237 – Matt Bando of Downers Grove, IL is a Father of Son Who is a Spastic Quadriplegic With Cerebral Palsy
Our guest this week is Matt Bando, owner of Prodigy Printing and Promotions in Downers Grove, IL.
Matt and his wife, Saba, have been married for 27 years and are the proud parents of Zain (23) who is a spastic quadriplegic with Cerebral Palsy.
Zain is a graduate of University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and is masters degree student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and has participated in the Diveheart.org adaptive scuba diving program.
Matt is also part of the SFN Mastermind Group that meets weekly on Tuesday nights.
We’ll hear Matt’s story and more on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
WGN TV Video (2.24.18) – https://www.zainbando.org/testimonials/
Email – email@example.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/matt-bando-9922499/
Diveheart – https://www.diveheart.org
Phone – (630) 362-1151
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.
Matt Bando: But I remember the first time Zain went water skiing and he went snow skiing. I’m like, what? I’m like, no, he, you’re nobody. You just watch ’em. I was on the pier, and they put him in the, they custom make this stuff and you’re like, all right, okay. You guys got it. Off they go. It’s amazing. I’m getting a little anxiety to like, get Zain in the van to go down to a Bears game, to get through a crowd, to maybe go to a bathroom that we might be able to fit into. You’re gonna tell me we’re gonna go water skiing or snow skiing or scuba diving? Time out.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Matt Bando, owner of Prodigy Printing and Promotions in Downers Grove, Illinois. Matt is the father of Zain who is 23, has cerebral palsy and is a master student at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. We’ll hear Matt and Zain’s story and more on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Here now is 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: Now let’s listen in to this conversation between Matt Bando and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Matt Bando of Downers Grove Illinois, owner of Prodigy Printing and Promotions, and father of a son with cerebral palsy, who is a first year master’s degree student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Matt, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Matt Bando: Thanks, Dave.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Saba have been married for 27 years and are the proud parents of Zain 23 who has cerebral palsy. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Matt Bando: I grew up in Glen Ellyn, which is one town over from Downers Grove. My parents were high school sweethearts and they were from Michigan. My dad went to Michigan State. My mom went to Albion and after they got done with school, my dad was working for an irrigation supplier that wanted to start an office in Chicago. And so they came out to the suburbs to find a house. And as they were going down North Avenue to St. Charles, my mom thought the name Glen Ellyn sounded cute. So as they came back, they found a house in Glen Ellyn, but they ended up settling on a house that they rented, and then I think maybe a year or two later, they bought a house one block over and one block down. My mom passed away in 2013, but my dad still lives in the house, so they’ve been there since ’62. The house I grew up in.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. And my recollection was that you had an older sister when you were growing up.
Matt Bando: Yeah, I have a sister that’s four years older than I. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Excellent. You mentioned your dad’s still alive and he was in the irrigation business, from what I remember.
Matt Bando: Yes.
David Hirsch: And I’m wondering how would you characterize your relationship with your dad?
Matt Bando: It was good. When I was younger it was really good. I think as I got a little older, it just got a little different, a little more demanding. The neat thing about my parents was they kept in contact with a lot of their friends from high school and their fraternities and stuff, and so I got to know a lot of their friends and there was a lot of sports and dinners around the dinner table. And my dad would go up to the North Shore to play softball with a bunch of the guys from his fraternity. He was an ATO. My dad was a big sports guy. He played baseball at Michigan State. He played football. So my relationship, my dad was, pretty, he wasn’t a disciplined type person, but he was strict about getting up every morning and working hard.
But one of the things I really liked was when I was younger, he would find like a bike in the garbage and bring it home and then fix it up. I thought that was like the coolest thing when I was like five or six and he would spray paint it. And I just, and back then we didn’t really have a ton of money. There’s a lot of hand me downs, a lot of hand me down ski equipment. We did a lot of skiing when I was growing up. That was something that we did.
