Our guest this week is Frederick Jefferson of Houston, TX, who is the father of three, an Army veteran, retiree from the Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons and founder of Man II Man, a non-profit effort serving families raising children with special needs. Frederick was inspired to create Man II Man based on his experience raising his daughter, Jasmine (22), who has Autism.
We’ll hear Frederick’s story on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Blue Skies Over Autism – http://blueskyesoverautism.com/index.html
Man II Man. http://blueskyesoverautism.com/man-ii-man-support-group.html
Tom Couch: Special, thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring today’s Special Fathers 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.
Frederick Jefferson: I can remember at age 15, sitting in the middle of the hospital floor, when that anxiety would hit her, singing “Ten Little Indians’ with her. I didn’t care about people walking around, looking at a grown man, sitting on the floor with his daughter. Cause my pride was gone. I was there with my baby. All I saw was my baby needed me. And if that’s the way I needed to reach her, that’s no different than diving overboard if she fell off a boat.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Frederick Jefferson, a retiree and a father of three, including Jasmine, age 22, who has autism. Frederick and his wife Wanda have started to Man II Man, a not-for-profit that helps families of kids with special needs. We’ll hear Frederick’s story on this Special Fathers 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 Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: 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.
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.
And now let’s hear this compelling conversation between Frederick Jefferson and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Frederick Jefferson of Houston, Texas, who’s the father of three, an army veteran, retiree from the Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons, and founder of Man II Man, a not-for-profit effort serving families raising children with special needs. Frederick, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Frederick Jefferson: Thank you, David.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Wanda have been married for 31 years and are the proud parents of three children: Jennifer, 31, Christopher, 30, and Jasmine, 22, who has autism. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Frederick Jefferson: I grew up in Miami, Florida, with my two siblings, Robert and Diane. I’m the baby of the bunch. My mother was a single parent. The male influence in my life was my grandfather and my uncles, William Cleigh [?], Jr. and Willie J. They pretty much were the foundation around me that kept me on the straight and narrow until I went into the service, and a lot of sergeant figures kept me on the straight and narrow
David Hirsch: Okay, I’m sure there’s some good stories there. So you mentioned that you’re the youngest of the three. You have an older brother, Robert, and a middle sister, Diane. And I’m wondering, do you keep in contact with your siblings much?
Frederick Jefferson: My brother passed years ago. My sister, yes. We keep in contact. We’re the last survivors. My mother passed, and we’re the last two survivors. So yeah, we keep in contact.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, sorry about your brother passing at such an early age. Do I recall from a prior conversation that he was also in the army and that he got exposed to Agent Orange and had some challenges along those lines?
Frederick Jefferson: Well, he was actually in the Marine Corps, and I went into the army. Being the baby of the family, like I said, you look up to your older brother. I probably would’ve went into the Marines if he would’ve went into the army, but I didn’t want him to know I was following his footsteps. So I went into the army
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, again, sorry to hear that he passed at an early age. I’m sort of curious to know, you didn’t grow up with your dad. What type of relationship, or what did you know about your dad?
Frederick Jefferson: Well, I knew that he had a troubled life and that, like many, he and my mother met young. He just didn’t handle responsibility well, and he left out, and I hold no hard feelings. You know, once you grow up, you learn the path of life. So didn’t get a chance to meet him. But I do understand as you grow, you don’t blame anyone, as you walk the path of life.
David Hirsch: Very profound again. Sorry to hear that you grew up without your dad, but fortunately you did have some father figures. I think you made reference to a grandfather and then some uncles. And I’m wondering, was that your maternal grandfather that you were referring to?
Frederick Jefferson: Yes.
David Hirsch: What was his name?
Frederick Jefferson: His name was William Senior.
David Hirsch: And what did he do for a living?
Frederick Jefferson: He was a farmer, and his family originally was from Louisiana.
David Hirsch: Okay. You’d mentioned that you had a couple of uncles. These would’ve been your mom’s brothers?
Frederick Jefferson: Yes.
David Hirsch: They played an influential role in your life. What were their names? What did they do?
