On this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, host David Hirsch talks with special father Al Feria. Al has four children, including John, who is autistic and non-verbal. Al works for One Collective a christian not for profit helping integrate communities across the globe. We’ll hear his intriguing story on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast.
To find out about One Collective go to: onecollective.org
Contact Al directly at: Alcoleparis@gmail.com
Dad to Dad 119 – Al Feria Father Of Four Including A Non-verbal Son With Autism & Works With One Collective
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is thrilled to be sponsored by Rubin Law. A multigenerational law firm dedicated, exclusively to serving families, raising children with special needs. It’s not one thing they do. It’s the only thing they do to find out more. Go to Reuben law.com R U B I N law.com or call (847) 279-7999 and mentioned the Special Fathers Network for a free consultation.
Al Feria: There is perspective that comes with experience. And I try to spend time with other dads as well. That’s why one reason I love the Special Fathers Network. There’s a lot of dads that are, have kids older than mine. And just hearing their perspective is reassuring. You know, there’ll be okay and you know, it’ll work out, but you know, young dads need that reassurance as well.
Just being there to listen and. Encourage I think is important. We’re all in different phases too, with our kids. And so just being there to help as we can is part of the opportunity we have as special needs dads.
Tom Couch: That’s our guests this week, Al Feria. Al has four children, including John who is autistic and nonverbal now works for one collective, a not-for-profit helping integrate communities across the globe and we’ll hear his story on this Special Fathers Network, Dad to Dad podcast.
Here’s our host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a Dad to Dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process.
New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads, to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups and search Dad to Dad.
Tom Couch: So let’s listen in on this discussion between Al Feria and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking to you. Yeah. With Al Feria of West Caldwell, New Jersey. Who’s the father of four and who works for one collective, a global Christian not-for-profit Al thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Al Feria: Thank you. I’m thrilled to do it. I love the Special Fathers Network.
David Hirsch: Your wife, Nicole had been married for 23 years and of the proud parents of four- Joel 19, Emma, 17, Elizabeth, 14, and John, 8, who has autism is nonverbal and diagnosed with intellectual delays. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Al Feria: I was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I grew up in Detroit and the Metro Detroit area.
When I was 19, we moved to New Jersey and that’s how I ended up first time in the Metro New York area. I did studies in New York and then into Chicago area for a couple years. And when I was 26, I headed off to France to learn French to work. In West Africa actually, initially, and I ended up loving France and ended up going back to France, lived there 20 years, total and planned on living there a lot longer.
Our youngest son, John was diagnosed with autism six years ago at this time. And that led us to a major change in location and what I was doing career wise and our whole family ended up back in West Caldwell, our home for the last six years. Excellent.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for that brief flyby, but I want to go backwards a little bit.
You grew up in Detroit for the most part, you know, on your formative years. And I’m wondering, um, what is it that your dad did for a living?
Al Feria: My dad was a minister. He especially worked with young people, teenagers. He was my youth pastor as well when I grew up. And at one point I was the president of the youth group and he was the youth pastor.
So sometimes we didn’t see eye to eye on everything, but I appreciated his interest, send me, he was there at it, many important points in my life. He came to all our games and my brother and I very present in our lives. And I’m really thankful for his presence at our. Major events in life. He helped us with homework as well, helped me learn to multiply and be on time as well.
So a lot of his priorities have become my priorities over the years.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So I’m sort of curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Al Feria: My father is a very strong willed person and he got a little softer over time. But initially I was afraid of him because he was came across.
Sometimes it’s very hard as well, but we learned to talk to him. My mother said, go talk to your father when I get frustrated. And so I learned to do that and we became good friends over the years. He was a confidant throughout my whole life. And over time, I got to be his confidence as well, and kind of checking up on him toward the end of his life.
So he was okay. A good model for me, a good mentor. I didn’t always follow what he said, but I usually would ask him what he thought even as an adult with decisions. And so he was very helpful in just getting a perspective of a father, always said he loved us and was proud of us. So that was really important as well.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s great that you heard those words of affirmation, which is not so common from a dad’s our dad’s generation, maybe more so today, but not so common. Then, in addition to the good work ethic that you talked about, your dad having, I’m wondering if there’s any other important takeaways from your relationship, something that comes to mind when you think about your dad?
