Better with age

After a tragic car accident left him depressed and guilt-ridden for 30 years, Aad Van Der Linden took a road trip to Ibiza with his son – and everything changed. Josie Johnson meets Dutch father and son modelling duo Aad and Remco to talk ageing, happiness and why it’s good for men to talk

6th October 2017

There is a burst of gloopy, singsong Dutch as Remco Van Der Linden swaggers towards the white-haired man propped against the bar. The two do a pantomime of pawing and complimenting each other’s Jigsaw clothing and have us all laughing. There are cheery shouts of ‘prost’, ‘hallo, Pa!’ and ‘yeehaw’ — all with one eye on the camera, jaws clenched, beers raised and shoulders carefully squared.

It is fascinating to watch father and son model together. “I’m finding out I’m just like my Dad”, says Remco. “It’s crazy, you know? The way he’ll start moving, or he’ll grab at something or do a ‘woop!’ like I do. I always thought I was more like my mom.”

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At 71, Aad Van Der Linden is a rare non-English-speaking Dutchman with a boyish energy. His son is our interpreter for the day, the two locked in a bubble of conspiratorial humour. Remco constantly grooms his Dad — readjusting his sweater, combing that beard. To look at them, you would think they had been modelling together for decades, that they had always been this close.

In truth, the bond between them is as new as Aad’s career. A former tulip farmer, Aad began modelling two years ago after heading to Ibiza — where Remco lives — for his first holiday away from his wife in 50 years. “He came along to a shoot I had and at the end of the day I said to them, ‘Is it OK if you take some pictures of us together for my mom to put up on the wall?’” Remco, a model since his 20s, posted the pictures on Facebook. “Instead of my normal 200 likes, I got 700 likes and the photographers and stylists and makeup artists who followed me started asking if they could use us.”

‘When your dad starts talking about his youth
and things that happened, you also start to open
up more because you’re talking now not just as
father and son, but also as friends’

Since then, the two have embarked on adventures all over the world. From a fishing boat in South Africa where Aad wore cable knits and fake tattoos, to a shoot for a chair firm in Italy — “Dad had to sit by Lake Como and pretend to be asleep in his chair, so he was literally making money in his sleep!”

It is a foray that has not only strengthened the relationship between father and son, but also represents an incredible metamorphosis for Aad. At 40 he was involved in a tragic car accident which resulted in the death of a 17-year-old girl who was cycling while listening to her Walkman. He was free of blame, but carried the guilt for 30 years. “At that time, there was no therapy,” he states, matter-of-factly. And in the small village in the Netherlands where it occurred, “I couldn’t be happy or even smile, because you feel like people are looking at you and thinking, ‘How can you be smiling? Look what you’ve done’. Of course, it isn’t like that, but that’s how you feel.”

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With no template for male emotional expression — his father died of cancer when Aad was 15 — the event plunged him into depression and led to physical illness. Aad himself had cancer in his 30s, and with a complex juggling act of medical and emotional issues, it all proved too much to handle. “Every house has its cross [to bear] but if you get too many crosses, you just break,” says Remco. “When Dad didn’t get help with his health, he got psoriasis, kidney stones, you name it. This shit has to come out and it needs to come out by talking, by crying, by sweating, by screaming.”

For Aad, help came when Remco asked if he could have his old car. A convertible VW Golf that had been sitting in the garage for years, Remco decided it would be more at home in Ibiza. “You can have it,” Aad agreed, “but I want to drive it to Ibiza with you.” They spent two days travelling through Europe, stuck in the car together and talking about their lives and the accident for the first time. “When your dad starts talking about his youth and things that happened, you also start to open up more because you’re talking now not just as father and son, but also as friends.” With his eyes opened to the depths of his father’s depression, Remco suggested therapy, in particular eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). “It’s weird for a parent because one minute [your child] is pooping their pants and then all of a sudden you’ve got this guy giving you advice,” Aad laughs.

It was good advice. “EMDR is extremely effective at helping people recover from difficult life experiences,” says Matthew Wesson, an EMDR trainer and therapist. The treatment includes focusing simultaneously on traumatic memories and bilateral stimulation, usually in the form of repeated side-to-side eye movements. “Aad’s story is a very good example of its success, and I am delighted that he was able to find help.”

The transformation captures something that is evidently so important: men need to seek help and talk to each other more. “It’s hard, you know? If you have to go through every detail of how you’re feeling to really get to the core of the issue, you’re going to be crying your eyes out for hours, but the end result is amazing,” says Aad. After therapy, he was finally able to visit the grave of the girl who died to say goodbye to her and to his guilt.

Now he is helping others. After being approached by people with similar mental health issues, he has met them in cafes for simple conversations that mark the start of them opening up to loved ones, doctors and ultimately themselves. “One of the ladies I met with was suicidal, and because of her talk with me, has gone to get EMDR and therapy,” says Aad.

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The pair’s social media pages are scattered with prayer hands and the hashtag #blessedandahalf — Remco’s mantra of mindful happiness that suits his karmic zen in Ibiza but is rooted in a Dutch way of life; “Who does well, gets well”, Aad nods. And what of finding happiness so late in life? “It’s never too late. I’m 71 but I don’t act like it. I go anywhere, I work, I go to the gym. These are things I haven’t done my whole life, so they’ve come along with getting older.”

“Age is definitely becoming less important,” insists Remco. “That’s why Dad is working so much. This is a real father and son working together so it’s authentic, but it’s a very big market. The people with the disposable income are between my age and his age.”

“With modelling and everything, Dad sees more fashion and finds himself wanting to wear clothes for a younger generation but it doesn’t really fit. I bought him a really good blue suit for work which he loves, and I gave him some skincare, some beard stuff. He knows he has to inform me when he’s planning to go for a haircut!”

The role reversal is almost comical. As a child, Remco was constantly adventurous. “One time we were looking for him and we saw blonde hair in the stream behind our house,” Aad recalls. “I jumped in to grab him, but it was just a doll. He was always off somewhere, adventuring and showing off!” Now it’s Aad’s turn — in the modelling spotlight, he feels he can finally be seen. And he now has more than enough pictures for his wife’s wall. The final step in their Freaky Friday switch? Does Dad steal his son’s clothes? “He’s not stealing my clothes, but he’s definitely stealing the show.

For further information on EMDR visit: www.emdrassociation.org.uk

Photography by Daniel Fraser

Words by Josie Johnson

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