Frederick Jefferson: Two of them went into the army. Willie Jay and Cleave went into the army. William, he did farm work like his father. He stayed around and did a lot of farm work there. They pretty much taught me more about life and how to handle your responsibilities and not run from mistakes. Everybody’s gonna make a mistake in life, but what you do when you make the mistake, you know, once you own up to it and step up to it, you can always regroup from a mistake. But if you run from it, no one will ever see who you will become. And I think that stayed with me all through life.
David Hirsch: Yep. Pretty profound words. I’m glad to hear that these men had played a role in your life. From what I remember, your career after high school started in the army, and then you went into the Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons. You worked at both the state and federal level, and you worked in quite a few different vicinities. And I’m wondering, what was it that took you from Miami, to Louisiana, to Michigan, to Dallas, to DC, and where you are now in Houston?
Frederick Jefferson: It was increased responsibility, growing with the job. I started off as a Correctional Officer, and then I took increasing roles or positions of responsibility. I went through the ranks as a Correctional Officer, to a Lieutenant, to an Investigator, to a Captain, to Investigative Supervisor and then to an Intelligence Officer, where I was on a task force. That’s how I got to Houston and retired, where I worked at joint task force with the FBI DEA Houston Police Department.
David Hirsch: So if you had to pick out one experience from that long career you had with the Bureau of Prisons, what experience would you share?
Frederick Jefferson: I think the first one that made me laugh was…I can remember I went through the ranks. I think I was in a regional office then. So we were going through an institution, what we call a character profile, and that’s when you go and assess the institution to see the strength and weakness in how this institution staff are doing.
So this inmate walked up to me, and I didn’t recognize him, but he recognized me when I first started. He looked at me, and he said, “Jefferson?” And I looked at him. He said, “I was in Miami when you first started.” He said, “Glad to see you doing something with yourself.” I looked at him. “I’m glad to see you came a long way too.”
David Hirsch: Oh, that’s so funny. Remember, he was the inmate. You were the one that was working
Frederick Jefferson: I was in Texas then. But he just transferred to another institution for disciplinary reason. And I was there inspecting the institution.
David Hirsch: That’s a funny one. From what I remember, you and Wanda met after the military. Some friends introduced you. If I remember correctly, she had Jennifer and you had Christopher when you got together, and that Jasmine is yours, right? I mean, both of yours, I should say.
Frederick Jefferson: We met at a time, and she was like, “I don’t wanna talk to nobody.” You know, “I don’t wanna meet anybody working in stuff like that.” She didn’t wanna meet me ‘cause she thought that I was…I don’t know what she heard about me. And then when I saw her, I thought, well I can maybe I can. So anyway, we actually met at the mall, and we talked.
She had an escape plan. She brought her sister with her and said, “Give me the signal. You say we got somewhere to go.” And I guess it worked out, so we’re still together. So you had a backup plan, huh?
David Hirsch: That’s a good one. So I’m wondering before Jas was diagnosed, if you or Wanda had any experience in the special needs community?
Frederick Jefferson: We didn’t. We didn’t at all. We were like typical parents, typical people. You see special needs people, and you have that empathy for them. You know that they’re different. And you just get a polite wave, and hi, and you hold a door and say, oh, you know, “They’re cute.” Or, “Don’t bother them. You know that they don’t process things well.” Just the normal courtesy. That was the extent of our experience with them.
David Hirsch: When was Jas diagnosed, and what is the diagnosis?
Frederick Jefferson: She was diagnosed at age three, and she was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism. And matter of fact, it was my mother-in-law that really brought it to our attention, because she thought Jas was deaf, because she didn’t do eye-to-eye contact with you. You could call her name, and if you weren’t standing in front of her, she wouldn’t make eye contact.
So we had her tested for hearing and she could hear, and then they suggested that we test her for autism. We ran the test for autism, and they told us, “Yeah, she is diagnosed with autism. She’s on a level that she will never be able to express any feelings or show any emotions or anything.”
And then they gave us this stack of paperwork that was stapled together that had been Xeroxed so many times, half the names and numbers were faded. And they said, “Here’s some resources and some reports in there, and hopefully you can find some kind of help.” And then the doctor walked out the office.
We sat there, and Wanda had tears coming down her face. And I tell everybody in the support group, the guys, when we talk, I said at that moment, I had the dumbest guy moment in my life. Because she was s sitting there crying, and all I could think of was, “It’s gonna be okay.”
