Our guest this week is Pete Hixson of Woodstock, GA, the father of two, a pastor, certified business coach, a facilitator at Story Brand, Campus Launch Director at Shepherds College and CEO/founder of Beyond Communities.
Pete and wife, Hollie, have been married for 25 years and are the proud parents of two girls: Addie (18) and Hope (20), who has Cerebral Palsy as well as seizures.
We learn about Pete’s role at Story Brand, a business that helps organizations clarify their message and build a sales funnel to thrive in the marketplace.
We also learn about Pete’s role at Shepherds College, the nation’s leading post-secondary school created with the learning needs of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in mind.
And, we also learn about Beyond Communities, the organization Pete founded that develops and builds residential communities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
It’s an inspiring story about a father’s commitment to serve his family, his parish, the broader community and he’s our guest on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email – email@example.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/pete-hixson/
Shepherds College – https://shepherdscollege.edu
Story Brand – https://storybrand.com
Please take the SFN Early Intervention Parent Survey and as a token gift, receive a Great Dad Coin – https://tinyurl.com/5n869y2y
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the 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.
Pete Hixson: I don’t know how to say this. Like we just don’t have to let this thing beat us. I think we can move a needle forward, and my prayer is that in generations to come…one of my biggest prayers for a lot of this is that we will change this statistics—not just of the individuals, but of the family dynamic.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Pete Hixson, a father of two, including Hope, who has cerebral palsy. Pete is a pastor, a certified business coach, and campus launch director at Shepherds College, where he fully embraces the Shepherds’ mission of helping students find hope and fulfill their dreams. That’s all on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello now to host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising child children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: So now let’s hear this conversation between Pete Hixson and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Pete Hixson of Woodstock, Georgia, the father of two, a pastor, a certified business coach, a facilitator at StoryBrand, and campus launch director at Shepherds College. Pete, thank you for doing a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Pete Hixson: Thank you. So good to be with you. That was quite a mouthful of responsibilities.
David Hirsch: Well, that’s you. You and your wife, Hollie, have been married for 25 years and are the proud parents of two girls, Addie, 18, and Hope, 21, who has cerebral palsy, as well as seizures. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Pete Hixson: Yeah, thank you. I grew up in Iowa primarily. My dad is from Pennsylvania, mom from Iowa. We lived in Pennsylvania until I was about five, but mostly Iowa’s my upbringing. Grew up on a farm there. My dad did not farm that land, even though both of my grandparents are farmers. But he was in construction, and we just happened to rent a farmhouse for most of the years. And then he built us a house in my senior year. So I didn’t really get to benefit from it.
David Hirsch: Excellent. And if I remember, you have some siblings.
Pete Hixson: I do. Two sisters, one older, one younger. And I’m right in the middle.
David Hirsch: So you’re the middle child.
Pete Hixson: I’m the middle child. We can talk about that if you want to.
David Hirsch: Probably for another conversation. But out of curiosity, what did your dad do for a living?
Pete Hixson: Yeah, he’s been in construction pretty much my whole life. Mostly residential. Done a little bit of commercial, but building custom residential homes is his sweet spot. Just retired this past year.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So how would you characterize your relationship with your dad?
Pete Hixson: It’s good. We have a really good relationship. We don’t live near them, so that’s tough. But we talk often. We’re both big Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so we’re deep into that. But we have a good relationship. Growing up, my dad worked a lot, so I probably was closer with my mom.
I played a lot of sports. I was never really a star athlete for the most part. But my dad and my relationship—I worked with him. So on the weekends I was on a job site somewhere since I can remember. He taught me all the stuff growing up. Even though we didn’t own the land, we farmed the land. We had animals as kind of a hobby farm, pigs and chickens and things.
So my relationship with my dad is characterized by just a lot of things he taught me about life. A lot of it was work, a lot of it I didn’t appreciate at the time, but I appreciate it more in these days.
David Hirsch: So are you pretty handy then?
Pete Hixson: I think I kinda ran from that a little bit. I didn’t want to do that as a living. I don’t know if this is everybody, but as I’ve gotten older, I love doing things with my hands now. So the house we live in, we bought two and a half years ago and did a big renovation project. We were able to live with my in-laws while I was doing it, and I just found so much joy in it. So, yeah, I like it now, and I can do some things that just kind of comes back. I grew up all around it, it’s just what I did and what I was around.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, what I heard you describing about your dad is that he’s a contractor and a farmer, and I think of people like that as being like MacGyver, right? They’re going to figure it out, right? They’ve got a solution, right?