But yeah, my relationship with my mom and dad was good. My mom was a really sweet woman, very open, loved all types of people, race, religion. She did not care. She was amazing, loved nature, outdoors. She was innocent to a fault because she was just, she just saw the world through a lens of no wrong. But if you got on her bad side, if you crossed the line with Sally Bando, you were, you’re gonna be in trouble. But they were good. They were good. My parents were good people.
David Hirsch: Excellent. If I can summarize some of the highlights of what you just mentioned, your dad was very active. He has a great work ethic.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And he is handy.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So those are some important attributes to try to pass along or observe.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And I’m wondering if there’s any other takeaways when you think about your dad, something perhaps you’ve tried to incorporate into your own fathering?
Matt Bando: He was not controversial. He wasn’t super opinionated. He didn’t push anything on me. But the work thing. Especially when I was in getting out in high school and college, I had my own business that I started, had a seal coating business and he was not gonna let me sleep in, especially when I didn’t have a full book of work. But when I made money, I made a lot of it. So I didn’t have to have 25 seal coating jobs a day. But if he caught me sleeping in past seven or eight, I can just hear his voice now at the top of the stairs just screaming at me to get out of bed. And he didn’t care if I had nothing to do, just wanted me out bed.
David Hirsch: So what I think I heard you say was he was an early riser type of person too.
Matt Bando: Yeah. Yeah. I guess. He sure did like his Stroh’s beer though, at the end of the day. And his sports he’d like to watch. He had one foot in the, he had one foot in the cave still. You know that generation, those guys were cut from a different cloth.
David Hirsch: Let’s talk about special needs. So what is Zain’s diagnosis and how did it come about?
Matt Bando: He is a spastic quad, so cerebral palsy. Saba gave birth at 25 weeks, so Zain was one pound, 12 ounces. He was definitely by definition a premature baby. Saba had been in the hospital to have a cyst removed. That turned into some discomfort, back pain, and premature labor.
At the time, she was at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, where I was born, where Zain would’ve been born. For a couple days, they were struggling trying to keep her from giving birth. And then all of a sudden, one morning, it was a Tuesday. September 20th, 1999. It came on so quick, Dave, that she had to be airlifted via helicopter.
I couldn’t go on the helicopter, so she was flown to Lutheran General in Park Ridge. They have a level three. I drove up there and the minute I got there, one of the doctors said we are performing a C-section in about 20 minutes. I’m like, okay.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Matt Bando: Yeah. So I was in the room. They performed the C-section. At one point I was gonna get up to look. They had like a cloth covering it. And I don’t think, I’ve only told this once or twice, so I get up to kind of look over to see my son coming out. And all I feel is this hand on my shoulder. And then I look up and the person goes, you don’t wanna look. And I’m like, okay. I did see him and I didn’t know he was only a pound. He looked huge. Like he looked gargantuan and I had no idea what was going on. Literally. [laughing] So he’s fine that we know of. And then I go in and see Saba in the recovery room, and then I don’t know exactly what happened within the next day or so, but all I know is that we moved out of our house. We were renting an apartment. Next day, had a special apartment next to the hospital.
And he was in a little bed that was a little, it was a water bed. His pinky was thinner about as thin as a paperclip, a big paperclip. That’s how small he was. And you could almost see through him like you could see his veins and he had all these wires all over him, and he was just so tiny. He was there like about two and a half months.
He came home December 6th a little earlier than we thought. He came home at three pounds. Here’s a funny thing. When he was born at one pound, 12 ounces, there was a baby next to him that was three pound and it’s three pounds, and that baby looked gargantuan. And so when Saba held him for the first time, she said it felt like she was holding a bird. And I didn’t hold him for a little bit longer. I remember the first time I held him I’m like, I can’t do this cuz I thought I was going to hurt him. And it was like nothing.
So anyways, he was there at the hospital for six weeks. The nurses were amazing. Those women were, it was like they were almost better than the doctors. They knew everything. He did have one episode where with the premature babies, if they get an infection, it goes really quick and they can die really fast. You’re not talking like a day or two, you’re talking a couple hours.
