Our guest this week is Mike Ensminger of Conroe, TX. Mike is the father of three, including Aaron, 15, who is autistic. We’ll hear about Mike’s journey as a stepfather to a child with special needs, about his faith walk and much more on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Blue Skies Over Autism – http://blueskyesoverautism.com
Night of Superstars Houston – http://www.nightofsuperstars.org/houston/
Autism On The Seas – https://autismontheseas.com
Mike’s Cell # – 469-733-7364
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 horizon therapeutics .com
Mike Ensinger: the main thing is to love the kids. Unconditional love this most kids that are on the spectrum, regardless of where they are on the spectrum, they all want to be loved. They all want to be cherished and they all want it to have fun with their friends, you know, as a dad or stepdad. One of the main thing is don’t think you’re alone.
You’re not alone. You always have people there that will support. No matter what,
Tom Couch: that’s our guests this week, Mike Ensinger mike is the father of three, including Aaron 15. Who’s Autistic. We’ll hear about Mike’s journey as a stepfather to a special needs child and more on this special father’s network.
Dad to dad podcast say hello to 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 specialty
Tom Couch: there’s network. This special father’s network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching products.
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 and if
David Hirsch: your 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 and now let’s hear this conversation between Mike Ensinger and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Mike Ensinger of Conroe, Texas. Who’s the father of three in a seasoned customer service professional, mostly in the paper industry.
Mike, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the special father’s network. Thanks for having me. You and your wife, Melissa been married for 11 years. Another proud parents of three children, Alexis 23 Ashlyn 16 and Aaron 15, who has autism? Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up?
Tell me something about your family.
Mike Ensinger: I grew up, um, I was born in dynam, Minnesota, lived there till I was about sixth grade and then moved to the north Dallas area. Um, I have an older brother, older sister and a younger sister, and I actually lived in north Dallas. Went to elementary, junior high and high school on north Dallas.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Um, from, I remember, um, and I want to focus on the negative, but, uh, I remember that like my parents, your parents were divorced and I was wondering about what age that was and what the circumstances were.
Mike Ensinger: Um, they divorced in, I was in 10th grade, but it’s kind of the story. Um, they fall off. Even from when I was little, many broken windows, uh, my mom had drove her car through the garage.
Oh my God. It was a barely, uh, I’ll look back at it now it’s uncomfortable to be a part of it, but they divorced. And when I was in 10th grade, my dad actually was, um, seeing something. Uh, and he actually that’s who he married after they were divorced. It was, it was a difficult situation. My mom was very angry.
We lived with my mom. So, you know, he always, you know, you kind of grew up with the thing that don’t talk negatively about a parent. Well, she talked negatively about him all the time, so that’s all what we got from him. Uh, he was a heavy drinker. Um, so most of the time when we did see him pass that he was drunk, um, and just kind of was, and then my mom got addicted to pain medicine and was a user for.
Until she died.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. It sounds like a pretty challenging situation when you were in your siblings were relatively young when this all came down as well. So I think it’s another testimony to God and the role that he plays in people’s lives, your life in particular, in doing some of the amazing things that you’ve done with those humble beginnings.
Out of curiosity, what did your dad do for a living now?
Mike Ensinger: He was in, um, sales telecommunications. Download exactly the con I just know he did, he did pretty well himself and my mom was a LVN nurse.
David Hirsch: Okay. So, um, even though it was sort of a precarious situation, I’m wondering, how would you characterize your relationship with your dad
Mike Ensinger: to this day?
Oh, I mean, I love him. And a lot of things we went through, I mean, forgiveness is a huge word. Uh, it kind of was when I was saved, that was, that was the big hurdle to get past because you know, you want to hold resentments or where you don’t want all of them, but you just have nowhere to put out. And, um, one thing I learned after, I would say that the biggest step to move forward in my life was to forgive those.
Uh, well, you know, I wouldn’t say did me wrong, but that had adverse effects against me.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it’s huge. Um, I admire you for crossing that bridge, right? It’s a heavy burden. We know when you carry that resentment, uh, when you’re not willing to give that forgiveness and, uh, you know, you think you’re doing it for the other person.