Pete Hixson: They always say, use your surroundings. Like, it’s a bit of a survivalist mentality. There are some ups and downs to it all, but I really appreciate that, especially these days when I feel like everybody’s just inside, and we’re on our devices all the time. We need to get out and put our hands in the dirt.
David Hirsch: Absolutely. So is there any important takeaway that comes to mind when you think about things that you try to do as a dad yourself, that you might’ve picked up from your own dad?
Pete Hixson: Yeah, my dad, without really realizing, it was an ‘as you go’ kind of person. Like wherever we were, he was going to turn it into a lesson. And like I said, a lot of times I didn’t really appreciate it, but I would just watch even the simplest things like mowing the lawn, and pick it up.
And then he would just give me little tips, just a constant teacher without really being…he’s not a communicator teacher like that, but he’s just a doer. He’s a real hands gifts doer guy. But then he’ll tell you why he’s doing it the way he’s doing it. And so as I’ve raised our girls, it just comes natural to me to do that, and sometimes I get annoying to them, but hopefully they’ll appreciate it one day.
David Hirsch: You’ve probably gotten used to the eye rolls though, don’t you think?
Pete Hixson: Oh, all the time. And again, I’m a guy, they’re a girl, so I don’t have any sons. I have daughters. And I don’t know the dynamic personally, but I know it’s different. And so sometimes my wife is like, “Hey, she might not need to know how to put that nail into the wood with using that hammer that way,” like it might not be that applicable for her.
David Hirsch: I love it. So, you mentioned that both your families were farmers. On your dad’s side, your grandpa was a dairy farmer, I think in Pennsylvania, if I remember. And I think that’s where your Steelers roots come from.
Pete Hixson: That’s right. All the way.
David Hirsch: And your mom’s dad was a hog and bean farmer in Iowa. And I’m wondering what influence, if any, your grandfathers had on you?
Pete Hixson: Just hard work. Hard work, and I think without realizing it. But again, you get a little bit older down the way and you just appreciate things more. But the sum total of life starts hitting you, rather than just all the sprints. And the process of how to get from here to there is so much more valuable to me today.
Farming mentality. It just doesn’t happen overnight, it’s small, consistent things every day, and that’s really how the world goes around. So I think that’s something, as I reflect, I appreciate. Same as building a house with my dad. Whether it’s that or farming, it’s the same thing.
Excellent. Usually doesn’t happen overnight. Although, I must say, this is a little bit of a sidebar, I’ve been involved with Habitat Humanity, and I participated in a couple of blitz builds. And we built like ten homes in a daycare center in Liberty City, Miami, in a week. Which is not very common.
Pete Hixson: I love that.
David Hirsch: But to your point, there’s a lot of planning involved to be able to execute on something. Nothing built that will last is going to be built overnight. And quite remarkably, there were some hurricanes that came by shortly after those homes were built, and those were the only homes standing in that community.
Pete Hixson: Wow. Fantastic.
David Hirsch: Yeah, they were built with rebar and gunite. So they were built to like two, three times the hurricane standards. The neighborhood was an older, dilapidated neighborhood, so that got wiped out. But anyway. Sorry for the digression.
Pete Hixson: No, I love that.
David Hirsch: So under the banner of father figures, we talked about your dad and a little bit about your grandfathers. I’m wondering if there are any other men that have played an influential role in your life.
Pete Hixson: Yeah, I think the first one outside of my dad and grandfathers that comes to mind is my father-in-law. I’ve been a part of my wife’s family for quite a while, 25 years this year. And he is a pastor, a leader, a phenomenal communicator. He had a radical transformation of his life when he was at a young age and has just stuck with it and been faithful. There’s so much that I have learned from him. So family is real important to us, and I have learned a lot in many ways.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s great to give your father-in-law a shout out, and I’m glad to hear that you have a close relationship with him as well.
So my recollection was from an educational perspective, you went to Liberty University, you took a degree in youth ministries, then the College of Southeastern, where you got a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies, and then you completed the Master’s of Divinity program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
So it’s pretty clear from your educational background that you will be pointing in a Christian service fashion. And I’m wondering, as you were going through your school, what was it that was on your mind? Where did you think your career was going to take you?
Pete Hixson: Yeah. I never thought anything other than local church ministry. My youth pastor, who I would also say was a big, big figure, was influential in my life. Around my 10th grade year is when things got real for me. Even though I would say I was a Christian and came to faith at a young age, then it became a real relationship with God, and a lot of that was due to a couple friends of mine and my youth pastor.
