Our guest this week is Corey Ferguson of Gahanna, OH who is a State-Wide Manager with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and the father of three children with a wide range of special abilities.
Corey and his wife, Andrea, have been married for 15 years and are the proud parents of three children: Linleigh (12) who is a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, Brody (9) who has dyslexia, and Everly (8), who has bi-lateral hearing loss.
Corey has a real passion for being a dad and the work he does serving other families raising children with special needs.
We’ll hear Corey’s family story and more this week on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email – email@example.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/coreyfferguson/
A Kid Again – https://akidagain.org/chapter/central-ohio-chapter/
OH Dept of Developmental Disabilities – https://dodd.ohio.gov/home
Rising Above Ministries – https://www.risingaboveministries.org
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.
Corey Ferguson: It’s important to know that you may feel alone, but you’re not alone. You don’t understand that there are other families and other men and dads who are going through some pretty challenging and tough situations very similar to your own. I think it’s important to connect and to find those supports who get it, and who can give you day-to-day advice, as well as just general companionship and comradery in these somewhat challenging journeys that you endure.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week. Corey Ferguson, a father of three children with a range of special abilities, including Lindley 12, who is a spastic quadriplegic. We’ll hear Corey’s family story and more this week on the 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 now hear this intriguing conversation between Corey Ferguson and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Corey Ferguson of Gahanna, Ohio, who is a statewide manager with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and the father of three children with a wide range of special abilities. Corey, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Corey Ferguson: Oh, it’s a pleasure, David. Really happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Andrea have been married for 15 years and are the proud parents of three children. Lindley 12, who is spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, Brody nine who has dyslexia, and Everly eight who has bilateral hearing loss.
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Corey Ferguson: Yeah David, it’s a really a loaded question. I was an Air Force brat. I had a dad who served in the United States Air Force and that started when I was born in Homestead Air Force Base in the southern tip of Florida. Spent my really young age there on the beach and hanging out with family and that sort of thing. And then we ended up getting stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana and I spent a few years there as well. And then roughly around the age of nine or 10, my parents got divorced and I moved back to Columbus, Ohio where I live now with my wife and kids.
And home was Columbus for my mom and dad. That’s where they met. That’s where they were from. So returned to our roots here. And from the age of 10 on, I was primarily raised for the most part by a single mom who did all she could, the best she could to raise my brother and I, two rambunctious and fun boys.
But that’s my history of where I’ve been is in that regards. It’s been a turbulent, I would say, upbringing in a way, but it hasn’t necessarily been bad.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thank you for being open and authentic about that. And it’s one of the many things that we have in common. Our parents divorced and I was also raised by a single mom from my age six and my younger brothers age five. And it’s very disruptive, right? You don’t know any different. This is just your reality when you’re growing up. And hopefully you can put that experience into perspective now as a parent yourself. And maybe you’re gonna do things a little bit differently as a result of your lived experience.
Your dad was in the Air Force and I’m curious to know, was he a career Air Force or did he have a career after the Air Force?
Corey Ferguson: You know what? He retired from the Air Force and then went into corrections there in Northwest Louisiana. And that was actually a turbulent relationship in itself. I hadn’t talked to him for years and years. If I had to be quite honest with you, he wasn’t in my life very much at all. Wasn’t invested in any way, emotionally, financially, in person in any way at all. So that is a component I think that really plays into my perspective as a father now. So it’s been challenging as a kid. [laughing]
David Hirsch: Yeah. I can relate. And my recollection was he died at a relatively early age, like when you were around 20 years old or something.
Corey Ferguson: Yeah. So he passed away at a very early age himself. And I was 19, I think at the time when all of that happens. So that was a pivotal experience in my life as I think about how to be a father, not knowing what a good one looks like per se, but more of knowing what not to do.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Maybe that’s one of the takeaways from your relationship with your dad and you might have heard me say this before, but we learn from role models. I think we try to emulate the good ones and maybe try to live vicariously through the other ones and not make some of those same mistakes ourselves.
