Our guest this is week Francis Arana of Georgetown, Grand Cayman, who is head of Anti-Money Laundering for the Cayman Islands.
Francis and his his wife, Helen, have been married for 30 years and are the proud parents of two boys; Nayil (23) and Khalid (19) who is Autistic.
Francis and Helen are originally from Belize. They both studied in the U.S. and have lived in the Cayman Islands for 20 years.
One of the organizations that has played an instrumental role has been Inclusion Cayman, whose mission is: “to support the community in the commitment to cultivating and upholding values and practices that ensure the equal rights of ALL individuals and families, regardless of ability.”
We’ll hear Francis’ story on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Show Links –
Email – Francis.Arana@gov.ky
Phone -(345) 244-2392
Inclusion Cayman: https://inclusioncayman.ky
Special Fathers Network –
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Francis Arana: Sometimes it is the child that teaches you. And I say that because having a child with special needs, I’ve learned how to become more caring, more understanding, more empathetic. You just have to do things slowly and it’s going to be a long road, but progress will be made. Yeah. Progress will be made and you just have to work very hard and find every single resource at your disposal.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Francis Arana. Francis lives and works in the Cayman Islands and is head of Anti-Money Laundering for the Cayman Islands government. Francis is married to Helen and has two children, including Khalid, who is autistic. We’ll hear all about Francis and his family 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. Please support the 21st Century Dads Foundation by contributing to Dads Honor Ride 2023, which is a 3,100-mile seven-day bicycle ride taking place from June 17th to the 24th starting in Oceanside, California and ending in Annapolis, Maryland. I’m one of the four riders and would really appreciate your support. Please make a tax-deductible contribution by going to 21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: Please mark your calendar and plan to attend the annual Special Fathers Network Dads Virtual Conference taking place Saturday, May 20th, starting at 8:00 AM Central time. We have some extraordinary presenters and have built in plenty of time for breakout discussions and networking sessions with like-minded dads. Go to 21stCenturyDads.org and register today. So now let’s hear this conversation between Francis Arana and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Francis Arana of Georgetown Grand Cayman, who is the head of Anti-Money Laundering for the Cayman Islands government, and a father of two, including a son with autism. Francis, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Francis Arana: Thank you, David.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Helen, have been married for 30 years and are the proud parents of two boys: Nayil 23, and Khalid who’s 19, who has autism. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Francis Arana: I grew up in Belize. My parents are from a small little town to the south of the country called Punta Gorda. That’s where I was born also. There are seven of us, five boys and two girls. I am the fourth for both parents, so my two sisters are just before me. And then I have three brothers after me and an older brother. And then my father had two older sons before he got married to my mother also.
David Hirsch: So there’s nine siblings in total if you include your half-brothers.
Francis Arana: There are nine of us indeed.
David Hirsch: Wow. Are they still in Belize or are they scattered around?
Francis Arana: Scattered around. I have my two sisters who are in Dallas, Texas. I have a brother who lives in Seattle, Washington. Most of my siblings, some of them have retired or semi-retired and returned to Belize. I have one brother who has studied in different places in the world including Cuba, Panama, Thailand, and is married and is in Belize. The brother just after me, he’s retired from the Defense Force in Belize. So most of them are at home, but I still have two sisters and a brother in the US.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious to know, what did your dad do for a living?
Francis Arana: My father was in the Department of Agriculture. That morphed into the Ministry of Agriculture later on in a post-independent Belize. Belize got independence in 1981. He was what you called back in the day, a farm demonstrator, helping farmers to understand how to plant their crops, how to control weeds, how to take care of livestock and the like. So some of my childhood was spent being around and begging him to take us along with him, to visit farmers.
David Hirsch: So he wasn’t a farmer, but he helped farmers be more productive.
Francis Arana: Yes.
David Hirsch: Gotcha.
Francis Arana: He also had a farm eventually when we moved to the western part of the country and eventually settled in the new capital city, Belmont in 1974.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Francis Arana: It was good I would say, because I enjoyed when I was a little boy going around with him visiting farmers, as I mentioned. And he would never say no, but he was a very fast walker, so you can imagine the trouble that we would have keeping up with him and funny enough is the same thing I did with my younger son. [laughing] I tend to walk fast and when he was a toddler, he had to practically jog to keep up with me, but he’s very fit even today because of that. But he was very traditional. I don’t know if you have the sense that most Caribbean people have a kind of strict household and strict rules and so on, so as long as you’re a good kid and don’t give too much trouble, and I was never a troublemaker so I never got in too much trouble with my dad except when I lost certain pieces of equipment he’d be storing on behalf of the Department of Agriculture at the time. And you would get a spanking for that or he would threaten you until you actually go out and find that old machete or some piece of equipment. But by and large it was a good relationship with my father. And he would also take all of us to the farm and we would help. So it would be like a family Saturday doing farm work and whether it is harvesting or planting or things of that nature.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing. So are there any important takeaways, a lesson learned or two, that you can think of when you think about your dad?
