My dad, the predator

How do you deal with having a family member who did a horrible, unforgivable thing?

By Tyler Olsen | June 20, 2022 |5:00 am

When he was 12, Andrew Christopher’s family life exploded.

Andrew had enjoyed a solid, self-admittedly ‘privileged’ upbringing in Agassiz where his father was a respected former alderman.

In the space of just a couple years, that all ended after Andrew’s father, Don Putt, was fired from his job after allegations of sexual harassments. He then left town, then Canada, chased by allegations of even worse deeds.

How do you deal with having a family member who did a horrible, unforgivable thing? It’s a question Andrew faced as a teenager, and one that resurfaced after his father returned to Canada, was caught in a Creep Catchers sting, and jailed for prior sexual offences.

Although Andrew was not sexually abused by his father, their relationship featured elements of intimidation and emotional harm and manipulation that continue to reverberate. Last year, Andrew spoke in length to his friend, UFV professor Chris Bertram, about his father and dealing with mental trauma. That conversation led the two friends to reconvene, over a microphone, to talk about the subject for Andrew’s podcast in the hopes of encouraging others to open up and talk about difficult subjects.

We have excerpted portions of that conversation below, with permission from Andrew. The entire, much-longer conversation can be heard here.


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Growing up

Content warning: this story deals with sexual assault, emotional harm, and family trauma. Anyone experiencing sexual violence can call or text VictimLinkBC’s crisis line for help, including referrals to victim services and counselling: 1-800-563-0808. Anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide should call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE) or use the online chat service for youth or adults. Fraser Health operates a 24-hour crisis line that people can be call about anything causing concern: 1-877-820-7444.

AC: I grew up on a hazelnut farm, and [had a] pretty normal childhood life. I played a lot of hockey, and lots of sports, had lots of friends around. My parents always had lots of friends around… It was a pretty normal childhood. Our family was very well-known in the community. My dad was on [Kent] city council … and he was well-known because he worked with all the farmers around town, selling feed and that kind of thing in the agricultural business.

[…]

[He was] very outgoing, fun, loving, loved to have people around. I think he liked to be a bit of a center-of-attention kind of guy… I think he loved to have beers with his buddies. I remember a lot of pretty big gatherings at our place: people coming over, lots of family friends where we would go visit or they would come visit. Yeah… He was just a pretty big personality and he got along with everybody. I think he wanted to get along with everybody.

And yeah… In my mind, in my memory in those younger years, that’s—he was a pretty cool guy. Everybody liked him. He helped everybody. And I think—before I say too much more on that side—I think, in hindsight, after talking to a lot of people, even my family, I think he crossed the line of it, in having a good time and partying and being the center of attention and joking and inappropriate joking. That definitely came to light and it’s something I know now. So looking back, I think he was probably quite often doing that. People would laugh, but they were probably offended, or they were uncomfortable. But, you know they would allow him to play it up and be this big [guy].

CB: But you’re a kid at that point, right?

AC: Yeah.

That stability ended when Christopher was around the age of 13. Putt lost his job after being accused of sexual harassment. The marriage of Christopher’s parents’ marriage fell apart as other parts of Putt’s past surfaced out of sight of their son. Christopher and his father also had a confrontation after Christopher found a stash of his father’s pornography, confronted him, and threatened to reveal it to his mother. In response, Putt blackmailed his son, threatening to share Andrew’s own teenage internet habits with his mother.

The turmoil culminated in Putt moving to Australia to work. Not long after Putt left, a young man called his former home looking for Christopher’s father and alleging Putt had sexually abused him in the past. While Putt admitted to his family there had been a relationship, he tried to shift the blame while excusing himself of any actual abuse. Christopher, meanwhile, sporadically corresponded with his father, trying to figure out just who the man he had known all his life was.

AC: I think I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on. So there were questions and I definitely remember the same thing. “Who are you going to believe? You know, I’m your dad. You know, you can trust me,” that kind of thing. And so there was a bit of communication there. But eventually it got very seldom that we would talk or, or communicate. We’d go months without emails even or anything. I remember even through my mid-teens, the issue coming up of, you know, “He’s my dad, he should be reaching out to me, why am I always going to him or trying to build something here?” And so then I would kind of leave it alone, and I would get left alone for long periods of time, and nothing. It was just kind of nothing for years.

Andrew credited his mother, his family, friends and other father figures in the community with helping him navigate teenagehood without a dad. But the questions about his absent father lingered. In the mid-2000s, Andrew visited his father in Australia and had some conversations, with mixed results.

AC: I think he knows he does a lot of bad stuff. Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t even say that. I think he feels bad because he doesn’t have relationships with his kids. Yeah, that’s maybe… I know that.

CB: You feel that even to this day?

AC: Yeah, I really—it’s tough to know, man. Yeah. Because someone who’s kind of done all this stuff that he’s done, it’s tough to know what they actually feel or what is sincere and what they’re capable of right of feeling?

CB: Especially when you reflect on some of the examples of the manipulation that you’ve already brought up. I’m not saying what you’re saying isn’t true. But I can see where the doubt comes from that you’re sort of expressing here. Like, is that real? Is that him just trying to get a step on something or on me? Or to try to talk his way out of it? I can see exactly why you’d be having that doubt in those conversations in your own head.

AC: I guess it’s more: I would like to think he cares. And [that] he has remorse and feels bad for, for what’s gone on. But I don’t know that.

Overcoming family shame

In 2015, Putt moved back to the Fraser Valley. The following year, Putt began chatting online with someone he thought was 12 years old. The chats were part of a sting by the vigilante Creep Catchers group. Putt eventually was confronted at a McDonalds, and the evidence led to a child luring conviction. The publicity also spurred his abuse victims to come forward, prompting more charges. Putt was convicted and jailed for around three years.

Andrew said the incident spurred embarrassment and shame. But in finally talking about his feelings to his friend, and pursuing other mental health strategies, Andrew found some of that easing.

AC: I know how important that work was for me to talk to somebody about it. And if me doing this publicly could encourage people to do it privately, then I would say do that. To anybody who has anything that they feel ashamed about or embarrassed about in their past or … with an experience they’ve had that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they don’t really want to talk about that they see as a negative part of themselves, I would encourage people to talk to somebody about it: just find a friend or a family member that you’re comfortable with, and lay it all out on the line. You’d be amazed at how good it feels.

Andrew’s inner turmoil about his father came amid a background of mental anguish—in 2016, Christopher’s three-year-old daughter Lily-Jean died of cancer. That trauma has lingered, and informed his focus on his personal mental health. Exercise and his music also figure prominently in his mental health routine. 

AC: I definitely had some pretty bad days where I didn’t want to get up or not, not even that: I have, not too often, but pretty bad breakdowns where I’m having trouble breathing. I’m ugly, crying, like you wouldn’t believe and, and nothing can help. I squeeze my whole body so hard that, you know, the next day I’m sore, like I just did a huge workout… Luckily, it’s not every day, or every week, even, that I do those kinds of things.

[…]

I would like to point out that I have a lot harder time dealing with the loss of Lily-Jean than I do with my dad being this terrible person. It’s a lot easier to grieve and feel those emotions, almost in a, in a pure, beautiful way. And in being so sorrowful for Lily-Jean not being able to live her life.

It’s a lot easier to feel that way about her and that experience than it is to feel that way from my dad. Because he lived his life, he made his choices. It’s almost been a bit easier to kind of let that go.

This is an excerpt from the conversation between Christopher and Bertram. Christopher also spoke about how he has used exercise to increase his well-being, the challenges in learning to be a father himself, and the role of music in his life. To hear the whole conversation, you can go here.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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