229 – Brian Altounian & Shawn Francis of Los Angeles, Co-Hosts of the Just Two Dads Podcast Talk About Raising Special Kids
Our guests this week are Brian Altounian and Shawn Francis of Los Angeles, CA. Brian and Shawn are financial advisors who created the Just Two Dads Podcast to help fathers raising kids with special healthcare needs. Every Wednesday at 11am Pacific Time, they host their podcast live on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/wearejusttwodads
They’re quite a compelling duo and they are our guests on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Brian – email@example.com
Email Shawn – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianaltounian/
Shawn LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/shawnf56/
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.
Brian Altounian: At the time that we got the diagnosis, and Shawn and I often talk when we speak to parents, that moment of diagnosis is such a critical… It’s a line drawn in the sand. We never forget it as a parent.
Tom Couch: From the podcast, Just Two Dads, those are our guests this week: Brian Altounian and Shawn Francis. Brian and Shawn are financial advisors who developed this popular podcast to help fathers of kids with special needs. They’re quite a compelling pair and they’re quite a pair of guests on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Say hello now to our host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to The Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad.”
Tom Couch: So let’s hear them. Here’s David Hirsch, Brian Altounian, and Shawn Francis.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Brian Altounian and Shawn Francis, otherwise known as the hosts of the Just Two Dads podcast. Brian’s a senior marketing director at World Financial Group in Los Angeles, and Shawn is Dream Steward at Revolution Financial Management. Brian and Shawn, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Brian Altounian: Great to be here.
Shawn Francis: Thank you.
David Hirsch: Shawn, you and your wife are the proud parents of seven children, including a son with autism. Brian, you’re the proud father of three children, including a daughter with special needs. I’d like to start by asking Brian a series of questions, and then Shawn, I’ll get back to you.
Brian, let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Brian Altounian: Sure. Thank you. Thank you for this, David. I live in Los Angeles now. I was born and raised here. I think I’m one of nine original Angelinos. I think most people [laughing] come from somewhere else. Born and raised, and I grew up working in my family businesses. My dad had a grocery store and my mom was in commercial real estate. So I had a business background from the time I was probably 10 years old. And eventually went to school at UCLA. Got my undergrad degree there, and my graduate degree, I got an MBA at Pepperdine, also both Southern California schools. So I have actually left Southern California [laughing], but I do feel like it’s part of the basis of my foundation of who I am. So done a number of things, but LA born and raised.
David Hirsch: I do joke about the same thing, Brian. I was born and raised in Chicago. I went to University of Illinois and Northwestern. So I jokingly say I barely left the state of Illinois other than some family vacations and some business travel. I’ve been here my entire life. Not complaining and not looking for sympathy either. Outta curiosity, what does your dad do for a living?
Brian Altounian: Now he’s retired. So both my folks are now retired and they’ve moved to the great state of Hawaii to enjoy their retirement years. But again, my dad had a grocery store for 30 years but now retired.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Brian Altounian: Oh, that’s interesting. We’ve had a great relationship for most of my life. I think as my dad’s gotten older, and his dream was always to retire in Hawaii, I would say our relationship has waned a bit. I would love to have had a better relationship with my dad.
As it turns out, when I was two years old, my mom and my biological father divorced. And so my dad, his last name is Altounian, married my mom and adopted my older brother and I, and we had a really great relationship and in fact, I never saw my biological father for about my first 26, 27 years of my life.
When I was about to get married for the first time I reached out to my biological father just to make that connection. Cause I thought that was an important thing to do. And unfortunately, my dad, what I call my dad, my dad Altounian, it was a hard thing for him to do. In a way, I think he felt that he had committed a good chunk of his life to raise us as his own. And I think he felt a little betrayed. And so our relationship fragmented a little bit at that point. And we’ve never really been as close in our later years as we were when I was growing up, unfortunately.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for your transparency or authenticity about that. And not to dig, but did you establish a relationship with your biological father as a result of that, or was it just a random conversation?
Brian Altounian: No I did, I established a relationship with him and his family. They did not live that far from where we were in Southern California. And so it was easy to be able to have that conversation and that relationship. And honestly, David, for me, It was an important journey of discovery and learning more than anything.
It wasn’t like I was looking for a relationship to replace a relationship I had with my stepdad. I was really looking forward cuz I just wanted to have the genetic connection and feel the sense of grounding and foundation. And as much as I tried to convince my stepdad of that, he took that to heart and took that personally.
