120 – Mark Arnold of Bournemouth, England, Advocates For Fathers Raising Children Like His Son, Who Has Autism & Epilepsy
Our guest on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast is Mark Arnold. Mark and his wife Clare live in Bournemouth, South England and are parents to Phoebe and James, who is autistic, has epilepsy and is mostly non verbal. Mark is the director of the Urban Saints Additional Needs Ministry, hosts the Additional Needs Blogfather blog, and started an advocacy group called Dad’s File Circle. We’ll hear his story on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Urban Saints: https://www.urbansaints.org/additionalneeds
Additional Needs Alliance: http://additionalneedsalliance.org.ukand https://www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance/
The Additional Needs Blogfather: https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.com
The Dads’ Fire Circle (Founded July 2020): https://thedadsfirecircle.com and https://www.facebook.com/groups/thedadsfirecircle/
Dad to Dad 120 – Mark Arnold of Bournemouth, England, Advocates For Fathers Raising Children Like His Son, Who Has Autism & Epilepsy
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 RubinLaw.com R U B I Nlaw.com or call (847) 279-7999 and mentione the Special Fathers Network for a free consultation.
Mark Arnold: Yeah, look at your child. Look at your child and your child hasn’t changed that diagnosis that your child has just been given. Doesn’t change them. It helps to explain them. It helps you to understand them better, but it doesn’t change the wonderful gift, the wonderful child of God that they are.
Tom Couch: That’s Mark Arnold, David Hirsch’s guest on this Special Fathers Network, Dad to Dad podcast.
Mark is the father of two children, including James, who is autistic, has epilepsy and is mostly nonverbal. And in this Dad to Dad podcast, we’ll hear Mark tell his story.
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: Now let’s listen to this discussion between special father Mark Arnold and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Mark Arnold of Balmouth South England who’s a father of two, a director of Urban Saints, Additional Needs ministry, and started an advocacy group called The Dads’ Fire Circle. Mark, thank you for taking the time to do a Special Fathers Network podcast interview
Mark Arnold: David. Great to be here with you. Thanks for inviting me on.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Claire, had been married for 33 years in the proud parents of two. Phoebe, 20, and James, 18, has autism, intellectual delays, epilepsy, anxiety disorder, and mostly nonverbal. Let’s start with some background. Tell me something about your family. Where did you grow up?
Mark Arnold: So you introduced me as being in Bournemouth, which is on the South coast of England and I’m a Bournemouth boy.
That’s where I was born and raised. Uh, and generations of. Arnold’s before me have been born in this area too. So in the next street to where I live is where my parents live. And two streets away from that is where my dad’s parents lived. Uh, so we’re, we’re, you know, work’s taken me all over the world, but home has always been in Bournemouth.
David Hirsch: Well, uh, there’s a phrase that we use here in the States that the Apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree. And in your case, that would be very apropos.
Mark Arnold: That would be very, very apropos. Indeed. Yeah.
David Hirsch: So, uh, out of curiosity, what does your dad do for a living?
Mark Arnold: So dad really had three parts to it, to his, uh, working life.
So, uh, he grew up at a time when national service into the armed forces was still a thing. So for several years he was a soldier over in Malaya. Then when he came back from that he was a television engineer. So if your TV set needed installing or broke and needed fixing, or you needed a, an antenna put up with something that was that.
He took early retirement from that and was going to sort of settle down to retired life. But after about six months realized he missed work. So he got a part time job doing postal delivery and loved it. And did that for about another six years before he finally handed in his postbag and retired.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Well, thanks for the brief career flyby. I’m sort of curious now. How would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Mark Arnold: I’ve got a great relationship with that. Dad, dad has, you know, always been there, always there when I was growing up, always been there, know he lives in the next street, so it’s not far to go to, to contact him and.
Yeah. When, when we were first married and knew nothing about it and how to fix the house up and all those kinds of things, dad was there. He was a really practical guy. So he was Ryan helping us to do stuff. You know, the, that the house we’re in now, me and dad put the kitchen in, we got the bathroom and we, you know, did loads of work on the place.