His name is Chuck. Chuck Morris, not Norris. But he actually passed away a few years ago from cancer. Big, big loss to the world for the influence that he was to so many. He invited me to help him on an inner city bus route in Des Moines, Iowa, where I grew up. He had some connections with a friend he went to college with, actually in Chicago, Chicago Heights. And we did a couple mission trips there.
And through those experiences, it just showed me, man, I want to do something meaningful with my life, you know? That was kind of that time my dad was like, “What do you want to do?” Sort of this, “Are you going to sort of take the family construction business, or whatever?” And I just said, “I kind of want to do what Chuck does,” you know? And it was just influencing teenagers.
So that was just the path. I just walked through one door at a time. I never had this “light shine down” moment of calling into ministry. I just walked through open doors, and I’m still doing that. Youth ministry was the thing because that’s what really got me.
And then I actually served with my father-in-law at his church for three years in pastoral care, hospitals, funerals, support groups. That was very forming for a lot of things I’m even doing now, but also for the season of life we were in raising our young child with special needs. So yeah, my ministry training was youth ministry, then biblical studies and just kind of this general local church ministry.
What I thought I was always going to do is be a pastor in a local church. So that was the trajectory. I finished my undergrad, started my master’s. I’m only about six classes away from finishing it, and I need to just cap it off, but it’s been sitting there for quite a while, collecting dust. So I’ve got to finish it.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well you’ve just put this out there.
Pete Hixson: Yeah, I know. That’s the danger.
David Hirsch: So there’s going to be a higher level of accountability now.
Pete Hixson: Yeah. I need it. I need it.
David Hirsch: So, out of curiosity, how did you and Hollie meet?
Pete Hixson: So the school I was at at the time, Liberty University, was doing a partnership with this contemporary Christian band who was going everywhere doing concerts. They would put up a banner for Liberty, and they needed a Liberty representative. So I got to be that Liberty representative. Crazy story, how all that happened.
And this band was based out of Atlanta. A lot of them went to her dad’s church. That’s how we met. She was a senior in high school. I was a couple years into college at the time. So, yeah, I couldn’t officially date her until she graduated from high school. We were engaged in January of ‘97 and married in August of ‘97.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing.
Pete Hixson: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about special needs, first on a personal basis and then beyond. So, I’m sort of curious to know, prior to Hope’s diagnosis, did you or Hollie have any exposure to the world of special needs?
Pete Hixson: I didn’t, and I don’t believe she did, other than knowing some people around us, casually. But to recall this person or that situation? Not really. We just were not in any way a part of the community prior to that.
David Hirsch: Gotcha. So what is Hope’s diagnosis, and how did it come about?
Pete Hixson: Yeah, she’s diagnosed with cerebral palsy. On the technical term, she is mild to moderate IDD, intellectually and developmentally delayed, disabled. So she is very high functioning for CP, for cerebral palsy. Mentally and emotionally, pretty delayed. And yet as we learn, we just are continually blown away by environments when we place her that are designed for her, the way she grows.
So she was diagnosed probably around the age of two. We were living in Arkansas when she was born. I was serving at a church there. As far as the story of how it happened, when she was born, we were excited, then there were little complications that first night. We’re super young and trying to just figure whatever out. And it felt a little off that she couldn’t be in the room. And we couldn’t have regular visitors coming in, because they wanted her to be in the NICU and check out a couple things, but there just wasn’t much alarm.
We were actually in a women’s center in northwest Arkansas. And then her second night, I woke up, and I heard these alarms and people rushing all over. I just walked out in the hall, and come to find out she had stopped breathing again. The first time they really didn’t let us know how alarming it was. Later on we found out it was probably a little more than they told us. But she had stopped breathing, and they didn’t know how long, and she had turned blue and all this stuff.
We didn’t know this till years later actually, that it was seizure related. So the way this works, and I am not a medical professional, the best way I explain it is when she stopped breathing, it caused a gap in her brain. Our brains are all so intricate and differently designed, and whatever that did to her, that’s what caused the “disability” that she has, and that is such a wide spectrum for everyone.
So yeah, we spent the first week in the NICU. That is not a lot compared to a lot of people, but for us at the time, it was, “What in the world?” I just remember sitting there every single day and looking at that oxygen monitor, and just praying those numbers would be what they needed to be.
And at one point they sent us home with the apnea monitor and the whole deal, and we were off to the races trying to figure this thing out and scared to death. That was how we started to figure out something else was not right. They never told us anything, but just go home
But my wife knew, She actually diagnosed her immediately. We got home, this is kind of before internet and whatever. I mean, I know that sounds funny, but it was a little bit ago, 2001. But my wife had searched something, and she just said, “I really think she has cerebral palsy.” And I was like, “No.” I was in denial about the whole thing at the time. I was completely, “Everything’s fine. We’re normal. Just move on. Whatever.”
