- Published: 18 May 2021
- ISBN: 9781760890575
- Imprint: Viking
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 272
- RRP: $34.99
My Father the Murderer
A Reckoning with the Past
BACK TO THE FUTURE
It’s an unusual feeling to be interviewed about your darkest secret, unusual but also freeing. For many years I tried my hardest to stop the world knowing about where I came from and how I came to be. But in 2018 I conquered my fears; I stood up and told my story in a six-part podcast series called My Father the Murderer.
I didn’t know what the response would be – whether my fears would come true and the world would shun me. I didn’t know if my mother would find herself shamed and her life choices scrutinised, or if I would be living with the stigma of violence and death attached to my name for the rest of my life. There was no way of knowing before I hit publish on that audio, uploading it for the world to hear, if this was going to be the worst decision I’d ever made. But I did it anyway.
I did it because when we share our stories, we not only lift the burden of a secret off ourselves, we help carry that load for other people as well. I wanted to share my story for every child born into a situation they didn’t choose but which would forever mark them. I wanted women to know that choosing to be with a violent man does not mean you take on the responsibility for what he’s done, and what he does and will do.
I didn’t tell my story for attention, fame or success – outing myself to the world was terrifying. I created the podcast because I had questions that I desperately needed answered, and I wanted to work through that discovery in a way that would help others.
But the podcast didn’t answer everything. I never even found out what my father’s life was like now, what kind of man he’d become and what he thought of my story. Plus, after the final episode was published and the media circus died down in late 2018, I was still feeling conflicted and confused about a lot of things. In particular I felt guilt over exposing my mum. Even though we gave her a voice in the podcast, I wanted to let her have more space to tell her story in her own words, just as I’d told mine.
That’s how this book came about, as a way for us to bond as we searched for the last pieces of the emotional puzzle that is our lives. The podcast had finally opened the lid on the secrets Mum had carried for years, and what was once my journey to find the truth would now become our journey to take together. I first began researching my father because I felt like my identity was something of a mystery, and until we started recording I hadn’t realised that Mum’s identity was also so wrapped up in that short period of her life when she’d been with him. She hadn’t unpacked or explored a lot of the baggage she was still carrying from my father, and the podcast had given her permission to start that process. This book gave her a chance to dig deeper.
At the end of the podcast we had many unresolved questions about my father. Had he received the letter I’d written him? Did he even know about the podcast and his newfound infamy, or was he still living blissfully unaware of the fact that I had outed him to the world? I wanted to find out, because this story wasn’t over.
I’d kept the secrets of my marriage to Nina’s father and of his crimes for so long that they had become ingrained in me. I initially resisted when Nina talked about making a podcast, both for her sake and my own. But the truth-telling has been liberating, and Nina’s honesty in describing her own struggles and her feelings towards me has brought us closer together. In writing this book and investigating how each of us sees the past, we have aimed to find new ways of understanding it and each other.
I also hope that other women who find themselves in a situation like mine, trapped in a violent marriage, will recognise that there are ways forward. You can get free, though it’s important to recognise there is a really strong mental and emotional part of you that will remain trapped for long afterwards. Physical release is merely the beginning of a long escape cycle. Confronting your own past is never easy, and I’ve found the writing of this book especially hard because all my life I’ve only wanted to look forward. The past is done, the future forever more enticing.
I’d always seen optimism as the basis of mental health, pessimism and dwelling on the past as a recipe for depression. But when that past included the secret of my daughter’s origins, of her paternity, then I realised I owed her some honesty about it. For many years I’d hoped she’d be satisfied with explanations about her father being a ‘rough diamond’ or a ‘lost soul’, and imagined that at some point when she was older I would tell her more, but that time never came. At eighteen, she was rebellious. At twenty-one, lost and confused. I didn’t want to make her more depressed from learning about her father. Maybe I’d tell her later.
At twenty-five she beat me to it, and it was almost the end of our relationship. But she put the story behind her and tried to carry on for nine often hard years. Finally, through the podcast she made, Nina was ready to ask all the questions she had choked back. Some would be answered. Some would not. What Nina found out would bring more questions than answers, and would challenge our relationship to the core.
You could say I tried to run from the past, but my daughter forced me to confront it. She showed more courage than I ever had when facing hard truths. In writing this book together, we have had a chance to reflect on what happened more calmly and at more length, and maybe to find closure, whatever that means. Now everything is out in the open, there are no more secrets; we can move on and deal with the present and the future without hidden fears and resentments. I’ve realised that a big part of my desire to keep the secret was shame over my choices and guilt at not dealing with them. Nina and I want to understand what our journey means, and to reach that understanding together.
In order to do that, I have to meet a person I hardly recognise as me, in a place I ended up in by chance. I have to go all the way back to the beginning, forty years ago, in a prison on the other side of the country.
I’m on the highway a few miles out of town when the noise starts: a scraping, grinding din that jackhammers my heart into my stomach.
Evening shadows shroud his face in silhouette.
Wilhelm Brasse switched on the enlarger and a bright beam of white light fell on to the sheet of photographic paper.
Adjectives such as ‘singular’ and ‘extraordinary’ tend to be overused by biographers to describe the lives of the people they’re writing about, not to mention the publicists who are paid to promote their books.
John’s hands gripped the wheel. Blood soaked his shirt. The man writhing next to him screamed and groaned through his ruined face.
In 1943, Jewish doctor Eddy de Wind volunteered to work in Westerbork, a transit camp for the deportation of Jews in the east of the Netherlands.