153 – Ray Morris, Former Firefighter, Father To A Son With Hemimegaloencephaly & Founder of Dads 4 Special Kids
Our guest this week is SFN Mentor Father Ray Morris, a former firefighter who does contract work for FEMA. Ray has two boys, including older son Zachary (32) who was diagnosed with Hemimegaloencephaly, a rare condition where one half of the brain is larger than the other.
Ray shares how growing up with a dad who became a quadriplegic at 29 was foreshadowing for the experience he and his wife, Kelly, would have raising a son with severe special needs.
Ray talks about his faith and in a very authentic way, how he grieved the loss of the life he anticipated for and with Zachary, which also motivated him to create Dads 4 Special Kids and a series of videos to help dads process their own grief and become the best versions
It’s a heartwarming story about a father’s love for his children and how his family has been able to overcome some of life’s challenges on this SFN Dad to Dad Podcast.
Ray’s email address: Ray@d4sk.org
Dads 4 Special Kids: http://d4sk.org
The Dads 4 Kids You Tube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/
Tom Couch: Special. Thanks to horizon therapeutics for sponsoring today’s special father’s network, dad to dad podcast, working tirelessly to research, develop and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about horizon therapeutics, mission at horizontherapeutics.com.
Ray Morris: And I’ll say this to any dad out there. You need somebody to talk to you’re at your end. Call me, send me a text. Send me an email because I will, I will respond because you need somebody else to be there with you. So many guys are out there by themselves trying to figure this out, walk it as you know, we can do.
We can do better
Tom Couch: that special father Ray Morris, Ray, his dad to Zack 32, who has intellectual and developing disabilities. Ray’s also the founder of dads for special kids. And we’ll hear Ray’s story on this special father’s network. Dad to dad podcast, say hello to David
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special.
Presented by the special
Tom Couch: fathers network. This special father’s 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 21st century dads.org.
David Hirsch: And if your dad looking for how for would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you. Closed Facebook group, please go to facebook.com groups and search dad to dad
Tom Couch: and now let’s hear this conversation between Ray Morris and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Ray Morris of Rio Verde Arizona. Who’s the father of two, a retired firefighter doing contract work for FEMA and founder of dads for special kids. Ray, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for a special fathers. Welcome.
Ray Morris: Glad to be part of it. You and
David Hirsch: your wife, Kelly been married for 34 years and the proud parents of two boys, son Tyler, 31 and older brothers accurate 32, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your
Ray Morris: family. Uh, I grew up in a little town called lake Grove, south of Portland, probably about 30 miles, I think still there, but it’s got been annexed by a larger town called lake Oswego. Moved there when I was like five, four or five years old and lived there till I was 18.
When I went into college, then at 21, I went in the coast guard. My big thing when I was growing up was sports playing football and. Uh, that was my, for me personally, was my saving grace growing up in there because I came from a dysfunctional family. My dad was a, became a quadriplegic when he was 29 and that was a 1969.
And I was nine years old having an older sister and a younger sister. And after it was in the hospital, he got released and he came home and lived with us and we took care of him when he did it. You know, he needed a drink of water. We gave him a drink of water. We fed them. We kind of put them to bed, got them up, all that kind of stuff.
David Hirsch: pretty overwhelming to think that your dad at such a young age, age 29 would have become a quadriplegic. What were the circumstance?
Ray Morris: Uh, circumstances was, he was my mom and him went out one evening with, uh, another couple of friends and my sisters and I spent we’re spending the night at his parents, grandma, grandpa, Nana, as we called them.
And we were going to get up the next morning and go see an, an uncle had a farm down outside of Salem, Oregon. And we’re going to see the new baby lambs that were born. Well, they went out, they came home the other couple, got in a big fight. The lady took an overdose of sleeping pills. Her husband called my parents cause he had been drinking and my dad went over and pick them up and was taking them to the hospital because back then there were, there was an ambulance services.
I mean we’re out in the sort of the country area. So they were driving to the hospital and a drunken driver was coming down the wrong side of I five in Portland and they collided and he had a C3.
David Hirsch: Yeah, ex um, it sounds pretty heavy. Um, and I can only imagine what your mom’s situation was raising you and your sisters.