So he had at one point, he had an infection. And usually what they do is they go right to a spinal tap. I remember Saba telling me like, I think he’s on board to have a spinal tap. And then all of a sudden miraculously it changed, he got better. So, there was a lot that was going on, but that was one of the bigger scares before we brought him home.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. If I can paraphrase what you’ve said, he was in the PICU…
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: …for two and a half months. And when you brought him home, he was still super small.
Matt Bando: Yeah. Yeah.
David Hirsch: And I can only imagine how fragile he was or how fragile he felt. Even though he had grown a lot he was still coming home in advance of his due date, like a month or so in advance of his due date. What a precarious start.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And I’m wondering how did things transpire once he got home? When was this diagnosis, the spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy diagnosis, made?
Matt Bando: At the time we were living in Wheaton and everything was fine. There was a lot of feeding issues. There was a lot of him throwing up. He has a lot of reflux in his throat and stuff. I can remember having him stand and I’d hold him and he, his legs would be on my thighs and he was very… Again, I never had a child before, so he felt like strong and very rigidy, but not knowing that he had CP at the time.
But Saba noticed that he wasn’t rolling over and stuff, so she was in tune to that. And then in June of that year, so he came home in December, we bought a house in Downers Grove. So once we got to Downers Grove, then she took him to this specialist down in the city, female doctor. She gave the diagnosis that he had cerebral palsy.
I’ve probably heard these stories a million times. The doctor’s they’ll never do this and they’ll never do that. And she was an expert, but Saba was not impressed with her and I’m not gonna say her name, but she was again just cold and he’ll never do that. And Saba being who she is… And this story goes across the board, especially with women cuz they’re so amazing when it comes to this. So she’s I’m outta here. I’m not gonna hear this crap. So she brought home Zain and she said he’s got cerebral. And still, I had no idea like what that entailed so…
David Hirsch: Well, once you come up to speed on what that is, you realize that it’s a very wide range…
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: …of different things. It’s almost there’s a spectrum of people that have CP. Some are able to do things and others are not physically. Because it’s mostly a physical diagnosis, isn’t it? Occasionally it has something to do with somebody’s intellectual ability. But my understanding, and if you’re a spastic quadriplegic, that means you don’t have full control of either your arms or your legs, but you do have some control, but not maybe consistent control where you’re able to do things. And I can only imagine that there must have been a lot of occupational and physical therapy from the get-go. And I’m wondering what were some of the challenges that you and Saba faced once the diagnosis was made?
Matt Bando: It wasn’t… Saba and I didn’t have a crying moment or anything like that. We didn’t have, oh, us. Or why is this happening? Because life pulls you in a direction that you gotta keep on moving, right? You gotta get up in the morning, put your feet down on the floor and go brush your teeth and go at it.
One of the things that Saba found was the Institute for Achievement of Human Potential, which is in Philadelphia. The guy that started it, his name is Glenn Doman. By the time Zain was, man, he might have been like a year or two. He was pretty young. We did the program. Saba went out and learned the program, and the only way they would allow us to do the program was if I went out and did it and learned the process. And the concept, Dave, is called the pattern therapy, where they believe that if a child is not crawling, they believe the most development a child can get is crawling on all fours to build up the pons, which is obviously the lowest part of your brain.
So with a kid with having some physical limitations like Zain, or any kid for that matter, they’re not getting like that exercise to stimulate the brain. You might know this stuff. So we’d have people come in the house and he would sit. We built a table that was about waist high and we did a thing where we were motioning and grabbing his legs and doing a movement and moving his arms and legs.
That was one thing that you did four or five times a day. We did a diet. We wrote and made huge books. So we taught him how to read. We did a thing, they did a thing called masking where they, you put a mask over your mouth and you would hyperventilate into it, and they believed that would help with lung capacity and then getting more oxygen to the brain.
Some really crazy stuff. And there was stuff where I was holding him by his ankles and swinging them through the air. They believed that motion helped with the brain. So we turned our whole house into this. We wrote books. And since he could only crawl, he would crawl to a book and read.