So anyway, I could go on from stages of both of us processing it all, but we got her on camera one time. And we didn’t know it until we watched the video, but her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and we thought, “That’s not right.” So we took her to the doctor, and that’s when we started digging.
So we were kind of our own investigators of this. The thing that I think some people think is a baby’s born who has special needs. There’s this perfect little box that gets checked, and the doctors recognize it. And they know everything. And what I found out is they know way more than I do, but they don’t know everything. Nobody does, and they’re just trying…. Even a diagnosis is like A plus B and a little bit of F and E and G. Here we go. I think here we go, and we get a diagnosis.
So I know that’s not probably super accurate, but that was the way that it happened for us. It wasn’t so scripted. The way I thought was,“Oh, when someone has special needs, it’s just like, you’re a male, you’re a female, period.” It’s not like that. It’s very different. And that was hard for me, because I’m a “tell me what this is going to look like” guy. And when she was little, I drove all of her doctors crazy with all my questions. Crazy. They probably hated me.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, if I can paraphrase what you’ve said, the diagnosis came in, call it pieces—little bits and pieces along the way. And it wasn’t a black and white type of thing. It evolved. That’s what I heard you saying. Like you said, only God knows. Doctors, with all the training and experience they have, they have a lot of insights and a lot of experience, and they’re just trying to give you the best advice they can.
So speaking of advice, I’m wondering, was there some meaningful advice that you got early on that’s helped you and Hollie?
Pete Hixson: Yeah, the first thing that comes to mind, and this may sound strange to individuals with just a different worldview of God and whatnot, but the best advice and the first advice I got was just…this is going to sound…I’m not that overly spiritual kind of guy, but I’m just being honest.
I was reading and I was really struggling with the whole, “What happened? What went wrong?” You know what I mean? Like there’s something wrong. There’s a mistake on somebody’s part, God, human, something. And I was over-analyzing everything. Then there is just this portion in scripture that just talks about how we are beautifully and wonderfully made.
And instead of that causing me to be frustrated, it just caused me to look at our circumstance, and be at peace. Not like, “Hey, no struggles.” I mean, she was young, and there’s so many times I could tell you vulnerably about my yellings and conversations with God. But at that moment it really set me, I would say, on the right path of just saying, “Here’s where we are.”
Later in life, a counselor helped me. His name was Dr. Richard Dobbins. This was really not even that long ago. I think he passed away in maybe 2013, 2014, but he was a part of our life for a couple of years that were so pivotal. And he said, “I want to train you to be your own counselor.” And he said, “It’s not very profitable to ask the question why. It will just take you back and forth and back and forth. You need to just focus on what.”
And when I say that, I mean there’s something so valuable of the why, the why I do this, right? But in the case of struggling with something, a lot of times we just are not going to have an adequate answer to why, but what gives us something to go forward with. And I think what’s important in life is that we move forward.
So those are a couple of things that come to mind. One early on, one definitely later on. And one other, if I could say this. It was actually the morning that they were rushing her around, and we get our stuff together, and we’re following the ambulance to this other hospital that had a NICU, because where she was born did not.
There was not this conversation, I didn’t hear it audibly, but it was like I heard this voice just real peacefully say, “Everybody has to trust me all the time, but they don’t really realize it. You just know it now and you need to trust me fully.” We don’t know what can happen to any of us, but this was that moment I felt like God really just gave me these moments of setting and resetting me straight, of, “Hey son, you need to trust me. You’re not going to understand everything.” Just real fatherly advice from the Lord, in my opinion, again, in my worldview, but those are just couple foundational pieces for me.
David Hirsch: Oh, pearls of wisdom, absolutely. Not everybody hears that voice, if you will. And that comment you made about focusing or only worrying about the things you have control over—when it comes right down to it, there’s very few things we control. Life can get really simple, really fast if you, if you can understand that. So thanks for sharing.
And not to focus on the negative, but what have been some of the bigger challenges that you faced?
Pete Hixson: A couple that just come to mind is getting that IEP for the first time. In the public school system, IEP is that specialized program your child applies for. I was still probably in a little bit of some denial at this point, and that was a struggle for me to hear some people sit around and tell me things. I remember my feeling, which I’m feel very guilty about now, not guilt, but I feel bad about how I felt about those teachers. I was like, “Why are you sitting here telling me something that I already know about my child?” I was kind of just irritated.