Al Feria: My dad, um, he was a youth pastor, and so at youth group meetings and even younger, I would be with him, but he also was. Fathering these other young people, some of them who didn’t really have good fathers at all. And so I saw in him kind of a, this fathering heart for young people. And even now some of my peers from back in the seventies when we were young, mentioned his influence on them, how he was like their father and just.
The capacity to be a father figure for many different people, both your own children, as well as other people. And that’s something that is part of my, the ministry we’ve, I’ve had to help other people as well, besides my own children in seeing that modeled in my father and my mother who also. Was a huge, a big mother to a lot of other people was helpful in my work now in having a heart for others beyond just my family.
We always had people over outside of the family as well. So just, you know, having a house that was open to family, but also to outsiders who needed a, to be in family as well. Excellent.
David Hirsch: So from what I remember, you went to the university of Michigan, you took a degree in computer science, and then you also went to Wheaton college as well.
Al Feria: I, uh, I went to university of Michigan for two years. I’m a big fan of, sorry, I couldn’t resist single blue. My parents moved to New Jersey. And so I. Ended up doing what I thought was going to be one year of Bible training. And then I was playing I’m going back to Michigan. During that year, I ended up enjoying doing theology and feeling that life call was going, was changing from computer science to more of a Christian ministry type of emphasis.
I ended up staying at. My college for two more years, getting it degree in Bible and Christian ed. Okay. And then after a couple more years, I went to Wheaton graduate school in Chicago land, did a, a master’s in intercultural studies and missions. And when I finished that, I was about 26 and that’s my headed off out of the U S to learn French in the, in France.
David Hirsch: Well, that sounds like quite a interesting course. Um, so you went from the U S when your mid twenties to France. And I think you’d mentioned earlier that I actually took you to the ivory coast and Africa as well.
Al Feria: Yes, that was my original, uh, Where I was going to go. So I had to learn French. I didn’t have any French before I ended up in the French Alps one year, and then my second year in the Paris area, focusing on learning French.
And while in France, I just really connected with the French culture. I worked with young people in the U S before and in France. I was hanging out with teenagers, doing stuff. I’m youth ministry with very bad French, but they still enjoy being here. I enjoyed being around them. It’s funny. Some of them were like in their forties now.
The teens I worked with were still friends and they helped me learn French youth culture and ministry. So it was a good experience. I went out to ivory coast for a couple years to the city of Abidjan and worked there, but I never could get the French bug out of my system. And so after I did my two years in West Africa, I ended up going back to America for a year and then ended up heading back to France permanently in 1993.
David Hirsch: And from what I remember, I think you had mentioned that you and Nicole met in France. So the biggest takeaway from Francis that you got married?
Al Feria: Yes. That was a few years later. Yeah. I was in France doing. Different ministry stuff. And then I met Nicole, uh, four years later on a church retreat in the middle of, we say middle of nowhere in France.
It really was way out in the boonies in France. She’s from South Dakota and she just been in France for a month. Then we met on this retreat and we got married nine months later. Yeah. Last week was our, no, this past Sunday was our anniversary. We’ve been married 23 years now.
David Hirsch: Congratulations.
Al Feria: Thank you.
David Hirsch: So let’s switch gears and talk about special needs on a personal level.
And then beyond. So before John’s diagnosis, did you or Nicole have any experience with the special needs community really?
Al Feria: No. I knew nothing basically about special needs. And, um, so when John got diagnosed with autism in summer 2014, six years ago, When we got the diagnosis, we really didn’t know what that meant because we knew nothing about autism and nothing about specialists it’s world.
We did some research and others research for us about autism, and we realized we needed to stay at least a year in America for him to get early intervention. He was just under three. And so for his future, he really needed specialized training. We discovered in France that they don’t do very well with special needs, particularly autism as well.