Yeah. You’re doing it for yourself, right. To take the burden off your shoulders so you can move on and not be weighted down by all that. I can relate. Last question about your dad though. Is there anything that you learned from your dad directly or indirectly that impacted you in a positive way as it relates to being a dad yourself?
Oh, I mean,
Mike Ensinger: my dad, whenever I was, I play soccer and I played soccer since I was a little kid and he, a lot of times he was a coach. Um, but he was always, um, he had, I mean, I kind of looked back when I wrote my story. I look back at my dad’s. Um, my dad had a horrible childhood. Uh, his mom left when he was 11 and he, uh, Basically, it was on his own, not far after that, uh, 12, 13 years old, uh, basically being out of his dad was alcoholic.
So he was, you know, he basically went and did what he wanted. I think he moved to Dallas from Arkansas when he was 17, maybe 16. I also, one thing I’ve learned from him is, I mean, his love is unconditional. But there’s a lot of times where he just, he, he failed to show it. And I, I mean, I, I understand that because I struggled with the same thing at times.
Um, but he always to, as much as he could, especially when I was younger, he was always involved in my sports. Whenever I got all this.
David Hirsch: So I want to remember you went to school at Southwest Texas state university. And where did your career take you from? What
Mike Ensinger: school there. And I, um, I actually left school early. I had to drop out and moved back home. It was when my mom, we did a intervention on my mother. So she went into rehab. Me, my older brother and my older sister did an intervention.
If you’ve ever done. One of those are horrible. She went into rehab. So I moved back home. I got a job and we help keep the house paid for while she was going through rehab. After that kinda went to community college for a little bit, but I got into the restaurant business, struggled here and there with everywhere from just kind of stayed around the restaurant business for quite a while before my friend.
And to get in the paper business, and I’ve kind of been in and out of it
David Hirsch: since. Okay. Well, thanks for sharing. I know that you and Melissa met, but I can’t remember. How was it that you met?
Mike Ensinger: We met, we met on a Christian mingle. Okay. That’s a Christian base and we actually talked for probably a couple of years off, not before we ever met.
So you live in Houston and I lived in. Frisco, Texas. And, um, now we talked to Sarah that’s when we first met. And I still remember the first time she finally was like, well, I’m, I’m coming to see you. I’m like, well, she showed up with it. It was the three kids. Aaron was three ashen was four. And Alexis was 11.
Uh, so remember we, we w we laugh to this day because when they came in Aaron and Ashlyn, I, me being three and four year olds, they just headed straight to the couch and started jumping up and down on the couch. And I was not that. And I’m like, uh, yeah, you please stop. You know, and you’re going to have to be a lot more firm with them on that.
Yeah. That’s when I first, I first met them, then went from there.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Well, let’s, uh, talk about special needs first on a personal level and then perhaps beyond, and I’m sort of curious to know before you met and eventually married Melissa and became a stepfather. Did you have any experience with the special needs community?
So what is Aaron’s diagnosis and how did it come up?
Mike Ensinger: Aaron was diagnosed. What I actually was, he was before I met him, uh, Melissa had said that he was cause a lot of times when, just until he was like two, all he did was scream. And, uh, I think she had him tested at chill, Texas. Children’s when he was, I don’t know, between 18 months and two years.
And that’s where the, they did the diagnosis. Um, autism. He, uh, screamed a lot. He didn’t talk much at first, but Melissa was very, um, adamant that keeping them in therapy. And especially after we got married. We got him in a fresco. And when that, because I moved up to Dallas, had a very good, uh, pre-K school where he could do speech and things like that.
And it was inclusive, which was important because, you know, you didn’t want to keep them separated, uh, because we wanted to try them, but where he was included with other kids and he did really well,
David Hirsch: he did
Mike Ensinger: really well, but he was, he’s been in therapy since he’s.
David Hirsch: Okay. If you can remember way back when, when you first met a family and then learned about the autism diagnosis, what was your first reaction?
Mike Ensinger: I don’t think I bothered me that much. I mean, it’s because it didn’t seem to me that he was that much different. I mean, he was in a different way. Uh, I think I was more inspired to learn more about him, about his condition.
It was really tough in the first, quite a few years, but, you know, once we really got more involved with the other, with groups of people that were were like people, I think I would say people like us, but if someone, you know, being involved because. You know, you all think you’re by yourself, you’re alone.