Come to find out, by the time she finished elementary school at that school in Marietta, Georgia, Cheatem Hill Elementary—shout out to those amazing people—they were our best friends. They walked her through her elementary years in a way that…I mean, we have so much love and respect for special ed teachers in the public schools. We don’t know where we would be without that group of people. They have been phenomenal to us just on a personal level. And I know that’s not the case everywhere. We just had a really fortunate situation.
But that was a struggle for me. Another struggle I had, I was pastoring a church and a well-meaning couple came up to me one time, and they said, “Hey, we really want to share something with you.” I used illustrations all the time in my messages at the time, about hope and being in special needs and some of our struggles in the disability community. And they said, “We really think that if you fast and pray hard enough, that you’ll find some healing.”
So I took that upon myself in a way of going, “Okay, maybe I can do something about this.” And it kind of just took me back to a frustrating point with God again and me again, like, “What can I do? And if there’s something I can do, I mean, for God’s sakes, I’ll do it.”
But that was hard. My wife struggled with, “Did I do something wrong on the front end to get us here?” I’m struggling with, “Can I do something more right to get us out of here?” Those are hard things. So sometimes people give ill advice, but not meaning to, and that’s tough.
Watching her go through some seizures at a young age. Watching my wife…there were times, and I don’t think she’ll mind that I share this. But she’s a very happy person, we’re both outgoing type people, But a number of times, especially in the younger to middle years, and honestly even lately, I’ve had to physically pick her off the ground and say, “We are meant to be her parents. We can do this. We’re going to do the best we can.”
And I’m not saying like I’m the hero there. I’ve had my own moments. But that’s a struggle, watching your wife feel this way about herself, and your child, and then our other daughter, her sibling. It’s just, yeah, those are the difficult times, you know? I know I’m kind of being general, but there’s been a lot of specific, very, very hard times that have formed us all.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thank you for your authenticity and transparency. Life’s a journey, and it’s not usually a smooth ride. When you look back on it—because you can only connect the dots looking backwards, you can’t connect the dots looking forward—you can put things in perspective, what it all means or how did it all fit together.
And you had just touched on the sibling relationship, and I’m sort of curious to know what impact Hope’s situation has had on her younger sister, Addie, your marriage, or the extended family for that matter.
Pete Hixson: Yeah. I like to say it this way: Hope has been raising all of us. She has raised our awareness to a community that is unintentionally overlooked and underserved. And we’re under challenged. She’s raised us.
I want to say something about Addie, my youngest. She just turned 18 yesterday. I tell people that she is my little unsung hero, because siblings of individuals with special needs, they go through a lot that they don’t even know how to process, and maybe they never have had the chance for someone to really pull that out of them. She’s the younger sister, but in many ways is the older sister. She’s weathered a lot of things. She has character beyond her years.
I don’t know if this is all the time, but a lot of times they’re so wide, you have Hope one end of the spectrum, and Addie is like, Miss This, Miss That, captain of this, da da da, like she’s that kid, far advanced, all of these different things. It’s really interesting to watch how people naturally gravitate to the underdog, and I get that. I like that. I think that’s good.
But I’ve been writing this thing that I have never done anything with, and it’s not completed, called the “Underdog Syndrome.” And I think we are all driven to the underdog. And again, I’m not saying that’s wrong. But the unfortunate part about that is the reason we want to pull for the underdog is because we don’t want anybody above us, and we’re very insecure about that.
And so I’ve watched her get under-liked and under-appreciated, because everybody’s almost like, “Oh, poor Hope.” And then Addie is over here excelling, and it’s kind of like muffled, and I’m like, “No, that’s not right.”
We had a lady tell us when Addie was born, “I am a sister of my brother who had special needs. And I love my brother and I love my parents.” But she said, “I want to tell you, don’t ignore your other child. She will have to make sacrifices, but whenever you can, you do the things that she wants to do.”
So there were times we left Hope at home, and we took Addie on vacation, because Hope didn’t want to go. And it was just going to be…it’s not about fair. I don’t know how to say that appropriately, but it’s just not. It’s, “What’s the right thing to do in this moment?”
We’ve definitely not succeeded all along the way, but we’ve really tried to give her a life, because so much of our life is guided and directed by what Hope can and can’t do, you know? I’m so proud of both my girls. And that stands out to me, as far as the sibling dynamic. The siblings are unsung heroes. They’re amazing people.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you touched on a really important topic, because like you said, the inclination is, not intentionally, but just because you direct a disproportionate amount of your time and energy, or resources for that matter, to your child with special needs.