And so during our first year back, dad was getting great training and we realized that we needed to stay more longterm in the U S and that are seasoned in France, which for me was 20 years. Uh, that long, wonderful season was coming to an end very quickly. John was in school. We were going to meetings and learning about autism.
And while there, we got into the community of parents of special needs, we got involved in a church that had a really good, special needs ministry as well, supporting families. And we realized how needy. Families are with disabilities, how much support they need, not just the one of the disability, but the parents and the siblings and all that.
And so during that first year, we just got a huge education about special needs and the special needs world. And out of that, we ended up staying in America and over time for me next year. Learning more about disability and the need for more support for disability, particularly from churches. And so that.
Became my focus more and more was discovering what’s happening and learning how to support others. And so it’s been a huge learning curve for last six years, but it’s been wonderful connecting with people I’d never would have met before. There’s so many wonderful people doing special needs work from the ones, working with the children, physical therapists and occupational therapists.
And many of them are good friends. Now I actually did a photo op. They have a wedding recently for a friend who was one of John’s AIDS for a couple of years. And so I ended up taking photos for them at their wedding. So I was honored to be one of the few non-family Lazera and also to honor them by taking pictures for them.
Very cool. So we have many great friends, parents, workers, and then just others doing it around the country too.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. One of the things that I remember you telling me is that, um, You’ve spent 20 years in France, all four of your children were born there. And when John was two, um, as one, you got the diagnosis and you’ve moved to the States because there’s better resources and services, you know, for his benefit as well.
And I’m wondering, was there some meaningful advice you got either while you were still in France or when you got. Back to the States that helped you, you know, be on a, a little bit stronger path.
Al Feria: I remember a friend, um, our first year when we were back, he was saying, well, you made a good call. You made the right call for your family.
You know, we’d been in France. All our kids were born there and we weren’t expecting to leave. I knew it takes something really radical to get us out of here, France, probably, you know, something really bad. And so I didn’t expect it the way it arrived there. And so you just learning to go with the flow, you know, it was a huge change for us and just trust it that, um, father God had good things for our family, um, for Gerald as well.
And, um, just seeing what was going to happen out of that. So many people important to us now have come out of disability. And so we wouldn’t have, excuse me, ever done what we’re doing without John being, having autism. And so we’re, I’m not sure what, you know, how you say it. We’re thankful he has it. You know, we wish in many ways that he could talk with us and things like that, but the path that we’re on now, we’re thankful that we’re on it.
And we wouldn’t have done it without John having autism basically. So, you know, just trusting, you know, that God has a plan and nothing is an accident that happens. No, it doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You know, it’s still tough. There’s really hard days. I’m with John sometimes, but I think we’re a lot stronger.
My wife and I, because of that. And. We’re able to be more help to people because of having to battle through things ourself. So just that you’re, nothing’s a surprise. And, um, you know, God does have plans, even the difficult things he’s using to shape us and to get us where we need to be.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing what a great testimony to relying on your faith.
I’m sort of wondering, um, Was there some important decisions you made early on that if, again, puts you on this path, this more positive path that you’re on?
Al Feria: Yeah, definitely. I remember the first year, you know, we prayed God, would you peel John? You know, healing means take the autism the way we were thinking and being angry and frustrated, you know, the five stages of loss, you know, we were going through denial and anger and all that stuff, but then.
Coming to a realization that you know, that there was a plan somehow for it. And rather than asking that, you know, be taken away, trying to discern what we were to do with the autism that John had and how we could. Help others as well. And so when we began to think outside the box about his situation and, um, just the opportunities that it provides as well, that was a whole different way of seeing things.
And, you know, it’s still a difficult, and sometimes we wish, you know, he didn’t have autism for sure, but seeing great opportunity that have come out of it. Yeah. We’re thankful now that we. Came out of France when we did our other three, typical kids probably needed some support that they weren’t getting there as well.
And so they’re all thriving. Now, the last six years in America, it’s been challenging at times for them, but they’ve, they’re doing pretty well. Now one just graduated high school. One’s a senior and one’s in ninth grade. Yeah. Overall, they’re doing well. And we’re thankful. You know, as a family, we’ve gotten through this, and they’ve learned also about autism as siblings, they’ve had their own challenges.