And then you start off with huge pages with big letters. And then he would crawl. And then after a while he’d go, he would say, book, a book. And he wanted to go to the next book. So then I would take another book and put it down the hallway. And so we did this for a year, and I think the only reason Zain’s brain is like his capacity for remembering things is like off the track.
So I think this just totally opened a whole thing. And we did it for a year, and I’ve repeated that a couple times, and then we got burned out. It was, they wanted you to do it seven days a week, eight hours a day. And we would go back for checkups. And this guy, Glenn, was like the nicest, he was really nice and at the time. He has passed away. He was pretty old at that time. Because he found this in 1955, but he had made enough money. They had a whole, they had an auditorium and a building and a complex and everything. And he discovered too, I’m getting off track though, that people that would come with their healthy children were doing the same things as if they had younger kids and they were finding out they could do the human potential. Healthy kids and they were throwing, they made a whole nother school for that. And they, these kids were like, just their brains were exploding because the stimulation, it did help it. It had to help somewhere. He was no dummy, this guy Glenn Doman.
David Hirsch: Thank you for sharing. If I can paraphrase what you’ve said, the Institute for Achievement for Human Potential was pivotal in Zain’s development and, it was, sounds like a very hands-on, literally hands-on experience. And if I remember what you said, you couldn’t go there as a single parent. If there was another parent, you both had to make a commitment. Because they only wanted to make sure that the parents who were both committed to the welfare of their child were involved. It wasn’t just the mom’s purview. That’s how I interpreted what you said.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And not to focus on the negative but what have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced as a family during the last 20 something years now?
Matt Bando: From small to big, a bathroom. Going to a bathroom , that’s a challenge. Zain likes sporting events, so going through crowds gives me, it can be a little bit of a challenge. Being involved at school. Sometimes that was a tricky dynamic, trying to coordinate maybe where we’re gonna get from point A to point B. Seemed to like always make it work, make it, find a solution.
I think you know what, Zain wasn’t in a wheelchair until he was about five or six, and Zain could drive his chair really well. He always has. And that was really a big change in our lives because the independence, it became even more. We could go and do things and he could be on his own.
The challenges of, I would have to say just being included. Just being accepted for who you are. So there were some challenges around that with the school system a little bit. Like we didn’t really have any, anything super crazy. I think the most, the biggest challenge we had was Zain was down at University of Illinois during the pandemic and them closing down his program, his dorm. That was a big challenge.
One of the things I’ve had challenges with, and this is just me, is people parking in the spot that’s for people that need that spot. That’s been a challenge. I’ve had some very interesting interactions with people and I’ve had some really great ones and I’ve had some people that said, mind your own business and I’m not doing anything wrong here. That will get me. I’ve gotten pretty upset about that a couple times.
David Hirsch: You’ve touched a little bit of a hot button of mine. And I don’t wanna sound disrespectful, but my dad was one of those guys who got one of those placards for his car.
Matt Bando: Yep.
David Hirsch: He did not have any physical issues, but he felt entitled to be able to park like in a special place. And it made an impression on me at a very young age that I can’t say is a positive impression. And I’ve decided for good or bad, based on that experience, that even if I’m handicapped later in life, I’m not getting a placard and I’m gonna park farther away and just be a good role model, right?
Matt Bando: Yes.
David Hirsch: …for people. I’m not trying to rub it in their face or anything. But I heard this energy in your voice which maybe you come out of your character, right? When somebody crosses that line. And I’ve had a different, but a similar reaction to that same issue about, people think that they’re entitled or that they’re somehow going to say who’s to say if I’m actually handicapped. And it strikes a chord with me. I’m just saying that.
Matt Bando: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that, Dave, because I get this a lot. It’s I’m only gonna be here for a minute or two. One particular incident, the husband and wife turned around like I was crazy for calling them out. Like, how dare you. But what I’ll usually do to somebody is I’ll go, if I get ’em and I can get in their face, I’ll go, do you know who Steve Jobs is? And they’ll be like, yeah. I go, yeah, he was the founder of Apple. And they’re like, yeah. I go, he parked in the handicap spot. He would do that when he would go to work. And they look at me puzzled and I go, he died of cancer. [laughjng] So then I just walk away. And so I’ve done that. And then, so anyways so when I don’t have Zain and I’m in the van, I do not park in that spot. And I’m a big believer just because you have somebody in the car… I don’t do this, too. When Zain’s in the car with me and I need to run in, I don’t park in that spot. So I’ve seen people do that. They’re like my mom or dad, I’m like, and I don’t even bother cuz I don’t want get it, I don’t wanna get in an argument. But yeah.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I can relate. I’m curious to know what impact Zain’s circumstances had on your marriage or your extended family for that matter?
