Cures for Hunger: Deni Bechard and his outlaw dad

First aired on Q (14/06/12)

Like a lot of kids, when writer Deni Béchard was growing up in rural B.C., he looked up to his late father. But he always felt there was something different about his dad Andre compared to others. He didn't like rules. He was "incredibly reckless."

cures-hunger-125.jpg "So my mother would say this is a safe thing to do, this isn't a safe thing to do. My father would immediately proceed, once she was gone, to do the unsafe version," Béchard told Q host Jian Ghomeshi during a recent interview. "So, for example, when we were children, he would park us on a train track and wait for the train to get very close and then he'd pull off the train track. Or he would park us on the train track and get out, pocket the keys, walk away, and run back just in time to get us off the track. Just to give us a good scare."

In Béchard's new memoir, Cures for Hunger, he paints the picture of his complicated, misguided father, and how he's spent the last 17 years trying to piece together who he really was. Early in his childhood, Béchard recognized that his dad was something of a rogue, but he found it exciting to be around him. He felt a bond with him over their shared adventures. He remembers one time that his father, who worked in different jobs selling Christmas trees or fish, had to confront somebody and a violent fight broke out. The young Béchard witnessed the beating, but didn't see any fear in his dad's eyes. In fact, he saw a spark of excitement.

"[And] if he was having a good time, I certainly wanted to have a good time with him."

Times were tough. The family lived in poverty and Béchard's mother, eventually fed up with her husband's transgressions, took her children and fled to Virginia. When Béchard turned 13, his mom opened up about his father's dark past: he had robbed banks and spent time in prison.

Rather than upset Béchard, the revelations inspired him. The young man loved John Steinbeck novels and idealized in his mind the figure of an American wanderer.

"It was as if I was suddenly being given permission to live the life that I wanted, to do whatever I wanted," he explained. "I think it matched my literary notions of excitement and adventure and grandeur that a teenage boy could have."

Bechard saw his father as a bank-robbing tough guy and, at age 15, he went back to live with him. His expectations were enormous.

"I think it was very difficult for him to understand [why I idolized him]. He had buried that past to a great degree."

Still, Andre Béchard saw a chance to reconnect with his son and maybe prove to the world that something good came out of his life. He tried to mould Deni in his image, encouraging him to put aside the books and writing he was naturally drawn to, and instead learn to kick-box and join in his illegal business ventures, like buying illegal salmon from Native American fishermen and then selling it.

 "He wanted me to resemble him in every way, to see that he had a son who was pretty much like him and was going to get another chance at life."

But it became clear that Deni Bechard was not cut out for a criminal life. The junior Béchard realized that his rebel father's expectations didn't line up with reality. And the father knew it as well.

"I think he saw that disdain I had for his life. He wanted to impress with me crimes. He wanted to show me I wasn't capable of it either."