And then, you know, now your dad who you know, is even more Nudie and, you know, you and your
Ray Morris: siblings, then the ironic thing is, is my dad was 18 and she was 15 when they got married. So they were, she was really young. Neither one of them had ever graduated high school. You know, my dad eventually later on.
He got his GED, but my mom never did. She bad thing was rough thing about my mom was she identified herself as my dad’s caregiver. That was her pretty much was her life. And so, uh, but a blessing that Kim comes out of this whole thing is that that situation helped prepare me to be the father of a child with a disability.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, It seems like there’s probably some grieving that took place. Right. You know, when your dad had this accident and, uh, things that he wasn’t able to do with you, the things you weren’t able to do with your dad, the things that your mom wasn’t able to do with your dad. Um, just a lot of, uh, growing.
Um, I don’t know how else to say it, but. You know, it seems like it was probably very difficult for everybody involved at some level.
Ray Morris: It was we’ll just call it what it is. It was a soup sandwich. It was just, it wasn’t pretty, everybody did the best that they could with what they had, what the skill sets they had.
And there I look back and I see, I grew from the experience. So he passed away in 2008. You know, we talked about, he drastically ate because he could never play football with me. He couldn’t teach me to drive. He couldn’t do those things, but he learned how to be a man from a chair. You know, the chair did not identify who he was.
It was just part of who he is. Yeah, he was still a man still had hope, same hopes, dreams, and all that kind of stuff. So he found different ways and perspectives to meet those hopes and dreams and find new dreams and let some dreams die.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, like you said, um, you can look back on it now and realize it was some foreshadowing for your own experience, right?
Yeah. Thank you for sharing. Um, I’m sort of curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with.
Ray Morris: It was strained. I made, cause I was, I was a nine year old kid and I only had nine years of life experience. You know, my dad was 29 and had, you know, 29 years of life experience to draw upon. So it was, it was, there was many struggles, there was many arguments.
There was many things because I wasn’t nine years. Kid, you know, and I gave him credit that he did the best that he could, you know, but at the time in the heat of the battle, you can’t really, you know, he’d make complete adjustments and stuff. Uh, uh, jump ahead a little bit. My wife gave me some good guidance, uh, with my own sons, especially Tyler, our youngest who’s I call them atypical.
Kim and I were going at it. He was 13 years old and we were clashing and she goes, stop. She goes, you’re coming at the situation with your 30, some odd years of life experience. And Tyler only has 13. Who’s the adult here. So now in retrospect, taking that information, going back and looking at the situation with, between my dad and I.
I got greater insight, but at the time it’s painful, it’s hurting. I would’ve greatly have loved to had somebody to talk to about it. And I, and I know he would have loved to had somebody to talk to who’d been in similar situation to help provide him with guidance because basically it was everything that took place within that house stayed within that house.
And very little outside information ever came in to, to encourage or support or.
David Hirsch: Yeah, a soft you’re isolated, you’re sort of alone and you’re struggling, like you said. Yeah. So when you think about your dad, is there an important takeaway or two that come to mind? Something that you carry with you today?
Ray Morris: Oh yeah. The biggest thing is I learned from him is because talking with him when I was older, I think it’s probably about four or five years before he passed away is, you know, asking them point blank. Is dad, how in the hell have you been. You know, and he goes, it was tough. It’s hard. He goes, but I’ve learned to appreciate a kind smile, a gentle word, a conversation, you know, I’m still a man, but people look at me as I’m in this wheelchair and that the wheelchair identifies me, but it doesn’t, it’s just part of who I am.
And. I can always look out there son and find somebody in a worse predicament than me. He started a support group for mobily challenge individuals up in Portland or the university of Oregon medical school. Uh, and he, one of the things he always shared with me several times, it was like, Hey, be working with an individual, saves a pair of police.
And their bad attitude, just bitter angry, resentful, pissed off that they’re a paraplegic. He would turn around. He goes, I would trade places with you in a heartbeat just to be a paraplegic. Oh, and by the way, you got $8 million in a settlement. He goes, I became a quad at age 29 and I got nothing. So taking that as I learned.
