The Sitdown: PATRICK DATI, anti-bullying advocate and child abuse prevention spokesperson
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The lifelong Chicagoan was 9, he says, when late serial killer John Wayne Gacy raped him in a restroom of Goldblatt’s department store on Belmont near Central in the winter of 1973. He kept the deeply scarring and life-altering incident secret for three-and-a-half decades and recently included a detailed account of it in his self-published memoir “I Am Me: Survivor of Child Abuse and Bullying Speaks Out.” Now he’s an advocate for victims of bullying and abuse, teaching them by example how to “reclaim” their lives.
My father came here from Italy. My mother was second-generation Irish. They grew up on the Northwest Side.
The best way I can describe them is they were wonderful parents as best they could be.
My father was hardworking. He worked for the City of Chicago in the water department.
I’m not making excuses for my mother and father, but I was the youngest of five kids and my mother was juggling a lot. She was a stay-home mom. I think she saw the signs [of abuse]. I know it. She told me before she died.
[The Gacy assault] screwed up my life as a child. I was never normal as a kid after that. [Before the assault], I was a straight-A student; I flunked the third grade.
I struggled with holding in something so strong as being molested, and then after finding out who the monster was, [it] was even worse.
It was the guilt that really was still on the back of my mind, and that was the first time I attempted suicide [around age 13], which my family didn’t question.
My best friend, his parents still own the house behind Gacy’s house [in the 8200 block of W. Summerdale Ave.]. They still live there. That’s where I was when Gacy was being arrested and arraigned that day [Dec. 21, 1978]. The media, the police were all out on the streets. And when I saw his face on the screen, I knew immediately.
There’s not periods where I don’t still fear my past. I remember the bathroom door being locked and I remember [Gacy’s] face and I remember what he smelled like and I’ll never forget that. It’s always embedded in my mind.
People say to me, “Well, how do you know it was Gacy?” Granted, I was 9 years old. When someone does something like that to you — and it wasn’t over two minutes, it was over 10, 15 minutes — you remember that face and it never erases from your mind.
There’s no hate. There really isn’t.
None of my family talks to me after my mom died [in 2013], other than my [teen] daughter. My [first] ex-wife’s ashamed of the story. My second ex-wife, I don’t talk to at all or associate with.
I can’t say I’m not an angry person anymore, but I’ve released all the anger for them. I think part of what I needed to do is forgive them.
My partner, Greg, has been a godsend.
You know what’s interesting, is that even people in my own family who have accepted and now are proud of what I’m doing have pulled Greg to the side at times and said, “Oh, my god, he’s a wack job. Why do you want to get involved with that?”
Greg laughs all the time and he loves kids and he loves animals. One day we were out at a park, and there were a bunch of little kids and he was laughing. They were doing goofy things in the sprinkler or whatever. And he’s like, “How come you’re not laughing?” “I don’t know,” I said. “I think part of it is when I see little kids like that, I was not laughing when I was their age and I wasn’t happy. I was miserable. And so it’s sad.”
I was in therapy when I was married to my first wife. She had seen signs of craziness in me and she recommended that I see a psychiatrist, and I did. During the first few sessions he diagnosed me with OCD. And so that kind of answered a lot of questions for both her and I about my behavior.
I still see my same psychiatrist that I have been [seeing] for 17 years, and part of the reason [my book] is out and is what it is, is that he recommended I write a diary to release what I had gone through, and that’s how it all developed.
During the time I didn’t come forward with everything, I was very prone to people that controlled me and abused me. And when I connected with people that were good to me, like my partner is now, I couldn’t register it at that time in my head — that that was a good thing and that’s what I needed.
When you’re mentally and physically abused, you think that’s the norm and you believe that’s what you should be associated with.
I had two extremely great guys that came into my life during the time I decided I was coming out [as gay], and I developed relationships with them and let both of them go and broke both of their hearts.
They saw this great person in me, but at the same time they realized that I was so damaged from what I had gone through as a child and with my family that they didn’t really want to invest any more time.
There are very few role models for male survivors of abuse.
Since I’ve become very active on social media, I’ve had at least three or four guys my age that told me they were assaulted by Gacy. They’re extremely proud that I’ve come forward, because they never could have done that. I think a few of them are straight guys.
My advocacy is not just about LGBT. It’s not just about child abuse. It’s about bullying; it’s about everything. And it’s about being a survivor and showing victims that they don’t need to be victims any longer.
Ten years ago, could I be doing what I’m doing now? No. I was still living with the denial that it really happened.
The next phase is to educate teachers, school superintendents. These are people who know what’s going on, but there’s not enough exposure on their level.
I was a victim and now I’m a survivor, and that’s part of what I’m leveraging in my story.