You’re a better person for that experience. It wasn’t a good experience, it wasn’t a positive experience on the surface. But hopefully you can take the energy that was created from what I think of as a raw experience and direct that into something positive. I know that you have been with your own family and the work that you do.
So under the banner of father influencers or father figures, I’m wondering what, if any relationship that you had with your grandfathers.
Corey Ferguson: You know what, if I were to be honest I didn’t have any relationship with grandparents. They lived far away. So there wasn’t much interaction or engagement there. But I will say I did have an uncle who was really engaged and really interested, and really invested in me and in my development and how I was doing. And we lived with him for a brief period of time. We then got a place of our own and lived very close to them and he was always invested in making sure that I… he was helping me be the best I can be. And that was little things. In the summers he would give us a job and we would go spend time with him and doing work around some of the businesses that he owned and supporting him in that way and learning some responsibility in that regards.
And he’d also, take us through these really amazing life experiences where we had a chance to hike in Colorado and spend a week out in the wilderness. And really just a lot of things that I wouldn’t have had a chance to experience otherwise that were pretty pivotal in shaping me as a better person.
David Hirsch: Well, glad to hear that. And just so we get the right uncle, which uncle is this?
Corey Ferguson: So that would be Uncle Harry.
David Hirsch: And is he still alive?
Corey Ferguson: He is. He lives a couple of towns over and he’s doing well with his family.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Thank God for the Uncle Harry’s of the world who step in to maybe that void. So thank you again for sharing. So my recollection was you went to Miami University in Oxford. You had a BS in health and sports studies as well as public health education. And then you also went on to get a master’s from Ohio State University, or should I say the Ohio State University in health administration and health services management. And I’m wondering where did your career take you?
Corey Ferguson: Do you know what? It shifted as I completed my studies at the Ohio State University after having a career in fellowship education with surgeons who wanted to become heart and lung surgeons. I had somebody from the Ohio State University Nisonger Center which focuses on developmental disabilities and supporting people of all ages who have developmental disabilities. And they said, Corey, we would, we’d love for you to come be a part of our team. And at that point in time, I took an opportunity to join that team and be part of the work that they’re doing there with… really supporting families.
David Hirsch: I am curious to know, how did you and Andrea meet?
Corey Ferguson: You know what, so Andrea and I met in high school many years ago. She was a person I knew in high school and she and I knew each other and I graduated and went off to undergrad and I came back to go through some old email addresses. Then I saw one from her and was like, oh my gosh, I, I’ve gotta reach out and see how she’s doing. At the time I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio and she was here in Columbus. I shot an email and got one back. And long story short, we decided to meet for dinner while I was gonna be in Columbus around Christmas time. And we were chatting and she says, so I got something crazy. And I said, what’s going on? And she said I’m moving out to Denver in a couple of weeks. And I laughed and she said, what’s so funny? And I said, I’ve actually been looking for graduate schools and one of the ones I’m looking at is in Colorado. And I was hoping to make a trip out there this spring to check it out.
So she ended up moving out there and wanted to make a trip back to see her family. Didn’t wanna make that drive by herself. And I said, you know what? I think I’m gunna head out that way anyways. How about I come visit the school and then you and I can drive back from Denver to Columbus, Ohio together? And that’s what we did.
And we got in the car and we’re just driving and headed back. And we realized about 14 hours later, we had not turned the radio on yet. We were just talking [laughing] and that sort of thing. And I think that’s when we realized we may have had something here.
David Hirsch: Let’s switch gears and talk about special needs, first on a personal level and then beyond. And you have three children. I’d like to talk about each one of them individually. So let’s start with Lindley, who’s 12. So what is Lindley’s diagnosis and how did it come about?
Corey Ferguson: Lin’s diagnosis continues to evolve in some ways. She has a spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, and she also has a really complex seizure disorder called Lennox-Gastaut. And to this day, we’re still trying to figure out the best way to manage the seizures that she has. How it all came about was we were at our 39 week appointment with our OB and things were looking well and we were doing well. And our OB who’s wonderful and we love, said, how are you feeling? And Andrea says, you know good I guess. I’ve never been pregnant before. This is the first time. I don’t know what I was supposed to be feeling. They went ahead and put her on a fetal monitor just to check the baby. And they realized that the baby’s heart rate wasn’t where they wanted it to be.