And I still have a relationship with my biological father. We’re not very close. He’s moved since, moved up to the state of Washington and he’s older. He is in his late eighties. And we talk every once in a while, but I don’t really have a very close relationship. But we’ve had enough meaningful conversations and enough meaningful meetings and time together that it really satisfied what was missing for me, or what I felt I needed it to be connected to, that the relationship that we have is enough for both of us. So that’s a positive thing. My stepdad, I think that there’s still a missing bit. There’s definitely a missing component for me.
David Hirsch: I think it would be accurate to say that you didn’t have a relationship with your biological dad for your formative years from age two to 26 is what I heard you say. So that your stepfather was the one that raised you, right, and imparted some of the important values no doubt that you picked up. And when you’re thinking about that relationship. I’m wondering if there’s an important lesson or two that you can reflect on, perhaps that you’ve tried to incorporate into your own fathering.
Brian Altounian: I definitely learned… I got so much value out of my relationship with my stepdad. First of all, he was a self-made businessman. Didn’t go to college, didn’t have a graduate degree, but built a really successful business. And what I learned from him, first of all, was a significant work ethic. And secondly, my stepdad was into relationships. Friendships, the business relationships he had, he turned them into friendships. And so I really learned the valuable lesson that business is really all about relationships, which has translated positively to everything that I’ve done in my professional life.
And my dad had a had a lightness of being and he told jokes. My dad probably knows a thousand jokes if not more. And that has influenced me as well, And I just read something recently that successful leaders are those that have a sense of humor and it can actually translate a sense of humor in all the work that they do because it humanizes.
And so there’s one thing about my dad that I really appreciated was how he was in relationships with people and the lightness of being. I would say, I guess you would say.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So you’ve got some good footing, if you will, from a fathering father-figure standpoint.
Brian Altounian: For sure. For sure.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Thanks for sharing. Shawn, back to you. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Shawn Francis: I grew up between the US Virgin Islands and Los Angeles essentially. So I was born, technically I was born in Puerto Rico. When I was born, it was very common to go to Puerto Rico for surgical procedures and anything extended beyond your normal care. And my mom went to high school in Puerto Rico, so she went there to have both myself and my brother. But born and raised in the US Virgin Islands, island of St. Thomas. My dad is from St. Thomas. My mom is from St. Croix, so I have a quite a bit of extended family on both islands.
I went to boarding school in North Carolina for just one year. When I was, gosh, I was 16 years old at that time. The following year I came to Los Angeles, and while it wasn’t a plan, I technically went to a different school each year of high school. So I went to my first year of high school on St. Thomas. My parents, having had a good experience with boarding school in college, felt that it would be something that would be good for me, especially from an academic standpoint. Because while I had great attendance physically, while nobody keeps record of mental attendance, if they did, I was almost never in class, just always someplace else.
And so I was a source of as much frustration for my parents as I was love and joy because in conversation, people walked away with the impression that I had a certain level of intelligence and wit and all that kind of stuff. And when it came to academics I had really big fights and I always had a black eye to show for it.
When I’d get a good grade, my dad would be glad and at the same time frustrated and he would use my brother as an example. He would say, you see the grades that he gets, he works so hard for those things. You could get those things if you just barely tried. And I just didn’t have an interest in it, and I really struggle with it.
My brother went on to go to Berkeley and he was just a really hard worker. And coming from the Caribbean, you at least get your four year degree in something if not going on to med school or law school. I’ve always been struck with this idea of, not holding my head low, but still trying to figure out, man is there’s something wrong with me? And just couldn’t quite figure it out. And I went through all kind of tutoring and everything and never been diagnosed with anything. But it’s interesting. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m thankful for the mission that Brian and I are on, including our podcast, because as we have conversations with people, I tend to think that I might have slipped through the cracks without a diagnosis of any kind when it comes to learning.
Part of the thing that I’m doing as I rediscover myself is wanting to make sure that I bring as much clarity for other people out there that maybe struggling and not seeing themselves as they really and truly are.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate you being so open about your own educational experience. It sounds like it would’ve been a little bit challenging to go to four different high schools. I’m curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Shawn Francis: Oh, it’s a great one, and I’ll be honest. It’s had it’s… we only had like really one challenge and that was when… It’s interesting, I heard that children of divorce, if they see parents fighting a lot, supposedly that a split is easier to deal with to an extent, I guess maybe because you see it coming or something.