I can control my perspective, how I respond to situations. That’s the only thing I can learn too. That’s what.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, very valuable insight, uh, tough to learn at the way you did your family know, but, uh, you know, an important takeaway that, uh, hopefully will sort of, uh, be passed along right through generations.
Yeah. And your family, hopefully others, like you said, your dad, you know, was a leader from that perspective. If he took the initiative to help others, that. Um, mobile. I heard you say mobility challenge situations. Yeah. Yeah. That’s part of his legacy, which is a really important aspect of his life. Yeah. I’m thinking about other role models.
And I’m wondering did either of your grandfather’s either on your dad or your mom’s side play an influential role?
Ray Morris: It would be my dad’s dad, uh, because he was around the most. He was, uh, he was a grocery man. You know, my dad was a grocery man. I started. But they both jumped on my and said, you will not be a grocery man.
So I became a fireman. Uh, yeah, he was my grandpa. I call him grandpa. He was, he was there. He taught me the best that he could. Yeah,
David Hirsch: that’s fabulous. Well, thank you for sharing. So from what I remember, you took a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Ottawa university and a master’s in emergency crisis management from grand canyon university.
I’m wondering. Um, did you go right from school, into the coast guard or did you go to coast guard before you
Ray Morris: went to school? Uh, a little bit of both. I graduated high school, uh, and I went to, it was called the Oregon college of education. Now it’s called the Western Oregon state university to play football.
And I thought I wanted to be a PE teacher, went to school and I felt miserable. Not in football, but in academia, I actually, I have a transcript, a physical transcript with a 0.92 GPA that sounds low. It is not as a D minus. I just, I didn’t have the academic skills. I learned later that I was severely dyslexic and have an auditory processing disorder.
So I went into school to play football. Failed miserably. But then I became aware of a volunteer fire department in the area, and I got involved with that. And then I transferred to a college that called Shemeka at a community college that specialized in fire service. So I went to school there got by, but not very well.
I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write. I decided I’m a wise thing to do is go in the military, get veterans points to get into the fire service. So I stumbled onto the coast guard and realized the coast guard is a fire department, but on water because they were the rescues. Right. So I joined the coast guard, did that for five years in Depoe bay, Oregon, the world’s smallest Harbor.
And when I got out of the coast, I moved down here to Phoenix, Arizona, and got hired with the fire department right away. And then I went back to school and learn my learning style and got a bachelor’s degree and got a master’s degree. But I had to take ownership of my education. I realized that if somebody gives me a book and says here, read this, we’re gonna have a test on it.
I will. Go down in a splendor glory, but if I could take that book and audibly, listen to it and read along, my retention goes up. So it’s just knowing yourself and who you are and how you communicate. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Well, our brains are each wired differently. No, there’s the average, you know, people can read and write and, you know, get through a typical curriculum and then there’s, I wouldn’t call it special needs, but different types of.
Yeah. Some of us are visual learners. Some of us are auditory learners, et cetera. And, uh, you know, if you don’t know that at a young age, right? If you haven’t been diagnosed, obviously things can be much more challenging and it’s too bad that something didn’t happen where that was diagnosed at an earlier age, but it is what it is.
You can’t change the past. And, uh, like you said, you have to take ownership of your own situation and make the most of it. And I admire you for the perseverance that you’ve. Displayed and your not only educational experience, but in your career.
Ray Morris: Yeah, because I was able to take what I learned about my dyslexia and I shared it with my dad who realized he was dyslexic.
Then he went back to school and got his GED. Oh, wow. So that was, that changed his life because he realized. Oh, and he became aware of books on tape and he became aware of different learning programs, through different organizations that were tailored to his abilities and his learning style. And it was, so it was like, it was, I thought it was, it was cool.
It helped our relationship.
David Hirsch: That is very cool. Thank you for sharing. So I’m sort of curious to know, how is it that you and Kelly
Ray Morris: met?
The truth is, is I, I moved down here, didn’t know hardly anybody. And I was on my motorcycle one day and I driving down Hayden road in Scottsdale, Arizona. And I went by a church. It was called Trinity church. It’s no longer there. And I said, oh, that looks like a nice church to go to. I’ll start going. And I met her in the church parking lot about four months later.