The doctor came out to me and said, I think we’re gonna have a baby today. I’m gonna head to the hospital and get ready and I’m gonna meet you guys there. And of course I thought, okay, we’ll get her in the car and get going. And she says, Corey, I’m gonna have an ambulance come get you guys.
So the ambulance comes and her partner had sat with us at the time. And then we had a hospital that we were planning to go to, which was Ohio State University Medical Center. Her partner in the practice, when the squad got there, said, Corey, I don’t know if we have time to get you to Ohio State. We have to get you to the closest hospital. So I’m in the back of a speeding ambulance, sirens blaring, calling family. Don’t go to that hospital, go to this hospital. And that’s when the chaos ensued. We got to a different hospital than we anticipated. And between the time we rolled in and the time Lindley was born was about 12 minutes.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Corey Ferguson: Yeah. 12 minutes is a pretty overwhelming experience when I look back on it. Andrea was rushed down a hall one way and I was pulled a different direction into a waiting area. I could see doctors, nurses running in and out of the OR back and forth. It looked pretty hectic and a little chaotic.
Everybody looked a little stressed. And at one point in time a nurse came out and said, you have a baby girl. She was born at 1:43 and I looked down and it was like a little after 2, 2:15. And I asked what her Apgar scores were and she said, oh, we don’t know those yet. And I thought to myself, you do know what those are already. Those were taken very soon after delivery. You just don’t wanna tell me. And I think it was at that point in time, I realized things weren’t going so great. Later, we learn that Lindley was born and she was revived for about 19 minutes before she came to her own. And it was such an interesting time, perhaps maybe a little foreshadowing.
She was in the OR. I kept going back and forth between Andrea and the OR and Lindley in the neonatal intensive care unit. And finally I had a really sweet nurse that stopped and said, honey, you’ve got a bunch of family in the waiting room right now that wanna know what’s going on and I can’t tell them anything. And I thought, oh my gosh. You are absolutely right. There’s a whole nother set of folks that don’t have a clue what’s going on. So that’s when I got to go out and try to update everybody as quick as I could, only to get back to both my wife and my daughter. So it’s been a chaotic ride ever since. If I were to be honest.
David Hirsch: Yeah, I’m trying to put myself in your shoes when you’re going in for that test, maybe the last test before you go to full term, if it’s at 39 weeks. And they realize something’s going on and maybe they don’t hit the alarm button and scare everybody. But they move things along very quickly and you can look back and say, if we’re taking an ambulance ride, there’s probably a reason for that. Not just being precautionary, but there’s something of some urgency going on. And then things seem to transpire very quickly if the baby was born 12 minutes from the time they arrived at the hospital. So they, I didn’t know that they could do that fast.
Corey Ferguson: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Thank you again for being so open and authentic about your first child’s birth. So she’s in the NICU for what period of time after her birth?
Corey Ferguson: If I remember correctly, we were there for roughly two weeks. Nine days, maybe. Nine days. Okay. Eight days, 10 days. I honestly don’t remember the extent of time. I remember the feelings. I don’t remember the details of the dates. It’s, yeah, overwhelming.
David Hirsch: So speaking of feelings what were your fears at that point in time? If you can remember back?
Corey Ferguson: Well, I think at the time a lot of being overwhelmed. Not knowing exactly what was happening or understanding what was happening. And oftentimes with a diagnosis of HIE which is hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy of where oxygen has been deprived from the brain, early there’s no prognosis, there’s no certainty of what it may look like in the future.
And you’re often told we’ll wait and see what happens. And as a parent, you don’t wanna wait and see, you want to know. You wanna be prepared. You want to do everything you can. You wanna have that control. And in that situation you have zero control. You can only do what you can do. And that in the moment, that’s challenging. That’s hard.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It sounds like it’d be really hard. So was the diagnosis of the spastic quadriplegia and the cerebral palsy made at that point, or was that something that happened down the road?