And yeah, that’s, that’s always been there. We’ve got a great relationship. I mean, he’s, he’s in his early eighties now, so. You know, he’s not as able to get around as much as he used to. Uh, and bit by bit that, that I knew is slowly slipping away a little bit, which is hard. But he’s still there and I still love him.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you didn’t use the word present, but it’s very clear to me that he’s been present and in your life, you know, from a young age and even in your adulthood now. So if there was one or two takeaways, lessons that you learned from your dad, something that you’re trying to incorporate into your own fathering, what would they be?
Mark Arnold: I think, uh, you know, again, that, that sense of just being there, being around, being present, the word you used being available, uh, is so important. And just, you know, being able to pass on that experience and wisdom that he’s gained, not in a, an arrogant kind of way, but just in a, Hey, you know, have you thought of this?
Have you tried that? Uh, I’m in a gentle way, just coaching and encouraging.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So, uh, from what I remember, you went to Balmouth university, you got a degree in finance and business. And you found yourself in a world of it then in telecom, before you started your work with Urban Saints. And from what I remember, he had been there for just over a dozen years.
I’m sort of curious to know more about Urban Saints, which I understand was founded in 1900, literally 120 years ago. And I understand it to be a Christian disciples, a ministry. So what is it that you do there?
Mark Arnold: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. The organization’s been going 120 years and it started off from a guy called Albert Kestin walking through a park on a Sunday afternoon and seeing some kids that were out playing and wondering why they weren’t in church, why the went in Sunday school, uh, and he asked them and they say, Oh, it’s boring.
We don’t like it. So he started a Bible class for them and, uh, and invited them to be a part of it. And that’s where it began. And you know, all these years later, we’re still going. I joined 14 years ago. Initially I joined to head up our volunteers program. We are a volunteer organization. We’ve got thousands of volunteers across the United Kingdom.
And my role was to help with the recruitment and retention of volunteers, training, all that kind of thing. And I did that for a few years, and then I became a chief operating officer there. Did that for about another six or seven years. And it was during that time that we introduced a program at Urban Saints, which allowed team members to use 10% of their time on a project that had to be related to the stuff we did, you know, children’s and youth work and church based work.
But if it was something that was a passion and people, you know, wanting to invest some time in that. And we weren’t doing it already. There was an opportunity to do that, and I was really fast, more and more colds to Additional Needs, special needs ministry. Uh, and so started to explore that and opportunities started to open up.
And it grew and it grew, and it grows so three years ago, I was essentially, I was doing two full time jobs. I was chief operating officer and I was Additional Needs ministry director, and both of them needed full time focus. There’s only one of me. So I really was faced with a choice. I don’t know why, but God seems to turn up and have something to say in the middle of the night.
So I’m, I’m convinced he’s working on Israel time. Yeah. In the middle of the night I was woken up and I just felt this presence of God. And one of the pictures that I saw was, you know, more clearly than anything else, a road with a fork in it. And I was stirred in this picture, looking at this fork in the road and I thought, okay, yeah, I get what you’re saying to me here.
God, you you’re telling me that, you know, I’ve got these two roles that I’m doing. I’ve got to pick one and God absolutely clearly said to me, Hey Mark, this is where you were a while ago. And you’ve been trying to run on both roads. And actually you really do need to pick one. And the one I want you to pick is the Additional Needs ministry.
And so the next day I was having a conversation with my wife, Claire. The day after that, I was having a conversation with my CEO, uh, Urban Saints and our board of trustees. I’m saying, Hey, you got to find a new ops guy because I really feel called to do this. It’d be great if I could do that in Urban Saints.
And thankfully they agreed. And so for three years, I’ve been doing it full time and loving every minute of it. Every, every day is just a wonderful day.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing, um, and the journey as well on how you got to where you are. It’s a very inspiring, there are people like myself that are straddling the for profit world in the not-for-profit world, some days more successfully than others.