We’re not always as present. Perhaps if John didn’t have his challenges, but special needs siblings have to grow up faster. I think in many ways. So they’ve had to face stuff that other children, their own age haven’t had to face. And I hopefully that helps them when they’re older. Um, some of the extra strength and, uh, lessons they’ve learned and are learning at this point through who their younger brother, John.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for emphasizing that. I admire your honesty and transparency about the challenge that goes along with, you know, not raising just a child, but for children like you have, and then the impact that it has or can have on the rest of the family. You and your wife, your marriage, uh, siblings, John siblings.
And, uh, you know, it’s not a straight line, right?
Al Feria: Oh, not at all.
David Hirsch: A lot of moving pieces and you just have to keep everything moving forward and, you know, put your faith in God that, uh, you know, you’re making the right decisions on a day to day basis. So you don’t look back and have many regrets, not any regrets, but many regrets about, you know, the decisions you made with the information you had at the time.
So I’m wondering, um, if there’s organizations that come to mind that, uh, have been good supports for your family or that have been good support for John for that matter.
Al Feria: Absolutely. Yes. Um, and again, we didn’t know, we knew one of them before, but the others we didn’t know of and it’s been. Really good connecting with these different groups and becoming peers with their leaders.
And they’ve helped us get through and getting through things. One of them is a group called Johnny and friends. Johnny and friends was begun about 40 years ago by Johnny Erickson. Tada. She was 17 when she had a diving accident in Maryland, she became a quadriplegic because of that and out of her struggles and growth and all that.
She started an organization that helps people with disabilities and we’ve been to some retreats they have in Pennsylvania. We’ve been to four of them already. That really helped us to understand the importance of siblings getting our other kids supported. They have these five day retreats that are, I highly recommend for families.
They give spiritual support, they have wonderful food and, um, groups connecting with other people. Uh, they have some fun talent nights and dances and things like that. So it’s been good for our family as a whole to attend Johnny and friends, family retreats. They also have some good. Broadcasts and some books on it as well.
Another group is called key ministry. That’s based in Cleveland, the Cleveland area, and they have some great resources to help families with physical disabilities, but also mental disabilities, um, hidden disabilities, you know, dr. Steve Pearson persevere. I think you’ve interviewed already. He’s a wealth of information on mental health.
And I rely highly on key ministry. I meet with them at least once a week for special needs ministers, a gathering that I do with them. They do age. There’s a group in Florida called Nathaniel’s hope and you’ve interviewed Tim cook before I believe as well. It’s named after their son, Nathaniel, who was born with a disability, died at a young age, they helped develop respite programs for churches.
There’s a great need for families to get recipes and they try to help churches develop a monthly, a three hour block of respite, both or the special needs child and for the siblings. So we’ve, we actually are in a couple of different buddy breaks. They call them in New Jersey and we get breaks there.
That’s a great group. One group I work with actually just finished a retreat with them is young life. And the special needs branch is called Capernaum for 14 to 22 year olds with disabilities. And it’s a whole support network for families. We did a three day retreat just finished today. It was online too, which I wondered how an online retreat would go, but it was a really good, they had some great resources that young life had.
Provided for all their clubs and just good connecting. We actually did a meetup time yesterday at two churches with some games, people were in cars driving by, but they got to throw balls at things and, um, got some snacks and things like that. So those are some of my favorite young people are the, the youth in Capernaum next to my own kids.
I think they’re my favorite kids in New Jersey. So those are four groups. The school that our son is a part of, um, it’s called spectrum three 60 that I think there’s 400 families connected with that. They’ve been super supportive last five years. Our son has been there. We go to parent support groups and it’s just been helpful to be part of a larger network of families in New Jersey that are all having, you know, kids with disability, with autism in particular, but some other ones too.
