Robert PK Mooney was able to overcome traumatic experiences in his childhood and change his future through the power of choice.
Robert PK Mooney: One Foster Kid’s Road to Success
Robert PK Mooney was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He grew up in an abusive home and then went into the foster care system from age six until 18. Rob beat the stereotype and graduated from BYU with a degree in finance. He went on to receive two law degrees, one from BYU and one from Northwestern. During his career, he specialized in intellectual property cases where he has been recognized as one of the world’s leading IP strategists. Recently he quit his law practice so that he could spend his time with his wife and five children, who are his top priority.
Millions of children in America have parents who don’t provide for their physical, emotional or spiritual needs. This was the kind of upbringing Rob experienced. His mother was very sick physically, emotionally and mentally. His father was very abusive, including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in the home. Those experiences left some pretty significant scars.
Rob grew up with seven siblings. His parents had previous marriages, and both of them had children from those marriages. His mother’s two oldest children left to go to college on the mainland as soon as they could. Rob and his six biological siblings often didn’t have enough to eat.
The Decision to Run
Even when he was very young, Rob was always filled with determination. He remembers living on Oahu when he was five years old. One Sunday he saw hundreds of people running near his home. He asked his father what all the people were running from. Rob’s father explained they were running the Honolulu marathon. He went on to explain that it was a 26.2 mile long race.
Well, Rob had no understanding of how far a mile was, but he decided right then and there in his five year old brain that he was going to run the Honolulu marathon the next year.
Rob had seen the movie Rocky, so he knew he’d have to train. So he convinced his older brother and sister to run with him. They did push ups, sit ups, and ran up and down a hill near their home (a distance of around three miles).
Rob was also sure that to finish a race you needed to sprint. He and his brother and sister would see the finish line of their home and would just take off running. Rob says he lost every time, but it was ok. Sometimes their dad would come with them, sometimes their mom would drive the station wagon behind them to make sure they were ok.
A few months before the race, their mom signed them up. The night before the race, Rob remember that his mom didn’t come home until very late. Rob had been very worried, but she brought them matching white shirts and ironed on letters to spell out “Mooney bunch.” She also got them matching, red runner’s shorts and white tube socks with red stripes on the tops.
Running the Marathon
The next morning they got up very early to go downtown. They had to park so far from the starting line that they had to hitchhike to get to the beginning of the race. The starting line was packed with people, and in their midst was the now six-year old Rob.
The gun went off, and the race began. At first it was very slow going, but eventually the crowd started to thin. Rob’s siblings were outpacing him, but, for all his shortcomings, Rob’s dad stayed behind and ran the race with Rob. They reached one mile, then two, then they hit Rob’s max of three.
But he kept running.
Around mile 20, Rob’s legs started to seize up. They didn’t have Gatorade or anything like they do now, and Rob was malnourished to begin with. He had never had cramps like that before. He fell onto the pavement and just started to cry, it hurt so badly. For about twenty minutes, Rob’s father rubbed out his legs to try and ease the pain.
Of course Rob wasn’t exactly the fastest in the race, so the race organizers had started to open the roads back up to cars. Some people stopped and asked if they wanted a ride home. His father told him that he had done a good job, and they could go home. But Rob said, “No, I think I’ll finish.”
So he stood up and just kept running. When the finish line was within view, he started sprinting, just like he had in training. There were still some people gathered at the finish line who saw this little six year old sprinting at the end of the marathon and they ran up to him with giant leis to put around his neck. He finished the marathon!
Lesson #1: You Can Do Hard Things
Rob says he barely knows that kid who was so determined to run a marathon, but he’s so grateful that he did because of all the lessons he learned. He says it’s so helpful when the hard times come to know you’re capable of doing crazy things that people say you shouldn’t be able to do.
Rob went on to explain that most of his career has been doing things that were “too big” for him. He says he was too stupid or stubborn or cocky to understand that he shouldn’t be able to do something. “Go ahead and do it anyway,” Rob encourages. He also learned that you don’t have to do hard things alone either.