But I do feel like I’m, I’m sorta running on parallel paths, uh, to use your analogy. And, um, it’s challenging. It can be really challenging. So I’m just thrilled that, uh, there’s a place there at Urban Saints that you can follow your. Heart, you can follow your passion and make a difference in the lives of youth.
Like you have been. So I’m out of curiosity. How did you and Claire meet?
Mark Arnold: Okay. So the, the church that I grew up in the church, my parents are at and took me to have a sister church and the two churches. They, youth groups camped every summer together. That particular summer. I was there, uh, with my church as a member of the team to look after some of the children, young people, Claire was there from her church doing the same thing.
Our eyes met across the campfire and magic happens. Uh, and, uh, here we are, well, 35 years since then 33 years married. And, uh, yeah, it’s been a wonderful journey to, to have been on.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thanks for sharing. So I’d like to switch gears and talk about special needs first on a personal basis and then beyond.
So I’m sort of curious to know before James his diagnosis, did you or Claire have any experience with the special needs community?
Mark Arnold: Now we had none. It was a whole new world to us. We, uh, as you mentioned at the beginning, we already had our daughter Phoebe. Uh, so she’s two years older than James and she developed normally.
And so by the time James arrived, she was two. Uh, but in time we started to have some concerns about James’s development. He was two. So she was about four. So yeah, it was a very new world to us. Uh, I think I had one friend who has a daughter with special needs, but I mean, he didn’t talk much about, uh, their family situation.
So it was, it was a very new world for us.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know then how did his diagnosis come about at age two?
Mark Arnold: So we. W w we were gradually becoming a little bit more concerned about James, his development. He was too, and he wasn’t speaking. Uh, he wasn’t giving eye contact. He wasn’t responding to his name, all kinds of things that really concerned us and concerned the, uh, the, the health visitors that would come and, uh, and business in home as well.
And so we, we started down this path of trying to see if there was something that we needed to understand better. For example, one of the things that we explored was whether he had a hearing problem. So we went for a hearing test, which he failed spectacularly with. That’s what it is. He’s got a, got a hearing issue.
And then, uh, what we found was that 24 hours after the hearing test, and he clearly had an ear infection and was really struggling with, okay, so you already have that. Infection when he did the test, that’s why he failed it. So they redid the test. He passed it and that was fine. And so we were on to the next stage.
And so James was two and a half when he was diagnosed as autistic and with learning disability and our world changed in lots of ways. Some so not so good. Some very positive.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. Everybody’s journey is a little bit different and I’m wondering if you can put yourself back. At that point in time when he was two and a half and they said, this is the diagnosis.
What was the immediate reaction? Was there a lot of fear or concern or anxiety or not?
Mark Arnold: Yeah, I mean, we, we didn’t know what that meant. We didn’t understand what that really meant for James, what that meant for us, what that meant from the point of view of what James could develop and grow into. Uh, we, we, we just didn’t know sometimes.
When I’m talking about this to two groups of people, if I’m doing training and signing, I share with them how it was just staring into this void that we just didn’t understand at all. And, uh, you know, how you, you have dreams for your kids, don’t you. And, uh, and often those dreams are completely unrealistic.
I remember when James was born and, uh, looking at him as a newborn. Baby boy and dreaming of the day, because I love cricket. And I know you guys in the States don’t play cricket, but you’ve hopefully heard of it.
David Hirsch: Cricket, cricket, baseball, you know, it’s like the country’s main, main sport. I understand.
Mark Arnold: Yeah.
You know, it’s, it’s a big thing, uh, here and, uh, the biggest. Cricket game, uh, is, is, uh, when England play Australia, there’s the big rivalry, the ashes. And I looking at this baby boy and dreaming of the day when he’d go out to open bat for England and win the ashes, you know, all those kinds of completely unrealistic dreams that we have for our kids.
