Photography by Brian Moody
In 1997, after 30 years of bullying and abuse, Natalia Aggiano’s mother was brutally murdered by her father at his home in Scunthorpe, England. Her father later died of cancer in prison. Natalia has written a book with Vanessa Howard on her experience, ‘Unconditional Love’ (2008).
My dad was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness. He was the head of the house – what he said, went. My sister was a goody-goody, because even though she was ten years older than me, she was afraid of him. But I never was: if he told me to make him a cup of tea, I’d say, ‘haven’t you got legs?’ And I’d get a beating. Because of that, I never listened to him. My older brother was psychotic and I never got on with him, but my little brother was my support. He was always trying to look after me.
I left home at 17 and begged my mum to do the same. She used to say, ‘I’ll leave when you are 18’, and then she’d look at my little brother and say, ‘I’ll leave when he’s 18’. But one day she rang up and said she was ready. She’d suddenly seen how my dad was dictating her life, and she wanted her freedom. We found her a little place near to where she was born and I moved in with her and my brother. Dad came home one day and his wife and son were gone.
Mum and I started having the relationship we’d never had before. She was so happy and relaxed, and we’d go for coffees and just talk. She got in touch with my dad via my sister, just to let him know she was safe. She told me that she still loved him, but for who he was; not for what he had done to her.
One day he called to say he had a load of post for her to collect. She had been thinking about going back for a visit anyway, so that my brother could see his old friends. But it was as if she knew something would happen, because she told me the night before that she thought he was going to kill her. Yet somehow she talked herself into it. I made her promise to wake me up in the morning so I could go with her. But she didn’t.
I woke up the next morning to the police at my door and I knew instantly what had happened. My first reaction was that I had to see my dad. I had to know if he had killed her deliberately, or if it was some kind of accident. I wrote him a note saying, ‘I know what you’ve done. It’s OK. I love you and want to see you’. I signed it, ‘your daughter’, hoping he would think it was my sister and agree to see me. When he saw that it was me he burst into tears. I made up my mind there and then, that as long as he told me the truth, without a word of a lie, I would stand by him.
It was what my mum had taught me – to love him for who he was, not for what he did. I know that if I had been a mass murderer, my mum would still have visited me every day in prison. I tried my best to do what she would have done. He was the only link I still had with her.
Throughout the trial he kept his word and never lied about what he had done, and eventually he was sentenced for manslaughter with diminished responsibility and sent to a psychiatric hospital. While he was in there we started having a proper father-daughter relationship. I’d come to him for advice on all my problems. I called him ‘Papa’, and he would tell me he loved me. He was the dad I always wanted. But he knew that if he ever started up the old behaviour, he’d never see me again.
My sister just couldn’t understand what I had done. She took my little brother and brought him up, but she pretended to everyone that our parents had died naturally. I never pretend. For me, it is much easier to forgive because then you can be free. She’ll have to live with her anger everyday for the rest of her life. Or worse, it might turn into regret. I’d already lived most of my life with hatred for my dad. I didn’t want it anymore. Forgiving him was such a big release. I’ll never forget what he did – but forgiving has brought me peace inside.
When my dad got really ill with cancer and we knew he was going to die, my little brother asked to see him – just once, so that he could get some closure. The weak, bed-ridden figure he saw was nothing like the military man who used to bully us all. My dad told my brother he could die in peace now, knowing that his youngest child had forgiven him too.
We can all make mistakes – that was the best thing my mother taught me. I now automatically look for the good in people I meet. I still miss my mum everyday; but I think she would be proud of me.