And she’s a native Arizona born and raised in the white mountain, Apache Indian reservation. Her parents were school teachers. So I have a beautiful blonde Caucasian wife with Apache culture. So yeah, so we, we met, we met at, uh, at the church that we were going to. It was a called a young singles Bible study group.
And about a year later, we, we got married
David Hirsch: and to what can we do for a living or what has she done for a living?
Ray Morris: She now she’s a psychotherapist. So I am a product of her, a tool. Each
David Hirsch: you can laugh about that.
Ray Morris: Yeah. She early, early on. When Zach born was born, that changed everything, but she stayed home to care for him. And she’d always wanted to be a marriage and family therapist. And it wasn’t till after he got older and things settled down enough where she went back to school. Uh, pretty much the same time I went, I was getting my bachelor’s degree and then she got her master’s degree right away and started, uh, working part-time.
David Hirsch: Let’s switch gears and talk about special needs first on a personal level and then beyond. And I’m sort of curious know before Zach’s diagnosis, did you or Kelly have any experience beyond what you’re mentioning about your dad and the special needs that you grew up in?
Ray Morris: I had some involvement with an uncle who was a double amputee arm, amputee from a logging accident up in Oregon.
I can’t remember. I was messed up in my early teens or mid teens. I helped care for him, you know, and then there was a, a boy in the neighborhood who can’t remember what I want to say. He had muscular dystrophy, uh, but he was a chair. Uh, that was prior to Zack, uh, Kelly, uh, her younger brother was what they called back in the day was, uh, a blue baby.
He was born with one ventricle, but it can’t, I’m not positive on that. Uh, so she cared for him, you know, grew up having a younger brother and it was just natural. You take care of your younger brother. And then when she was in college, she was a friends and was roommates with a girl that had a. Cerebral palsy and was her caregiver and they were best friends.
She was even in our, was part of our wedding party. So we were always been sort of around it.
David Hirsch: Okay. Yeah. It sounds like it not only from your young age, a nine with your dad, but, uh, a number of data points that might help, uh, put some of these, uh, issues, uh, into personal. Yeah. So I think that, you know, God must’ve been working on your hearts in different ways, you know, up until your own personal experience.
Yeah. So what is the Zach’s diagnosis and, uh, how was it diagnosed?
Ray Morris: Uh, I could tell you the word. I cannot spell it. Yes. He’s diagnosed with called Hemi Megalodon and seflie the right hemisphere of the brain is larger than the left. Uh, Normal pregnancy, everything ultrasounds done. Uh, we didn’t know SAC had a diagnosis until after he was born.
Kelly went into transitional labor. She pushed for two and a half hours. She could was trying to go down the birth canal. She could feel him. They’re trying different positions. And then the doctors, all of a sudden decided like, you know, w child was not in a distress, uh, will go and go to emergency C-section.
Well, they did that and he came out looking like I refer to him as a Saturday night, live conehead. He had a huge hit 16 and three quarter inch head. And it was cone-shaped towards the back because he was trying to get down the birth canal. So they had taken her into the Orr emergency, ER, and we’re doing the delivery and I’m outside with family members and friends.
And all of a sudden here comes a little incubator going by and found out that was my, my child and looked at him and I saw this large conehead. I got a picture of it and he’s off going on a helicopter going to. St. Joe’s barrels, neurological Institute and my wife’s and the Orr. And I’m standing there going what just happened.
And that was the beginning of this journey.
David Hirsch: Wow. So he gets rushed to a different hospital. Kelly’s still, you know, post-op recovering from the delivery. Uh, obviously it’s going to take a little bit more. Given the fact that it’s a C-section versus a natural birth. Yep. Did you stay at the hospital with her or did you
Ray Morris: oh yeah, I stayed with, I stayed with her.
Okay. I stayed, I stayed with her cause it was like, I’m not going to be able to do for me. It was that’s that, I mean, there’s nothing I can do, but I can be here for her. And that’s the priority was her, you know? Um, and when retrospect looking back. We have an ultrasound of Zachary with this large head and you compare it to Tyler, our youngest son, and you see this dramatic difference.
We look at it, it was like, God blinded everybody because we didn’t have to go through the decision of, to do an abortion or not. So we have no bad feelings, no nothing, because we expect. Except it it’s not going to make any difference. All it does is take away, take away the joy.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing.