Francis Arana: There are pluses and minuses. My parents, both my parents were very kind individuals because I remember when my father visited the south of the country where we are from, one of the Mayan farmers that he had met was severely ill and didn’t have access to medical attention in that part of the country. And my father actually brought him and his wife, and if I can recall, even one child to stay with us so that he could get treatment at the hospital. So that kindness and caring for each other was one of the things that was very important as a lesson because it was a practical example of what it is that he did. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. And I can only imagine if you have as many siblings bringing others into your house wasn’t like, oh, we’ve got a lot of extra rooms. They were not only opening up their home, but opening up their hearts to these individuals, like you said.
Francis Arana: Indeed.
David Hirsch: So my recollection was that you attended a junior technical college in Belize, and then from there you went to work in the Central Bank of Belize, and then you earned a scholarship which brought you to the United States. And I’m wondering how did that all transpire?
Francis Arana: That’s a very interesting story because I went to technical college and I specialized in math and economics. Those were my two core subjects. My Substantive Economics teacher had to leave because she had a son who was physically disabled and needed medical attention, and therefore we had a substitute teacher come in and that substitute teacher came from the Central Bank in Belize.
So she came to teach us economics at night. And during that last year, she suggested to me as a young chap at the time, why don’t you apply to the Central Bank? And being the obedient student that I was, I said, yes, miss and I applied. And much to my surprise, I got the job because in my juvenile mind at the time, I said I will apply for a job as soon as I’m finished with school and I’ve graduated. But she was the one that signaled to me that I should apply while still studying.
So that was a critical moment in my career and I worked as sort of a research analyst in the research department of the Central Bank, and we were undergoing what we call an IMF standby program for this poor country that was recently independent and already in economic difficulties because of rampant inflation of the seventies brought about by oil shocks. It was a tumultuous time working at the Central Bank for about three years, that was from ’83 to ’86.
Then the governor said, we need to establish a scholarship so we could train up some of our local people. And I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of the first scholarship. My only instinct at the time was to run to the US Embassy. That was large at the time because you had US Embassy and US EID trying to assist this newly independent country that was in so much trouble. I spoke to the first person there who looked like an American to me. And I blurted out to her, miss I’ve gotten a scholarship and I have to get acceptance to a university and so on. Begging for help, of course. She smiled at me, but apparently she and her husband had gone to the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. And she asked me for all my documents and promised me that she would speak to Professor Donald Schilling, professor of economics at the University of Missouri that she knew. And quickly I got accepted after filling out the application form for the university and that’s how I ended up at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.
David Hirsch: That must have been a cultural shock to go from Belize to the Midwest in the United States.
Francis Arana: It was, because the only other time that I had traveled was to go and visit my sister in Los Angeles way back then. Yeah. Two things: the weather. The closest thing to snow in Belize that we had was hail. Once in a while we’d have a rare hail storm, so I’d never seen snow before.
David Hirsch: I thought you were gonna say was the ice and the ice machine.
Francis Arana: [laughing] No. It’s hail and as a child, when it was hailing you said this must be the snow now because we have all of these stories from Christmas and Santa and snow and so on.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. You went to the University of Missouri and took a degree there and then where did your career take you from there?
Francis Arana: I returned to the Central Bank of Belize. In fact, my girlfriend at the time, we went to the same sixth form together. And what we took in common was mathematics. My wife had been accepted and she had started at Clemson University, and she met another Belizean who was studying at Clemson, and that Belizean said the US government is offering some scholarships and they’re looking for people from the Caribbean and Central America. A full scholarship to study in the United States.
And you can understand the context at that time because a lot of countries were at civil war because of that east versus west, communism versus liberal democracies, and the like. I guess the US was a little bit generous in providing those scholarship opportunities. So she told that Belizean, my boyfriend studies economics and he wants to do his masters. So she gave me a call and calls are very expensive at that time I can recall. So it was brief, but I got the clear understanding that there are opportunities and I could apply. And once I applied, then it would be a quick thing.