And that moment, when somebody said to us, uh, James is autistic and he has a learning disability. At that instant, all those dreams just seem to disappear. And yeah, we, we, we entered into that cycle of grief, uh, you know, because we didn’t know what the future looked like anymore. Uh, you know, certainly didn’t look like any of those dreams that we had, and we really were struggling to process that.
David Hirsch: Was there any meaningful advice that you got on that helped you navigate that slippery slope at the beginning?
Mark Arnold: Well, we, uh, James was, was diagnosed at a place called the child development center, which is in, uh, just local to us. Uh, and, uh, they offered sessions for us and for James, uh, over several weeks and months.
Following his diagnosis. And that really helped. It helped us to understand James better. It helped us to understand what we could do to help him, uh, and to support him what, what services might now be available to be able to help James make the most of, uh, of who he is. Uh, but it also helped us to, to, to come to terms a lot more with, uh, the, the news.
That we’ve been given. I recall a time. Oh, it was only a few months after James, his diagnosis. And we were at the child development center. They had a playroom where all the children would be worked with by the staff there. And then there was a two way mirror and then a parent’s room where we could watch what was happening.
And we saw a mum and her boy arrive and the boy. Yeah, it’s handed over to one of the team and mum is heading away with another team and we saw this boy and he’s starts to run around the periphery of the room and he’s flapping and he’s not giving any eye contact to anybody. And he’s not speaking at all.
And a few months in, we were diagnosing him through the window and pretty much knowing, you know, what, what what’s happening there. Back 30 minutes later, a mum is brought into the parent’s room where we are and she’s in tears. And she’s, you know, she’s obviously being, given that news that few weeks earlier, we’ve been given.
And what we found was that even just a few weeks into our journey, we were able to, to chat with her. We were able to share a little bit of our very, very new journey with her and to actually help her to, to realize that that person she was feeling right there. And then, you know, it was right to feel it.
We understood that, but it wouldn’t last forever. Uh, and that there would be a way forward for, for her and her boy. And, and that was great. And that helped us as well as helping her, uh, and got us thinking about, well, maybe, you know, there’s something more that we can do, uh, to help others in the similar situation to our own.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. I think that, um, one of the thoughts that comes to mind is that if you can witness what’s going on with somebody else, you realize that you’re not. On this journey by yourself, right. That there’s others that have been there, done that. And not to say that it’s easy or that you’re asking for the challenges, but, uh, it somehow I think helps you alter your perspective, maybe shift.
What’s your understanding of something is, and I’m sort of curious to know without trying to focus on the negative, but just to be authentic, uh, what have been some of the biggest challenges that you and Clara faced with James’s situation?
Mark Arnold: Uh, well, they’ve, they’ve kind of different stages during his development.
So, so James is still mostly nonverbal. He’s got a. Small number of words that, that he can use. He communicates in, uh, lots of different ways. Uh, so understanding his communication, uh, and, uh, being able to enter his world through that, uh, was, uh, an early challenge for us and an area for us to learn and grow through.
But, you know, there have been different challenges along the way when puberty arrived, you know, that. Change things a lot as James was, you know, his body was developing and changing. And then when he was 15, uh, yeah, we’d got him up. Okay. I got him downstairs. I’d gone to get his breakfast from the kitchen.
He was in his den, just relaxing and watching something on the TV. And suddenly I could hear this, this. Crazy noise a whole lot is going on. And I ran into his den and James is having a seizure.
David Hirsch: Oh my God.
Mark Arnold: It’s the first time anything like that had happened? Uh, so, you know, thankfully I just switched into dad.
Protective mode, made him safe, made him, uh, you know, K. Call the emergency services and, uh, an ambulance was there real quick and Alyssa and welcome to epilepsy, uh, in that that entered our world. Uh, and it entered James as well to such an extent that he was having seizures then on and off maybe weekly.
So, you know, I know a lot of. Kids have the much more than that, but, but for James, that just absolutely took all his confidence away, too. Point where for over a year, uh, for about year 14 months, James was unable to leave the house. Uh, so that meant he wasn’t at school. He wasn’t going to any of his favorite places.
