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Mahtob Mahmoody

Mahtob Mahmoody was born in Texas in 1979 on the cusp of the Iranian revolution and in the midst of a hurricane.  Her parents were an American woman from a small Midwestern town and an Iranian-born but American-educated doctor.  A life that began amid storms and conflict seemed destined to continue in such. 

In 1984, at the age of four, just weeks before she was set to begin school in Michigan, her father, Moody, insisted on taking his family to his homeland for what he promised would be a two-week vacation.  Her mom knew the risks.  Fearing if she refused to go Moody would kidnap Mahtob and knowing the American legal system of the day would offer no protection, Betty agreed to the trip. 

Once in Iran, the unspeakable became a reality.  “You’re in my country.  Now you’ll abide by my rules.  You are in Iran until you die.”  With that rant, Moody transformed Betty and Mahtob from tourists into prisoners.  For eighteen months they endured Moody’s brutal captivity.  They were eighteen months filled with savage beatings.  Eighteen months filled with almost daily Iraqi air raids.  Eighteen months filled with quiet desperation, perseverance, faith and a never-ending hope of escape. 

The Pulitzer-Prize nominated, internationally best-selling book, Not Without My Daughter, written by her mother after their miraculous escape, recounts the horrors of those eighteen months and their unimaginable journey to freedom.  Not Without My Daughter was made into a major motion picture starring Academy Award winner, Sally Field and Alfred Molina. 

It was as a young child that Mahtob was first forced to grapple with intense, grown-up questions.  How does one forgive someone who’s hurt them?  What is the meaning of love?  Aren’t daddies supposed to protect their children from monsters?  How can it be that the daddy IS the monster?  Would all men hurt her the way her father had?  Had it not been for her extraordinary elementary school teachers, Mahtob may never have learned to relinquish her hatred or understood that some people, perhaps most people, are worthy of one’s trust. 

Mahtob was raised in a home where activism and service were integral parts of life.  Hearing of their ordeal, thousands of people contacted Betty asking for help.  International Parental Child Abduction was not a new issue; it was merely a silent issue.  Mahtob worked alongside her mother as she led a grassroots campaign to rewrite the law of the United States to protect children from being kidnapped by a parent.  Their home was filled with a steady stream of parents who were desperate for help to recover a stolen child or who were living with the devastating fear that their child would be taken from them. 

Through the efforts of One World For Children, a non-profit organization founded by Betty, 78 children were returned to their homes.  It’s not possible to calculate the number of kidnappings that were prevented.  Her mother’s second book, For the Love of a Child, paints the picture of the lives of just a small handful of families affected by International Parental Child Abduction around the world.

The storms persisted in Mahtob’s life.  She grew up plagued with the very real threat of being kidnapped by her father or harmed by someone who had taken up his cause.  At the age of thirteen she was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that nearly robbed her of her life.  As a young woman her life was turned on end when a documentary film project entitled, Without My Daughter, set its sights on capturing a father-daughter reunion.  In that documentary, created by her father and a prominent Finnish producer, Dr. Mahmoody portrays himself as a lonely and loving old man who wants nothing more out of life than to rekindle a relationship with the beloved daughter who was stolen from him.  Through it all her resilient nature outshined the darkest clouds. 

It was the concept of resiliency that led Mahtob to study Psychology at Michigan State University.  She wanted to know everything there was to know about the spirit of resiliency.  From where does it come?  How does one guard against losing it?  If it’s lost, can it ever be reclaimed?  Is there a point at which it is no longer possible to be resilient?  Like most people who pursue a study of the workings of the human mind, for Mahtob this was a personal quest.

Since 2002 when she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Michigan State University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Mahtob has worked in the realm of the mental health industry.  Her passion lies not in clinical practice, but rather in raising public awareness and garnering community support for health and wellness initiatives.  Her advocacy work in the mental health field has allowed her to practice event planning, marketing, fund development, team building, writing and graphic design.  In addition to that, she has worked through the medical and legal systems to ensure patients’ rights are upheld during mental health hospitalizations.

Mahtob, on her own and in tandem with her mom, has spent much of her life sharing her message of hope and inspiration with audiences throughout the world.  She is a harbinger of peace not hatred, of forgiveness not bitterness, of celebrating the good AND the bad experiences in life that mold our character.  Drawing the best from her Iranian and her American heritage, Mahtob employs anecdotes from her life to illustrate the beauty of a multi-cultural existence. 

The once painfully shy child is silent no longer.  Now her voice manifests itself anew as she recounts the experiences of her life in her debut book My Name is Mahtob.