Corey Ferguson: So that was something that happened down the road. We got that at roughly maybe 18 or 19 months, if I remember correctly. We had thoughts that we would be heading in that direction based on various different things. But we got that diagnosis right around 18 months.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Corey Ferguson: Could see that coming, but it was still hard news to take.
David Hirsch: Yeah. And you mentioned that Lindley suffers from seizures and I’m wondering were they prevalent from the very beginning or is that something that started down the road as well?
Corey Ferguson: No, so she started having her seizures not long after she was born in the neonatal intensive care unit. And she was given some phenobarbital was the route that they took to help control those. And we’ve followed neurology her entire lifetime pretty closely if I were to be honest about trying to figure out what works best for her, what medication works best for her, what balance, what dosage, when we give those, are all things that, that we continue to explore. I’ve come to see that it’s more of an art than a science sometimes and figuring out how to best treat anyone who would have seizures.
David Hirsch: So do you feel like you’ve got seizure control now or not?
Corey Ferguson: Currently I would say no. We still see three or four a day maybe, and hers are not the, perhaps the type that you think of when you hear seizures of somebody going into convulsions. Hers are more of a startle and a weird expression on her face usually. Sometimes she gets, we call it a kicky, where she’ll kick her feet and make a funny sound. But those are what they look like for her.
David Hirsch: Yeah. If I can interpret what you’re saying, you probably could have greater seizure control if you wanted to up the dosage or the frequency. But you were talking about that balance, which is, if you overmedicate somebody, they’re not there, they’re not able to be as present. And that would be a very challenging situation to be in. You’d like to eliminate the seizures if you could, but maybe having a moderate number of them, and if they’re not severe, maybe that’s something that you could live with to make sure she’s as present as possible from a medication standpoint.
Corey Ferguson: It’s a balance we’re going through now. She’s got a lot of personality. She’s non-verbal. She’s 100 percent care. She can’t do anything for herself. But she’s an ornery girl. She is ornery in her own special way. And you can tell when she’s getting a little too much medication, I think. You don’t see the orneriness or the smirks or the, just the silly things she does sometimes.
David Hirsch: From understanding perspective, do you have any sense for, even though she’s nonverbal, her ability to communicate? Does she use a tablet or any other devices?
Corey Ferguson: So we were using a communication device some years ago, and she was showing some promise with that. She had switches in her headrest and could turn her head to the left and the right to go through her options and to select things.
However, we regressed. We’ve had a few pretty complex surgeries that have taken away her ability to use her chair that she sits in. We had a spinal fusion where some rods were placed in her back, essentially from her neck to her bottom, to straighten out some pretty severe scoliosis that she had. And during that time, she was not in her usual chair that she sits in, that was custom made for her back shape. And that took some time to get updated and during that time, she didn’t have access to the switches or the communication device and regressed in not using that. Like any of us, whenever we don’t use something we tend to lose it.
The good news is just this morning my wife was telling me that her new communication device is in, and our speech therapist is working to get it together and ready. And we’re hoping to get that soon so that we can start that avenue again. And even if it’s simple as something as yes or no. It’s super helpful in trying to understand what it is she wants and what she needs. Cuz at this point in time, her communication is tremendously limited other than a smile and a cry.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing and I’m hoping the best for the communications device. And in some cases, they’re transformative, right? They open up the world. You would think that the individual doesn’t have any real understanding of what’s going on around them. And if you can unlock that cave that they’re in, that darkness that they’re in, I’m hoping that you and Andrea experience these pleasant ‘ahas’ or surprises along the way.
And I’m thinking about advice. Has there been any advice that you can reflect back on over the first 12 years of Lindley’s life that you can say, yeah, that was pretty pivotal?
Corey Ferguson: Advice, that’s a really good question. It’s important to know that you may feel alone, but you’re not alone. You don’t understand that there are other families and other men and dads who are going through some pretty challenging and tough situations very similar to your own. I think it’s important to connect and to find those supports who get it, and who can give you day-to-day advice, as well as just general companionship and comradery in these somewhat challenging journeys that you endure.