So that goes off to a different hospital. How does this story transpire? When do you get there? When does Kela get there? When do you really learn about what the situation was?
Ray Morris: It was, I went home that night. Uh, The next day went back to the hospital and that night pretty much was just, I don’t even, I don’t know if I slept or not.
It was just, okay, what is going on here? What’s blah, blah, blah, blah. We have no idea, you know, but I had this sense of peace. It was like, okay, it is what it is, but it’s all going to be, you know, that doesn’t have to be bad. So the next day went to the, to the hospital to see Kelly, uh, she got released. Late.
I think it was late the afternoon because they were scrambling because they knew that they had goofed up. Oh, I’ll say because the doctor was like, uh, probably saw the ultrasound and now it’s CA you know, realize, oh, shoot Bubba. So big. We got out of there. I think we had it. We went that AF late afternoon, went down to the barrels to see accurate.
I saw him just briefly cause he was a NICU. Uh, but he wasn’t no, there’s no distress. He was in no distress. Tarp beats, normal respiratory is right. He just had a large, large head. And then we had a meeting with the doctors. In retrospect, it was comical because my wife, Kelly and I are sitting at the end of the table and they’re all down at the other end of it.
And they’re like, uh, your son has Hemi Magdalen. Cephalic, we’ve only seen it once here, but not this severe. Uh, we contacted the leading institution up in Toronto, Canada, and they’re recommended that we go and remove the large Telesphere his brain, because he’s going to have uncontrolled seizures. Uh, and when we do that, he’ll be pretty much like a vegetable and we’re just.
Uh, you know, so, and I asked that or somebody else says like, well, has he had any seizures? Uh, no, but he will then we’re like, okay. So that was that. And then the next day they released. And they said when he starts having seizures yet, but when he starts having them bring them back and we’ll, we’ll make the decision on what to do.
And we said, well, we’ll okay, well, we’re not leaning towards the brain removal. We’ll just, you know, we’ll, we’ll see. And that was it. You know, it was probably when he was. Three years old, two years old, he started having a few, a few seizures, but nothing dramatic things. Never. I mean, he has seizures, but nothing real dramatic.
David Hirsch: So is there any advice to you God, beyond the initial advice, which didn’t sound like the path wanted to go down that helped you? Put this all in perspective. I’m just slow to, like, I don’t know that there’s a handle to hold onto. Nope. Based on what you’ve just described, you know, he’s in the NICU, but it’s more like a precautionary measure.
And then they realize that everything is. It is what it is. Yeah. There’s nothing that he needs to be in the NICU for. And he goes home. You said that he didn’t have any seizures, anything of any consequence for quite some time? Uh, what, what path were you on when, I mean, what guidance were you getting? What were your expectations
Ray Morris: and get any guidance from anybody?
You know, Kelly’s folks were there and they were hurting. They were struggling and they were, they were trying, but they. You know, and they were drawn upon their own experience with their son, youngest son, David, and the heart condition, which, you know, the doctors thought he was going to die. And they a couple years, a year before, I think it was, they did an elective surgery that was controversial, which turned out to be successful.
So we were leaning upon them because they had been down this road a little bit. Greatest support we got besides from them was from, uh, John and Nicki Kilroy are, I would call them our lifelong friends. They’ve been around Zach and Kelly and I, and Zach before Zach was born and they were devastated too, but they basically just came alongside and was just there.
They shared, they spoke a little bit, but they didn’t come up like, well, here’s a game plan. Here’s an answer. Here’s a solution. Here’s a, they were just there. They were there to listen to us, let us lean upon them. Let us grieve with them. They grieved with us. And that was huge. That was huge. To have somebody grieve with.
You know, not grieving because they’re grieving, but the grieve, because you’re grieving, uh, that would think that was the biggest, the biggest support, you know, but it, it, uh, drew Kelly and I closer together, you know, and that’s, what’s gonna happen. It’s gonna drive you closer together or it’s going to separate you.
And it drove. We chose to allow it to drive us closer to.
David Hirsch: Well, I think of John and Nicki Kilroy is like the angels that show up in your life. You can’t predict where they’re going to be or who they’re going to be. And you just have to count your blessings that you have somebody like that. Cause it’s not always the case.