Matt Bando: I really just think I was fortunate and blessed to be married to Saba because when it comes to the medical and a lot of the stuff, she really handles this. She’s amazing. I got in the right foxhole with the right woman for sure. [laughing] The success for Zain is based on a lot of the stuff that she’s done and championed for. She’s definitely a fighter. The challenge is, there’s a little bit of isolation and stuff. There’s, there are some things that we have to say no to, but we’ve paved our own way to enjoy what we can and what we have with Zain.
He does make it easy because he is in a good mood a lot of the time. He’s a funny guy, man. And when he sees Saba and I bicker a little bit, he’s come on guys, he’ll say some stuff like that or he’ll go, you guys are the weirdest humans I ever, he was like, he calls us humans. He’s you humans are weird. I really, I just really think I’ve been blessed with Zain. I’ve really been blessed with Saba. It’s made life enjoyable. And yeah.
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’m wondering what organizations have played an instrumental role in your family’s life or in Zain’s life for that matter?
Matt Bando: Up until about a year, two couple years now, we did Easter Seals over in Villa Park. Did that for many years. And Zain connected with a therapist over there. His name’s Jim Alvetti, who lives in Park Ridge. Zain and he hit it off. Jim just retired. One of the reasons they hit it off, his son played football at Northwestern. And they really hit it off cuz of sports. Another person over there, Emily, he really liked her too, but Jim was really neat and so we did Easter Seals. We did hook up with Jim Elliot with Diveheart and that’s how you and I met. He went down to the Keys and did a couple days down there.
David Hirsch: So for our listeners who aren’t familiar with Diveheart, what is that?
Matt Bando: Diveheart was founded by Jim Elliot to get people with special needs, people with brain injuries, physical limitations to get them into the water scuba diving. And he found in so many words, a euphoria for people like Zain. It gives their body a feel of the weightlessness. Just feel free. A big impact. They take to the water, like fish, I should say, just like a euphoria that makes them feel really good, really independent. They feel confident and I’ve heard Jim tell stories of people that were just on their down and out and they got into the water and it just changed their life. I know that you’re involved in it and know all about it, but for the people that are listening, it’s a really great way to add another activity that’s just above and beyond probably any that they could do. Zain got involved in that. He got involved with that because of a lady in the neighborhood that we used to live knew Jim because she wrote an article about him and then put two and two together.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing. I learned about Diveheart through Rotary. Jim’s a big Rotarian, has been for decades. I was really taken by a presentation that he made and so much so that I wanted to learn more about it. And one of my daughters and I, our family loves scuba diving. We went through the Diveheart Buddy training program down in Cozumel probably a handful of years ago now. And it was a transformative experience. We’re able-bodied, we enjoy scuba diving. It’s like second nature to us. But just the idea that somebody who’s a paraplegic, a quadriplegic, somebody who’s blind or missing a limb or limbs, can go scuba diving, it seems like just so out of bounds. That somebody like Zain, with all due respect, a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy is scuba diving? How could that not transform your life and your self image?
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: I know you talked about the confidence that you get from being able to do something like that. And then the big question in my mind, because you talked about Zain’s experience doing this, are you and Saba scuba divers? Have you gotten certified yourselves?
Matt Bando: No. [laughing] In fact, Saba does not really enjoy the water. I love the water. First house we lived at, we lived in this neighborhood, it was called Orchard Brook, that had a pool, a community, a pool in this neighborhood. So Zain started, I started getting Zain in the water when he was two and three, and he loved the water before he started scuba diving. But once he did scuba diving, he loved it. And Dave, you made me think of something and it’s wait a minute, you’re gonna. It seems like a lot of moving parts to go to the pool or the quarry or the ocean. And it goes to the same cuz guys like Jim they know what they’re doing.
