Have you ever heard a story or seen a movie where a worst-case scenario somehow turned out to be a happy ending?
I’m not talking about an addict in rehab making a conscious effort to get sober or a bleak cancer-diagnosed patient beating the most unlikely odds. In the addict’s scenario, they chose healing, fought for it. In the sick person’s scenario, they fought for healing, even gambled for healing.
No. In my story, I was gifted healing.
That’s the type of worst-case scenario turnaround I’m talking about. A happy ending no one ever saw coming or could even have imagined happening.
The short version of the story is that my dad was physically, financially, and emotionally abusive to my mom and then he did the same to my sister, my brothers, and me during our childhood. At the age of 10, I ran away at the age of 10 not because I believed I could find a better place to live — but because I refused to let my dad take my life. I knew leaving almost certainly meant more abuse for me, but at least it wasn’t at the hand of my own father anymore. I lived on the street, stealing, and surviving (barely).
If you don’t know my story, please read my full story to get the details of how I went from being a street kid to the advocate I am now.
As a Ugandan American trauma survivor, used-to-be homeless foster kid turned foster dad, my dramatic life experiences have made me passionate about many subjects.
Knowing what my mom suffered, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that I have the highest respect and the utmost compassion for abused women and single mothers.
Moms (especially you single moms) are my superheroes.
My mother suffered abuse because she went to my father to advocate for my needs. I remember seeing her bloody and swollen because she’d gone to ask my father for new clothes for her children.
From my perspective, even if they aren’t being beaten or abused, many single moms have to be the “bad guy” in many situations. A mom might drop off her kids with their father for a day or two. My foster kids see their biological parents once every week or every other week. Think about the position of a single mom or a single parent like me.
The biological parent gets to have fun and catch up with their child. Sometimes that includes candy and special activities. All of those things are special and wonderful, but that doesn’t change the fact that as their primary caregiver and parent, I (and many single moms) usually get the bulk of the responsibility, implement the consistent day-to-day discipline, do the daily homework battle, and take the brunt of each child’s most intense emotions.
It’s a privilege to be the one who’s there every day, in the gutter with the kids, when life gets muddy. But it’s intense.
When our children need someone to say, “it’s going to be okay,” both parents have an equal responsibility to provide security.
Men have an equal responsibility to care for children in this world.
The stigma of “bad dads” is rampant in our society. Men can step up when kids have needs; we know this is true because there are good fathers in the world.
The kindness of one man led me to stop stealing. And that good decision led me to another good decision. And one more after that. And here I am today — a foster parent to dozens of children and a speaker, author, and advocate around the world for families in need.
Having an advocate is how I got to where I am today. Don’t underestimate the impact true kindness and unconditional love can make on an individual. You may not be able to help 300 kids but you can help one, and that one will touch the lives of many.
On a basic needs level, every dad can relate to their child’s need to be unconditionally accepted and loved. Empathy comes from understanding. Seeing children in a place of need we resonate with — feeling unloved, unwanted, or hungry and thirsty — should compel us to meet those needs.
One man who noticed my needs disrupted the abusive cycle in my life and that’s what I try to do for the children in my community. Maybe my kindness – stepping in to meet their needs – will be the start of healing. I can disrupt another person’s depression and anxiety with kindness.
Abuse and hardship never have to be the end of the story.
Abuse wasn’t the end of my story. Rather, for me, it created a foundation for me to see the world differently.
One of my aged-out foster children recently went to see his biological father, who quickly kicked him out of the house after he arrived. When he called me, my first words were to tell him how brave he was to have gone to see his father. I did not offer advice, scold, or warn him. It was enough to simply see him for who he is and have compassion.
I have diligently learned to speak with intentional, kind words, because I so rarely had the power of kind words spoken over me. The hardships became motivation to become a better human being.
Someone had to disrupt my story for abuse to stop, for my life to turn towards hope.
As survivors of trauma, many of the foster children in my home believe they are unwanted, that they don’t belong. I don’t shy away from the hardship, but I ask myself, “How can I mirror their harshness with kindness and love?”
It is my desire to include them in my life. I include them in everything — taking out the trash, making dinner, doing laundry, etc. Children don’t differentiate between “fun” activities and plain tasks — everything can be fun, because it’s new and exciting!
Taking my children with me to do everyday activities shows them how to be a functioning adult and communicates to them that they are my priority. They belong. They are known and loved.
Every person who walks this earth is known and loved.
It is my hope to see everyone experience love and belonging. No matter what you feel, what you’ve done, how you perform or act today, this is the truth — you are loved. You are valuable. You have meaning and purpose in this world.
And once you realize your value, I hope you turn around and share that with those around you. Really good friends can disrupt our automatic negative thoughts in a powerful way.
Sometimes we see people in need. We know people aren’t doing okay.
Give them affirmation.
Offer them grace and strength.
Open up space for them to be honest.
Keep calling. Keep texting.
Don’t wait until your friends get better! Step into the mess with them.
Perhaps my story can be the disruptor that changes the trajectory of yours.