A radio broadcast about a sexual abuse case sparked the transformation of Dan’s life, from secrecy to regeneration.
For a man with a history of childhood sexual abuse, and a current, terminal diagnosis, Dan Winter is an astonishing presence. He smiles easily and frequently, and often deeply. He talks openly about the pain he has experienced, and equally so about the diagnosis that now dictates the end of his life. One moment his eyes glisten with tears, and the next that smile re-appears. Dan Winter is experiencing his life, the pain, and the joy.
Dan grew up in a small Kansas town, one of five siblings. As a young teenager, he followed his family’s tradition and began playing sports. At the age of 12, his football coach began grooming him: treating him as special; telling him he was a rising star; finding ways to isolate him. And then the grooming turned into sexual abuse, culminating in a violent attack and rape.
Small-town Kansas in the 1960s did not offer a language to describe, let alone understand, what had been done to him. The trauma became a secret, and it lived within him next to another secret, one that he kept, even from himself, the secret of his sexuality. From childhood, Dan had inklings that he was gay, but in the wake of the coach’s abuse, grappling with the reality of his sexuality was impossible.
So Dan built his life. He had a loving marriage; he raised three children, and became a successful banker. And then one day, in his mid-40’s, he heard a radio news broadcast about a clergy sexual abuse case. His sister was with him, somehow saw something in his face, and asked him point-blank. At first, he denied it, and then hours later, he told her the truth.
Within months Dan’s secrets were no more, neither from his family, nor from himself. So began the reconstruction of Dan’s life as a gay man, now married to his husband, John.
Like so many survivors, Dan has made use of therapy in pursuit of healing. He described one therapist’s contribution: “Her gentle coercion may have saved me. It was she who first showed me the men of Bristlecone. I read every story that evening – true stories of horror, bravery, and perseverance – which finally got me on the path of perspective and delivery from the pit of victimization.”
Life may not be long, but it can be long enough, if we persevere.