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BOOK SHELF - Trauma of being raised by a 'gay' dad

Reviewed by John Morrissey

Dawn Stefanowicz, Out From Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting
(Enumclaw, Washington: Annotation Press, 2007). Paperback: 245 pages. ISBN: 978-1599770116. RRP: $US14.95

Supporters of Endeavour Forum will recall the visit to Australia in 2015 of Canadian author and speaker Dawn Stefanowicz, who in her public presentations sought to explode the myth that "research" shows that children derive no harm from being raised in same-sex relationships.

While others, such as Katy Faust and Millie Fontana-Fox, have emphasised the gap left by being deprived of a father by their lesbian families, Stefanowicz provides a vivid account of the damage suffered from growing up with an extremely active homosexual father.

For him, a wife and children were merely windowdressing behind which he carried on with live-in male lovers and numerous "joy-boys" encountered in cruising the gay areas of Toronto. Some of his brief affairs even resulted in the suicides of dumped lovers.

Stefanowicz's harrowing account was written as part of her therapy, and omits nothing of the extent of her father's promiscuous behaviour, sometimes in full view of his three children, all of whom suffered trauma. Her repressed memories of sex abuse of herself and her brothers in infancy were uncovered later, by way of therapy; and her mother's role revealed in this is particularly disturbing.

Throughout the work, Stefanowicz makes it clear that she craved her father's love in particular. She received little affection from her ineffectual mother either, who regularly beat the children on his instructions. But it was his coldness towards her, while lavishing attention on his male lovers, which hurt her the most. Both parents themselves had grown up in dysfunctional families, especially the father, who had been beaten and sodomised by his father and uncles regularly as a child and who had witnessed an aunt being continually raped until she died insane.

The material situation of the writer's family improved with her father's success in business, and they moved to a prosperous neighbourhood. But the children and mother did not share in the benefits. They lived in semi-slavery, serving the father's whims, and it was only from her Aunt Grace that she experienced any normal affection.

In secondary school, a relationship with a sexually undemanding older boy provided contact with his loving family, which showed her what life should have been like for her. She confesses that she never reciprocated his devotion and ended the relationship rather badly in her later teenage years. In contrast, her father tried to sexualise her when she was quite young, and even used her as bait for his trawling. Yet he sent her mixed messages, suggesting that she was a lesbian if she had girlfriends and a whore if she showed an interest in boys!

Somehow this young woman survived it all and provided support for her deluded and diabetic mother, who was beaten badly when she tried to initiate divorce proceedings.

The order of events within the chapters, which purport to be chronological, can be confusing, but we learn of the writer's younger brother going off the rails and becoming a street-smart urchin.

We also learn of the father's in-house lovers whose presence humiliated her family and herself. These included Ron, who accompanied them on vacations, which usually meant that he and the father cruised fresh pastures while the others were left stranded at a motel.

At home, the narcissistic father flaunted his nudity. On occasions the children witnessed his acts of sodomy and even discovered unpleasant evidence of sexual frolics that had taken place in the livingroom during their absence.

Through it all the family remained churchgoers, although the young Dawn's faith in God was challenged by her unhappy past, until a religious experience saw her lay her future in God's hands. At church she met her future husband, Vince Stefanowicz, son of a Polish Catholic father and a Protestant mother, but himself studying to become an Evangelical pastor. It was an uneasy courtship, inhibited by her insecurity and fear of commitment. Both her mother and father opposed the engagement, on account of Vince's poverty and lack of financial prospects.

Nevertheless, on their wedding day her father was resplendent when giving her away and "shanghaiing" the reception with a lavish affair, "making a fine impression for family and friends in attendance". But he was still an absence in her life and she concludes that they "had nothing to say to each other" and that "Dad had always pushed me to grow up very quickly... so he wouldn't have to take care of me".

She and Vince settled down to a life of prayer, study and struggle to make ends meet, trying to stay out of her father's orbit. When contact with her parents resumed, an incident with her mother triggered those repressed memories of abuse in her infancy.

When Dawn Stefanowicz's father found God, what followed was bizarre. She had sensed that her father's health was failing and prayed that he would turn to God. She and he began to exchange letters and have telephone conversations, with expressions of love and, on her part, understanding. She recalls: "He hadn't known the kind of love he finally seemed to want to express to me."

It was through the recently disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, to whom he may have been attracted, she believes, through the sexual indiscretions they shared as men and the business savvy of his ministries. Although she describes her father at the time as a "walking dead man" (he later died of AIDS), he immediately took up a position in the organisation, raking in thousands of dollars and achieving prominence.

He even took the family on a shopping spree for suitable attire for a visit to Baton Rouge to meet the Swaggarts. Nevertheless, she did not doubt her father's sincerity in accepting the Lord.

It was some years before the successful businessman, promoter of Swaggart's camp meetings and far-from-closethomosexual died. The most poignant aspect was his lover Ron's care for him in his last years. By then the writer had borne two children, but she still suffered from her childhood experiences. It was only when she discovered an extraordinary therapist that she embraced fully herself, her femininity and her marriage, and achieved the balance and confidence which she displays today.

Her painful memories complement those of others who contradict the claims for same-sex parenting, which are based on interviews with children being raised by such couples and constrained by love and loyalty.

Queensland GP David van Gend's 2016 book, Stealing from a Child: The Injustice of 'Marriage Equality' (reviewed in Endeavour Forum Newsletter, January 2017) shows how this factor explains the contention that gay parenting does no harm to children.

Dawn Stefanowicz's account completes the picture. Her honesty about herself too and the contradictions in her own behaviour is scrupulous and insightful. In the light of the seductive propaganda for the gay lifestyle to which we Australians have been subjected in recent months, Out From Under is a valuable corrective.

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