But when things appear to be harmonious, there’s a greater level of the rug being pulled out from underneath you, so to speak. And I never saw my parents disagree at all. So when they divorced, that had an effect on me and it affected my relationship with my dad. And I didn’t even realize it at the time, because I wasn’t outwardly angry towards him or anything like that, but we’re able to have great conversations and work our way through the conversations that weren’t that great.
And to this day, I just tell him, I am in full acceptance of the fact that I will never, ever be able to in life repay him for what he’s given me. And right now I’m thankful for… anything that I’m going through whatsoever, I could pick up the phone and call him and he just sets me straight. I’ve never had anybody bet on me the way he does. Ever. And I never will.
David Hirsch: So let’s switch gears and talk about special needs first on a personal basis and then beyond. Brian, what is your connection to the special needs community?
Brian Altounian: So my oldest daughter Jordan, was diagnosed at about 18 months with developmental delays, more specifically apraxia cognitive processing issues. We had her in an IEP from almost kindergarten on. We tried a whole number of different schools for her to give her the opportunity to succeed. All again, guided by an IEP where she had speech therapy and occupational therapy and a lot of support, thankfully.
We had her in a private school to see if a smaller setting would be beneficial. We had her in a public school. We had her in a special needs specific school. We homeschooled her for a year. We had her, again, in a number of different school settings in order to give her the tools that she could benefit from, to be successful. At the time that we got the diagnosis, and Shawn and I often talk when we speak to parents, that moment of diagnosis is such a critical… It’s a line drawn in the sand. We never forget it as a parent. Again she was 18 months old. And I’ll never forget that conversation.
In that conversation, our neurologist, as she was explaining what microcephaly with apraxia and all these words that meant nothing to me in the moment, we asked her to talk in common talk [laughing], normal language. And she said the bottom line is she will probably need assisted living her entire life. She’ll never graduate college. She won’t be able to hold down a job. She probably won’t drive. She’ll need assisted living her whole life. That was the sentence that we were given at the beginning of our journey here in special needs. And her mother and I, who are no longer married, but her mother and I were committed to being co-parents and warriors for her success.
And that’s why we tried so many different school options and gave her so much support. And if I can fast forward to the end here, not that it’s the end, but to today at 26 years old, she lives in upstate New York now with her husband. She’s married. She’s a stepmom. She drives a car to her job where she’s a special ed teacher in the Amsterdam school system.
So she has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and definitely beyond the prognosis that we are given 25 years ago, 24 years ago. So I’m thrilled. I talk to her every single day. And the challenges of life and being a newly married [laughing] young adult is all the challenges that most people would face, which she has really succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing and obviously the story started out with the precarious beginning at 18 months with this diagnosis. And I don’t know what the medical community was doing on average 25 years ago. But I think it was more focused on, this is what we know about this type of diagnosis and these are all the things that you should be prepared for not to expect. The negative side. It’s like a deficit model. And I think that what we’re learning, with more years of scientific knowledge and research and just human development, is that nobody knows. Only God knows what a child or a human being is gonna be capable of doing. So to cut short or to limit somebody’s opportunities is wrong. And I’m just thrilled when I hear stories like yours that Jordan has been able to do this, do that, and the other thing. And it sounds like she has done a lot of growing up. If she lives on the other side of the country, she’s married, she’s a stepmom and she’s a special needs teacher, oh my gosh, this young woman is taking on a lot of responsibility. It must give you a lot of joy.
Brian Altounian: It does for sure. Walking her down the aisle was… Even in a COVID wedding, we still did it live. It was such a monumentous occasion and I feel so blessed. So blessed for sure.
David Hirsch: So was there any meaningful advice that you got early on that helped you navigate the slippery slope that you must have found yourself on?
Brian Altounian: One of the first things we did… So again, picture this 25 years ago, we’re talking 1997 or so. The internet, I think folks were still primarily using AOL and Prodigy and we jumped online to figure out what these words meant and where we might find resources. And we found a support, an international support group that was a broad range. Cuz microcephaly really doesn’t mean anything for those who… MIcrocephaly just really means small head, which is an umbrella description of delay in development and it covers a lot of different diagnoses. What we found in those early conversations with folks from all over the world is don’t take any of these comments from our medical community as gospel.
And as you said, David, we learned so much. But to question and search and find commonalities with other folks who are dealing with the same issues. Ask. Advocate, advocate. And her mother’s really a brilliant co-parent and really a warrior, as I like to say, true warrior at getting out there and making sure that we didn’t just accept what our teachers and administrators at the schools were offering an answer to our… IEPs are individualized educational programs, but to challenge and give our daughter the best possible support that we could.