David Hirsch: Yeah. You make a good point about not being alone and the benefits that go along with being in the presence of others who understand or have an appreciation for some of the challenges that you’re going through, and in a perfect world that have already been there and done that, right? So you can draft behind them and learn from their experiences, hopefully emulate the good examples, and maybe avoid some of the mistakes that they made because they’re transparent about, I wouldn’t do this again. Oh, okay. We’ll avoid doing that as well.
Not to focus on the negative, but what would you say are the biggest challenges you and Andrea have or Lindley has in the circumstances?
Corey Ferguson: I think one of, one of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced is going through grief in different places, in different ways, at different times along this journey. If I were to be completely honest, there was a point about 10 years or so ago when I told Andrea I was done. I was outta here. I wasn’t gonna do this. See ya, I’m outta here. You figure this out. I’m not doing this. And I’ve come to realize, What the hell am I doing?
And I realized it was fear. I was in a state of kind of forget everything and run, and I realized I needed to change that acronym of FEAR and Face Everything And Rise. And part of it was working on what this new journey looked like as a husband and a wife with a child with developmental disabilities and learning how to communicate with one another and understand one another.
And that was not easy to learn. That was not easy to endure and to go through. But it was something that was very pivotal for us as parents, as a married couple that we’ve had to grow from.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I really admire your transparency. That’s not something that most guys would be very proud of, either having those thoughts, whether it was just a passing thought or something that you were really dwelling on like you made reference to. But it sounds like you got some help and you were able to talk about these things and then put your circumstance in perspective. And I’m curious to know, was that before or after Brody was born?
Corey Ferguson: So those happened before Brody was born. All of that happened before we added him to our bunch.
David Hirsch: Okay. Let’s spend a couple minutes talking about his situation. What is his diagnosis and how did it come about?
Corey Ferguson: Yeah, so Brody is my adventurer. He’s my guy who, who’s all about animals and saving the earth and he’s gonna do it all by tomorrow. Super smart kid. And he loves, like I had mentioned, animals and nature. And he’ll tell you things and he will say, dad, did you know, blah, blah, blah, blah? And in my head, I think, buddy, you’re… there’s no way that’s right. You dunno what you’re talking about. And then I’ll Google it and sure enough, it’s absolutely correct. And what we’ve learned is Brody has dyslexia and it was a new journey for our family where we were talking to the school and asking a lot of questions and they said, we’re not seeing that. We’re not seeing these different things. And he’s doing well for his grade level. And in the same regards, Brody hated school. He didn’t want to go. He was frustrated with it, very unhappy with it. Didn’t… had no joy in it, but you could tell he loved to learn by all these amazing things he would share with us. After pushing the school and not getting anywhere for a couple of years, if I were to be honest, we said, you know what? We’re gonna go to our local children’s hospital and then have some testing done.
And we pursued that and there was multiple tests that were done and screenings and we got a report back that’s saying he has classic dyslexia. And in that we learned, he was working twice as hard as his peers just to try to keep up and that was why he was pretty frustrated with school and didn’t want to go to school cuz he was working so hard to just maintain.
And that’s been a new journey for our family. We haven’t known anything about dyslexia. In addition to that, he was diagnosed with dysgraphia, which was an inability to write correctly. So his reading and writing needs a lot of work. It’s really about how we can learn to help him learn better. So we’ve spent the summer doing therapy with our local children’s hospital four days a week.
He’s learned how to use sounds with words and is working on his writing and we look forward to continuing that with him to help him figure out how he learns best. And as I’d mentioned, he’s super bright. His verbal comprehension, he comes in at the 99th percentile. So he hears things and he retains it. Super, super bright kid. Just having that struggle with dyslexia and reading and writing has been a challenge for him.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. So what I hear you saying is that’s more of a recent diagnosis as opposed to something that was done years and years ago. And it’s like a new world for you, right? You’ve been in the spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy seizure world. And then, this is a little bit of a outta left field type of deal. And I guess better to understand what it is, and maybe seek the right type of treatment or services that are gonna help him understand what this is and how to manage dyslexia.