It wasn’t going to get the respite support. He wasn’t going to church. He wasn’t doing anything. He was just at home. And that was hard. That was hard for, for, you know, for us as a family, we had to change our, our working patents got a bit too, to be able to be there for him, you know, 24 seven. But also it was hard because once again, we were dealing with something we had no knowledge of.
And trying to understand that again and kind of understand actually, Hey, no, is James ever going to be able to go back out into the world again? Is this now the new normal for James or 14 months later? He began slowly to be able to head back out into the world again, uh, and typically for James in a surprising way.
But he, uh, yeah. Is now able to, to head out more. Uh, and, and that’s great, but yeah, you know, we’ve had a whole bunch of challenges along the way, just when you think you’ve got it all sorted out in your head and you know where you’re going with it all. Suddenly something new comes along and yeah, it all gets thrown up in the air again.
But Hey, that’s learning. That’s the journey that we’re all on together.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. It’s just a, it’s like a breathtaking experience to have you recount, uh, starting at age 15 that. You know, you had some respectable challenges that you were sort of getting on top of and then epilepsy sort of gets thrown into the mix.
And, uh, in baseball terms, I know it’s not cricket terms, but in baseball terms, that would be like, uh, learning to hit curve balls.
Mark Arnold: Yeah, absolutely.
David Hirsch: And all of a sudden, you know, you’re like, Oh, Hey. I was okay with fast balls and change ups, but, uh, I am not so good at hitting curve balls.
Mark Arnold: So it took a while.
It did. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah. You sound like you’re in a better place today.
Mark Arnold: Well, yeah, we are. Yeah. There’s, it’s a, it’s a better place. Uh, but you know, you’re always looking out for the, the next thing that could come along, you know, the next variation of a pitch.
David Hirsch: Exactly. So I’m sort of curious to know, uh, what impact has James a situation had on Phoebe, your marriage or the rest of your family, your extended family for that matter?
Mark Arnold: No, that’s a good question. Uh, I think, uh, possibly it’s had a, a bigger impact on Phoebe than we really understand and, uh, and realize in. Negative and positive ways. There are lots of times have been lots of times when we’ve been hoping to do something, hoping to go somewhere. Even family holidays that have had to change or be canceled or something’s been different, uh, because James has just not been able to, to, to be able to cope with, with that.
And so Phoebe’s missed out on things, uh, through her life. Um, she’s had to deal with stuff, but she’s been there and, uh, and, and supporting during those times, But she’s also an amazing caring, loving, wonderful advocate for disabled children and young people and young adults. She stuck up for the kids that were being bullied at her school because they were disabled.
She has been a real advocate for disabled students at her university. And so she has got a personality that has been refined in the fire over our family situation. Yeah. She she’s come out to be a really wonderful woman as a result of that. I think, you know, for the rest of us, my wife, Claire, similar to me, we’ve continued to be on a lifelong learning journey.
Claire as a career is an educator. She works in primary education, uh, and she, he has developed to be. Spending a lot of her time working one to one with other children with Additional Needs and disabilities as well, which would be something that she maybe wouldn’t have considered or, or felt qualified to, uh, to do, uh, if we’ve not had our journey with James, but because of that experience, that lived experience, that’s helped her to be able to go down that particular route.
So, you know, that’s, that’s been great too. The wider family, um, you know, they. They’re supportive. They don’t always understand. They don’t always get it when there’s a big family occasion. And you know, sometimes. We have to find out at the last minute and say, Hey, we can’t come or not. All of us can come or we’re there.
And we have to say, yeah, I’m really sorry. We’re going to have to head back home now because James is really struggling. They, yeah, they can struggle that. Uh, but generally they’ve been really supportive and caring and loving which, which is great. And it’s helped us hugely, uh, over the years.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for being authentic.
Um, it’s not all good and it’s not all bad, but it’s real, right? This has been your experience. And I think that’s just important to put in perspective because sometimes the perception is you got it all together. And I think if we’re honest with one another, The fact is we don’t have it all together.