David Hirsch: So from Clemson University, when was it that you got into the debt management program?
Francis Arana: Oh, before I mentioned that my girlfriend then became my fiance, and then she headed back to Belize because she was the head of the Bureau of Standards. I had one more year to complete my studies and I returned back to Belize in ’94. I was assigned back again to the research department and I was eventually made a deputy head of research.
David Hirsch: So I know that something happened that you went into some debt management program and that’s what sort of got you to the Cayman Islands, at least initially.
Francis Arana: Yes. I think we spent probably about two weeks in training in Grand Cayman. At the time, the Grand Pavilion was perhaps the most luxurious hotel that I had stayed in. It is no longer a hotel, but a corporate center now. But I learned that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had stayed there during her visit to the Cayman Island. So that was wonderful and luxurious. I remember the first night the staff came and said, would you like us to turn down your bed? So I didn’t know what that meant [laughing] so I said, yes, please, just to see what it is that they would do. And they just fixed the bed and left two pieces of chocolate on the bed, which I consumed every night as I returned from training,
After working at the Central Bank for at least 14 and a half years, I finally said it might be time for me to move on. I worked with the Economics and Statistics office for five years from 2000 to 2005. And I eventually landed a job at the Monetary Authority. And again, it was not like smooth sailing and so on because I took an interview and I thought I did very well. And I got back an email the following day and saying that, sorry but you didn’t get the job and so on. So I saw that same job being advertised another time. I said, I won’t even bother to apply for it because I don’t think I’d be qualified if they didn’t choose me the first time around. Then I saw the job advertised a third time, and I said let me just for fun, just put in an application because I have absolutely nothing to lose. And the third time was a charm. I landed the job and I worked at, they call it the Policy and Development Division of the Monetary Authority for about eight years. So that would be from 2005 to 2014.
David Hirsch: And then what was it that prompted the transition from the Monetary Authority to the AML Division of the Cayman Island government?
Francis Arana: Oh, that’s another very interesting story. Because when I first landed at the Monetary Authority and in the Policy and Development Division, that division was dominated by a lot of attorneys, lawyers, and accountants. My boss at the time didn’t know what to do with this economist because economics is not a well known profession, certainly here in the Cayman Islands.
So he eventually decided that he will give me everything else that nobody wants or nobody can figure out. And research is my thing. So I said, man, how am I gonna undertake this project? So I scoured the internet and I found that Gibraltar had undertaken very similar things. So I read and digested what it is that they had done and then tried to adapt that for the Cayman Islands.
I remember the chairman of the board. But when he read my paper he emailed my boss and said, who is this person that has written this paper? Is it the person who left or the person who just came? So my boss says the person who just came. So I said good paper. So that was excellent. [laughing]
And one of the other board members said I would like to see a mathematical formula for how many people we should be hiring. So I said, a mathematical formula? Good! At least I had to draw on all the math I took both at junior college and at university and so on.
And I did that They were satisfied and they adopted my recommendations for the risk-based approach. But what it morphed into now is that in 2007, the Cayman Islands was being assessed for money laundering. So my boss was sent like a questionnaire to answer all of these questions as to how they do customer due diligence and so on.
It was to me like a weekend project because my family was still in Belize and I had ample time and so on. But I found out that I really enjoyed it. And so from that experience I was trained as an assessor during the early times and quickly the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force asked me to become an assessor.
And apparently I did decent job that they asked me again to be a financial assessor for St. Martin. So that’s where my EMLCFT experience came from. So when the job came up and that job is more like for the setting up of the Anti-Money Laundering unit, which is a coordinating unit. So I went for the interview and by that time, I think I was one of few persons in the country who had that experience of being an assessor, especially twice. So I was in pretty good shape for that job.
David Hirsch: That’s very fascinating. Thank you for sharing.
I’d like to switch gears and talk about special needs first on a personal basis and then perhaps beyond. And I’m wondering, before your son’s diagnosis, did you or Helen have any connection to the special needs community?
Francis Arana: We had very little or no connection with the special needs community. First child was born and no signs of special needs or anything like that. And we were expecting the same one. But my wife recalls that I mentioned to her, don’t expect the second child to be just like the first, and I guess I was only saying that because my siblings, we are all different. We are all different.
David Hirsch: So yeah. It was foreshadowing. You didn’t realize it, right? Yeah.
Francis Arana: Yes, yes. But she said she didn’t realize how profound those words would’ve been.
David Hirsch: So what was the diagnosis and how did that come about?