Ray Morris: Oh yeah. It is. You know, I was, I just talked to him before the, earlier this afternoon it was talking with them on the phone and just laughing, just, you know, and they ask how Zach’s doing. I tell them that little son of guns just. He’s got his own little world. He’s happy, he’s doing his thing and they just laugh and you gotta have people like that in your life.
It’s your choice to have them or not. You gotta be open. You gotta share your grief with them and let them support you.
David Hirsch: Agreed. So I’m wondering, um, was there a turning point, um, along this journey that somehow made it a little bit easier or there was a higher level of acceptance? Who’s Zack was what his abilities are that allowed you and Kelly to sort of put this journey or experience and a proper perspective.
Ray Morris: That’s a loaded question. That’s a good question though. It’s for there’s two, two points. Two main periods of time. One was when Zachary was started having seizures early on, Tyler had just been born. And I was sitting in their bedroom and all these questions about tech, she going to live, is it going to die?
It’s going to ever get married. He’s going to go to school. You know, and I was, I was allowing what, in retrospect, I was allowing all my dreams and hopes for Zachary of what I had to die. I had to let them go and I had to fight. New hopes and dreams for Zach based on Zach who’s. Zach is. So it was at that point because I verbally said, and this was, was in a, it was an, a prayer crying, grieving.
Kelly was sitting there too. And was basically, we, I told Zach and it wasn’t basically, I flat out said it said, Zachary, it’s okay to die. It’s okay. If you can make it.
And that was one of the hardest things to do even today, because it was at that point, I’m letting him go
and he didn’t die. He was like, he came back. He was like, okay, I’ve let all that go. I’ve let those hopes and dreams go. I’ve let my expectations. Okay. Now I can embrace Zach for Zach who he is, and that is life-changing for me, for him, because it’s not about me. It’s about him and who he is and who God created him to be.
And. And I w I would just, I just encourage, for me, it was everybody to do something like that. If you have a child with disability, let them go let those hopes and dreams, your expectations that you have, because they don’t need that. That’s not who they are.
David Hirsch: You made reference to the fact that Tyler was quite young, right? Uh, shortly after he was born. So both the boys are quite young and I’m sort of curious to know what impacts that situation has had on his younger brother, Tyler and your, the rest of your family for that matter. Oh,
Ray Morris: major impact, like a meteor smashing into the earth.
It’s just, you know, Tyler, uh, through dads for special kids, Tyler made a couple videos just talking about that. And we’ve from day one, we let Tyler know, Zachary is not your responsibility, his mom’s eyes. You know, you are not, we will, we will never say, keep an eye on your brother. You know, if we do say that to you.
We’re paying you, we’re hiring you, you know, and it’s a job because Kelly and I both know growing up what that’s like to have to care for a disabled family member. So, um, but Tyler is still growing up. He had issues, you know, he had that, he was the brother with, he had a brother with a disability and other kids, but we were blessed.
Because with our neighborhood, with other kids, they accepted Zachary. Zachary was out there, Zachary playing with them, hanging out. We early on let Tyler know, because I personally did it. I’m going to see a therapist. Tyler, I’m going to go talk to a counselor. So Tyler learned that it, Hey, it’s okay to go talk to somebody about things in life.
And so he’s done. So I think that has, was a major impact for his mental health and his whole being support. You know, we’ve talked to him about it and always, you know, had tried to have open communications. Like, you know, it, you know, we’d hire him to be the babysitter for Zach when he was older. And so we could go out on a date, go to a movie or something like that.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. It sounds like there’s been a certain level of maturity that a Tyler’s experienced, you know, beyond perhaps the chronological age that he was at. Just having a better understanding or appreciation for, you know, things that are different. So let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about this dads for special kids that you started.
When did you start that? What were you thinking and how has it transpired?
Ray Morris: Wow. Uh, I can’t even remember how long I was go. I started it. It’s gotta be 20 plus years ago. And it started out of my, my own pain, my own grief. When we got connected up with raising special kids, there was groups to support moms and moms are very active in early intervention.