You have to be comfortable, you know, showing our vulnerability. Right. And that’s just being real about things.
Mark Arnold: I think that’s absolutely right. None of us have got this all sorted out and. Yeah. If we say we have, then we’re just setting ourselves up for a, for a fall and we can’t help anybody else. If, if that’s what we believe. If we think we’ve got all the answers and that we’ve got nothing left to learn, uh, you know, I’ll, I’ll talk to other parents too, on the dads, uh, who, who are broken, who are struggling and, uh, you know, to just sit with a dad and say, Hey, I know what that’s like.
Uh, and know it’s. A shared common journey that we’re on, you know, and we, none of us have got this together and actually for somebody to hear that and think, okay, yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not just me. That feels like this, actually, this, this is it’s okay to feel like this.
David Hirsch: Yep. It’s a beautiful thing.
Thanks for sharing. So more recently, you’ve come up with this concept of Dads’ Fire Circle. You did an event in July. And you have plans for doing more of these. What is your vision for The Dads’ Fire Circle and how has it evolved so far?
Mark Arnold: So the, The Dads’ Fire Circle are really new thing. Uh, it’s it’s really only been around for not much more than a month.
Uh, it was pretty new, uh, and, uh, but it’s, it’s had its DNA, uh, in place maybe for a while longer than that. Over here in the UK, there’s a TV presenter called Ben Fogel and he does a bunch of TV shows, uh, that are around, uh, living the life in the wild, going and living in wild places. And it’s usually about families.
Sometimes individuals who have given up the nine to five day job and have gone somewhere in the world, into the wild places to live. So I was watching. Ben Fogle’s thing about this fire. And these guys gathered around that. It reminded me of this stuff that we’ve done with care for the family. And I thought there’s a real need to do something like this.
And so literally within two days we had a website we started to. Push messages out through the different channels that we’ve got available to us saying, Hey, are we going to gather some dads together? Uh, do you want to come along and be a part of, and we had a great time. We shared, we just hung out together.
We did it all on zoom because, you know, we can’t meet in person and, and anyway, they were all over the UK. So it would have been a really hard thing to do anyway. But it was great. And at the end of it, I said to them, so guys, do you want to do this again? Is this something that you’d like to do on a regular basis?
And I, they all unanimously said, yeah, absolutely. We want to do this again. And we’d love to do this monthly. That would be terrific. And could we maybe do a Facebook group or something as well as the website so that we can chat in between time? And so we’ve got a Facebook group. And the website, which is also our blog and which also has details of, you know, when are we going to be meeting again?
Are we going to be doing this again? Uh, in a couple of weeks time?
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I’m inspired by the concept of The Dads’ Fire Circle. We’ll have to do a, another interview or a followup a year or a couple of years down the road, since it is so new and to see how that evolves and what impact that it has.
I’d like to talk about supporting organizations first. The organizations that were helpful on your journey earlier journey, trying to figure out how to provide James with the best opportunities and then separately, if you can separate them, the advocacy that you’ve been doing, right. The work that you’ve been doing.
So what were the supporting organizations? The ones that. Were helpful to you and Claire on the, uh, earlier journey, uh, helping gems.
Mark Arnold: So I think what we found in those early years for James were that most of the organizations, most of the connections we were making were, were in the second world. So that, that was through.
Places like the child development center that I mentioned, James was then able to join a preschool that was really supportive and helped him to develop. So a lot of those, yeah, early interventions where we’re from the, that the medical and educational world and our church was really, really supportive as well.
It was a new journey for them. But they embraced us as a family, James, as a member of that church and, uh, looks to put things in place to help James, to get the most out of his time at church and to be supported there. And so when. A few years ago, uh, I had that opportunity to take my 10% of my time and start to invest it into a, an area of ministry that at Irvin saints, we weren’t exploring at that time.