Cause you know, that’s our comeback line as a guy. We feel like if I tell you that everything gonna be okay—when I don’t have a clue of what we’re gonna do, what the plan is—but I think that’ll make you feel good. So that was my line here, and I had no idea what we were gonna do.
David Hirsch: So the first reaction was, “Things are gonna be okay.” That’s what you said?
Frederick Jefferson: It’s gonna be okay. Like I got this under control. Out of that whole paperwork—we went through it—and the only thing we found in it was a number in there that was for a support group. And that was probably the best information in there, because we got ahold of a support group. We called, and we went to a meeting, and that’s when it started to kinda make a little sense. The desperation and the hopelessness left, and we could connect with somebody.
But at that time it was me and one other guy in the group—and a room full of women and no one else there.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s a very vivid image. Thank you for sharing. I’m sort of wondering early on, what were some of the fears that you faced, that you and Wanda faced, raising a child with disability?
Frederick Jefferson: The fear you face is what’s gonna happen to them? People are going to target them, and they’re gonna pick on ’em, and they’re not gonna be able to protect themselves. And you become overprotective, and you just worry so much, because they’re so innocent. They don’t know. Even today, Jas is 21 going on 22. She doesn’t know. That innocence is there. You can say, come here Jas, and she’ll walk with you. And you always have that need to protect.
And I tell everyone, she is a pedophile’s dream. She can’t tell anything. From age three to 22, she can’t identify, she can’t tell, she can’t say he did it, who…she can’t identify. She can’t do anything. So you gotta constantly be there to guard. One of us had to always be there. That was the fear, and still is the fear.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. It’s a challenging situation, when somebody’s not able to understand or perceive danger, right? What I heard you saying is that if you turn your head or something happens, she could be very vulnerable. So was there any advice you got early on, that when you look back on it was helpful?
Frederick Jefferson: The best advice I got was when we got the diagnosis and that support group meeting we went to. The speaker stood up and said, “I know you hate it. I know you hate that diagnosis. I know you would like to hear anything but that diagnosis. But take it, and use what that diagnosis will do to get the aid for your child.
You may hate it, but it will unlock doors to help your child. You see, without that diagnosis—and if you stay in denial and don’t accept that diagnosis—you won’t get the ABA. You won’t get the speech therapy. You won’t get all the aid and treatments you need to put those protections around her. So if you stay in denial and refuse to accept that diagnosis, you will not be able to help your child.
David Hirsch: What good advice, to get that early on. And to not let your pride or your ego stand in the way. You didn’t use pride and ego, but when you’re in denial, I think, part of that is your pride or your ego getting in the way. Like, “Oh, we can do this—we don’t need help” mentality.
And I know good estate planners, those that serve the special needs community, are very focused on getting the resources. It’s gonna save you thousands, tens of thousands, of dollars a year. Because if you’re not getting the help, you’re not as likely to pay for all those things out of pocket, as you might be otherwise. So thanks for sharing.
Were there some important decisions you’ve made along the way for Jas’s benefit?
Frederick Jefferson: You go through a rollercoaster before you get to acceptance at so many levels. You know, we went through so many things—like the gluten free, the this, the that—and all these things that you think is a miracle cure, a miracle this, and at some levels, gluten free will work, and at some it won’t.
I’m not gonna tell anybody what to do and what not to do. But when we tried in the beginning, Jas, like I said, she is severe. So a lot of things that will work for the mild won’t work for her. And when I saw her refuse to eat that gluten free, just lose weight and just would push it away, I said, “I can’t put my baby through this. It’s more for me than her.”
And that’s another level to peel off of that denial. Quit trying to make it where I can accept her. You know, I just had to be all right with it, like, okay, whoever you are, I love you. And I’m not gonna try to make you fit in my world. I’m gonna fit in yours. So whatever you are, and however you are, I’ll be that for you. I’ll be that dad.
I can remember at age 15, sitting in the middle of the hospital floor, when that anxiety would hit her, singing “Ten Little Indians” with her. I didn’t care about people walking around, looking at a grown man sitting on the floor with his daughter. Cause my pride was gone. I was there with my baby. All I saw was my baby needed me. And if that’s the way I needed to reach her, that’s no different than diving overboard if she fell off a boat.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. It’s very powerful image. And not to focus on the negative, but I’m wondering what some of the bigger challenges are that you and Wanda have encountered along the route.