And without the bigger picture or a focus on it, you might unintentionally shortchange another child or children, in the circumstance. And you have to remember at the end of the day, you’re parents to all of your children, not just the one with special needs. And that struggle, that balancing act, that some people talk about, I think is super important.
And it’s just a matter of being equitable. It doesn’t mean 50-50, right? If you have two children, 50% of my time and resources are going to go to one and 50% are going to go to the other. It just means you want to be as equitable as you can. And it sounds like you’ve given it a lot of thought. It’s on the radar screen, and as a result, I think that there’s a better balance there than would be there otherwise. And you just have to be good with that.
Pete Hixson: Yeah, thank you. I think a lot of times it’s not a prefab decision you can make. It’s a decision that you make along the way of what’s the right thing right now? Well, we do this or we don’t do this, kind of thing.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey, will receive a Great Dad coin. Thank you. Now back to the conversation.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about supporting organizations, and I’m wondering what organizations come to mind as far as organizations that you’ve relied on for your family, or for Hope for that matter.
Pete Hixson: Yeah, there’s a program here called Babies Can’t Wait. Different states have different things. There’s just been some government assistance through the special ed communities that has been good. I mentioned it earlier, but really our big heroes were her teachers through her years of school.
She did a couple years in a private school that was really special. But for the most part she’s been in public school. It just provided, honestly, the greatest assistance and care, and these teachers, they’re our heroes. They don’t get paid a lot, and they work hard, and they’re with our kids, and they’re raising our kids in ways. So I just have so much respect. We’re so grateful for our teachers that have poured into her.
Our school, our church, our friends—I mean, Hope has been raised by a village. Just our friends and our family, both of our parents, and Hollie’s and my siblings and their kids now. And it’s a whole effort. We would never be where we are today without our friends, family, community that’s surrounded us. It’s been fantastic.
David Hirsch: Are there any others?
Pete Hixson: Special Olympics has been a few moments for her growing up, where she was able to participate in that. Another one is Night to Shine that the Tim Tebow Foundation puts on, that was huge for her. I mean, we love those one-off instances, because those kinds of events, while they’re not long-term every day solutions, they inspire and they capture something that make everybody around them go, “Wait a minute now, what else could we do?” So we’re so grateful for that organization.
Also, Thrive Ministries. My father-in-law is no longer the pastor at First Baptist Woodstock here in the Atlanta area. He was there for a long, long, long, long, long time. But under his leadership, they started Thrive, which is a wonderful ministry that has been an encouragement to her. And then again, just other churches we pastored around the country and people who served, to just constantly be an encouragement at different times.
David Hirsch: I’d like to switch gears and talk a little bit about Shepherds College, which is located in Union Grove, Wisconsin. And I know that they have a three year residential program for individuals with differences, and I’m wondering who is it that that program has been designed for, or who’s best served by that program?
Pete Hixson: Yeah. Shepherds College was actually started in the ‘50s when there was no special ed in public school, so it was a boarding school for children. Then over the years, it primarily became a senior adult residential community for a very, very long time for the same people group. And then—I’m going to get my years wrong—but I want to say, somewhere in the 2010ish range, they started some college courses to start serving a little bit of a younger generation.
Now it’s just a college. So Shepherds College is formally known as Shepherds Ministries, who have been serving this population for over 60 years. They’ve honestly pioneered in many ways. Shepherds College is the only school of its kind that we know of that is fully accredited, which is huge. So that gives federal aid options. And it’s very hard to get that accreditation for specifically individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. So it is a three year, fully accredited program for individuals on the mild to moderate IDD spectrum, and the three majors are horticulture, technology and culinary arts.
And Hope is a first year student there now, and we just couldn’t be more thankful to be a part of it. We discovered it through the organization we’ve started to build residential communities. We’re trying to help them expand and offer this to so many. Today in the US there’s 150,000 students who will graduate every year who could be a candidate to be a student at Shepherds College.
And there’s one school like this. I know there’s a lot of other great programs. But the bottom line is there’s just not enough options and opportunities. There’s 150,000 every year graduating, and we want to do more. So such a need.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love Shepherds College. I’ve known about it for a few years. And what’s unique in your situation is that you have a daughter there, a freshman like you said, and also you have now joined the team. So you’re helping that organization try to figure out how to be more relevant to more people.
And I’m sort of thinking, with your parent cap on for a moment, was it difficult to leave your daughter, who’s been a 24/7 type of experience with you and Hollie? Was it difficult to drop her off and think, “Oh my gosh, how’s this going to work?”