So I would say my advice to parents going through this is that, you’re A, not alone. There’s a world of support out there. B, seek those out. Seek out those places where you have comfort. There’s some great support groups that we have been a part of, that Shawn and I have been a part of on an advisory basis and participants, for parents. Seek out those support groups and advocate and ask. And don’t accept what you don’t agree with, that you know your child better than anybody else. And you know your child’s capability from what you’re saying. And know that, look, life is gonna look a little different, but it’s not bad or good. It’s just different.
David Hirsch: Absolutely. One of the questions that comes to mind is, what impact has Jordan’s situation had on her younger siblings?
Brian Altounian: They’re more tolerant, they’re more empathetic of other people’s situation. I think that we tend to rush to judgment if somebody’s actions we don’t understand. And so that requires empathy. And I think that sometimes when Jordan would have some issues or limitations or frustrations, her siblings being able to observe that and see that and then knowing that this may be just how Jordan’s processing the world, their empathy has increased significantly. So that’s a huge… By the way if they learn nothing else, that is enough as far as I’m concerned as a parent, to just have more empathy for people in the world.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s fabulous. Thank you for sharing. Were there any supporting organizations beyond the educational system that you made reference to that your family relied on for Jordan’s benefit?
Brian Altounian: There were definitely. Obviously the first place we went to is our regional center here in Southern California which is phenomenal. And they referred us… I think that we kept encountering people who had some success. We found some great advocates, lawyers IEP lawyer advocates that referred us to a number of places. I think primarily it was educational.
I will say this, obviously I’m no longer married to Jordan’s mom. These situations can put a strain on relationships. We spent a lot of time in, and I don’t say a lot of time in counseling, but we spent quite a bit of time in communication about how to make our relationship stronger. We realized after the fact that we were much better co-parents and friends [laughing] than we were as a married couple. But that was because we had support and were able to talk through that. In our more recent time, I would say the “We Are Brave Together” support group led by Jessica Patay is now international. “We Are Brave Together.” That’s a phenomenal resource. They are primarily for moms, but they’ve started to do a dad’s support group as well.
And we’ve encountered… in our podcast, we interview and we talk to a lot of folks who are serving the special needs community in a number of different ways as a means of support. So the more time that I spend in the special needs community, the more organizations I’ve found that are hugely supportive and so immensely helpful.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. I know that Jessica and Chris do an amazing job with their family and we’ll be sure to include that in the show notes as well. So Shawn, back to you. I’m curious to know what is your connection to the special needs community?
Shawn Francis: My son Elijah, who is now 15, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. And so that, that’s my connection essentially.
David Hirsch: And how did the diagnosis come about?
Shawn Francis: My wife… I’ll give a little bit about my family dynamic. My wife had her two daughters from her first marriage, her previous marriage when we met. And we had Elijah after we got married. And she noticed that there were little things that he wasn’t necessarily doing. I didn’t catch any of that. I don’t know if that’s from not having been a parent prior. And we went to the doctor. The doctor said some of the things that he’s doing or not doing are normal signs of autism or symptoms of autism, but some of those are also symptoms of a neurotypical child. So what we need to do is get him into early Intervention. And at that point they weren’t diagnosing prior to the age of three. And by the age of three, as Brian alluded to earlier, we always talk about what the day of diagnosis is like.
So we got him in early intervention. He was going through feeding therapy, ABA daily. At the age of three, we needed to call the doctor’s office and we called them to simply find out what the diagnosis was because they gave us a timeframe as to when they would have that. I’ll never forget, they didn’t reach out to us. I had to call them. And the girl that was on the phone said, yes, may I help you? Yes. I’m calling regarding my son, Elijah. Explained the situation and her response is, what’s his date of birth? Give her the date of birth. She says gimme just one moment. Okay, let me see here. Yes, he does have it. Yeah. He has autism. Yes.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Shawn Francis: What else can I do for you? And I always liken it to ordering a pizza. She says is that pepperoni? Yeah. Yeah, pepperoni. Okay. Yeah. What else do you want on it?
It wasn’t even just like righteous indignation. Oh my gosh, that’s so horrible. I feel so bad. And how could you…? And it took a while to sink in. My wife wasn’t at home at the time. She was at work and when she came home I told her, and we kind of dealt with it. And as she does, she just got right to work. She’s just such a doer and a blessing to me. She says here’s how we’re gonna fight it. Here’s what we find, here’s who we go to. And we’ve been able to build and be a part of a great village and community in the process.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. That sounds very wrong to learn just on a phone call with an administrative person that, yeah, that’s the diagnosis. It’s oh my gosh. And I’m wondering, beyond that conversation, not to focus on the negative, but what have been some of the biggest challenges raising a child with autism?