Frederick Jefferson: I think the positive is Jas made us better parents. She made us see things different. We started to appreciate things different. And on the lighter side, we always crack a joke and say, “You know what? We think the doctor misdiagnosed that Jas don’t have the special needs. The other two got the special needs.”
Cause if you looking them, they’re always saying, “Mom, Dad, I need this. I need help with the light bill. I need help with gas. I need help.” Jas, you know, she don’t have any special needs. It’s those two that has it. She is just a ball of joy that makes you appreciate every little bit of life. It just brings the decency back in you.
Autism, if you look at it—yeah, I would love for her not to have it, but watching her with it, she don’t keep anger. You can get mad. One time we were together, and I had the worst day with her. I mean, she was all on the wall. She was screaming. She was hollering. And I just sat down and put my hand over my head.
She walked up, just looked at me…and she is a repeater. And I always asked, “Jas, you okay? Jas, you okay?” She walked up, and looked at me and she said, “You okay?” It’s like, everything went away. I gave it up. It’s little moments like that. It goes away. And I don’t know. I guess I think that through everything else, she’ll always be your baby, and always be there in that innocence.
It’s there, and sometime it makes the autism disappear. That one there keeps the innocence there. Always your friend, always by your side, listening to your corny jokes. The only one listening to the same music we listen to. She doesn’t ask you to change the radio station or anything. She likes the same movies we like.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. And you emphasized the importance of laughter. And I remember you telling me previously the Jehovah’s Witness story, and I’m wondering if you can recall the situation.
Frederick Jefferson: My wife, Wanda, was with her mother who had cancer, so she was helping her mom with cancer. So at that time I was taking up with Jas. So I was watching Jas, and me and Jas had routines. It was a Saturday and I was like, “Jas, get ready, we’re gonna get out.”
So the doorbell rang. And I went to the door, and it was a Jehovah’s Witness lady. And so I’m at the door and the lady was like, “Do you know Jehovah? And Jehovah’s this…” And all of a sudden I saw her facial expression change, and she looked at me like, “Huh?” And I’m thinking, “What?”
I looked over my shoulder and behind me, there was Jas, naked, standing there, arms folded. I looked back, “Jas!” She was like, “Soap, please.” “Okay. Jas. Alright, go ahead. Go ahead. Alright, go, go.” And I had to close the door and shut it and run back. And so I called this, telling my age, my Fred Flintstone moment where he used to…
I called Wanda on the phone, and I’m like, “Wanda, you gotta do something with this girl. You gotta tell her how to put a robe on to come out, and stuff, and do this. She just walked out the house naked.” And they don’t care. They just don’t care. They just walk out. Like, “I need soap. I don’t care. What? I don’t have any soap in the bathroom.” It’s the funny moments in life, dealing with them. She just wanted the soap, and then she’d go back in the bathroom. Nothing to it.
David Hirsch: I can only imagine what the Jehovah’s Witness person was telling her friends after that stop at your house. Are there any other fun stories you wanna share? [23:15]
Frederick Jefferson: Oh, the one while I was trying to teach her a lesson. I’m trying to teach her to use her words. She has limited words, so we would go to Dairy Queen, and we’d get two ice cream cones. She would finish her cone, and, and I said, “If you want my cone, you’d have to say, “Can I have your cone please?” So I was so proud of myself, that she would say, “Can I have your cone, please?”
Then I started watching her. She would get her cone and eat it real quick. Then she would grab her head, get a freeze burn, eat her cone, grab her head. Then she’d look at me and say, “Can I have your cone?” “No, you can’t have my cone.” I thought I was doing something, but you’re manipulating me. I told her, “I’m going to eat my own cone.” So there are light moments that will make you just laugh and appreciate the time.
David Hirsch: I’m sort of curious to know what Jas’ situation has had on our older siblings.
Frederick Jefferson: It was a learning process that we had to go through at a point in time. They go through their emotional roller coasters too. They go through a point thinking that special need is spoiled, that she gets everything, and all the attention is on her. And we had to explain that that’s not it, that there are things you’ll get that she will never have.
You see, you will have a car. Jas will never drive. You will have an apartment. Jas will never live on her own. So some of the things that we do extra for her, you’ll never get. And we had to show them that you still get your time. We had to learn the balance in the house, and we had to learn boundaries too that made it clear that you can have your moments.
