True Story: My Dad Kidnapped Me + Raised Me Abroad

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to
people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things.
This is Rachel’s story.

Rachel in the front row, on the right.

Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am a 23 year-old indie jewelry artisan residing in Sunny California! I am finishing up my degree in Education and minoring in Psychology online. If you can’t find me, I’m probably at the local Starbucks planning my next big adventure. I am a guilty overachiever, fluent in 4 languages, including American Sign Language!

What were the circumstances that lead to your father kidnapping you and bringing you to the Philippines?
As are most cases of abduction, my father kidnapped me after my mother divorced him and won custody. I found later that my father’s reasons had to do with my mom’s culture and beliefs. It was one of the major reasons for the divorce, and it was why he decided to kidnap me. I was three years old. He did not want me to be raised by her and that was that.

The only consolation that my mother had was knowing that my dad and I lived with my grandparents (my dad’s parents). The investigators in charge of my case had warned my mom not to go after us because there was a high risk of her getting killed. My dad had hired highly-trained bodyguards and was himself trained in martial arts and firearms. My mom had my address but was helpless.

Growing up in the Philippines, what did your dad tell you about your mom? Did you have any idea that you’d been born in America?
I always knew that I was born in America. I had memories of Disneyland and Chuck-E-Cheese, and I had some memories of my mom and my family here. I am also very fair skinned and obviously Caucasian. At school and among my playmates I was known as “kana”, short for Amerikana.

As a young child, my mom had been in nursing school and worked full time. I was used to not seeing her for days at a time. I can recall a specific time where I asked my dad why we were “here” (The Philippines) and why mom wasn’t. He simply said “We live here now. Your mom doesn’t want to live here.” I don’t remember much after that.

When did you find out about your mom and the kidnapping?
My dad is pretty proud of the fact that he beat the system and kidnapped me. He reiterated the story countless times. I know how it happened in details, and it matched up with what little memories I had of the event.

I started to yearn for my mom around age 10; around the time I got curious about make-up, boys and got my first period. I was not comfortable talking to my dad about these things and my step mom was “strict”.

Did you try to contact your mom at all? Why did you decide to leave the Philippines?
I never got any of the mail that my mom would send me. One summer day when I was 8 years old, my dad was out of the house and I found a bright pink envelope in the pile of mail sitting on the piano. I rushed to open it when I saw my name plastered across the front. It was a birthday card, but more importantly it had a phone number. I can recall the words “call collect” and that’s exactly what I did. I grabbed the phone and dialed. I heard a familiar voice and whispered “mom”? I heard crying, “baby”? More crying. My dad walked through the door and I hung up.

I remember the first time my dad really hurt me. I was in 5th grade and failing Filipino class. I got my finger pricked by a needle. Later that week, I had stolen from his coin dish and got beaten with a rod. I was a pretty stubborn child.

Once in high school I struggled to sit in my chair from all my bruising. I stood in the back of the classroom all day long.

I finally got in contact with my mom through e-mail when I was about 13. I think I got her e-mail through Yahoo! People Finder. We communicated about once a month, behind my father’s back at first. When my father had found out, he was not angry. Looking back, I think he was scared.

Tell us about the day you left the Philippines for America.
That is a-whole-nother story to tell! Story short: I left in the middle of the night, when my dad was asleep. I had to travel from my island to the mainland (Manila) where the American Embassy is located. I had a backpack and my phone, and $4 with me. All I had to do was show them identification and they immediately helped me. They contacted my mom for me and took it from there.

What was it like meeting your mom for the first time?

Mom picked me up from the airport along with my sister, a cousin and an aunt. I immediately knew who she was the moment I saw her, and she knew me as well. That moment is indescribable. I just remember lots of tears– lots and lots of happy, frustrated tears.

What’s your life like now? Do you have a relationship with your Dad?

It actually was very hard to build a relationship with my mom—and we are still struggling— but we are struggling together. I would say that in spite of what happened I am doing quite well. Even I am surprised at this fact, but I do have a relationship with my dad. He is, after all, my father and he did raise me. This does not mean that all is well and dandy. I still wake up screaming in the middle of the night, full of fear. I think I always will be haunted by what happened. However, I am consoled by the fact that my father can never ever step on American soil. The court has made sure of that, or he will face life in prison. It is on those nights that I have to go back to square one and forgive him for everything all over again.

I could not have had the strength to forgive my father if it were not for my faith. For that, I am very grateful.

What have you taken away from this experience?

Oh my goodness, I do not know how to answer this question! This experience has left me with PTSD, Depression, and constantly questioning my self-worth. I have so many issues that I am working on. However, I have also found that I am a very emotionally strong person because of all this. I am very quick to stand and defend the oppressed, I do not tolerate any abuse of any kind and I have been forced to become a mature person.

Thanks so much for sharing, Rachel.  Do you guys have any questions for her?

23 Comments

The Dame Intl

Thank you for this story, I totally relate to the after effects of PTSD, depression and questioning self-worth because of a damaging father/daughter relationship. I too do not tolerate abuse of any kind. I don't know how old you are Rachel, but I can tell you, that if you work at it, you will eventually come right, I think, well at least I feel a lot better about myself and function better in the world these days at 34. Stay strong xo

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Shepherds Daughter

Thank you, Lisa! This is very encouraging. Sometimes I feel like all that was a part of a different life, then again I would not be who I am if not for the experience.

