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“My Name is Mahtob” Author Tells her Story of Fear and Forgiveness

ESCAPE FROM IRAN

Mahtob’s dad, Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody, was from Iran. He left his country at the age of eighteen to attend university in the United States, where he was known as “Moody”. He went to medical school and completed his residency in anesthesia. Her mom, Betty, married her dad in 1977. During the Iranian Revolution which took place in the late 70’s, Mahtab’s dad changed. He condemned the United States and everything for which it stood. Betty had only known Moody as a non-practicing Muslim. He brought the Iranian Revolution to the streets of Texas by holding anti-American protests.

After Mahtob was born in 1979, her parents moved to Michigan. Her mom began to threaten divorce due to Moody’s increasingly erratic behavior. In 1984, when Mahtob was four she and her parents left for a two week vacation to her father’s homeland. Although a family friend warned Betty not to go, she went anyway for fear that Moody would kidnap Mahtob if she did not go.

They stayed with Moody’s sister in Iran. Mahtob remembers the culture was very unsettling for her. It was very smelly, frightening, and noisy in the country.  When it came time for their visit to end, Moody had other plans. He told Betty that she was not going back and said, “You are in Iran until you die.”  

Mahtob’s dad would not allow her or her mom to communicate with their family in America. Initially, he told the family back home that the government wouldn’t let them leave the country. Then he forced Betty to send letters and pictures that made it seem like they were happy in Iran. Every day Mahtob would beg her mom to go home.

Her dad’s violent tirades became commonplace, and he threatened to kill Mahtob and her mom if they tried to escape. Her mom got sick with dysentery and was barely clinging to life. The weeks turned to months and her mom’s health continued to deteriorate, and Mahtob lived in fear that her dad would kill her mom.

During this time, Iran and Iraq were at war.  Mahtob experienced the bombings of warplanes and heard the air-raid sirens. Her family slept under the dining room table in a makeshift bed. They draped layers of blankets over the sides to create a barrier to protect them from shards of glass. It was here that Mahtob also witnessed one of her father’s horrendous attacks. Without warning, her dad took clumps of her mom’s hair in both hands and bashed her head against the wall. None of the other family members standing around would help. Mahtob tried to stop his assault, but he picked Mahtob up and threw her against the wall.

Moody was afraid Betty would try to escape with Mahtob so he would only let them out of his sight when a suitable guard could stand in for him. Betty prayed for the day when Moody would let her go to the market on her own. Finally that day came and Betty met a man in the market who would one day help them escape. Although the Swiss Embassy was aware of their situation, their hands were tied because in Iran Betty and Mahtob were considered to be only Iranian citizens. They would have to be smuggled out of the country.

After eighteen months of captivity, Betty and Mahtob seized the opportunity to escape. The man who she met in the marketplace helped them get out of town and hired drug smugglers to lead them over the mountains into Turkey even though the peaks were covered in snow. They had several close calls, but they knew God was with them and paving the way. Betty and Mahtob were back home in the United States, but still not free. It would be five years before Betty would be able to get a divorce from Moody due to the laws in place. Mahtob would attend school under a false name to protect her identity. And, together they would move many times.

LIVING IN FEAR

In the summer of 2000 Mahtob began receiving emails from strangers. The day after her twenty first birthday she received a message from a Finnish film producer. He had met her father while on business in Iran and had
expressed a deep desire to meet her. The producer was making a documentary about Moody. He invited Mahtob to meet her father for a reunion. She chose to ignore the email. Nine days later she received another email. The emails terrified Mahtob.

She retreated from the world through sleep and reading books. Afraid of her father’s response if she told him “no,” Mahtob avoided responding to the email despite her mom’s insistence that she respond. Her worst nightmare came true a couple of months later. She opened the door to her apartment and found sticky notes all over her house that said, “Maht, you mom called. It is important.” Her mother confirmed her fear. Her dad had called Betty wanting to speak to Mahtob. “Your dad has found us, I answered the phone at home today, and it was him. He asked for you.”  It had been fifteen years since she and her mom had escaped, and still they were not free.

At first, she and her mom decided to flee the country, but Mahtob refused to let her dad take away everything they had worked so hard to accomplish. Male family members stood guard at her apartment, her mom would drive her to and from classes, and they would trace calls that rang every 90 seconds with someone breathing on the other end. “This was the first time he had proven so disruptive to my daily functioning,” shares Mahtob. Mysterious incidents began to occur with her and other family members. After her dad’s documentary titled Without My Daughter was released in 2002 things seemed to quiet down a bit, but unsettling things continued to happen. She knew someone had been in her home because the toilet seat would be down, a plant would be knocked on the floor, or she would awake to the sound of her front door slamming.

She tried to catch the intruder in the act working with police and private investigators. “This was a horrible time in my life. With every break-in I felt more frustrated and more vulnerable,” recalls Mahtob. After six months the police closed the case for lack of evidence of whether her father or an intruder was involved. The next morning she moved out of her apartment.

LIFE THREATENING ILLNESS

At thirteen, Mahtob had been diagnosed with lupus. The autoimmune disorder was more advanced than anyone realized. She dealt with extreme fatigue, hair loss, and much more. As a teenager, she took an experimental treatment called DSG; thankfully it helped so Mahtob was able to resume her daily activities.

In college, this illness would rear its head again. During her senior year when all the stress of her dad’s intrusions began, Mahtob had a lupus flare-up. However, she changed her diet and concentrated on a positive attitude, and to her surprise the lupus went into remission. Then two and a half years ago she was hospitalized with her worst flare up. She received a blood transfusion and today she relies on less medication.  

In 2009, Mahtob learned of her father’s death. “My dad’s passing had little impact on me. As far as I’m concerned, he died the day he told us we couldn’t leave Iran,” shares Mahtob. She chose not to have any communication with her dad through the years because that would open her up to more of his lies and manipulation. Mahtob says she feels sad for her dad, the poor choices he made, and that he squandered his life in such a way that so many people were negatively affected.

FORGIVENESS

For Betty, writing Not Without My Daughter in 1987 had been cathartic. She recognized that if Mahtob were to have any chance of being free, she needed to be forced to remember the endearing qualities of the daddy she once loved. She looked at old photo albums with Mahtob and told stories of family life before Iran. However, Mahtob was determined to hold on to her hatred. Slowly Mahtob’s heart began to soften. She soon was baptized a year to the day from when she and her mom escaped Iran. Mahtob says, “It seems fitting that the day I celebrate freedom from my dad’s oppression is also the day I celebrate my freedom from the oppression of sin, death, and the power of the devil.”

Within the first year of their escape Mahtob admits she forgave her father for what he did to them in Iran. “Forgiving my father didn’t mean I had to subject myself to any more of his abuse.” She really struggled to forgive him for the repeated intrusions in her life. “I was terrified of him,” Mahtob admits. He made her life difficult for many years. “When he reappeared, especially when I was at university and he was filming his documentary, my hatred reappeared as well,” reveals Mahtob. She says it took a lot of soul searching for her to learn to forgive him once more.

In a letter to one of her dad’s former friends Mahtob shares, “I am happy and healthy and living a good life. I have endured my fair share of challenges, but life continues to be filled with immeasurable blessings. The Bible says to give thanks in all circumstances and that’s what I try to do.” Mahtob says she is not a bitter prisoner to hatred. “I have forgiven my dad.”

Mentioned in the Video

Guest Info

Credits

Author of My Name is Mahtob, (Nelson Books, 2015)

 

Subject of book, Not Without My Daughter, and 1991 movie starring Sally Field

 

Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Michigan State University

 

Works in the field of mental health 

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