Books

Pauline Dakin believed her family was on the run from the Mafia. Then she uncovered the truth

The CBC Podcast Run, Hide Repeat adapts and expands Pauline Dakin's memoir of the same name. The 5-episode series, premiering Nov. 2022, tells the story and secrets behind Dakin's childhood on the run.

The memoir-turned-podcast Run, Hide, Repeat reveals the truth behind Dakin's childhood on the run

Former CBC journalist Pauline Dakin tells a gripping story of a childhood spent on the run with incredible twists in her memoir, Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood. (Viking)

Pauline Dakin spent her childhood on the run — moving cities, switching schools and disappearing from friends and family.

For a long time, she never knew why. Then, when she was in her early 20s, her mother told her the Mafia was targeting their family. It would be years until Dakin uncovered the real story. 

At once mind-bending and heart-wrenching, Dakin's mysterious upbringing is the subject of her bestselling 2017 memoir, Run, Hide, Repeat, and now, a five-part CBC podcast of the same name. 

The series, hosted by Dakin, premiered Nov. 14, 2022. You can listen to the series on CBC Podcasts, CBC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts. 

LISTEN | Introducing CBC's Run, Hide, Repeat: 

Best-selling author and journalist Pauline Dakin takes you on an immersive journey into a childhood spent on the run, one where unexplained moves and disturbing events took place under a shroud of secrecy. When Pauline was finally told what her family was running from, she was left with more questions than answers. Five episodes, released every Monday starting Nov. 14.

Dakine is a Canadian journalist, author, professor and a former CBC broadcaster, which included a stint as the host of CBC's regional documentary program, Atlantic Voice.

Her memoir, Run, Hide, Repeatwhich was re-released in August 2022, won the 2018 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction

She spoke to CBC Books about Run, Hide, Repeat

Finding out the truth 

"This is a book about my reasonably dramatic childhood experiences knowing that something was very wrong with our family — not knowing what it was but certainly feeling a certain kind of pervasive fear and dread.

"It's about as a young adult being told we'd been on the run from the mob, and then getting caught up in that story myself for a period of time — whether or not I 100 per cent believed it. 

When I did find out the truth, it was like putting down an enormous weight.

"I later realized how much my belief was related to keeping my relationship with my mother strong. Coming out of that experience proving that it wasn't true and then coming to terms with what had been done to my family and what was behind it was ultimately so important to me.

"I just lived so many years with this mystery of, 'What the heck was that?' When I did find out the truth, it was like putting down an enormous weight. [It became], 'Okay, now my business is no longer finding out what happened. My business is: how can I be okay with that? How can I learn to forgive the people who were involved?'

"Because I don't think you really recover from something until you can find that forgiveness and ability to move on and get past it."

LISTEN | Pauline Dakin shares the unbelievable story behind her memoir: 

Pauline Dakin on her memoir of a childhood spent fleeing from the Mob.

Deciding to write the book 

"I did an MFA in 2013. I just felt like I needed to do something for myself, so I went back to school.

"The first week of the MFA, all the students had to get up in front of the class — it was about 20 people — to pitch their book, which you had to prepare for and have done some research for. So I got up there and said, 'My book is about the impact of technology and screen time on children and adolescents — mental, cognitive and emotional health.'

"I did my big pitch and everyone nodded. And then, I just stood there.

The act of telling the secret, of being loud about the secret, undid some of the damage of the secret.

"I didn't know this was coming; I said, 'Can I pitch you another story?' I had only told my ex-husband and one of my best friends [at that point]. I had told almost nobody this story.

"I just told this group of strangers and I was just trembling as I told it. Of course, I finished and they were all looking at me with eyes as big as pie plates going, 'yeah you should write that one!' [laughs]

"Even then — because I had been doing a bit of writing about it just trying to make sense and put it in some kind of an understandable form — even then, I didn't dive right in. I waffled back and forth over two years about which book I was writing. Ultimately, this was the one. I am so glad I did because I think the act of telling the secret, of being loud about the secret, undid some of the damage of the secret."