Lesson #2: You Don’t Have to Do It Alone
For all of his father’s faults, he held Rob in his arms and helped massage his legs so that he could run again. There will be people along the way, all of them imperfect, who will help you as you try to do hard things.
They don’t have to be perfect in order to help you. And you can help others, even though you aren’t perfect either.
Thankfully, some courageous people called the police and social services and that’s where Rob’s life changed. Some police officers came to their door one day when their parents weren’t at home. They were taken to a women and children’s shelter, and their mother was later contacted and joined them at the shelter. The social workers then determined that Rob’s mother was not physically or mentally able to provide for the children, so they were placed in the care of the state.
Rob’s first foster home was just an emergency placement while the shelter tried to find a home that would take all seven of the kids. He got to live with his best friend’s family for a while until another home was found where he could be with his siblings.
Unfortunately, his older siblings had endured a lot of trauma by that point. They were worried about being taken away from their mother, so when they were at the hospital, Rob’s older sister ran away. She never made it to the foster home with the rest of the kids. The day that they arrived at the foster home, Rob’s older brother ran away. So it was just Rob and his four younger siblings.
Wishing for His Normal Life
At his new school, there was a bully that was picking on Rob. His home life had changed three times in a matter of just a few weeks and the adjustment was extremely difficult for Rob. He remembers putting his head down on his desk one day, closing his eyes, and wishing it had all been a dream. Even with all the abuse happening in his home, he wanted to return to a place that was familiar, with all of his siblings. He still loved his father. He still had an intense desire to be back with his family.
However, the reality was that it wasn’t possible for his family to be together. His mother was very sick, and his father moved to the mainland. Eventually his mother moved to Utah to be with her family. She had hope that she could convince the state to transfer the kids to Utah too. She was hopeful that they could have some semblance of a family there.
Moving to Utah
Sometimes in a foster home Rob was with one of his siblings, sometimes he wasn’t. At his last foster home in Hawaii he was with his older brother. There they got the news that they would be moving to Utah right before Rob’s eighth birthday. They arrived in September, and in January, their mother started treatment for her cancer. She passed away in April.
At that point, all of the kids were thrown into a very unique situation. His parents were actually divorced, but had been living together. The state determined that the children would be sent to live with their father.
The arrangement didn’t last long. He wasn’t able to take care of them and after a few months, social services was called again. They called Rob’s mom’s family and told them that unless they intervened, the kids would be sent back to Hawaii. The family came and got them and worked with social services to get them back into foster care with a private social services organization acting as a liaison for Hawaii. Then the process for the termination of his father’s rights began. After that was completed, the kids were able to be adopted.
Rob’s four youngest siblings were adopted, with two of the siblings going to the same home. Rob and his older brother and sister were placed back in foster care. At that time, Rob and his siblings understood that their family was broken. This was the new normal.
Living With His Dad Again
When Rob was 13, he was living with a couple with their own biological kids, all younger than him. Their marriage was falling apart and they suggested that maybe it was time to give Rob a chance to reconnect with his biological father.
Rob hadn’t seen his father in four years. By that time, Rob’s older brother had run away from his foster home and was living with their dad, who was borrowing a trailer near Zion National Park. Rob went to go live with them as his foster parents split up.
By this point, Rob’s father had worked on some of his issues by getting in touch with his Native American roots and some spirituality. He was no longer physically abusive towards the boys. However, at that point he had remarried. His wife did not live in the trailer with the boys, so he was splitting his time between being with his sons and being with his wife. It was not the best situation for a 14 and 16 year old. They spent a lot of time by themselves in a trailer without heat, a phone, or enough food. A friend of Rob’s supplied a lot of their clothes.
The Spark that Changed Everything
Rob had been there about six months when his father told him that he felt it was time to bring his younger brothers and sisters to live with them. At that point, one of them had been adopted, two were about to be adopted, and the third was in the home where he would be adopted. They had their own lives. They hadn’t seen their father in years and for most of them, some of their only memories of him were filled with terror. At this point, Rob’s siblings now had a chance at a normal life. His father didn’t have so much of a home. It was more of a borrowed shelter.