And just to feel part of something bigger. So that, you know, for having a hard time, you know, there’s others that are going through it and we connect with them. So those are some of the groups that have helped us. There’s others as well. It’s growing the number. I should say. Our church liquid church in New Jersey has been a huge support to us.
And so we’re thankful for them when we were meeting before the pandemic. Our son would have a buddy every Sunday, an adult or teen that would be with him during the service in the family area so that our family could attend services night to shine to, uh, that’s by the Tim Tebow foundation. It’s a prom for a 14 and older with disabilities.
We’ve helped. Oh, a bunch of them, I think five or six in different churches. And it’s like, the guest is, uh, like the King or queen for, for the night and they get to where they get crowned and there’s a wonderful meal and dancing and all that. So night to shine is one of my favorite organizations. My son’s not old enough to go yet, but when he is, I’m sure we’ll have him go.
And it just, you know, there’s over a hundred thousand guests every year that go around the world. So it’s an amazing event that really honors people with disabilities. So those are a few.
David Hirsch: Well, you’ve done an amazing job of summarizing, many of the organizations that, uh, the Special Fathers Network has been connected to.
Just in the order that you mentioned them, Johnny and friends, Steve Bundy, you know, as a senior guy there, he was a podcast interview way back when you mentioned Nathaniel’s hope that does this respite work and Tim cook is just a great advocate. He and his wife, Mary, and then I’m in Cleveland. You mentioned the key ministry with the dr.
Steve gross, a bitch who does some amazing work with, uh, Families raising a child or children with disability and a young life. My point of contact there is pan Harmon.
Al Feria: Oh yes.
David Hirsch: And, uh, John Wagner is the fellow that we interviewed for the, uh, Special Fathers Network dad podcast. And the Tim Tebow foundation has been a great advocate for all things, disability and has made some really key introductions as well.
So, um, It seems like we’ve been overlapping, uh, unknowingly for years and years, but, uh, it’s great to be able to give them each a shout out.
So let’s switch gears and talk about, uh, the work that you do with one collective. And as I understand it, one collective is a global not-for-profit that works in communities around the world and is passionate about making sure that no one is invisible and everyone has access to food, freedom and forgiveness.
I’m sort of curious, know, how did you get involved and what is it that you do with one collective?
Al Feria: My wife and I had been with one collective since 1998. So it’s been 22 years. In 2014, John was diagnosed with autism, which led us back to the U S and we weren’t quite sure what we’re going to do honestly, back in the U S but then the special needs world became very important to us and I saw how much need there was for more work with special needs families.
And I proposed to one collective. Trying that out in New Jersey, in the New York area. And they gave me permission to try that out. And so I started working in the New York area, like with Capernaum and some other groups here a couple of years ago, I was in Athens, Greece at a world conference. We had, we call them catalysts, our team leaders, and I discovered other.
Teams were doing different initiatives with disability as well. We had people working in Albania at the time and in Mexico and other places. And so at the end of that conference, of course, I had to ask if people were doing disability work and I proposed to our organization to help coordinate it. And they accepted that possibility.
So I still work in the New York area as a catalyst, trying to bring things together with disability in this area, but also more globally trying to help the initiatives happen in other places, both in the U S and around the world. I was in correct the RO Mexico, just before the pandemic. This year with two teams, one works with.
People who are hard of hearing and the other one with a school for autism. And so I was excited to see both of their works. There’s some great work starting out in Ukraine and , I’m butchering the name with a housing project in respite and things like that and other places too. So I’m trying to help facilitate.
What my colleagues are doing. Get more people with one collective looking at the disability world as well. And so I, I’m trying to bring some of our leaders together with one collective to do more disability work. And so I, you know, I’m thinking globally, but I’m also thinking. New York wise as well with the pandemic.
There’s been a lot of gatherings since March of special needs leaders, training, figure out what to do. None of us had done it virtual ministry before, but the pandemic forest, a lot of things to go with zoom. And so it’s been surprising. What’s developed, uh, I’ve been on these round tables. Weekly with different leaders around the country.