Children with disabilities because that’s moms are emotional creatures and that’s the way they serve. And they point out, uh, but there’s nothing for dads. For me personally, I have a foundational belief that God doesn’t make mistakes. And my son Zachary is created perfect. Our culture may say he’s broken, but he’s not, you know, and I, I believe Zach’s the perfect son for me.
And I’m the perfect dad for him. Then maybe I need to grow and learn and change. You know, Zach’s is who’s Zach is I could hate, grow and learn. So it, it provided me an opportunity to grow and learn. So I wanted an organization and I wanted to be around other men that were on the same journey as same mission.
And so that’s what it is. It’s about an organization that supports dads to say, I got a 32 year old son with autism, severe cognitive delay. Let me help you learn from what I’ve learned, learn from what I’ve been through so I can hopefully improve your quality of life and your family’s quality of life.
Oh. And by the way, let’s keep the marriage intact. Let’s keep you in that child’s life, you know, men and women emote differently and we respond different. And I wanted a place where men could come in and if they want to cuss and scream about what’s going on inside of them and what they’re feeling, they can do that because that’s how they feel.
And we need to start learning how to articulate how we feel about our children. Like when I can start, like you guys saw me, I start talking about Zach and I’ll start crying. I’ll start because that’s how much I love him and care for him. And. All men feel that for their children, we just don’t know how to do that, how to express it.
And we need safe environments to do that.
David Hirsch: No, this is on our hearts, right? This is a, I think of ourselves as kindred spirits, even though we’ve come at this from a different perspective. Um, one of the most insightful things I think you’ve done, and I don’t know that. Would see that is that you put a series of, I think I counted 30 or some videos together where, you know, you’re just laying it out there, uh, individually, right.
Talking to the camera or talking to the audience. Um, you’ve involved Kelly in a number of these. So we got the mom’s perspective and, uh, like you’d mentioned previously, Tyler’s been involved. Right. And sort of sharing from a sibling’s perspective, anger.
Ray Morris: What makes me angry? Not a lot. It makes me angry. It takes a lot for me to get angry.
But when I do I blow up this, there specific things that I, that make me trigger happy. Uh, the R word that that is literally someone stabbing me. I can’t even explain how much I hate that word. It is just
Tom Couch: such a cruel.
David Hirsch: So you’ve been doing a lot of things that would appeal to a number of different audience.
The dad’s straight up and then, you know, you’d be blind if you didn’t have an understanding that the siblings are impacted, right. Not always positively. Right. We might like to emphasize what the positive impact is, but, uh, you know, let’s face the facts. Uh, when you got a bomb going off in your family, um, you know, you’re just trying to do whatever you can to hold things together.
And some of the collateral damage. Unintentionally could be, you know, the impact on a sibling, right. Because the time and the resources go toward the emergency and you know, you’re like, oh, he’s okay. Or she’s okay. Right. They don’t need us. Right. As much as our, our son or daughter, you know, with the special needs needs.
Yeah. No, I don’t want to wake up a year or a decade or more down the road and saying, you know, coulda, woulda, shoulda, right. I took my eye off the big picture. Right. Making sure that I was present for everybody in the family. So you’ve done some amazing things, particularly with your videos. I, I think of those videos as like an archive that you’ve created and then the question or the challenge is how do you get people to engage?
That’s the big challenge.
Ray Morris: That’s the, and I think, I mean, you, you, you triggered something to me. You said the big picture. So yeah. We have to be able to see the big picture, but we have to be. I don’t wanna say obedient, but we have to be aware of that every once in a while we got to focus in and take care of something.
Like we’ve tried to focus in on Tyler to let him know you’re still important. We love you. Yeah. Sacra has taken up the majority of this stuff and you know what? It sucks, you know, but we still love you. We still, and we make special opportunities and times with them and doing that. And I’m just, wow, it’s popping in my head.
I met with another dad, a guy named Chris today. Father has two boys, uh, one with autism and, uh, and we call it typical kid and just sharing with him. And he’s been doing the same thing. He’s been, got to look at the big picture, but then I got to make with my typical son special time with him to validate and support.
You know, because you don’t want to wake up at 10, 15 years and realize, whoa, I missed that. You know, if I would have just, well learn from me, learn from my, oh, I, if I would have do that. So you don’t have to be sitting here where I’m at going. Oh, wow. And that’s why I want dance for special kids. I would love to it is to be that organization, older dads.