One of the first things that happened was I was invited to go and talk to a bunch of youth workers to share with them a bit of our journey. I went along and there was a whole bunch of these youth workers. We had a great time sharing about this, and I came away afterwards thinking, well, That they can’t just be this bunch of youth workers that would find this helpful.
There must be loads of people that, that this knowledge would be helpful for. So the first thing I started to do was to look around, to see who was already doing that, because I just assumed that there must be people out there doing this. And what I found was that there were a handful of people that were doing bits and pieces, but there wasn’t really much on a national scale.
And so we started to push some doors and we started to pray into it. And we started to walk, right. What, what we were doing, uh, more widely and they got picked up and it grew, and he grew in a gray too, to where we’re at now, which is, you know, we’re absolutely really busy with, with folks, even in this difficult time that we’re in a friend that I’ve journeyed with for most of this time.
Kay, Morgan girl. Who has been a nurse and has been a special needs nurse. We, we found each other and we founded something called the Additional Needs Alliance. I collaborative group of two children’s workers, youth workers. Church leaders, parents, practitioners, whole bunch of folk who are really interested in this area of working with kids with Additional Needs.
And we, we started it off the after right. A conference session where we’d been speaking to a bunch of people who wanted to carry that journey on themselves. We explored ways to do that. We put a Facebook group together. We started to build a website. There were 30, 35 of us that started that journey. And.
It’s grown to two and a half thousand now.
David Hirsch: So one of the organizations that you helped co-found is the Additional Needs Alliance. And I think that was the organization that you and Kay and some others helped get off the ground. And it seems to be growing and flourishing. Thank you for sharing. Um, I remember you also talking about the Additional Needs blog father, and I’m wondering if you can share with our listeners what that’s all about.
Mark Arnold: So the additional news blog father is, is my blog. It came really again, like, you know, a few of these things along the way from somebody asking me to write something and I’ve not written much, uh, you know, other than work reports and things. I’ve not, I’ve not written anything creatively, probably since uni it’d been a long time.
Uh, but I, I wrote something in it. Seems to resonate with people. So I thought, well, they came maybe, maybe that’s something that could be helpful as a, another way of reaching people with this. So, uh, creative, this blog, the Additional Needs blog father, uh, and, uh, that’s been running, I think we’re in the fourth year, uh, of, of that nag.
Yeah, again, it’s been one of those things that has just been wonderful to see the wind beneath its sails, uh, and the growth of it. And, uh, it’s, it’s a blog for parents. It’s a blog for children’s and youth and families. Workers can share some ideas and tips and things that just help folk to understand how to maybe work better with children and young people in their context.
Mainly in a church context, but not in tiny. It’s a blog that just is there to encourage and equip and enable, uh, people that are on this journey as well. And I’m so thankful that thousands of people engage with it and, uh, and read it. And, uh, yeah, it’s a joy to contribute towards that and to see how that’s developed over time and to, to, to relearn how to write creatively again.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering, in addition to what we’ve already discussed, Mark, if there’s any advice that you would give, particularly a young dad, somebody who’s closer to the beginning of his journey, um, about how to engage, uh, when they have a child with Additional Needs.
Mark Arnold: Yeah. I think the first thing that I would say, and.
Isn’t this tough for guys to talk. You know, we, we find it hard to talk. We find it hard to share, but actually it’s so worth it. You know, if, if we can share with, you know, with somebody, if we can find, uh, you know, other dads who are on this journey and just share with them, it can give us answers to the million questions that we’ve got.
It can give us community with other people that get it. It can start to heal us from the pain and the hurt that we’re feeling as we start to see, actually, here’s a bunch of dads I’m doing okay. Uh, and yeah, they have that off times too, but, but they’re, they’re doing pretty well. And so, you know, reaching out to other dads is, is so important, but also.
Yeah, look at your child. Look at your child and your child hasn’t changed the diagnosis that your child has just been given. Doesn’t change them. It helps to explain them. It helps you to understand them better, but it doesn’t change the wonderful. Gift the wonderful child of God that they are yeah. Go on on that amazing journey with them.