Shawn Francis: That’s not a… I don’t think you’re focusing on the negative, we’re just being realistic. Some of the biggest challenges have been for us personally, of late like Elijah’s sleep patterns. Those are one of those things that most people don’t understand. Boys produce less melatonin than girls. Aside from that, it is normal for one with autism to have a challenge in terms of falling asleep and an erratic sleep pattern altogether.
That’s been a bit of a challenge, although the manner in which he communicates may have limitations on it in terms of the sequence of his words and how he puts them together. But then at the same time, he’s very capable of telling you the most enlightened thing in the most proper of English language.
I think the biggest thing overall goes back to the work that Brian and I do, which is in the moments when you are there with your child and you know that he or she is benefiting from a moment that you are a part of, you stop to think, who’s going to love them the way that I do when I’m not here? Or in a moment where you’re challenged and you might lose your patience, or you feel like I need a breather myself, give me a minute to gather my thoughts or something. Wait a minute, this is me losing patience. What happens with, again, someone else?
We’ve had issues probably maybe two or three…. It’s been some time, but we’ve had issues of elopement as well, which is another thing that is common with autism. Some families have had situations where a child will like full on wander, like very far from home. One of the first examples I ever had of that: I have a cousin whose son just turned 20. And years ago when he was two or three, we went to visit my cousin. He was at a hotel, and his son wanted to go out the door the whole time and try and open the door and I just thought it was so cute. And it wasn’t until Elijah was born a handful of years after that, I started realizing that’s actually part of it. And so we’ve had a couple issues like that. They’ve been far and few, but those have been some of the challenges primarily.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. It’s usually not one thing, but like you said, it’s a number of different things and the challenges are at different stages of life. Different when he was three to five versus five to 10, or now that he is a teenager. And you have to differentiate between the teenager and some of the challenges that go along with raising a teenager versus maybe what’s underlying, right? If it’s autism or something else. So thank you for sharing.
Have there been any supporting organizations that come to mind that have played a important role in your family’s life?
Shawn Francis: We’ve gotten some benefit from, I mentioned a local organization, which is the Childhood Development Institute, which is the first place where he received therapy. The medical staff at UCLA was very helpful in the very beginning also. And then just again, this is more of a sense of comradery, from Autism Speaks as well. But the biggest, again, the biggest sense of support has come from being able to interact with other families, which Autism Speaks plays a role in as well. CDI, the Child Development Institute, jumps out more than anything else because that’s where the first sessions took place and they were really great. A resource organization or community that I left out, and it can easily be taken for granted, is the Regional Centers here in Los Angeles. They’ve been a great source of support for us.
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: I’d like to talk about the Just Two Dads podcast. I’m very curious to know whose idea was it? How did the two of you guys come together?
Brian Altounian: I’m fairly new to the organization. I’ve been in about seven years and Shawn’s been there longer. And as I was developing, working with my team and talking about who we go and communicate with… Because the reality is we don’t want any family to be left behind in the conversation around improving your financial future.
So really, I found that it was effective if folks could look at a particular community that they’re a member of, that they want to actually take a role in, in driving the conversation around finances. But I’d love to recruit folks onto the team that have that benefit. As we were talking about this, my daughter Jordan — who did join our business by the way, who did actually go get a life insurance license in the state of California, which is amazing — she said dad, what’s my community like? What community would I…? She was much younger at the time, 20 years old or so.
That was when I said, oh my gosh, we should look at the special needs community. I don’t know if anybody’s doing financial services support for families in the special needs community. Why don’t we talk about that? And I knew that Shawn’s son Elijah was on the autism spectrum. So I said, hey, Shawn, we’re thinking about doing this. Have you thought about doing specific presentations for the special needs community? He said, I’ve been working on it for a while, and I’m almost done with developing the presentation and yes, let’s join forces and start talking to folks. We had to go through compliance, we had to go through all those, just jump through a bunch of hoops.
And so we started to do presentations around why it’s so important to be in a financial preparation mindset. And as Shawn mentioned earlier, what happens to my child after I pass away? Who takes care of my child? What are things like special needs trusts and other things that are so important? And so we started to do presentations for folks in the special needs community, and we kept encountering people who serviced the special needs community in some other capacity, and we were being seen as a resource for their clientele and for the folks that they knew in their communities.