So in as nice of words as he could manage, Rob told his father that he thought it was a bad idea to bring them to the trailer. That escalated into a confrontation. Eventually, it came to a point where Rob’s dad was trying to show him how much improvement he had made as a person and yelled, “Why do you think I don’t beat you and your brother anymore?”
Rob responded with, “Because we’re bigger than you now.”
The Moment Time Stood Still
While Rob may have been taller than his father, he was still a 14 year old boy. So his father challenged him to a physical fight. Rob agreed, thinking it might feel good to finally get some payback. As he got ready to take his first swing, time stood still.
All of his life Rob had been fighting bullies. Once he had happened to be holding a pencil when a bully started trying to fight him and Rob had stabbed the bully in the back with the pencil. People understood that with all he had been through that of course he would fight back.
But in that moment, Rob realized that he didn’t have to hit his father. For the first time, Rob realized he had a choice. So he turned and walked out of the trailer to the nearest friend’s home and called the police. The police came and picked him up and he went back into the custody of the state.
You Have A Choice
From that point on, Rob knew he had a choice about his life. His grades prior to that night had been abysmal. The next quarter he got straight A’s. In his words Rob explains, “I didn’t get any smarter. I just chose to do my stuff. Instead of giving up on something that was hard, I would go and ask for help.” It was a conscious decision because he realized he was responsible for providing for himself.
He was placed in a foster home in the same neighborhood of one of his best friends. His friend’s family became like his own family. Rob started doing a lot of work to shape himself into the kind of dad he wished he’d had. He worked to make himself into the kind of person that he’d want to marry. All of it was a choice.
Rob has a scar on his face from his father abusing him when he was five years old. Every morning when he shaves, he looks at it. The scar could have been a reminder of all the pain and the victimization he had experienced as a child. But for Rob, it’s a reminder that his children aren’t going to have to go through what he went through. For him, it’s a reminder that he gets to choose.
The Choices of Siblings
Unfortunately, not all of Rob’s siblings were able to come to the understanding that they get to choose to be a victim or not. His younger brother was the first to be adopted, but a few years ago died from meth poisoning.
Rob took him to lunch a few years before he passed away. His brother told him all about how he was moving to Hawaii and had essentially disowned his adoptive family. He told Rob that he had problems with drugs and alcohol because of the way his adoptive father had treated him.
After a few minutes, Rob finally spoke about our ability to choose, but his brother didn’t internalize that and it ultimately led to his death.
God’s 3 Greatest Blessings
1. The Ability to Choose
Rob says that the greatest blessing that God has given him is the ability to choose.
2. Understanding the Power of Choice
The second greatest blessing God gave him is the understanding that he gets to choose. As hard as that year when he was 14 was, it also gave him that moment where he came to understand that he could choose, and that makes all the difference.
Rob explained, “If we let the abuse, the neglect, the hurt, and the betrayal continue to erode our spirits, then we just allow those perpetrators to continue to victimize us.” Rob tries to teach foster kids that they have been victimized, but that doesn’t make them a victim. You get to choose that. You get to choose how you respond to your situation. It’s a two-edged sword though–You are the master of your own destiny, but that means you can also choose wrong.
3. A Way to Fix Wrong Choices
The third greatest blessing that God gives us is a way to fix those times when we chose wrong.
Along with repenting of our own mistakes comes the blessing of forgiving others. Forgiveness is key because it is a choice and it allows you to not continue to be a victim of other’s wrong choices. Rob says he has forgiven his father. In fact, he had to do it twice.
Rob had a yearning to be there with his father–in spite of all the problems his father caused. And that is probably why he chose to return to live with his father as a teenager. As he realized that he was able to forge his own life, he also realized that he had to let the past go.
Forgiving More than Once
Rob says it honestly wasn’t that hard at first. It took prayer and divine help, but he forgave his father. But when he became a father himself, a lot of that hurt came back to him. He recognized that he would do anything for his son.
Rob’s father had always said that his children were wrongfully taken from him. But Rob knew that if his own son were taken away that he would never stop trying to get him back. His father hadn’t done that. A new wave of abandonment washed over him. He took that opportunity to acknowledge the pain and then choose to let it go.