You’re the only one that’s dealing with it, but then reality, you’re not you’re, you’re not alone. That’s I think the most important thing is to get involved with groups of other parents that deal with the same thing you do
David Hirsch: everyday. Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Um, the fact that you stepped in as a stepfather, you know, puts a little bit different.
Spin on things, right. You know, you came in to the situation with your eyes open. Um, most of the dads is the ones that I’ve met, who are raising a child, or in some cases, children with autism or special needs just more broadly, you know, that was the hand that they were doing. Right. Not the one that they picked up, correct.
There’s different adjustments that we all need to make, you know, when you face adversity and I really admire you taking on the responsibility of not only becoming a stepdad, but, uh, including a child with special needs. So it’s remarkable what a great role model you are. So I’m wondering, was there any meaningful advice that you’ve received either early on or along the way that seems to.
Made a difference or resonated with you?
Mike Ensinger: I, don’t not, not a ton. I mean, we didn’t really get involved with, I would say dash groups or groups like that until within the last three or four years. So when I w when I was younger or when Aaron was younger, it was, um, it was more me and Melissa. It was more encouragement from.
And always be positive. I mean, that’s, and that’s the only way he can be because, you know, errands errands are very literal with it, literal person. So you gotta be careful what you tone because. That’s that’s what the rhino, and you can’t say this and mean something else because he ain’t gonna he’s he’s gonna take it the first way, you know?
So it’s, you know, it was one of those things be mindful what you say and that kind of mom, that the, you know, you don’t really learn it until sometime you do it. So, you know, it’s one of those things, you have to be very cognitive of what you say.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for emphasizing point. Aaron takes things literally.
Right? So you want to make sure that you’re making yourself as plainspoken and clear as possible. So there’s less room for misinterpretation. That’s what I heard you say. So not to focus on the negative, but what have been some of the biggest challenges that you and Melissa have faced?
Mike Ensinger: I think the challenge for me is, is a lot of times I didn’t know what to do.
I mean, I really am not having kids of my own of not. Sitting there going, what am I supposed to do? I mean, I, I, it crossed my mind many times that I can’t do this more. I can’t, I can’t do it. I can’t do it. Um, you know, you pray about it, but as kind of what I was talking about earlier, quitting was not an option.
It’s never been an option. You know, the kids need love, you know, I’ll look that up. What I did have from when I was, you know, cause you all say, you want to learn, you don’t want to do it. You’re not mom or dad. And it’s true. I wanted to do better than what I had. And you know, that kinda always throws me back to make sure that they know.
I love BottleRock no matter.
David Hirsch: Yeah, that’s really important. Thanks for sharing. And one of the thoughts that comes to mind, Mike, is that we all learn from other role models and in the perfect world, you would emulate the good role models and then live vicariously for the bad role models. So you don’t repeat some of the same mistakes, right.
That were made like when you were growing up. When I was growing up, I’m sort of curious to know as a stepfather, has there been any interference from the biological mother or fathers in the situation or not?
Mike Ensinger: No. Well, actually Aaron and Ashlyn’s they have, um, their father passed away when let’s see Ashlynn was seven.
And I think Aaron himself, he was six or five. And, but he, we had him when we were living in Dallas. We, we made sure we drove down to Houston once a month. So the kids have the opportunity to see their father. To me, that was very important, uh, regardless that I wasn’t going to real father, but I wanted to make sure that they had access to make sure that they knew who their father, real father was.
And that was important to me and Melissa. So we would drive down every month, uh, for them to come down and see their dad. And then I would do it because, I mean, he, he, you know, he passed away when he was, he wasn’t even 30 yet.
David Hirsch: Wow. Okay. Well, thanks for sharing. That sounds like a challenging situation in and of itself, right?
To have somebody. No apparent I at relatively young age. And it’s good that you made the effort to include him or make sure that, like you said, the kids knew who their dad was, that they might have more of a firsthand memory, as opposed to just no recollection from relatives and pictures and something like that.
So I’m sort of curious to know if what impact has Aaron situation had on his older siblings. For the rest of your family for that matter? Well, I mean,
Mike Ensinger: there’s, uh, it depends on, you know, its actions had a harder, I think, because I think, you know, um, uh, Gracie Haley’s daughter anyway, assess and honor does the siblings because I, and I agree with that.
