Jason Akermanis' heartache after discovering secret second family

Chris Young
·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
Former AFL star Jason Akermanis has opened up about how the truth of his parentage was kept from him as a child. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)
Former AFL star Jason Akermanis has opened up about how the truth of his parentage was kept from him as a child. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Former AFL star Jason Akermanis has opened up about his troubling upbringing as a teenager, revealing the man he believed was his father as a child was not who he thought he was.

In a revealing interview for the Daily Mail over the weekend, Akermanis revealed that when he was 14 years old, his mother informed him the man who he had believed was his father was not.

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For the teenage Akermanis, it was a utterly jarring discovery - for his entire life, he had believed Canadian man John Akermanis was his birth father.

After growing up in the regional Victorian town of Mildura, Akermanis and his mother Shona Carswell and brother Rory moved to Brisbane when he was in his early teens.

It was at this point that Akermanis' mother told him his real father wasn't John - it was a man named Denis Dezdjek, a mechanic from Mildura who his mother had an affair with.

The former Brownlow Medallist and triple-premiership player for the Brisbane Lions said the truth of his parentage had caused him significant emotional distress, plunging him into depression and even contemplating suicide at age 14.

“Mum told me she was working in the office at a car dealership in Mildura where Denis was a mechanic and they had an affair that resulted in me and Rory,” Akermanis said.

“John Akermanis had been away working for a while and when he got back Mum told him that she was pregnant with Rory. He did some sums and said, “wait a minute, that can’t be right. I wasn’t here.

“I was pretty stunned at first. I’d grown up thinking I was Canadian. I had pictures of the Canadian wilderness of my bedroom wall. I’d dreamt of going there one day.”

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The teenage Akermanis soon resolved himself to forget about his birth father, more or less pretending he hadn't been given the news.

But the young footy prodigy continued to be tested when Shona was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer during Akermanis' final year of high school.

Forced to juggle his studies, his burgeoning footy career and caring for his younger brother, Akermanis described the period as 'a bad time', with Shona passing away two years after her diagnosis.

At just 19 years old, Akermanis took on legal responsibility for Rory.

Jason Akermanis opens up about relationship with secret family

While the now 44-year-old enjoyed the bulk of his AFL success with the Lions, by 2006 Akermanis was on the outer in Brisbane.

At odds with the club after publicly criticising coach Leigh Matthews, Akermanis said his turbulent exit from Brisbane coincided with his desire to reconnect with his birth father and half-siblings Nigel, Elissa and Shelley.

While his relationship with Brisbane was on the rocks, Akermanis described his first phone call to Nigel who, unsurprisingly, was surprised to be hearing from the AFL superstar.

Jason Akermanis is pictured with former Brisbane Lions teammates Michael Voss and Chris Scott. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)
Jason Akermanis is pictured with former Brisbane Lions teammates Michael Voss and Chris Scott. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

"He told me he had always wanted a brother,' Akermanis said of Nigel. 

"He was just angry that he was 30 years old when he found out he had one. He told me he'd ring my half-sisters Elissa and Shelley and tell them.

"The funny thing was that a week earlier I'd been on the Footy Show and Elissa's husband was watching. He called her in and said, "Look at this guy, he's the spitting image of your dad."

"When Jason rang Elissa he said, "What if I told you we had a brother? You'll never guess who it is" and she said straight back, 'Jason Akermanis'".

Akermanis went on to enjoy a 15-year relationship with birth father Denis, before he passed away in 2020 at the age of 70.

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