How My Mum Taught Me To Be a Better Father
As a father to three beautiful children and husband to an incredible woman, I have my mum to thank for this privilege. If it wasn’t for her, my life wouldn’t exist as it does today — literally. I’m honoured to share a brief portion of her story.
A Parent’s Worst Nightmare
Imagine your only child… a son you adore with big brown eyes and the cutest curls who smiles all the time. At just three years old, he has a wry smirk when he’s up to no good! He especially loves to tell stories about dinosaurs and will always curl up for a snuggle if you read him Winnie the Pooh.
Now imagine your worst nightmare — your son goes missing. What would you do?
This is what happened to my mum. When I was three years old, my biological father abducted me.
That began a 49-month nightmare for her and catapulted me into the realm of a “missing child”, complete with a poster and all.
When this all happened, there were no laws about parental abduction and as far as the police were concerned, the child’s father had taken him and that was fine.
So, for the next four years and one month, I lived with my dad as he travelled to New York City, Kingston, Jamaica and then finally, St. Louis.
The Night Everything Changed
All I remember was watching TV with my father and his girlfriend and then a knock at the door before police stormed into the house. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the front of a police cruiser on my way to a foster home.
I spent the next two nights in a foster home and then on the third day, I was brought to a courthouse. After playing with toys and not really understanding what was going on for most of the day, I was brought to a room and re-introduced to my mum…
A woman I vaguely recognized, but didn’t know.
Within an hour, I had my first limo ride led by a police escort to the St. Louis Airport for the flight back to Toronto. That was June 24, 1987.
That was the start of the rest of my life.
Gratitude and Admiration
When I reflect on what my mum did through her 49-month nightmare — and has done for me since — I’m filled with gratitude! Her life has taught me so much about unconditional love, forgiveness, and perseverance. What she achieved in the face of unbelievable circumstances is an example of amazing faith, strength, and determination:
- Faith – she never gave up hope that I would be found, despite receiving no help from the police, government agencies or the many “officials” that she petitioned to support her case. Her commitment to prayer, fasting, and trust in God carried her when she would otherwise be hopeless.
- Strength – she committed to obeying the laws of the land, even though many authorities advised her to “go and steal your son back” once she discovered where we were living (which was in another country).
- Determination – she meticulously detailed and documented every step of her process, petitions and pleas for help. Eventually, her determination earned her a relationship with two “angels” that helped her to change the laws in the state of Missouri, legally returning me to her rightful custody.
While there is so much untold from that story, it’s the wisdom from her time raising me after the abduction that I wish to share. She sacrificed so much after I came home that set a remarkable example of unconditional love. The actions she took as a mum helped me to become the father I am today.
When you do, I believe you will transform your relationships.
1. She Identified and Nurtured My Strengths
My mum was a skilled analyst when it came to my thoughts, attitude and behaviour. My most important recollection though, is how she identified my strengths and found ways to affirm them.
At every opportunity, she spoke positively into my life. Where she observed a strength or character trait, she would tell me. When others provided her feedback, she would share it with me.
Yet, perhaps the most important way she spoke into my life and initiated important healing was through my father. She would often connect my strength to attributes he possessed. She would say, “Your dad was very skilled at X, I see where you get that talent from.” The praise was always genuine with the highest regard and she pointed to how I was using that trait in a positive way.
That affirmation spoke directly to my identify. And the more I heard the strengths she saw in me, the more I began to believe it. Specifically, she would always express the reason she chose my name: “Drew means skilled and honest. That’s who you are – a skilled and honest person.”
Whether I realized it or not, I internalized and became that identity.
2. She Modelled & Taught Healthy Principles
As a certified John Maxwell Team Coach, Trainer and Speaker, I’ve often heard him say, “The most basic leadership principle is that people do what people see.” I’m also a product of that truth – especially when I look at the principles I admire in my mum.
While growing up, I never heard a negative comment about my father.
It sounds unbelievable, but that shows the strength of her conviction for modeling what she taught. Yes, we talked about the truth and reality of our experience, but never did I hear her speak negatively about him as a person. As with me, she often focused her comments on his strengths or positive attributes.
And I don’t believe she could authentically model that example without choosing to forgive my dad.
The most important principles that she believed I needed as her son, she chose to demonstrate first… character traits like forgiveness, integrity, honesty, character, strength, work ethic, discipline and so on.
Her example was critical for me. And now, I continue to pursue a life of service, love and excellence as a father, husband and professional because of her influence.
3. She Always Believed In Me
No matter what mistakes I made, or how much I “kicked at the wall” (as she would say), her belief in me never wavered. Looking back during times when my behaviour was challenging or I made poor decisions, my mum was always there to help me through. She held me accountable for my actions while at the same time supported me, and believed that I was capable of correcting it.
Even more than that, she always fought for me to believe that I could create a different outcome than the past. The best way to describe her approach to this was… relentless. She relentlessly encouraged and supported me through every situation, obstacle or barrier. Hands down, she was my greatest advocate.
If there was one thing I always knew – it’s that she believed in me. And as I look back, this single decision has made all the difference in my life.
Drew Soleyn is a dad of three young kids, and the creator of Connected Dads.