Filling the Hole
Rob then asked God to fill the hole in his heart left from this pain. He says there’s always an ache. His sister took her own life because of it. But for Rob, that ache is healed. He says you have to turn it over to God to fill it with light. It happens if you’re willing.
Sometimes you’ve been filling the hole with anger and rage. You think it’s what’s keeping you whole. But there is a Master Healer who will fill it with love, but this healing takes time.
Sometimes you are trying to forgive someone but your thoughts and feelings have to be separate from your actions. You have to act as if you have forgiven someone, even if you haven’t fully forgiven them yet. Sometimes you may want to do something to hurt the person back. But it all comes back to your choices.
God has given you the power to choose and part of that is doing what He would have you do, even if you don’t feel like it.
Opportunities to Love
For Rob, a great blessing of being a father is the ample opportunities he has to fill his heart with love. He absolutely loves being a dad. He says that God is like an architect who has designed life for giving you opportunities to love and serve and grow.
Rob has five children of his own, and he and his wife have also served as foster parents. Rob says his actions aren’t altruistic though. He is selfish because serving and raising his kids fills his heart with this incredible feeling. He feels a beautiful closeness with his wife when he treats her with respect.
God is Always There
Rob talks to a lot of foster kids who are likely to age out of the program. When they reach around 14 years old, it’s difficult to find homes for those kids, so the focus shifts to transitioning to adult life. First, Rob tells them that they can do hard things. He often uses the marathon as an example of doing something ridiculously hard that you really have no business doing, but you can still do it. And you don’t have to do it alone. God sends angels in the form of people. Yes, they are imperfect people, but they’re there. Sometimes they’re not physically there, but God is always there for you.
Lesson #3. The Power of Prayer
Rob learned this through prayer. He hadn’t ever really thought of God as person who he could talk to and ask for things. Once, when he was hanging out with his friends, one of whom he was living with at the time, they all started complaining about their families.
Afterward, Rob pulled his friend aside and told him that it really bothered him when they complained about their families. He explained that he would really love to have a family, and they have one but all they do is treat them like garbage.
His friend told him that he could pray and ask God for a family. So Rob started asking God for a family. A few weeks went by, then months, and nothing happened, but Rob kept praying for a family.
An Answer to Prayer?
Finally, his caseworker called and said she had found a family for him. Rob went to visit them every week for a few weeks to see if he would be a good fit. They had a big house and basketball courts, tennis courts, and took Rob boating. They were athletic and outgoing, just like Rob. He was sure this was an answer to his prayer.
But the family told him that they didn’t think it was the right fit. They told Rob that they loved him, but they felt that God had something else in store for him. Rob was devastated.
The Real Answer to Prayer
His caseworker advised him to finish his junior year of high school that summer so that he would be ready to live on his own soon. He did so, and then at the end of the summer he got another call from his caseworker.
A young adopted girl was struggling with her identity, and they wanted Rob to talk to her. He agreed. The family of the girl were actually trying to see if Rob was a good fit to live with them.
They decided they wanted to have him live with him while he finished his senior year. Rob says that his new family was the complete opposite of him. They were soft spoken and reserved. But they helped Rob to become a complete person. Rob realized that God knew exactly how his prayers of having a family needed to be answered. His children now call these wonderful people grandma and grandpa.
“A Foster Kid’s Road to Success”
Rob has written a book called “A Foster Kid’s Road to Success,” written for foster kids who are likely to age out of the system, like he did. He wants to help kids understand they can choose to be successful. He wants them to realize that they can forge meaningful, deep family relationships and they can love and be loved. They can choose those things, and they can guard that choice.
Favorite Bible Verse
Rob’s favorite scripture is for those moments when you feel kind of cast away and forgotten. It’s a reminder that that simply isn’t true. The Lord tells us in Isaiah 49:16 that He remembers us and He isn’t going to forget us:
“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”
So while we may feel forgotten, we are never alone.
Rob is on Instagram at Robert PK Mooney, as well as on Facebook. His website is www.robertpkmooney.com. You can purchase his book through his website or you can give the gift of a book to a foster child on his website as well. All donations on his website help him give the book to foster care children.