But I remember the first time Zan went water skiing and he went snow skiing. I’m like, what? I’m like, no, he, you just show up and you just, you’re nobody. You just watch ’em. And I was on the pier, and they put ’em in the, they custom make this stuff and you’re like, all right, okay, you guys got it. Off they go. It’s amazing. I’m getting a little anxiety to get Zain in the van to go down to a Bears game, to get through a crowd, to maybe go to a bathroom that we might be able to fit into. You’re gonna tell me we’re gonna go water skiing or snow skiing or scuba diving? Time out.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I love the way you’ve described the experience. And part of it, when your child’s super young and you’ve had all these challenges, you can’t imagine that they’re gonna be able to do things…
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: …that typical people are able to do and you just, like you said earlier, you find a way to connect the dots and to try to do things that you know you want to do or you want to try.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And if you don’t try, you’ll never know. And I think that’s a really important message that we need to communicate to parents with typical or atypical kids for that matter. That if you don’t try, you’ll never know. And don’t put any cap or limitations on what your son or daughter is able to do. It’s incumbent upon us as parents to try to embrace that and try to help them figure out how to live life to the fullest. So thanks for sharing.
Matt Bando: Yeah. Until you’re in that world, you will not know, and there is a world that allows everybody to be able to do something. Yeah. It’s pretty incredible.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about advice now and I’m wondering if there’s any specific advice that you’d like to share with the dad who might be closer to the beginning of his journey, who has a child, young boy or young girl with some type of diagnosis?
Matt Bando: Yeah, that’s a great question, Dave. I think when Zain was young, I had a playtime with him. I think some of my best memories were taking him to the pool and then I put him in. It wasn’t very big, but there was like a floaty device. His legs went through it and it was like a, like an inner tube type thing. And if my wife knew what I was doing with him at the pool every day, she’d probably kill me. But I put him in the deep end and I had him hold onto the railing that came out of the pool and I would go dive off the diving board over and over and he would laugh hysterically and I’d, he’d get wet and I’d do that over and over. And then we’d take a little break and then that was, we’d put some towels out and then that he would read a little bit and then I would do that again. And then we’d go home and have lunch, take a nap, and we’d go back to the pool. And we did this for quite a few years.
And there was one summer that, it was like early June, and we were coming down the hallway from the garage and Saba looked at us and she goes, that’s it. And I go, what do you mean, that’s it? What? What are you talking about? We were so tanned, we were so dark. She’s you guys are done. Because we go to the pool before, like we get there, no one was there until noon. We get there at 10. And there would be no one there till about noon. And so one summer we got really tan.
But one of the things I did with him a lot was we had a lower level walkout basement. It was like open circuit, so I took ’em in the basement and we had carpeting and some of the funnest stuff is I was doing some more of the institute stuff where he was crawling down a ramp and stuff. So I was integrating our program. But at the same time, I was playing music for him, so I was playing all the disco music. I was playing Led Zeppelin and Boston. And so I was brainwashing him with music and giggling, and then I would run the vacuum cleaner, and then I bought a really cool race car track. And so some of the just spending time with him and trying to figure out different things that stimulated him. And again, he was just a little guy. He was like, 2, 3, 4, 5, crawling around. We bought him a bike. I was fortunate enough to take him in the pool. The pool was a huge thing in the summer. And I love the water. I love getting out in the sun. So that was a great excuse.
So between and at the time at this house between doing some basement stuff, I called it, I don’t even know if I had a name for it, but he knew when we were going in the basement, it was dad and him on. We’re just gonna, it was gonna be just short of having a couple cocktails, it was gonna be just full just chaos.