We understand that because of her behavior…she didn’t understand that when your friends come around, that it can be embarrassing .And you still want your life. So we had to learn to have one of us take Jas away and the other ones stay in the house with them, or something. But it’s a balance you have to learn.
You have to learn how to parent, learn how to give ’em their moment, but then learn how we still all have to come together and be with her. You can’t put her aside and not recognize her as your sister. We’re gonna all slice this and get their own piece of the pie.
So we went through an emotional roller coaster, and we had to bring it even, to show that no one gets any more than the other, and no one’s any more special than others. Just everyone has a different need.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for mentioning that, because it’s very common that a family raising a child with special needs will direct a disproportionate amount of their time and energy to their child with special needs, because of their vulnerability. It is a balancing act, right? And at the end of the day, you have to realize, parents have to realize, that they’re not raising one child, the child with special needs, but they’re raising a family, and they all have needs.
You know, some, like you were saying, are more special than others, and there are different needs at different points in their lives. It’s not a “one size fits all.” There’s no silver bullet, but you do have to be very cognizant of the broader responsibility as opposed to what might be happening on any one day or in any moment for that matter.
So I’m thinking about supporting organizations, and I’m wondering what organizations that you and Wanda have relied on as a family, or for Jas’s benefit for that matter.
Frederick Jefferson: As a family, I would say we’ve relied on pretty much everything that’s been accessible to us. We’ve relied on the Texas health children’s plan. We’ve relied on the Autism Gulf Coast [?]. We relied on local support groups, like Blue Skyes over Autism, Hope for Three, hairs [?] Houston Autism Resource. We relied on many of ’em, the Texas Children, the Belgium, Samaritan—that’s the counseling here.
Not forgetting anyone. Houston College. Everyone that’s available. I would say to anyone, every resource out there. Take advantage of ’em. Go out, look at ’em and if it fits your need, do it, and they’re gonna fit your need at a point. And then you move to the next one. You know, when they’re small, they’ll fit your need there. Then you move to the next stage of their life, and just keep moving as they benefit your child.
David Hirsch: That’s a point well taken now, because it’s not like it’s one organization that’s gonna be able to help you from very early age and then all through the teen years and beyond. But there are organizations that have resources for different age families, and different situations, for that matter. And it’s important to try to continually seek those out.
So I wanted to spend a little time talking about Blue Skyes over Autism. And I’m wondering, what does that organization do, and who do they serve?
Frederick Jefferson: Blue Skyes over Autism serves the autism community. The founder, Alan Fowler and his wife have a son, and the organization was really dedicated to their son. They really help families. They help with respite. They help with education. They help with connecting the families, with getting past the levels of denial, and getting together with family events they sponsor, like Christmas parties, Halloween parties—anything to keep the families connected.
David Hirsch: I’d also like to ask you about Autism over the Seas. What is that about, and what’s involved?
Frederick Jefferson: Autism over the Seas is a respite organization. And that is Mike—his last name is slipping my mind now, but his first name is Mike. What he does is they put together a group. And if your family wants to go on a cruise or to a resort, they provide respite. They’ll watch over the kids and allow you to get out and do things.
Now, Blue Skyes has gone on cruises and taken the family on it, and they paired with Autism over the Sea to provide the respite for the family. They are two different organizations. They do those two separately, and sometime they’ll work together.
David Hirsch: And you’ve actually been on one of these cruises. I’m wondering what your experience was like.
Frederick Jefferson: It’s wonderful. I’ve been on a couple of them.
David Hirsch: I’m wondering, beyond your personal experience and some of the organizations that you’ve made reference to, what motivated you to start the Man to Man program?
Frederick Jefferson: Blue Skyes over Autism, going with them to the organization. And the founder, Alan Fowler—knowing him. I asked him about it, watching the fathers there. When we used to go to the event, I asked him, “Do you mind if I saw this group, and talk to some guys here?” And he said, “No.”
So I pitched my idea to him. And we kinda fell under the umbrella of Blue Skyes over Autism and to his support. Like I said, we fell under their tree, but he let me run my own thing. We kind of matched off, and we took the guys and pulled them and we helped them come across.