Telling the family secret 

"It was always: 'You can't tell anybody. Don't talk about this.' That was one of the hardest things, always being told don't talk to people about things. 

Eventually I came to feel that not holding secrets lets you let go. It's the secrets that are so toxic.

"When I actually put it out to the world, I felt this is a story that should be told. Eventually I came to feel that not holding secrets lets you let go. It's the secrets that are so toxic. When someone says, 'You can't talk about this,' they put you in a place of feeling isolated and you can't reach out for help that way."

The power of imposing narrative

A black-and-white photo of a young, white, blonde girl in a petticoat with her arm around her dog, standing to the right of her a younger, smaller, white, boy wearing a plaid jacket. They are standing on a concrete patio outside in front of a wood house.
Pauline Dakin, right, and her brother, Ted, left, pose for a photo with a dog in their childhood. (Submitted by Pauline Dakin )

"Families are so complicated. Mine particularly so, maybe. You don't know what is going on in a family. I don't think my family looked particularly messed up. We did swimming lessons and piano lessons and all of those things. We looked pretty normal, but you just never know. 

"I grew up in a single-parent family unit at a time when that wasn't very common. I was always aware that we were different. I remember as a kid thinking, you know, I've got what I need from my parents. Our experiences as kids are what's normal, right? When we don't see it reflected in the world around us, maybe we start to question. Everything is so subjective. When you talk about narratives, the stories we tell ourselves become our history. 

Everything feels like a hurling mess until you impose narrative on it and then everything makes sense.

 

"There's a whole area of therapy called narrative therapy. You can frame your story in a way that best supports you. I don't think it's about telling lies about your story, it's about looking at it from different angles and perspectives to find something that helps you feel more positive about it. Family is never easy, even in the most uncomplicated family, but everyone needs to reframe once in awhile. 

"When I do a writing workshop, I talk about the power of narrative. Narrative is how we make sense of the world. Everything feels like a hurling mess until you impose narrative on it and then everything makes sense. That act of imposing narrative is a first step to understand what has been or is going on. It felt like that to me. To sit down and write has always been a way that I figure stuff out."

Making the podcast

A black-and-white portrait of a young white woman smiling in a midcentury airline attendant uniform. She is wearing a beret-style hat and a blouse under a collared overcoat.
A portrait of Pauline Dakin's mother, Ruth, when she worked as an airline attendant. (Submitted by Pauline Dakin )

"I have recordings my mum made around the time all of this started happening. There's recordings of my dad coming for his court sanctioned every-other-week visit on Saturdays. I can hear my old dog in the background; it's really weird. 

"There's recordings of my mum and dad having meetings to talk about visitations and things like that because my mom was recording stuff. She was afraid of what he might say or do so she recorded. As my parents got older, I recorded stuff with them. I've got little bits and pieces of that in there. That's part of it, right? That you have this archive of interesting things that are an opportunity to create with. 

"I have been an audio person for a lot of my career. I was a reporter and then a network health reporter then a producer and then for a decade, I hosted a radio documentary show. I love audio. It's my thing. I teach audio now at the University of King's College. 

It's been five years since the book was published so there are additional things to be said.​​​​​

"It gives me a chance to think about things in a slightly different way. It's been five years since the book was published so there are additional things to be said."

LISTEN | Episode one of CBC's Run, Hide, Repeat: 

It’s 1971 and Ruth Dakin is going through a messy divorce and fears for the future of her young children, Pauline and Ted. She meets Stan Sears, a United Church Minister, a man who offered comfort and safe harbour. But the encounter would change her life – and the lives of her children – forever. Soon, odd, unexplained things start to happen and the young family is suddenly on the run, uprooted from their cozy home in North Vancouver to Winnipeg and then eventually to New Brunswick. The children are told not to tell anyone, and there are no goodbyes — not even to their father. Also on the move? Stan and his wife Sybil.

Pauline Dakin's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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