And so we were doing presentations and we were invited to sit on a podcast very similar to this. We appeared as a guest on the podcast. And that podcast never aired. The interview never aired. The podcast itself never was launched. And so Shawn and I looked at each other and were like, we’re so good working off each other on the financial base. Why don’t we just do our own podcast? And I think Shawn said yes, you gotta think about a name.
And I’m like, we were thinking about it. We’re like, who’s gonna listen to us? We’re just two dads [laughing] having a conversation. But Shawn and I would have daily conversations about the special needs community and we should do this and maybe we should think about this and let’s… how do we bring in estate planning attorneys that do special needs trusts, and how do we go out and reach these people and folks like Jessica and Chris Patay, and how do we get into those conversations?
And we were just having such great dialogue back and forth. We thought, why don’t we just do this together? We’re just going to be just two dads. And we’re, David, your podcast is so well structured and you’ve had such amazing guests. And Shawn and I really free form so well together. Let’s just have this conversation. Let’s see where it goes. Never really thinking that it was going to be what it has become. So we do it live because that’s how we live our lives. Open book, let’s just have the conversation. We do it live on Facebook, and then it’s recorded and put on our YouTube channel and now we’re on all podcast outlets. And because of Shawn’s origins in the US Virgin Islands, our show has aired the same day a few hours later on WSTX Radio down there for the US Virgin Islands community.
[Excerpt from a “Just Two Dads” podcast]
Brian: Hello everybody, this is Brian Altounian with my co-host and my partner Shawn Francis. This is another episode of “Just Two Dads”. I’m very excited to have today’s conversation. This is actually gonna be three dads, three dudes. Total full on dude conversation here. In fact, we’re so into the dude conversation our guest actually calls himself The Speech Dude. So we’re gonna have a great time today. Welcome to another episode of “Just Two Dads.”
[End of excerpt from a “Just Two Dads” podcast]
And we really have encountered such amazing people. And we realize that dads are often the second voice in the conversation around special needs. And we wanted to highlight those people that were doing great things. And so our goal is to put a spotlight on those people who were servicing the special needs community with the intent that we could build… I always put my fingers together like a web… that we could build a large resource pool of amazing folks. You asked the question, what support groups or what outside groups outside of education have you encountered? Today and over the last year and a half, we’ve done 75 or 76 episodes. We’ve encountered quite a few people who service this community, and they’re amazing people. Some who have taken their own experience as parents of special needs children and put that work out into the community. Some who come who don’t have a direct connection to special needs community who make a contribution.
And we’re just glad to be in this, in the space of creating an opportunity, again, a platform for those people to share what they do. Such amazing folks. And by the way, we talk a little bit about our financial work, but not really. We don’t really do that because it’s not really about us. Our podcast is really about those that are servicing the community.
Shawn Francis: I honestly don’t know when Brian and I started saying, let’s start a podcast. Because the gap between us recording the podcast as guests on that show with those gentlemen, we really literally made a joke when time kept going by and they just didn’t do anything. We were like, we should just do our own. Yeah. And that was an afterthought.
What took place next was we started having these conversations and we were like, you know what? A lot of the conversations that we have are around vulnerability as well, and we don’t think most men do that. So we should probably have some of those conversations on Facebook and do a Facebook Live.
And we started doing that. And the first couple ones were like, is, hey, [thump thump thump] Is this thing on? Is it on? [laughing] I think we’re on. It literally looked like that. It was as real as it gets. And what we realized over time and it continues to develop and grow is that special needs, just like financial services, just happens to be one vehicle by which all people get from point A to point B and build a bridge between the life they have and the one that they want. So too is special needs just another path to encourage men to be vulnerable and understand that strong tear ducks are as important as strong biceps.
I posted earlier an image from social media, from yesterday’s game in the NFL. The NFC Championship game where Odell Beckham Jr., the wide receiver of the Los Angeles Rams, is comforting and consoling Deebo Samuel, who’s a running back for the San Francisco 49ers, as he’s crying at the fact that their team has lost. And that’s what everything is about. First of all, being vulnerable enough to admit where you hurt, and then being man enough to go there and accept somebody else’s tears and an expression of love.
I don’t know. Hopefully that all makes sense. You’re either impressed by the dots that are connected or trying to figure out what GPS did he use to take that journey? [laughing] I don’t know which one, but Brian will tell you that’s a very common reaction to anything I have to say.