Another thing that I was doing with him, he had a low bed in his bedroom that we would fight. And he liked being roughed up. And so I had two types of fights. I had a street fight, so street fight meant that it was maybe a little bit dirty. And then I had a back alley fight, maybe like a knife would come out. So we were like jarring and punching and rolling around with him. And that was some fun stuff that kind of, I don’t know. He brings it up once in a while, but that transitioned into him watching the UFC. He started watching the UFC ultimate fighting when he was six, and that has morphed into a total bonding experience from the time he was six till now. He talks about the UFC every single day. In fact, there’s times where I have to tell him to just stop. [laughing] But we’ve probably watched… Fighting was in his… And I don’t know, I’m not saying that me wrestling and beating him up when he was three or four in his bedroom, cuz that was our mat, that was our, like our ring that he liked conflict and he understands the ultimate challenge is two men fighting.
So we’ve watched over 3000, maybe 4,000 fights on TV. We’ve been to the UFC about 10 times. And my advice to any parent would be try to explore and find something that you connect with your child, even though if it’s just you and him, it doesn’t have to be your other child or your wife or your husband.
I’m fortunate cuz Zain has got a good heart and he’s funny and he’s got a lot of energy and we just connected as just a boy and his dad. It just didn’t involve a bat and a ball or him catching a football. It just, we just it just morphed into something different. But he’s, it’s funny cuz Zain has brought it up to me as dad, would, if I was a running back, would you be hard on me if I didn’t have a good game? He brings it up to me. I don’t have those thoughts. I just go, look, he does this, he likes that. He loves food, he likes to eat, like he likes to go out for pizza. So that’s a passion he has. So my only advice is you’ve gotta throw some stuff up on the wall and see what happens and just keep trying and just love him as much as you can, man. Just, as much kisses and hugs and, just being around him.
David Hirsch: What I think I heard you say was that you want to err on the side of engagement, whatever that level of engagement is.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Try to connect to their level, what their interests are. And it’s easier said than done, but it sounds like it’s worked out really well…
Matt Bando: Yes.
David Hirsch: …for Zain as well as the two of you.
Matt Bando: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Also, I’m wondering why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Matt Bando: The funny thing is the world is a crazy place, right? I’m just standing in line, I meet you. We start talking, you talk to Zain and then you reach out by text and then I learn about what you’re doing and I’m like, this is really neat. And you’re an incredible person. I don’t know you that well, Dave, but like what you’ve done here is just amazing. This is top level. This is great stuff that you’ve done. It’s great, I’m honored to be here, and I, like I told you before that I listened to some podcasts.
There’s some people who have done some way, like insane great things. I’m just focusing in on Zain. But if it could help somebody just a little bit, just a little bit to get through something, because it’s, it can be tough, man. It can be sad and some people have it really hard. Some have it easier. There’s a whole spectrum, right? The challenges you just have every day, let alone with a child that you love and stuff that can be tough. But if I go back to the Cheetah effect, if you could just grab a little bit of knowledge from every little person along the way, it will just make you that much of a better person and it will make your day maybe easier. Cuz I’m not the smartest guy in the room. I just try to hopefully pay attention and learn. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah. We’re thrilled to have you. Thank you for being part of the network and…
Matt Bando: Thanks.
David Hirsch: …while you might compare yourself to other people, that’s not the point. The impact that you’ve had on your son, you and Saba have had on your son, and then the impact that he’ll have on others already has had on others as being a role model has transformed people’s lives. And I think that there’s a lot of gratification from that, right? By just being the person you are and being authentic and being open and sharing, like you have today, what your experience has been about.
So let’s give a special shout out to Tina Marie Hernandez and Jim Elliot at Diveheart.org for helping connect us.
Matt Bando: Yeah, that was a special evening. That was amazing.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about your situation or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Matt Bando: You could send me an email. My email is MattBando@comcast.net, and my cell phone number is (630) 362-1151, and I’m open to talk to anybody at any time of the day.
David Hirsch: That’s very generous of you. We’ll make sure to include that in the show notes so it’ll make it as easy as possible for somebody to follow up.
Matt Bando: Sure.
David Hirsch: Matt, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Matt’s 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 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. Matt, thanks again.
Matt Bando: Thanks Dave.
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.