A Mother’s Story: Conversations With My 15-year-old Son

Seeds of Hope: A mother of 2 abducted children reestablishes contact with her sons

Dawn Dibenedetto is the mother of two sons abducted to Saudi Arabia and co-editor of The Link.

Tarik was 9 years old when abducted to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 18th, 1994. He is now 15. By the grace of God, we communicate, by subterfuge. This began about 3 years ago through 100’s of persistent calls and hang-ups. My mother finally got through. Tarik succeeded in his first collect call. Now he has taught his brother. The calls are intermittent and at odd hours from the most unusual places, a bathroom… a locked bedroom in the middle of the night… a relative. I live for those calls.
In January 2001, I asked Tarik if he would mind if I asked him questions, kind of an interview format for publication in The Link. I explained to him what the newsletter was about and he said that I might not like his answers. I told him that all I ask is that he tries to be true to self… and the rest would fall into place.

Our next conversation occurred February 24, 2001. I read to Tarik what Cecilie had written to me: “It sounds like Tarik will answer as I would have at his age—that while I recognized that my father did what he did under deceitful circumstances, I was happy with my life and with the fact that if he hadn’t abducted me, I wouldn’t know what the true faith was, wouldn’t know God. I felt bad for my mother but was afraid that my faith would be threatened. Maybe ask Tarik if what I say is something he relates to.”

Tarik: “Yes.”
Mom: “What would be the best case scenario for the future for you as relationships with your father and me.”
Tarik: “For you to get back together. But I know this is impossible. So the next best thing is for both of you not to hate each other. Or if you can’t do that… not to talk about each other, at all.
“Even if you do it in another language, I could tell. I could tell just be looking in my father’s eyes. At first maybe for over a year, he never said anything. And then he’d say just bad things. He would think I didn’t understand when he talked to others. But I understood everything. I could have gotten my father into a lot of trouble but I didn’t want to.”
Mom: “But he’s your father. If you hurt him, you hurt yourself. Is that how you feel?
Tarik: “Yes. But it’s different now. I am not a small boy. He can’t hit me like he use to. I have a temper like him.” Tarik recalls a recent family dispute over pancakes that escalated into a battle…
Mom: “Ideally where would you want us to live?”
Tarik: “Saudi Arabia. You both should live in Saudi Arabia but not for a long time. Maybe 2 to 5 or 6 years. That’s all. Mom you think that it is like jail over here. That we are in jail. But it’s not like that. My father has written a book that has been published. Everyone is saying it’s very good. It’s on ‘Parenting’. I think he says a lot of good stuff, but doesn’t do it.”

Tarik’s cardinal rule numero uno comes to mind–not to talk about each other, at all. I swallow my editorial and am silent.

Um Tarik wa Ryan
Mother of Tarik & Ryan (and Noelle too)


‘Left behind’ parents do many things on a thread of hope, like a seed thrown to the wind. It is with that faith that we must continue to plant those seeds. You do it with doubts that plague you…it won’t get to my child..this is useless…it’s a waste of time. But, let’s discuss some ‘seeds’ that have borne fruit.

1-A son taken to Saudi Arabia recently communicated with his mother. He asked if she had sent him a book bag years ago. The mother said yes, and it had your name embroidered on it. Having mastered the puzzle, he told her that his father had told him it was from his stepmother’s family…but he inwardly questioned it. The miracle was not that he got the bag…but it’s route and the tales surrounding it! The seed took over 3 years to germinate. J

2-The abducted child recognizes her picture on a milk carton. It started a silent search process from within…and she reunited with her mom 6 years later. J

3-The tape sent by the distraught ‘left-behind’ mother that had been discovered by the child years later…and listened to by the child. That seed fueled the discovery of another parent. J

So parents, don’t let the downside of abduction suck out your ability to plant. We must throw seed out in every way we can. Whenever possible, cultivate them with positive communication to family members (even the abductor’s family), agencies and law enforcement. Memorialize (and keep a scrapbook of) memories to reflect upon…but MOST IMPORTANT…don’t ever give up hope.