David Hirsch: If I can paraphrase. It started out with the idea of serving families, raising children with special needs from a financial service standpoint. You did an interview for somebody else’s podcast, and it was just an idea. It never came to fruition. And then you started doing some Facebook Live type of conversations and then it morphed from just doing Facebook Live type of conversations to actually saying, hey, let’s formalize this and start bringing other voices in, not just the two of us talking, but other voices in, who are experts or who have some insights to share that might be broadly applicable to other families, right? And you’ve developed a following and some regularity, which is really important, right? When you have a podcast and you have followers that, if you tell them, I’m gonna do this monthly, or biweekly, or weekly or daily, you better be able to deliver, right?
Because you’ve created an expectation, and I think that’s part of being relevant too, right? As a business person or a parent for that matter, right? We are all responsible for creating and maintaining, managing people’s expectations. And I think that’s what I realize that you guys have done so effectively which is, you’ve approached this just from the perspective of just two dads who have a very sincere interest in not only being the best dads you can be, but helping other men be the best dads they can be as well. And you’ve done this leveraging what you know, which is the world of financial services, and like you said, bridging that gap, right, between the place you are today and the place you want to be which is consistent with your way of thinking about things, Shawn, which is helping enable people to reach their dreams. The podcast though. Does one of you play one role and the other plays another role, like good cop/bad cop, or one of you is like the investigator and the other one is the sort of complimentary, you know what I’m saying?
Shawn Francis: The closest we get to that [laughing] is when… Brian says, oh, it’s live and it’s free wheeling and everything, that couldn’t be more of an accurate description. The only thing that’s kinda set up is that Brian does the intro, acknowledges me, and I introduce and welcome the guest and we jump right into it. And he’s got a opening to the closing towards the end. Then I close out and then we leave. Everything else there in between is…
Brian Altounian: But it’s actually, it’s turned out to be more consistent and more uniform. Where as Shawn will ask a question, like an origin question, like “Tell us a little bit about yourself .”And David, just to understand, our podcast is about having a conversation with the people who are doing great work, right? You have somebody who’s a coach, for example, a life coach for families with special needs children. And so we can get into that business and understand that. First we wanna know about the person. Tell us about your background and where you got started and how your introduction occurred for your participation in the special needs community. Let’s talk about you and your upbringing and how did that influence the decisions that you make in your life? And then how did you get into the work that you do and how do people get ahold of you? That type of thing. But we wanna know what, because again, we’re just two dads. And yes, our platform has, we started in the financial services arena and that’s what we do for a living. But knowing who we are as people and how we got here is almost more important. So that when people have a chance to interact with us at some point on a professional level, at least they have an understanding of who we are. So Shawn always asks, we ask an origin question, how’d you get here? How did you get to where you are now? And what is it you do? And it does go back and forth. We talk over each other all the time. We always wanna get a question in, and usually, one of us leads the que… We love each other so much, we have such great admiration, respect and love for each other that we just wanna add something of value to the folks who are listening or watching and sometimes we make fun of each other.
Shawn and I are not short for words unless we have technology issues. That’s the only time that can really guarantee to stop our conversation flow is if we have technology issues. But other than that…
Shawn Francis: That’s right.
Brian Altounian: …it’s just really great conversations. And again, we know each other so well that sometimes we finish each other’s thoughts. It’s usually a good, organic conversation that feels very natural. I will say this, David. The hour flies when we have these conversations. It’s amazing how quickly it goes by when people are just engaged in the story. And we are listening as well, as much as our listeners are listening. So we are listening from the perspective of I wanna hear something new that’s engaging, that keeps me hooked.
The other thing I will say is this, and sorry I keep rambling on here, this is our nature. But because we do it live we’ll have people make comments and we’ll do it on Facebook Live. And so we still do it on Facebook Live and people put comments into the comment section and then we’ll often put it up on the screen or we’ll ask the question and we get an engaged conversation with the audience. This is not huge, but it’s enough that it keeps it fresh and asks the questions or we post comments that people are making so we know that we’re having an impact by those comments and those questions. And it’s fun. We have a great time.
And I will say this, as much as we are focused on the work that we do as financial advisors or financial consultants or dream stewards, that’s the work that we do. What we do in Just Two Dads, it’s our personal crusade. It’s the thing that makes everything else worthwhile. It’s the activity that makes the financial side of it have some humanity and some real purpose. And Shawn and I are committed to this. We’re known in our organization with over 50,000 licensed agents as the guys that lead the charge in the special needs community. And that’s something that we’re more proud of, I think, than almost anything else that we do.