And so reach out to other dads and find about community, but also, yeah, just embrace your time child and love your child for who they are. And for yeah. All the amazing adventures that you’re going to have, life will be different for you. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse. It can be beautiful.
It can be exciting. It can be thrilling. It can be, you know, amazing. Embrace it and enjoy it.
David Hirsch: Well, you’re speaking to the choir because oftentimes when I’m I’m. Autographing a book of mine have a tagline that I’ll put in there is life is a journey. Enjoy the ride.
Mark Arnold: Amen.
David Hirsch: So thank you again for sharing. So 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?
Mark Arnold: Well, I think it’s so important for us dads to be able to share with each other. We’ve got experience along the way. James is 18. Now he was diagnosed when he was two. So we’ve got 16 years of journey that we’ve got in our tank. Now we could either just hold on to that, uh, and use that for our own benefit.
Or we could also get alongside that. Who are. Further down the path behind us and be able to offer that help. And from, for me, I think that one of the most joyous things that I do in the stuff that I do, uh, is, uh, just talking through with a dad who’s. Maybe really struggling. Who’s got a million questions who doesn’t know what tomorrow is going to look like, let alone a year, 10 years time.
And to be able to just, uh, just talk and share and listen, you know, most importantly to listen, uh, and for that dad to feel heard and feel cared for and feel valued and to go away maybe with a couple of things to try. Or maybe just feeling that they’ve been able to unburden themselves of something. And, and that can be really, really, uh, rewarding for, for both of us.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Um, we’re thrilled to have you as part of the network. And I think of you as sort of a man in the middle, not at the beginning of the journey, not toward the end, but like you said, you have 16 years worth of parenting experience, specifically as it relates to Additional Needs.
And you know, there’s still a thing or two that you’re learning. And I think that, uh, you’re, you’ll get a lot out of it, but it’s like a lot of other things in life you get out of something, what you put into it. So if you’re giving, like you have been, um, there’s other rewards, right? Uh, not monetary rewards, but other awards to be received.
So again, we’re thrilled to have you as part of the network. I’m sort of curious to know, is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Mark Arnold: First of all, again, just thank you so much for having me along. It’s it’s great to have connected with you, uh, and just to, yeah. To learn from you guys and the stuff you’ve been doing over a number of years, you know, The Dads’ Fire Circle is.
Less than two months old, we were new to dance work in this way, but there’s much we can learn for you, which is great. But I guess, yeah. You know, just to, uh, again, uh, you know, looking at it, um, over here in the UK, if there are. The ads that are this side of the pond, particularly, uh, that, that I can help, uh, then do get in touch, you know, do, do, go and have a look at that.
That’s thedadsfirecirlcle.com.com and see what we’re up to there, or get in touch with me, you know, email me, uh, and, uh, uh, just, yeah, it’d be great to chat. Great to, uh, to reach out to any dads that are, uh, this side of, uh, of the pond and, and see what we can do together because, uh, you know, I’m. All for, for, for teaming up with people, for encouraging others in the ministries they’re doing and signposting towards what people are doing as well.
So yeah. You know, whatever we can do to encourage that more, then that’s great.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing and being open. I’ll be sure to include in the show notes information on Urban Saints, The Dads’ Fire Circle, your blog as well as your contacting permission.
Mark Arnold: Fantastic. Thanks, David.
David Hirsch: Let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, John Felageller, Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast number 65, for helping connect us.
Mark Arnold: Fantastic that John has brought us together and really grateful to him for just, yeah. That link quick, who knows what God’s going to do with that and where that might lead. But, uh, yeah, it was John that that was the instigator of that relationship.
And so thanks, John.
David Hirsch: Mark, thank you for taking the time in many insights as reminder, Mark is just one of the dads who’s 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 tax deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Mark, thanks again.
Mark Arnold: Thanks David.
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, dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personal life 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 for 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 bi-weekly 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. 847-279-7999.