Pete Hixson: Very difficult. I’m going to be honest. It makes it a little easier. Some parents would be like, well, at least I know my role with them. I’m there roughly every four to six weeks for meetings and such. So that makes it better. But when I tell you it was difficult, it’s still difficult.
She came home for Christmas break. And when she went back, I mean, I can’t handle it. I feel like my heart’s tearing. When I go there for meetings for a day or two and then fly back home, I just feel like it gets re-ripped every single time. So, I probably shouldn’t say that to people who I’m trying to say, “Send your kid to Wisconsin to go to college,” but I don’t know. Maybe that’s everybody.
Addie, our youngest, is looking at colleges, and we have a meeting tonight with one of them. And I’m sure I’m going to feel the same way. And this is a college out of state as well. But yeah, it’s hard. It really is hard. I’m just being honest. But when we see the change that is taking place in her…her conversations are different. She actually has stuff to talk about, more than, “What’d you do today?” “I don’t know.”
It’s not that. I mean, it is sometimes. And it’s not like it’s overnight. But she’s learning about relationship boundaries. And she speaks a language that asks me questions like, “Dad, when that person said that, I think that’s a red flag.” She’s learning about money management. I mean, she has certain barriers that she will never understand. But the concepts about what she can control, “This is my circle of control.” She’s taught me these.
She said to me one day, “Dad, you’re in the yellow zone.” I was getting upset about something. And there’s colors based on emotions. And I was like, “Okay, all right. I am. You’re right. I’m really close to red, so maybe I should start backing down.” But she’s repeating these things, and she’s only been there a semester. When you see the change in her, that’s why we like to say at Shepherds College—and it’s also the theme for Beyond Communities, we share this theme—that when you live in an environment designed for you, you’re going to grow, you’re going to thrive. You just are. We just need to create more environments.
I mean, these individuals, they are the answer to our workforce problem in America. But we aren’t training them, because we unintentionally kind of say, “Well, here’s the cap.” Well, guess what? The cap used to be: no education. Then they got education, then the cap was whatever. And by the way, I love all of the grocery stores and coffee shops, but we’ve now made that the cap. That’s not the cap.
These kids at Shepherds College are writing codes for video games. They’re working for e-commerce companies behind the scenes in computers, because someone told them how. And they are the most responsible individuals. Someone said, “They will show up and be on time, and they won’t steal from you. Hire them today.”
I mean, it’s worth it, but we just have to train them. That’s what I love about Shepherds College. They’re really taking it seriously. We really, really believe this is not…anyway, I could keep going.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well I love the enthusiasm in your voice, and it’s clear that you’ve drank the Kool-Aid.
Pete Hixson: Yeah. I’m a satisfied customer, and I just want to tell everybody else.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. So I’d like to talk about StoryBrand. What is that, and who’s involved?
Pete Hixson: StoryBrand is essentially a seven part communication framework. Really, most companies are so close to what they do that they struggle to communicate it in a way that’s clear and simple to their customers, bottom line. So we walk them through a seven part process based on the lens of story, because that’s really the language people speak, and show them how to put it in all their marketing collateral.
Every story has a hero who wants something. There’s a problem that gets in the way. The guide comes along, offers them a plan, calls them to action. If they do it, they succeed. If they don’t, they fail. Those are the seven parts of every story, every movie. So we walk through that, and we think about them being the guide from this point forward, meaning the company, and not the hero. Most companies position themselves as heroes, not guides, and people aren’t interested in you being the hero. They want to be their hero. So we just walk them through a framework.
So I’m a private workshop facilitator. I guess you could say I drank the Kool-Aid there too. But honestly, it just works. It’s human behavior, and we teach companies how to speak a language that makes sense to their customers. So that’s StoryBrand.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, thanks for the brief synopsis. So I’m thinking about advice now, and beyond the conversation we’ve had, I’m wondering if there’s advice you can share with a parent, specifically maybe a dad who’s raising a child with differences.
Pete Hixson: Yeah. I think through the lens of today, not tomorrow, not the next day. And I think we just have to live in each day. We need to have our eye on the prize. We have goals, and we know where we want to go. This may be a bad illustration, but in let’s say addiction recovery. If you start focusing too much on, “Do I have to give this up for the rest of my life?” it’s going to be tough to make it. But if you can focus on 24 hours, then you can make it, and another 24 hours.