You know, it’s more than just coming out there. I think I told you before, we took a “peel back the layers” approach. It’s the approach I’m more comfortable with—just peeling off layers and layers and layers to get to the man, to get past the denial, to get past all the questions and all the concerns and put it in an environment where you felt comfortable talking about it, where you didn’t feel guilty or ashamed or anything, that in that environment there was acceptance and understanding.
And then once we got past that, then we started working on the family. Like I said, from my own experience, with the siblings, with the wives, with learning how to put the magic back in the relationship, learning how to do a date night, learning how to give everybody in the family individual time. And we kind of went from that, and we blew up to a…we’re still blowing up to things that we I’m impressed with.
During hurricane Harvey, we were able to do some amazing things. We were tasked to work with the mayor’s task force. And we helped families in Brazoria County area that were impacted. We sat on the committee to bring attention to the special needs, because they didn’t understand about, when you have a hurricane, how to address the special needs. When you send a little boat across, you’re gonna have to send two, because we got our kids that may not want to get on because of anxieties.
And not just autism, but all special needs, even when you are knocking on doors, asking if you’re okay. What about if they’re deaf? They can’t hear the knock. So we got to learn, you know, working with the deaf and working with the other disabled.
And even talking to shelters. We were able to contact shelters and ask them, “Do you need anything?” And they were like, “No.” And it’s like, “No, let me ask you again. When we say, ‘Do you need anything?’ you’re thinking of the typical people. We have access to Depends. We have access to wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs, batteries. Do you need anything for your special needs community that has been impacted?”
So we got to learn and access and grow more. And again, we’re still growing and learning. Even joining with you guys and with Louis, I enjoy growing. I enjoy reaching out, doing more. I tell everyone, “Support is an unfolding ladder. There’s no one stage of support. Because I help you here, that’s not the extent of it. You’re gonna need help at another level and another level.”
David Hirsch: So how many families are actually involved? How many dads are actually involved in the Man II Man program currently?
Frederick Jefferson: Currently, I would say we have about 45 dads. Now that’s actually involved on Facebook. We have about 300 and something dads that reach out, and they’re all across the country. And since we’ve gotten with your organization, I’m getting dads contacting me all the time.
Now I’m wanting to know what’s gonna happen after we open up after this pandemic. So, like I say, we’re steadily growing and thinking of how we’re gonna evolve and handle all this increase. So I’m looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to seeing how we can get out there and show that we care.
David Hirsch: Well, I love what you’re doing and thank you for taking the experience that you’ve had individually, and then trying to help other dads, maybe ones that, like you said, are a couple steps below you on the ladder, and helping them peel back some of the layers of what they’re dealing with, so they can get to the root cause and make the most of their situation.
So I’m sort of curious to know what role spirituality has played in your life.
Frederick Jefferson: A great role, a great role. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that. I would not be here if it wasn’t for that. If you look at our Facebook page, we quote Jesus in Matthew when He says, “Come, I’m going to make you fishers of men. And that’s our model, to make you fishers of men, to make you better and have the strength.
And I take that spiritual part because I challenge everyone, and I use it. Sometimes they tell me I preach when we have the meetings. And I tell them to think about the time when Jesus said, “Cast your nets on the other side.” I told them that’s what this walk has been about for me, that before autism hit my life, I hung on this side of life, with my friends over here, with all this life, and I never knew about the disability world. Not just autism—all the disabilities.
But then when it hit me—and you look, and you think, “Mour life has ended”—you get to praying. And that to me was that moment, when it came, it was like “Cast your net to the other side.” Look at these guys. These guys here were athletes, fishermen, hunters, sports talkers. They were everything before th minute they lost hope because of that disability.
But spirituality, a connection to put that life and that laughter back in them—disability didn’t take that away. It’s just learning how to deal with it that took it away. So the spirituality helped me, and I hope it helps them to deal with it.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, thanks for sharing. It plays an increasing role, I think, in family’s lives. I really appreciate the role that spirituality has played in my life. And I’m glad to hear that it’s played an important role in your life as well.
So I’m thinking about advice now, beyond what maybe we’ve talked about, and I’m wondering if you could share a thought or two with our dads, our listeners. What advice would you share as it relates to raising a child with special abilities?
