Universe or Mr. T. Though I was alone in choosing D'Haene the winner, I made sure we ran his photos and gave him honourable mention.

From that encounter, I deduced D'Haene was a remarkably open, funny and confident young man, utterly comfortable with who he was.

So I was surprised a few years later when he responded to a column of mine in tones that struck me as humourless and shrill.

I'd skeptically examined a purported case of sexual assault where the female "victim" had gone out at 2 a.m. with a former boyfriend with whom she'd previously been intimate, had invited him back to her apartment where they necked and removed articles of clothing and then the boy forced himself on her while she thought she was only getting a backrub.

I certainly acknowledged the boy was a lout and was wrong to ignore the girl's protestations, but insisted the blame for what I called this "unconscious collision," rather than a "sexual assault," was at least somewhat mutual.

D'Haene was having none of that, insisting females were always in the right in such cases and that it didn't matter how far things progressed by mutual consent. The very second the girl didn't feel like it anymore, the sexual episode must cease.

While his argument was legally correct, in behavioural terms it struck me as one more dose of infantile feminist codswallop and I wondered why this reasonable, affable man so feverishly subscribed to such a stilted view of human responsibility.

Well, now I know. This week I've been reading the galley proofs of Father's Touch, D'Haene's powerful memoir of growing up in a perfectly hellish home under a monster of a dad who habitually forced himself sexually on three of his four children -- two sons and a daughter. This appalling behaviour dragged on for well over a decade, starting before Donald had any idea what was going on and not stopping until he was in the thick of a torturously confused and isolated adolescence.

By all rights, the book should be unrelievedly grim and certainly there are bits that make the reader feel sick at heart.

But a large part of what makes Father's Touch such a compelling read is the courage and decency this family maintains in escaping their father and courageously striving to pull each other free of the wreckage.

The generosity of D'Haene's treatment of all his subjects is profoundly moving. Once the prosecution of his dad is under way, he stares at his father's mug shot and actually feels a measure of pity for the sadness and shock in that face. If only the father had been fractionally capable of the same when beholding his own innocent children.

To learn more about D'Haene's book on the Web, visit: www.fatherstouch.com

Herman Goodden is a London freelance writer. His column appears in Monday and Thursday's Opinion pages. Email Herman at herman.goodden@sympatico.ca