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Monique

I'm in shock. I realize that this kind of stuff happens in real life but I'm so accustomed to seeing these types of stories on Lifetime. I'm glad you got away Rachel. Wow! Just wow.

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Cassie @ Witty Title Here

Wow, what a chilling story. Rachel's ability to move past her tragic upbringing and even forgive her father are admirable. I can't imagine what bravery it must've took to pick up and leave in the middle of the night. Thanks for telling your story, Rachel, and congratulations on everything you've achieved since then!

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lauren claire | rebuild (health + home)

Wow, wow, wow. Like the Dame mentioned above, I relate to Rachel's PTSD, depression, and issues with her father. This is why I love the internet. Because we all have such unique stories and there's such a benefit in sharing them. Not only do you feel less alone, but you also get the insight that there are so, so many different ways for people to be hurt, to survive, and to thrive later on.

Rachel, you have an amazing story and you should be so proud of the strength you've shown from a young age. Sarah, thanks for bringing this one to us.

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Creole Wisdom

I cannot tell you how brave I think you are. What an incredible story. I am very close to my mom and I think the bonds between mother and child are very special. I'm so glad you had your faith to see you through and you've worked to get to a better place. I'm so thankful the embassy was able to help you.

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Samantha Kimble

Holy wow this is an incredible story. I couldn't imagine being that young and escaping. How did you work up the courage to do that? It truly speaks to your inner strength.

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Anonymous

Thanks for sharing your story. I could have easily been in a similar situation and even at 30 I still get paranoid about my dad knowing where I live or work. Your tenacity comes through, and I've no doubts you'll be ok. Cheers.

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Girliest Nerd

As a mom I can't imagine anything more painful (aside from having a child die) than this scenario. I hope your father one day realizes the hurt and pain he's caused and feels terrible shame for what he's done.

You are an absolutely amazing person for what you've done and continue to do. Thank you for sharing.

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Savannah

Rachel, I know it can be difficult to share an experience like this with others. Thank you for doing so.

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Anonymous

This is definitely one of the most compelling (in my opinion, THE most) of the interviews here in Sarah's True Story series. I totally agree with the above commenter – this deserves to be a book!

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Anonymous

Rachel, thank you for sharing your story. I also have experience of a violent father, and my mother and I had to make an emergency escape from the situation, minus most of our belongings. I recognise the PTSD symptoms and the over-achieving too. Like you said, the experience has made you what you are today and I wholeheartedly agree with that.
If it's helpful – when my Grandma (father's side) died recently (we had a good relationship, despite her son's behaviour), my father called me. All the fear I had over the last 15 years, the plans I had in my head (if he came to work, I would fetch X colleague etc), dissolved as I realise what an old man he is. I also, weirdly, was able to tell him clearly and respectfully why I still wanted nothing to do with him. The nightmares have gone now.

Finally, to the commenters who have posted the 'this should be a book, it's like something on tv', can I just point out that no, this is how life is sometimes, and that sort of reaction has stopped me telling many people about my experiences.

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mmarinaa

Amazing story.

Question: Would you ever want to return to the Philippines? Or have you? I mean, I know it is linked to a million terrible memories, but you also grew up there. So I'm curious how you feel about the land itself or the city, etc.?

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Shepherds Daughter

mmarinaa, what an interesting question! I don't get asked this a lot, but when I do, I seem to have different answers each time.

I think, ultimately, I would definitely love to visit the Philippines and catch up with my old friends, cousins, and see the house where I lived in. I've discovered that my dad no longer has power over me (now), and that if need be, I can face him. I have a separate Facebook account that I use to interact with everyone I miss in the Philippines, including an official Facebook page for the city that I grew up in. It helps hold me over until the time that I decide to visit.

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Anonymous

Hi Rachel, thank you for sharing your amazing story!

I really feel connected to what happened to you, because a somewhat similar situation happened to me. However, the story was in reverse. My Caucasian American mother married and moved with my father to his country and had me and my siblings. After about ten years, she realized they were heading towards divorce (largely due to cultural differences). She got spooked by a politician friend of my dad who said she wouldn't win custody, so she snuck us off to the U.S. when my dad was not home. Once there, my father tried to fight for custody, but, of course, the U.S. court sided with my mom. My dad returned to his country and we didn't have much of a relationship or see him for many years. My mother didn't disclose (or "mention" as she likes to think of it) the true story behind how we left until I was an adult. Finding out the truth was infuriating. Years later now, I am trying to understand both of their positions and have healthy relationships with them. But, it is a struggle. Also, just as you said, it has left me with self-doubt and self-esteem issues. I struggle mostly with my sense of identity. It hurts to think how different life would have been if my parents had just been able to divorce in a mature manner. Even today, my skin crawls when either of them even mention the situation or each other. It feels like they don't have the right to say anything about it, at this point. I know that when I have a child, I will know how important it is to them to have a relationship with both of their parents, not just me. I know that power struggles over culture and custody should not be a part of a child's life.

Anyway, as you can see, sharing your story and especially how it has effected you as an adult is meaningful to me, as our types of cases are fairly rare and hard for others to understand. Best of luck to you in your journey.

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Hannah

Hi Rachel, if you don’t mind me asking, you mentioned that what helps you forgive your father is your faith – could you explain a little more about that? Like, specifically what kind of faith? It sounds very strong to have gotten you through an experience like this!

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