Frederick Jefferson: I would say first and foremost is accepting it. Cause once you accept it, that’s when you can do the child and your whole family, the greatest good. Because as long as you are in denial, you’re in the shadows, and you’re gonna not be any good to yourself, your family, your friends, or anyone. That is the first pillar of that wall. You have to pull the first brick off that wall: accept it. And then it’s going to…it’s never gonna get better, but it’ll get easier.
And what I tell them is, this life is gonna be a bitter pill to swallow. And just like with when you go to the doctor, you get a refill, you’re gonna take that first bitter pill of acceptance. You gonna take another bitter pill when they enter school—elementary, middle school, high school— and transition to adult. So like you said, it’s no one size fits all. It’s no one bitter pill you’re gonna accept.
So take it slow, accept it, and realize there’s nothing you did. There’s nothing your wife did. There’s no punishment. There’s no blame, no fault. It’s your child. It’s your child, and you love them. And I’m telling you, they will give you unconditional love. They will.
And once you accept that, I’ve seen heroes beyond heroes. I watch these guys with kids. Two hundred pounds, I mean, six feet tall, with a sheet tied around their neck, like they’re Superman, holding their hands to keep them calm. That’s a special man to me that’ll do that.
I’ll watch the guy that has a son that makes the awkward noise and makes all kind of noise, sit there with his arm around him in a crowded airport, in a crowded terminal. That’s a Superman, a special dad to me. That’s that acceptance. And you know what people do? They look at ’em, and they smile. You think that they’re judging you, but when they see you accept it, they see you a different way.
David Hirsch: Very profound. Thanks for sharing, Frederick. 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?
Frederick Jefferson: I agreed because I wanted to make a difference. I want to touch lives. I want to help as many as I can through this journey. When you asked me about the bureau prison and growing up, I remember when I made lieutenant.
And this captain told me, “Look, you made lieutenant, not because of what you can do, or what you can get done. So when you get in there, don’t go in there and try to do everything to impress ’em. Go in there and show ’em how much you can get done by empowering people, by inspiring people.” He said, “That will show the type of leader you are.”
And that’s how I want to approach the special need world, by empowering them, and showing how much we can get done by motivating, encouraging, sharpening men. And you just gotta show them what’s inside of you. Cause once you get to talking and laughing and opening them up, peeling those layers back, you’ll see. There are some really dramatic and impressionable men out there that can truly make a difference. You just gotta reach ’em, inspire ’em, and encourage them to go out and be themselves and show the world who they are.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, we’re very thankful for your involvement. Thanks for being part of the Special Fathers Network. So let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend Lewis Mendoza of the Washington State Fathers Network.
Frederick Jefferson: Absolutely. He is another one that has a heart of gold, a vision, and he loves to inspire, encourage and reach as many people as he can. And I love connecting with people like that.
I think the more powerful people you connect together, the more we can pull together. And I’m telling you what Lewis did with connecting all of these special need fathers in different states together was truly amazing, truly amazing.
David Hirsch: Yep. Quite an impressive situation. So I’m sort of curious to know if there’s anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up.
Frederick Jefferson: The last thing I would say, if there’s a father out there or a leader out there, and you’re on the edge, not knowing what to do and how to do it, look in your heart and know who you are, and know that you want to do this. You wanna make a difference. Because again, like I said, you’re their voice.
And there’s something powerful about a bunch of men standing together for the special need community. Doesn’t matter what the disability is. It doesn’t matter if it’s autism, Down syndrome. It does not matter what the disability is that we all stand together, because we’re all fighting for the same thing: quality of life for our child. That is the goal.
It doesn’t matter what the disability is. And if we all come together and stand for that, we can make a better world. Because as we age, they’re gonna age, and we want them to be in a better world. So thank you, David, for giving me a chance to talk.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about Blue Skyes over Autism or Man II Man, or to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Frederick Jefferson: The best way to do it would be on Facebook, on our Facebook page, or our website, blueskyesoverautism.com. And you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or our Facebook page, ManIIMan.
David Hirsch: Excellent.
Frederick, thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, Frederick 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(c)3, 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 acceptable contribution? I would really appreciate your support. Thanks again.
Frederick Jefferson: Okay. Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Go to 21stcentury dads.org.
And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search “dad to dad.” Also, please be sure to register for the Special Fathers Network biweekly zoom calls held on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to email@example.com.
The Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers 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.