Because I often hear dyslexia like you were saying in the same sentence as somebody’s really bright. And it’s something that, if you can figure out how to maneuver through or around this dyslexia situation, there’s a very bright future, right? There are some very talented people who’ve accomplished some extraordinary things in the world who are dyslexic or who have dysgraphia, like you were saying.
I’m hoping that just the identification of what the challenge is will help put you down a better path or put Brody on a better trajectory for that matter.
Corey Ferguson: Learning how to help him learn best is what we’re learning how to do now. A lot of learning going on here.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Just when you think you should be on a plateau, you find you’re climbing another a curve, another steep curve. It sounds your kids are keeping you fully engaged.
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: Yeah. I’m thinking about the respite aspect of marriage and I’m wondering if the extended family are able to provide you with little chunks of time that you or Andrea or the two of you are able to pull away for even just like going to the store or going to dinner or going out for an anniversary or something like that.
Corey Ferguson: The respite part of it is a really difficult thing. Andrea and I maybe get away for a few hours once a year, maybe twice a year. That’s the extent and to where we’re able to do that just because of Lindley’s pretty extensive one-on-one needs that she has with all of her multitude of care that she needs. It’s hard to find folks who are comfortable having her in their care for longer periods of time.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for your transparency. That does sound difficult, right? If you’re only able to get away for a couple hours a year. It just underscores the day-to-day 24-7 nature of the challenge.
So I’m thinking about supporting organizations. And I’m wondering if any come to mind that you’ve been able to rely on as a family or for any one of the kids individually.
Corey Ferguson: The first one that really comes to mind when I think about supports is one that originated here in Columbus about 25 years or so ago, called A Kid Again, and their motto is “giving illness a timeout”. And it’s really an amazing organization that allows families once a month to go do something fun and then, and to forget about doctor’s appointments and all of the different challenges that having special needs encompasses . And it’s been really life giving for us to get out as a family and go do some fun things in settings that, for lack of a better word, cater to what we need.
Went to the the zoo once for an event and there were volunteers lined up at the buffet to help carry your plates for you cuz they know you’re pushing a wheelchair. How hard is it to push a wheelchair and carry a plate at the same time? Could be challenging. And it’s an organization that’s thought about those things and given families and kids an opportunity just to be kids again and to get away and to have some fun. And that’s been pretty pivotal in our life and we’ve had some pretty amazing opportunities with A Kid Again, to have some fun as a family and to enjoy life as a family and make some memories together that we probably wouldn’t have had a chance to do otherwise.
David Hirsch: Let’s talk a little bit about things beyond your own personal experience with special needs. We already talked about the fact that you work at the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, and I’m wondering if there’s any other volunteer experiences perhaps that you’ve had where you’ve been able to give back based on your compassion and passion for serving people in the disability community.
Corey Ferguson: Yes. One of the things that’s become really near and dear to my heart is connecting with fathers and giving fathers a chance to connect. And speaking with fathers, I’ve learned that a lot of them feel very isolated and really do want to have that chance to connect.
There’s actually been a group of dads that I’ve worked with in the past, and we were planning a panel and we had an hour of time, and the first half hour of that conversation was just dads connecting with one another. Just so excited to have somebody they can talk to and really engage with on a level that somebody else understood it.
I sat back and allowed them that time to connect with one another personally, and then I said, okay it’s been about a half an hour. Can we get down to business and into work here? And I’ve really realized that’s what dads are really seeking is an opportunity to have some comradery with other dads who get it.