David Hirsch: Yeah. What I love about what I’m hearing is that you bring this certain amount of energy and enlightenment and purpose to what it is that you’re doing. And I can’t help but to think that it must be at some level, therapeutic for one or both of you.
Brian Altounian: For both of us.
Shawn Francis: At every level. Every level. [laughing]
Brian Altounian: We cry. We cry openly and occasionally, David, it’s very therapeutic. There have been moments where both of us have been caught with our hearts in our throats. It is very therapeutic and more importantly, I think it makes us have… Our faith in humanity is restored on a regular basis because the work that people are doing out there and the service of others is so significant, that alone is therapy. That alone is so meaningful. So thank you for acknowledging that. That definitely is a thing for us.
David Hirsch: So one of the questions I have, and you can decide who wants to go first, is why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Shawn Francis: It’s really simple because you’re an extension of what we are doing and hope to do. Why would you not? Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth, in the words of the great Muhammad Ali. And so why would you not do that?
Brian Altounian: Of all the basic human needs, being of significance or more importantly being — and they’re not more important, they’re equal — but being of contribution, it definitely is one of those things that we know is as vital to the work that we do here as anything else. And so being able to contribute and share. Because every time you go through an experience, it may be the first time for you, but if you’re guided by somebody who’s been through it before, man, it sure makes that experience much more significant and worthwhile and you feel like you’re not alone and you feel like you can learn. And it’s all about evolution and change. This world’s all about evolution and change and how do we evolve? We’re not constantly learning and that’s our goal. So to be part of a mentor network is just, is part of our participation in that guidance and in giving back.
David Hirsch: Yeah. We’re thrilled to have you. Thank you for both being involved.
Shawn Francis: I was just gonna say, perspective is everything because if your child has a diagnosis of a condition that is developmental delay… If you are diagnosed with a catastrophic disease… No matter what you’re going through or whatever’s thrown upon you, it doesn’t matter how many other people are going through it. You can know at your core that millions of other people have gone through the same thing because you’ve heard of it. But when it’s happening to you, you still, no matter how many other people are going through it, have moments where your thought is, nobody knows what this is, and is nobody going through this but me? And maybe even, why me? And to be reminded that you’re not alone is one of the most precious places that you can be other than being in somebody’s prayers. And actually, I look at that as being… That’s a way of being in somebody’s prayers. Just that somebody’s reminding you that you’re not alone.
They don’t have to necessarily give you the answer, but I always say one of the best places you could ever be is in someone’s prayers. And you can be there by not knowing simply because they pray for you in a traditional sense, but you can be there by them simply reminding you that whatever it is that you’re going through, you are not alone.
David Hirsch: Yeah, I love it. Thank you for adding that. So is there anything else you could say before we wrap?
Shawn Francis: No, just that I’m just so thankful and blessed to live in the time that we do and be able to build relationships with people like yourself and help as many people as we possibly can and encourage them to do the same thing and help other people. And everybody has their own way and wish they can contribute. And the best thing that we can do as citizens of the planet is teach as many people to fish as possible.
David Hirsch: Excellent.
Brian Altounian: Yep, that’s well said. I can’t add anything to that. [laughing]
David Hirsch: Let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, Susannah Peace Lavelle, for making the introduction.
Brian Altounian: Absolutely. She’s fantastic.
Shawn Francis: Oh, yes.
Brian Altounian: By the way, she’s who I was referring to as coach for special needs families, and she’s a huge friend and supporter of our podcast. And she’s participated several times with us and yeah, we’re grateful for that friendship and this connection yeah, for sure.
David Hirsch: Yeah, she’s a dynamo. I love her energy. So if somebody wants to learn about the Just Two Dads podcast or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Shawn Francis: The best way to contact us would be at our email address, which is WeAreJustTwoDads@gmail.com. Our YouTube channel is Just Two Dads. And you can find the podcast on virtually every platform where you find podcasts as well. And we’ve been saying this for a long time, but we really are on the final stretch. Our website is under construction and when it is completed, what we’re gonna do is have a virtual resource center essentially, including people that have been on the show and people just in general that provide any and every service that help the community and have them listed there.
And so if you know of anyone that is making a contribution that has overcome a challenge of any kind, we’d love to be able to connect with those people and shine a light on them.
David Hirsch: Excellent. We’ll be sure to include that in the notes to the show. Brian and Shawn, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Brian and Shawn are just two dads who are 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 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 501c3 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. Brian and Shawn, thanks again.
Brian Altounian: Thank you, David.
Shawn Francis: Thank you.
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@21stCenturyDads.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.