And so that’s given me more connection with other leaders in the U S and so I’m excited to see what comes out of that as we advance forward, you know, the new normal who knows what that is, they look like, but things are changing and they’re. They don’t look different. It’s a blessing. In some ways, for people with disabilities that churches have had to go virtual because some churches have said they would never do online.
Ministry have had to do it for people with disabilities that often can’t make services. Sometimes they physically cannot get into a building there’s opportunities to attend that aren’t even there. And even globally, like Willow Creek is by Chicago, by you. They have a special friends ministry that I watched with my son almost every week that wasn’t online before, but, you know, I watch that.
And so I’m able to connect with. What’s going on. Good. In other parts of the country besides.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what I love about what you’re talking about and I admire the work that a one collective does is that, uh, you’ve been able to pivot or shift right. Where most of the services might have been in person face to face conferences, whatever, you know, we’ve all had to adapt to this environment.
You know, we hope that it’s temporary, but you know, candidly, the longer it goes on. No, maybe the stronger these virtual programs become so that they’re not just going to be the stop gap, right. And then back to where whatever we were doing, but maybe this becomes part of the ongoing routine, right. To be more inclusive and accepting of people, all types of ability.
Al Feria: I, yeah, I think you’re right. The conference is Special Fathers Network did earlier this year. That was my first connection with the SFN that was supposed to be at Willow Creek in, uh, in Barrington, but because of the pandemic, it was online. And that was how I got here to attend virtually. And I’ve been part of the biweekly dad’s gatherings every week, since then.
And so the pandemic has allowed resources. To exist for people that weren’t there before. Often I thought a special needs ministry is like being more locally based in it’s important to be local, but because of the pandemic there’s resources, there’s conferences and trainings and all that, that you can attend on your computer around the country and even around the world.
Now that weren’t possible. I hope that. Well, I hope that the pandemic, uh, somehow settles down some, but that the resources that are being made online will be able to continue online while being in person too. So perhaps there’ll be some events that are, you can attend in person. As well as attend, uh, from other parts of the U S and even world.
So hopefully it’s, you know, it’s not people don’t just drop the online when things get back to in person, but they’ll continue doing both, I think, churches and ministries that, and do both, I think they’ll have a greater chance yeah. Of succeeding in this new world that we’re in this COVID world.
David Hirsch: Yeah.
Well-spoken so I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering if there’s an important takeaway or two that you might be able to share with a young dad who might be closer to the beginning of his journey, raising a child with autism or just special needs.
Al Feria: Yeah. It’s um, you know, that news is a shock. I mean, I remember.
Not really knowing what it was, but then as we understood, just really being in a funk for a while. And so it’s hard that initial diagnosis definitely, you know, all our kids are special. You know, our John is, he communicates in many ways without doing sentences, but he, he brings so much to our family. Uh, so much joy and he’s just fine fun kid, not, you know, not every kid is like that, but you know, it’s just, he’s a, he, he adds to our family.
Definitely. And we’ve all learned through him. I noticed to try to appreciate. What your kids have, you know, it’s easy to see their deficits, what they can’t do, but to try to see what they can do and appreciate that and what they add to our families, into our neighborhoods, into our communities as well.
You know, at one point, I guess I thought they were more deficits on it, to be honest, we need to help them. And I still think that, but you know, with my young life Capernaum kids, it was a blast getting to know them better the last three days and seeing what they can do, what they like to do, learning more about them.
So just because there’s discipline, you know, we all have disabilities too. I think so we’re all weird and different ways, but the ones that it’s more obvious with disabilities, they also. They have things they like to do and personalities and things like that. And they try to enjoy them for that and get to know them, you know, just give others the opportunity as well.
We’re thankful, you know, to be an age where if it, like John was born 20 years ago, would’ve been a lot harder, but there are more possibilities right now for that. And, uh, you know, we, we prayed that John will continue to thrive and, uh, Have opportunities and become the person he should be and have opportunities to, you know, for working and other things as he’s able in the future.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing. What started out as sort of a hard and a shocking experience. If I can paraphrase what you’ve said has not morphed like it happened overnight, but has evolved to the point where. You know, you just realize that, uh, it is what it is and you’re going to make the most of the situation and, you know, celebrate the differences as opposed to thinking of a.