Then in addition to that, I’ve also had an opportunity to be engaged with a really wonderful ministry out of Tennessee called Rising Above Ministries. And they do a wide array of things for special needs families in their area. They have bible studies and book studies that they do, and it’s been a really fun ministry to be involved in. They have a retreat for dads. I make the trip from Columbus to Tennessee and that time together is just amazing to have 10, 15 dads around the campfire, just connecting with one another and sharing their stories and laughing at each other in a positive, healthy way that men do. It’s really a fun opportunity to connect and I’ve had the opportunity to speak at the conference and share some of my stories.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing and I love Rising Above Ministries. Becky Davidson is the spiritual leader there and sadly her husband, Jeff passed away at age 50 a few years back. He was really the dad-side of that equation, and Becky’s able to carry on as a solo parent, as she’s quick to emphasize, which is different than being a single parent because a single parent is somebody who might still have the spouse, right, somewhere in their orbit. But she’s doing this solo. And she finished the book that he was writing when he passed away. And I know that it’s a little bit more mom-centric. That retreat by the brook that they host is very well attended, and I’m thrilled to hear that there’s still some programs for dads under the Rising Above banner. I really have a lot of respect for what they do and the impact that they have in the community. And I might mention that Becky was the first woman that I interviewed for the Dad to Dad Podcast. And there have been a dozen subsequently.
So I’m wondering, under the category of advice, if there’s any advice that you can share with a dad who’s gotten a recent diagnosis or finds himself a dozen years in.
Corey Ferguson: Yeah, I think the advice I would share is understand you’re not alone. Understand that vulnerability could be one of the most important things that you embark on. That’s the hardest thing to do. It’s really hard to be vulnerable especially as a dad and a man. But when we can let our guard down and have authentic conversation, it’s life changing. And whether that’s in your marriage or in friendships or working with medical professionals, the ability to let yourself be vulnerable and to share authentically creates good. As hard as it is to do, it creates good.
David Hirsch: Yep. Well spoken. So I’m curious to know why have you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Corey Ferguson: You know what? I think as a dad who’s been there, and is still there, to be honest it’s a journey and it’s hard and I don’t think I had anybody in my journey who I could stop and ask directions with. This is what’s going on. What do you think happens here? I didn’t have that. I was taking on everything on my own, trying to figure it out on my own. And that makes it really hard to navigate a journey where you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t have somebody else who’s been there and can share. This is what’s worked well for us. And to have those guideposts, I think would’ve been very important earlier in my life as a dad. And I think it’s important that we share with one another, we guide one another, we listen to one another, in a judgment free zone, which I think many of us do.
But it’s important to, to give back and to continue to grow and learn. Cuz just as a mentor father provides insight or experience, they learn so much as well that they can apply to their own life as a dad.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well spoken. And we’re thrilled to have you. Thank you for being part of the network.
I’m curious to know if there’s anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up.
Corey Ferguson: I think I just applaud all the dads out there regardless of what your life circumstances are, or what kind of dad you had or may not have had. And I recognize you’re doing the best you can. And I think days when you don’t feel like you’re doing the best you can, you probably are. And you’re just not giving yourself enough credit. And so you continue to put one step in front of the other and showing up and doing everything you can and you don’t hear “good job” enough. So I applaud all the dads out there who are working hard to be the best they can be for their families. It’s pretty remarkable.
David Hirsch: Yeah, I agree. So let’s give a special shout out to Louis Mendoza, formerly of the Washington State Fathers Network for helping connect us.
Corey Ferguson: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about your work or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Corey Ferguson: You know what? I have an email address I’m happy to share. It’s FatheringFancy@outlook.com. And I’ll share the quick story behind that is we have friends of ours who have a son on a very similar journey as our Lindley, and we always say we’re being fancy. We’ve got the fancy car, the handicap accessible van, or we’ve got the fancy medication, we’ve got the fancy stays at the hotel or at the hotel, the hospital. So sometimes whenever we connect with one another, I’ll hear, oh, Lindley’s being fancy again. And that’s where that email address came from is, I’m fathering fancy. It’s a different kind of fancy than perhaps we would associate with the word, but it’s a special fancy.
David Hirsch: Yeah. We’ll be sure to include that in the show notes. Thank you for sharing. Corey, thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, Corey 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 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. Corey, thanks again.
Corey Ferguson: Thank you, David.
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.