Hey, hope those younger guys. We can have a healthier outcome. Oh, we can keep the family together. We can have better students. We can have a better, oh, we could have a better society because we keep in the family together.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I’m thinking of the category of advice now, and you’ve certainly shared a lot, but I’m wondering if there’s something else beyond what we’ve discussed, um, a word or two of wisdom that you can share with our listeners.
Ray Morris: I would have to break it into categories first to the dads. Love your child for who they are. And allow them to love you their way. That means you have to grow and change. Don’t try to force them into your little box or your, your expectations. Let them be who they are. That’s the way they were created.
There’s not a magical pill. That’s going to fix your. That’s just the way God made them. If you want to get mad at God. Great. Get mad at God and then get right with God and get on the same page so you can move on wives. Let the dads grieve in their language. I use the analogy I’m in grammar school. When it comes to emotional expression, my wife has her PhD.
I’m going to express my emotions in three or four sentences and she could do it. And a 30 minute dissertation, same emotions, just articulated different men, need to mature and grow in their emotional expression. And when you throw your emotions on top of theirs, it shuts them down. Okay. Grandparents. Deal with your grief about the grandchild.
Don’t throw your grief upon the parents of that child. They’re dealing with enough grieve off to the side, get your own grief taken care of and work on your grief, grief that come alongside your children and support them. Don’t add to their workload. They’re struggling enough as it is. And just love one another and accept things.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Great pieces of advice. Thank you 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 father’s network?
Ray Morris: Hey, hopefully this video explains it.
David Hirsch: Well, let’s just leave it at this, right. Because what you’ve been doing, we’re thrilled to have you, you’re like one of these mentor fathers on steroids.
Right. And you know, this is your calling, right. I don’t know if it’s a calling of. Yeah, it is. You take this experience, the life’s experience that you’ve had from the time you were growing up as a nine year old with a quadriplegic dad, to all these other experiences that we’ve talked about, the primary one being your own experience, the experience you and color pad raising Zach and Tyler.
Trying to turn that into something positive. Yeah. Right. Not only for your family’s benefit, but to say, Hey, I made some mistakes, learn vicariously through my mistakes, so you don’t make the same mistakes. And then, you know, maybe you can emulate some of the things that I got. Right. Yeah. You know, you can save yourself some time and aggravation and be more present for your spouse, for your kids and you know, in your community.
However, people define that, right? Everybody is let’s give a special shout out to Lewis men. There’s a, of the Washington fathers network for helping connect us.
Ray Morris: They do great work. Dude’s phenomenal. And he’s welcome to move down here to Arizona if he wants to move to Arizona. You’re welcome.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap.
Ray Morris: Uh, no, just thank you to everybody. Thanks for taking the time. If you’re watching this, listening to it. Thanks. You know, and if I said something that triggered you, I apologize. I wasn’t meaning to, but just give yourself the grace to grow and learn, you know, and don’t walk it alone. There’s other people out there that can walk
David Hirsch: with you.
So if somebody wants to learn about dads for special kids, our contact, you what’s the best way to do that.
Ray Morris: Uh, through Ray @ D 4 S K .org and I’ll say this to any dad out there. You need somebody to talk to you’re at your end. Call me, send me a text, send me an email because I will, I will respond because you need somebody else to be there with you.
And, um, I get irritated that so many guys are out there by themselves trying to figure this out, walk it it’s, you know, we can do better. We can do.
David Hirsch: I’ll be sure to include that in the show notes. Thank you, Ray. Thank you for your time. And many insights as reminder, Ray is just one of the dads who is 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 21st century dads. 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 dad’s foundation as a 5 0 1 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, Ray. Thanks again.
Ray Morris: Thanks brother. And thank
Tom Couch: you for listening to the dad to dad podcast presented by the special fathers network. The special father’s network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs.
Through our personalized matching process. New fathers would special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers go to 21st century dads.org. And
David Hirsch: 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 father’s 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@twentyfirstcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: But dad to dad podcast was produced by couch audio for the special father’s network. Thanks again to horizon therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases.
Discover more about horizon therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.