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Surviving The Game with Courage

The St. Thomas Times-Eric Bunnell's People
Updated: Friday, November 23, 2001

We never talked about sex. We never could swear. It was a totally moral, Christian home. Except, Donald DHaene adds. Except for one thing. It was called The Game. While most childhood pastimes are fun, frequently rambunctious, and often just plain out of control, this game was different. It was horrific. It was hidden. It was the quiet, continuing childhood sexual abuse of four Elgin children for many years by their father.

It was our little secret. The Game ended when Donald, 15, and his brother, 18, took their mother, their sister and younger brother, and some belongings packed in green garbage bags, and fled their house. And Donald, who grew up in Elgin a victim but who now lives in London as a survivor, has written a book. It is Father's Touch: A Survivor's Memoir of Sexual Abuse and Faith, and it is to be published next winter by a division of American Book Publishing.

It is, Donald hopes, a cautionary tale. Chapter One has been posted to a Web site. Just as all journeys begin with a first step, Chapter One of Father's Touch is a trip back by Donald to East Elgin, his first since his escape.

It is not a trip back home, he is quick to point out. Because none of the houses in which he lived until age 16, none of the 14 houses' was a home. And the trip is not an easy experience, even in the car in the company of his partner, Maurice.

As they leave one of the houses, Donald remembers his pets. And his father asking if he wants a new rabbit. And a young boy wondering if another is worth the price he has to pay. As we travel down the country road, the house on the hill recedes in my memory and with it, I pray, any trace of my father, he writes.

I glance in the sideview mirror. Reading the small print leaves me cold: "Objects are closer than they appear."

Unsettling. And cinematic. Indeed, Donald is working with a screenwriter on a treatment. Objects are closer . . . in fact, the past is as close to Donald today as it ever has been, 20 years after his father was charged, entered a plea bargain and received a provincial jail term. He got caught. Donald and his siblings got therapy. Their abuse came to official attention when Donald was interviewed by OPP as a potential witness in a long-ago East Elgin murder; his family being Jehovah's Witness, then, as was the victim. (Donald is a non-believer today.)

The detective, Donald recalls, was not surprised when the young man before him revealed The Game. In fact, the officer said the abuse had become known in the community.

That's a big part of the story. Probably by the time I had the conversation with the detective, 30 or 40 people knew. But who would have suspected that, in those days, of the DHaenes?

Look at their pictures on the Web site. Such a normal family, even if they don't smile . . . even if father has young Donald firmly in his grasp. That's just the point. Counseling has enabled Donald to reassemble the two Donalds of his life into one person; the boy who was abused but who lived only in a forgotten darkness, and the man who survived.

And he says, I'm not bitter. I think people need to know that if you're looking for justice, that isn't necessarily going to happen. It certainly didn't happen in our case. But if not justice, what then? Take control of your destiny. Today, Donald DHaene is 40, a writer, a columnist with Scene, London's alternative biweekly, and happy with his Maurice, who is executive director of a social service agency which operates group homes for disabled residents.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Donald can say, I'm having the best time of my life at 40. And he does. "I love how my life is. I'm happy with my friends, and my family, and my career." Indeed, he is more than a survivor. He is a man in control of his destiny.
The Web site for Father's Touch is (www.fatherstouch.com).

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