The world in a deficit mentality. Right. We wouldn’t want to be defined by the things we couldn’t do. Right. So why would we define other people by the things they can’t do?
Al Feria: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: So again, thanks for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Al Feria: Um, in some ways I feel I’m still learning. I, I, I became a dad at 40 and John was born. I was 50. So, um, you know, I was an older guy when, uh, I became a dad. And I’ve only really been a special needs dad for six years more when we knew he had a diagnosis there. But I think, you know, there’s a perspective that comes with experience and, you know, still I have teenagers, so you don’t get any through the adolescent stage and getting into college and all that.
But. There is perspective that comes with experience. And I try to spend time with other dads as well. That’s one reason I love the Special Fathers Network. There’s a lot of dads that are, have kids older than mine. And just hearing their perspective is reassuring. You know, it’ll be okay and you know, it’ll work out, but you know, young dads need that reassurance as well.
Yeah. Just know being there to listen and. Encourage I think is important for, you know, all of us going through this journey. We’re all in different phases too, with our kids. And so just being there to help as, uh, as we can, is part of the opportunity we have as special needs dads.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for being involved.
We’re thrilled to have you, and it’s not lost on me that you do only have six years of fathering a child with special needs, even though you’re more seasoned just by virtue of the fact that you got started a little bit later than average, as far as having a family yourself.
And what I love about your heart is that, uh, even though you have a limited amount of experience yourself, you’re putting yourself out there to make yourself available to a younger dad.
And you’ve acknowledged that, Hey, you know, there’s other dads that have, you know, two, three, four times the amount of experience in the special needs community than I do. You know, there’s a thing or two to be learned. And that’s the whole idea behind the Special Fathers Network. So again, we’re thrilled to have you let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friends at Willow Creek church special friends program, uh, John Felageller and Dr. Steve Gersavich of key ministry for helping connect us as well.
Al Feria: Yes, I appreciate, uh, all of those guys, um, Dr. Gersavich, even though he’s from Ohio state and he’s a Buckeye, I still appreciate him and we have some fun rivalry between us there, but he’s a brilliant man. Brilliant. Especially during this pandemic, all this stuff he’s helped the church with, uh, COVID-19 and mental health is invaluable. Invaluable for sure.
David Hirsch: Agreed. So is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up now?
Al Feria: Well, um, thanks very much. Um, for this opportunity, David, I really appreciate, uh, the Special Fathers Network.
I actually sent it a gift last week. I don’t get in mail yet, but I, I appreciate the. Training. I consider I’m getting through the BI weekly gatherings. Yeah. Just being with the other men there. So thank you for getting that going and helping, uh, champion that. Cause I think, well, for the, for that and yeah, just glad to be here’s part of the community.
It’s okay. Invaluable what we can learn from each other. And so it’s, it’s a learning community. I think the Special Fathers Network. That’s another reason I appreciate it very much. So thank you for what you’re doing and for championing this cause, which I believe is very important.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for those kind words.
If somebody wants to learn more about one collective or contact you, how would they go about doing that?
Al Feria: Um, well, okay. One collective is www.onecollective.org. Um, the New Jersey project I’m I oversee that one. You know, my email is, um, Al Cole Paris, uh, firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Hirsch: Okay, well, being sure to include the website address for one call and your email address in the show notes as well.
Yeah. Well, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Al is just one of the dad’s who was part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did.
As you probably know. The 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501 c3, not for profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free. To all concerned, would you please consider making a text deductable contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Al, thanks again.
Al Feria: Thank you, David. Take care.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Dad to Dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a Dad to Dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or we’d like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups and search Dad to Dad.
Also, please be sure to register for the Special Fathers Network biweekly Zoom calls held on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories.
If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: If you enjoyed this podcast, please be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen. The Dad to Dad podcast was produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks again to Rubin Law for supporting the Dad to Dad podcast. Call Rubin Law at (847) 279-7999 and mention the Special Fathers Network for a free consultation.