It’s like, “Hey, for this, let’s get through today. Let’s take it one day at a time.” I mean, this is an answer to a lot of problems. So part of me hesitates to say it’s so simple, but it’s really just being present in the moment. And I put it this way. I have had to adjust my pace of life to what I feel like came my way, rather than me trying to force that into my lifestyle.
So Hope has slowed me down in some way. When I say that, it sounds so negative. It’s been so beautiful. I see things differently, and I’ve told my wife this and others, when we actually stop…and I don’t mean go along with whatever she wants to do when she’s pitching a fit, the three-year-old fit in a 20-year-old body
But when she’s going through something, and you stop and you just see things through that lens—when we live, in a positive sense, through the lens she sees through, we live better. We’re thankful for more things. We aren’t worried about things. The stuff that takes us down she doesn’t really struggle with. It’s all the inward things and our insecurities and our fears, and while she has some of that, that’s just not what she focuses on.
I tell people I really believe that this people group sources from the tree of life rather than the tree of knowledge of good and evil that we just can’t handle. We just weren’t meant to. And that’s why they see things differently, and we have just got to be more like that.
So I guess to dads, I would just say, I know it’s hard. You need to find a person and a place to be vulnerable with. You need a community—like what you’re doing, David. You need to be able to have people around you so that you don’t feel crazy and so you can just be in this thing one day at a time.
And do our best to look through the lens of these children that have been placed in our life. Find out, “What do I need to change, instead of me trying to change them.” That’s what I tried to do in the beginning. I was like, “Will she drive one day? Will she get married one day?” And I had one of her doctors say to me one time, “Hey man, I appreciate your questions, but that’s going to drive you crazy. You just need to take it one day at a time.” So that was helpful to me. I would say that’s real important.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. Pearl of wisdom about trying to be present. Don’t want to get caught in the past. Don’t want to get too far ahead and try to figure out every possible iteration, because that’s energy and time that you’re robbing yourself of from today. So great advice.
So I’m sort of curious to know why have you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Pete Hixson: I need people in my life, and I also find it greatly fulfilling to share with others where I have been. Instead of just dwelling on our pain, I think if we can leverage it to help others, it actually is healing to us.
I don’t know if that just sounds selfish, like, “Hey, this is for me too,” but I need community. I need people, and I’m also a verbal processor. You’ve probably noticed I go a little bit even more talking than the questions you ask me. But I need this in my life. And I feel like—I don’t know how to say this—like we just don’t have to let this thing beat us. I think we can move a needle forward.
And my prayer is that in generations to come…one of my biggest prayers for a lot of this, is that we will change the statistics, not just of the individuals, but of the family dynamic. I think we can save marriages when we realize there are more options and opportunities.
And we can surround each other with other men, other dads. We need one another. There’s a guy I’m in community with recently, and we’re actually working some business partnership together for the residential communities we’re working on, and he’s a dad as well. You just need people like that in your life. They know where you’re coming from. We have got to help each other.
And I’m so thankful for what you’re doing, David, and what you’ve led, and what you’ve leveraged out of your own personal experience and passions, and I’m sure the pain and hurt that you’ve seen.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, we’re thrilled to have you. Thank you for being involved in the network. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Pete Hixson: I just believe that the world has yet to see what this incredibly beloved community can do, and I think if we all open our eyes and try to create a world within our world where they can grow and progress, our society will be better.
And so that’s just going to come through more options and more opportunities in many, many years to come. Our world is so innovative and progressive, and it’s wonderful. Let’s leverage it for this community. It’s what I’m passionate about. It doesn’t have to be what everybody is, but yeah, we can do this.
David Hirsch: Well, let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend Brian Page of Shepherds College for making the introduction. Brian is, coincidentally, podcast number 19.
Pete Hixson: He was 19. Wow.
David Hirsch: Literally a couple hundred episodes ago.
Pete Hixson: He’s the OG. We all know he’s the OG. He’s the man.
David Hirsch: Yeah. He’s is a wonderful individual, very thankful. So if somebody wants to learn more about Shepherds College or StoryBrand, or to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Pete Hixson: Yeah, I think just a general email that’s easy to remember. You don’t have to spell my last name. It’s just firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk to anyone who’s nearing that “age out” phase about Shepherds College. It’s an incredible option, and what we’re looking to build in Beyond Communities. And then from a business level, I would love to talk to you about any kind of messaging and mission regarding your organization and your life.
David Hirsch: Excellent. We’ll be sure to include those in the show notes. Pete, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Pete 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 deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Pete, thanks again.
Pete Hixson: Thank you so much, David. Really appreciate you and all you’re doing.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. 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 match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. 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@21st centurydads.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch. 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.