I think that sibling. Have this tougher to art time with a child that has a disability, because a lot of times they’re overlooked and it’s very important, uh, that they’re involved. And I’m happy that a lot of the ones we have got groups we’ve gone wild with have all of us included the sibling. And you know, a lot of times when you go see.
When we go to any of our group things, you have the, you have the child there that has a disability, and then you have their siblings. And that’s it. This, I wouldn’t say funny, but it’s, it’s um, you all, it kinda all goes in the same thing or there they go through exactly the same issues that Asheville does.
I mean, you Ashland and Gracie are good friends, so they hang out a lot. And, but it’s, it’s one of those things that you. They have to be involved. There was times where she definitely felt overwhelmed that we spent a lot more time with Aaron, but there was times where we would pack it. And, uh, uh, when we explained it and I mean, Melissa talked to her and when, once we got involved with the siblings and I think that kind of helped as well.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. So I’m thinking about supporting organizations now, and I’m wonder. What organizations have you relied on as a family or for errands benefit for that? One of the, one
Mike Ensinger: of the main ones we’ve really enjoyed is, uh, uh, an actually we’re going to this next weekend, this blue skies, uh, eroticism, uh, we call it VSLA for sure.
It’s ran by a gentleman, uh, Alan Fowler and. His son is, is, uh, not far along on the spectrum. So we enjoy his, group’s not as, I mean, we actually went on a cruise with, uh, their group, uh, raised some money into, on a cruise and it was probably one of the most, um, life changing events we have we’ve ever done.
It was a really amazing, we went out. I think it must was probably two years ago. And it was with, um, 35 other families. There’s another non-profit that runs it’s, uh, autism on the seas and what they are is, um, they’re individuals that are in the field that deal with, uh, kids, uh, autism or that part, I guess I may come there to donate their time.
They volunteer. And w what they did, as I said, the events all over the ship of, for the kids to go do that, make sure they weren’t were able to do each specific event that was on the ship. We at times segregated for that. Um, but I think the biggest thing I got back from that is when we were in, um, Honduras road town, and we had the autism school.
From Honduras came onto the chip kids, a mother or father, each family picked out a, a child and we gave them gifts. And then they got the tour of the ship and, and E a meal on a ship before they got off the ship. But to me, that was, that was the best part of the whole trip by far.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it sounds like a very unique experience to be able to go cruising.
And not have to be, so self-conscious about, oh, what’s my son or daughter going to do, you know, my autistic son or daughter going to do, if all the families have a child with autism, right. So you’re all in this together, if you will. And, uh, it’s sort of, you know, take some of the pressure off so you can relax and enjoy yourself.
What a brilliant idea, uh, autism on the seas and. The organization, blue skies over autism. And I’m wondering what other programs, the blue sky organization.
Mike Ensinger: Well, we have next weekend, we’re doing a down downtown gals on Galveston island. We are renting golf carts and each family is running a golf cart and we do a golf park car parade down the strand.
This will be the second time we’ve done this when the kids love it. I mean, getting on that thing. And one of the, one of our friends, his name is Wayne. And these he’s excited about, I mean, he’s ready to go. He was ready to go this last weekend. And it’s, you know, I think the best part of it is doing things with them.
And, you know, we have holiday meals as well. We haven’t had it in the last year because of COVID, but we usually have a summer picnic, Halloween, Christmas, and where we all get together. Allan say location, and then we have meals and you know, but it’s, it’s the seeing these kids smile. I mean, that’s what it’s all about.
David Hirsch: And I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the, um, net at superstars organization. And I’m wondering what connection or impact that organizations had on your family as well?
Mike Ensinger: Well, I mean, the night of superstar was saying was, I didn’t know what to expect. When Aaron was nominated downtown Houston here, we went down there Aaron’s the bed.
The best thing is he got to dress up in a tuxedo. I mean, he loved that thing, but you know, seeing where these kids, the kids that are homeless or have disabilities that overcome, I wouldn’t say I would come their disability, but they push forward. They persevere, they don’t let their disability have the. I guess that’s the best way to put it is it doesn’t slow them down.
