Dave Pelzer was born on December 29, 1960 in Daly City, California. He is the son of Stephen Joseph Pelzer, who was of Austrian and Irish descent, and Catherine Roerva Pelzer. Dave Pelzer was the second of five boys in the family.
From the age of about four to twelve, Pelzer was subject to extreme abuse by his mother, including beatings, starvation and torture. His father did nothing to prevent the abuse and the parents eventually separated.
The school authorities finally stepped in, and Pelzer was removed from the family home in March 1973 and placed in foster care. In 1979, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, being responsible for mid-air refueling of the SR-71 Blackbird and F-117 Stealth Fighter.
Overcoming the legacy of his abuse as a child, he became an advocate for youth at risk. In 1990, he was awarded the J. C. Penney Golden Rule Award, which made him California Volunteer of the Year, the first of many awards. In 1993, he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans (TOYA), and the following year was selected as one of the Outstanding Young Persons of the world (TOYP) for his work in promoting awareness and prevention of child abuse.
In 1995, Pelzer published his memoir, A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive, about the abuse he suffered as a child. The book became an international best-seller. He followed this with two sequels: The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family (1997), about his life from the age of twelve to eighteen, and A Man Called Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness (2000). A fourth memoir followed in 2004: The Privilege of Youth: A Teenager’s Story of Longing for Acceptance and Friendship, in which he returned to the story of his life in foster care. Pelzer has also written a number of self-help books: Help Yourself: Finding Hope, Courage, and Happiness (2000), Help Yourself for Teens: Real-Life Advice for Real-Life Challenges (2005), and
Moving Forward: Taking the Lead in Your Life (2008). He travels frequently throughout the United States speaking to groups of all kinds about resilience and overcoming obstacles. He has a reputation as an inspiring speaker.
Pelzer is married, and he and his wife Marsha have a son, Stephen. They live in California.