My name is Dustin Plantholt and I was born on August 12, 1983 in Oceanside, CA—a coastal city in San Diego County on California’s South Coast. I was a wild, spirited boy who came from a family riddled with severe dysfunction and generational trauma. My father was equal parts loving and angry and when he wasn’t in jail, he was stealing cars, racing dirt bikes, or shooting guns behind our house.
My mother left our family when I was a mere toddler—barely 2-years old. This was due in part to physical abuse caused by my father, and not to mention the affair she was having behind his back. I believe fear of my father’s wrath towards her boyfriend was what ultimately compelled her to move cross-country—and over two thousand miles away—without her children, to start a new life with her boyfriend, who knew she was married with two young children. When they started their new life, she told her boyfriend’s family and friends, that she had never been married, and that she didn’t have any children. And, he backed her story. She basically wiped the slate clean and started a new life—a life without my sister and I. She would go on to commit bigamy and have a child with the man.
In those early years living with my father, there were no rules, no structure, and sadly, his violence and uncontrolled rage was all I knew. He was a drug addict and involved with a dangerous motorcycle club & white supremacy gang. When I was 4-years old, I watched him beat a man to death in our front yard with his bare hands—something he later told me “had to be done”.
My father was in and out of jail from my earliest memories, which meant, my sister and I were in and out of the California foster-care system. Other kids had parents or family members come visit them in the homes, but my sister and I always had to be taken down to the county jail to see our father. I was lonely, confused and just could not understand why he wasn’t allowed to come home with us.
Three and a half years after my mother left, she came back. When the state of California was ready to put my sister up for adoption, they went looking for any next-of-kin, and that was her cue. She swooped in like a vulture, falsely claiming that we had been kidnapped by our father and that she’d had no knowledge of where we were all those years. It was a lie. Since my father was in jail for multiple crimes, the system allowed my mother to take my sister and I across the country, where we would spend the remainder of our childhood.
My mother’s boyfriend eventually became a pastor, and she was poised as a godly pastor’s wife, ready to grow her Calvary Chapel Ministry using her [kidnapped] children to garner support and sympathy. Life with my mother was at times harsh and rigid. The religious group that her boyfriend pastored and the endless spankings—or “simple little tap on the bottoms” as he would call them—made me keep quiet and fall in line, or I would be shunned completely—which is what eventually happened.
“You’re the most selfish human being I’ve ever known” was a repeated message I heard from my mother, which honestly caused me a lot of depression throughout my younger years. She had, quite literally, built a career off of the lie that my sister and I had been kidnapped, when the truth is, she left my abusive father for the arms of another man. She abandoned us for over three years in the process, and started her new life as a pastor’s wife. She even had the nerve to be interviewed on the religious TV show, The 700 Club, continuing her narrative of her children being kidnapped and no one could find them. Keeping this secret of hers was an unspoken expectation she put on us. It was paramount to our survival.
My sister and I were home-schooled, and my mother’s idea of teaching was to hand us the teachers’ manuals and answer keys along with our workbooks. When I was 16, she graduated me from high school even though I had genuinely learned nothing. My first real job was at Best Buy. It was there that I realized my knack at sales, and so at 16-years old I started my first business, buying and selling antique books and coins—making a small profit.
My whole life I have lived as a survivor—self-absorbed, desensitized and calloused—and it wasn’t until my sister died of a drug overdose in August 2014 that I finally shook the volunteer victim mentality.
I have my own family now, an incredibly supportive wife and two beautiful mindful children, yet my struggles are still very much real. I am convinced they’ll be with me the rest of my days. I am also proud and honored to sit on the Board of Directors for the children’s shelter—Casa de Amparo—that took my sister and I in as young, neglected children.
My life, I imagine like yours, has been tough. My goal now is to touch the hearts that need healing the most. To challenge people to go from surviving to thriving, and to give them their peace back in the process—mine included! It is out of this desire that Life’s Tough was born. My inspirational podcast, Life’s Tough: YOU can be TOUGHER! explores personal stories of strength and perseverance and is now listened to in over 80 countries around the world. Guests and listeners join me as we share our real and vulnerable life stories of overcoming unique challenges and struggles to inspire and motivate each other towards personal fortitude, healing, growth, and empowerment. Together we share experiences; strategies and skills aimed at building better lives, healthier relationships and a kinder society; as well as inspiring a world of emergent leaders.
Past guests include some of the most inspiring people on the planet: boxing icon Evander Holyfield; entrepreneur & Priceline.com Co-Founder Michael Loeb; actor & bodybuilding legend Lou Ferrigno; renowned religious leader Pat Robertson; celebrated recording artist John Tesh; cryptocurrency trailblazer Roger Ver; renowned music producer Rudy Perez; controversial, ground-breaking host Jerry Springer; the 700 Club; the illustrious Mary Wilson from the Supremes; military legend Colonel ‘Godfather’ Ferrando; celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich; Platinum Recording Artist Wyclef Jean; legendary venture capitalist Tim Draper; illustrious investor Jim Rogers; and many more.
We share messages of hope, that while everyone has a story, every story has a purpose. Together, we are sparking a movement and changing the world, one heart at a time, and freeing others from shame, guilt, and anger.
It’s life … life’s tough … but YOU can be TOUGHER!
Your adopted brother,