You know, we had Aaron onstage, uh, but uh, he got up that night and there were probably seven, 800 people there and spoke, you know how I can’t say I wouldn’t had to scroll down my cheeks watching Aaron speaking for all those people. It was, it was quite
David Hirsch: amazing. Yeah, well, uh, the work that, uh, Greg Johnson and the United superstars organization does to honor youth young adults, um, is pretty remarkable and a red carpet, black tie know first-class events, um, all the way around.
I’m just thrilled to hear that your group or your family has been a part of that and that, uh, you know, you feel the same. So I’m thinking about advice. And I’m wondering beyond the scope of the conversation we’ve already had. What advice can you offer? A dad might be listening, uh, or a stepdad for that matter.
Our man who is dating a woman who might have a child with special needs?
Mike Ensinger: Well, I mean, the bias I would say is twofold. First. I would definitely try to get involved. And the groups, I mean, even starting in church, cause getting kids involved in churches was very important because most churches have, have a special needs ministries that can help as well.
I think that’s important, but the main thing is to love the kids unconditional up this most kids that are on the spectrum, regardless of where they are in this. They all want to be loved. They all want to be cherished and they all want it to have fun with their friends, you know, as a dad or stepdad. One of the main thing is don’t think you’re alone.
You’re not alone. You always have people there that will support you no matter what.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for emphasizing the important that a group plays and that you’re not alone in the way I think about that. Mike is you’re only alone. If you choose to be alone, right, with the resources that are available today and you’ll benefit, your child will benefit, your family will benefit.
Bye you engaging with other dads and experiencing this in a community as opposed to doing what most men do as Nando falls. Like I’m guilty of this too. I’m going to figure it out on my own. Right. That’s challenging enough before GPS came along, right. To get from point a to point B in your vehicle, and you apply that to parenting or parenting a child with special needs.
You’re going to be in some deeper. Right. If you think you’re going to be figuring that on your own. So, uh, words of wisdom on your part. So I’m sort of curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of this special father’s day? Well,
Mike Ensinger: there was the, uh, I think it’s a valuable tool to have equal that you can talk to and ask questions because most people that I’ve met that have special needs.
They’ve been through a situation that they’ve been through quite a few more situations, and can never imagine having a Reese of someone there that’s been through it or are going through it is, um, better than trying to sit there and try to figure out
what you’re going to do
and not know anything.
That’s why I think it’s important to make sure you have the, the lifeline. You know, if you think you’re going to do it on your own, you’re mistaken. It’s it takes many people to make it out.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well-spoken so let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, Greg Johnson of native of superstars for helping connect us.
So is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap
Mike Ensinger: just one quick thing and I’ll kinda try, this is, um, just a reminders, whatever you’ve been through in life. Whenever you go through, you know, a lot of people have many problems, issues, families that, you know, most kids, um, yeah. That it’s not that they don’t understand, but they understand when, when you deal with problems.
And, um, I think it’s important to make sure that you’re portraying, especially with kids on the spectrum. Uh, Aaron knows when there’s. And I mean, he’s older now where he has an understanding of what kind of the, what I’ve gone through in my life. Um, cause I think it’s important that he learns that, Hey, I’m not perfectly top of what I’m in for is not perfect.
No, one’s perfect. You know, that’s why we need each other and this a team it’s a team, you know, our family is the team. And just remember that, um, I mean, I, I can’t say it enough. You’re not alone and that’s, that’s.
David Hirsch: Okay, well, thanks for sharing. If somebody wants to learn more about blue skies over autism, not as superstars or contact you, what’s the best way to do so.
Mike Ensinger: I’ll give you my cell number. It’s uh, 4 6 9 7 3 3 736 4. Text me.
David Hirsch: That’s a very generous of you. Uh, we’ll make sure to include that in the show notes, along with, uh, information on blue skies over autism, as well as night as superstars. Mike, thank you for taking the time in many insights as reminder, Mike is just one of the dads.
Who’s part of the special father’s 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.
We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did, as you probably know, the 21st century dads foundation is 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, Mike.
Mike Ensinger: thank you. And
Tom Couch: thank 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 with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for fathers to support. Go to 21st century dads.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 father’s network.
Bi-week the 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. No, have a compelling story. Please send an email to David@twentyfirstcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: The 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. For people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about horizon therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.