The truth can hurt, and telling about it is all the more painful when the narrator is a public figure. But here, told in a pared-down style, without gloss or glitz, is the tale of the former president of American University--childhood abuse by his mother, decades of denial, and his subsequent 1990 unveiling after secretive phone calls made to childcare workers. The story is chilling in its simplicity: a much-honored academic driven to discover what happened and how to reconstruct his life after his forced resignation. Berendzen's candor extends to his treatments at the Johns Hopkins University's sexual-disorders clinic, his depression, and his will to continue a life now examined. Family and friends, colleagues and chums, all receive more than due mention. This is a rare insight into the human psyche, leaving readers with the sober thought that "there but for the grace of God go I."
A scandal broke out a few years ago when American University president Berendzen was caught making sexually oriented phone calls to strangers. Here, Berendzen (Is My Armor Straight?, 1985) and Palmer (Shrapnel in the Heart, 1987) team up to tell the harrowing story of the academician's childhood sexual abuseabuse that festered until its tragic eruption during middle age. Berendzen's mother first seduced the author when he was eight and continued until he was eleven, stopping for reasons as unspoken as her motivations for the abuse in the first place. Berendzen blocked the episodes from his consciousness and lost himself in work, becoming an astronomer, a professor at Harvard, and, finally, president of AU. Workaholism had destroyed his first marriage, but his second was happy and stable, as wife Gail worked with him to upgrade AU's image and put it on the road to financial prosperity; together, they became prominent on the Washington social scene. But, gradually, disturbing compulsions began to intrude upon Berendzen's carefully controlled life. He found himself making furtive phone calls to day-care providers who had advertised in Washington newspapers. He would quiz them about sexual activities with children and lead them on with confessions of his own invented exploits. The author never linked the calls to what he'd suffered, and, he says, never got sexual pleasure from them: He was trying to find out, in a confused way, what makes adults use children for such sick purposes. One woman decided to trap Berendzen and taped his calls: Exposed and forced to resign his position, he entered the John Hopkins clinic for sexual disorders and began to face his past. Berendzen'sstory of his recovery, his wife and daughter's steadfastness, his efforts on behalf of other abuse survivors, and his final forgiveness of his parents is told with honesty, eloquence and humility. An inspiring and compelling work. (Photographsnot seen)