Francis Arana: When he was roughly about maybe two, two and a half, we noticed that he was not as verbal as we would have expected him to be. And that was sort of like the first clue. So my wife took him to the pediatrician in Belize and the pediatrician mentioned to her that certainly from his perspective, it seems that he has what he’d called a pervasive development disorder, but it might be a good thing or advisable that she would take him somewhere more advanced where he could get a proper diagnosis for his condition.
Because again, it is just, he was not verbalizing to the extent that we would’ve expected, being past two. And that was the first point. So we didn’t quite reach New York until perhaps he was just about three for him to get a diagnosis with psychologists and the like here. And they came back to us indicating that he had autism. Yeah. That was the diagnosis from new York.
David Hirsch: So the three of you flew to New York, or your whole family flew to New York to get him tested?
Francis Arana: My wife flew because her mom was working in New York at the time. So my wife flew from Belize and I flew from Grand Cayman to New York to meet up there and I think it was the New York University I think that they had some facility there to do that type of testing.
David Hirsch: So when you first got the diagnosis, was it overwhelming or was it at least we know what it is, now we have to figure out what to do?
Francis Arana: It was overwhelming. And one of the places that my wife had to go I could still remember that they were testing him to do, just giving him basic instructions like Khalid do this, or Khalid do that. And the child was not responding and my wife just burst out in tears. So I knew then that it was… It was quite devastating for both of us, but for me to watch my wife cry because of this was not a very pleasant experience for me.
David Hirsch: Yeah. What were some of the fears that you had, if you can remember way back when he was three as far as that diagnosis?
Francis Arana: We were totally lost. In fact, my wife and I can’t even recall this because like you’re almost in a zone, but in previous discussion my wife said that one of the persons doing the testing had indicated to her that maybe we should put the child in an institution. And my wife thought that was quite cruel, and it seemed like something from the 19th century or beyond. It’s almost like you feel like you’ve dropped in a hole and whatever you do is gonna take a little time to get out.
One of the first things that we did, cuz we knew that the child needed support, we needed to find ways of helping and so on. So we scoured the internet and we read every single piece of information that we could have found, and we were even contemplating perhaps even further testing because at the time there were specialists in that area of autism.
But what it eventually boiled down to is that we would’ve had to set systems in place, perhaps at home, to teach the child and also to ensure that some of the basic life skills he would be able to develop. Yeah. So what happened was that my wife went to New York where her mom was for a little while. She resigned her job. Then we decided that it’s best for her to come to the Cayman Islands. So she brought the two boys in 2008. And if you can imagine, I was living in town in a one bedroom apartment. So immediately I had to notify my landlord that I will no longer be renting from him certainly this one bedroom apartment. But because I was a, perhaps a good renter for him, he said, guess what? I have an uncle who has a three bedroom house in the Bontown district, which is out of town, but it isn’t for much more money. But it’s available and so on. It’s because of that good relationship I had with him and I certainly always paid on time.
So I rented that three bedroom apartment from 2008 until 2010. I had bought a piece of land close by in the Bontown district. I said If there’s any time to build that home, it’s now. So I used that interim period to get a loan from the bank and build a home. And then I told the landlord I won’t be renewing my rental cuz I’ll be moving into my own home.
So he said, boy, you have been so good. I can’t complain at all. And I say that if there’s anything that I could help you with, don’t hesitate to call. So that is how that happened, and my children were still young when I moved everything into my house. So I could recall the police here had gotten a helicopter and because there are very few homes in the area, I got a flash from the helicopter kind of staring down at me. So I just waved as I pulled things out of my car [laughing] to put into my home.
David Hirsch: That’s a wild story. Thank you for sharing. So I’m curious now going back to the diagnosis when Kahlid was really young. Was there any meaningful advice you got early on that really helped you and Helen put things in perspective?
Francis Arana: We got very little meaningful advice from anybody, but it was more from reading and scouring and so on. And even at that time you had a website, I think Autism Speaks, which is very helpful also. But we also realized that everything that we do so when we got a helper, the helper would’ve been focused more on the child than say housework. So Helen and I had to share the housework while the helper would use the course during the day to spend with the child and to teach him some of the basic skills like tying his shoes, dressing himself, bathing himself and the like. So you would get that plus some of the academic stuff, basic reading, writing, and the likes.
But also to have some measure of cognition as to when somebody is asking you to do something, what does that mean or what it is that they’re asking you to do. So it was very fundamental. And what we learned is that you have to break it down into very small tasks and you just work with him incrementally. Yeah.
David Hirsch: So was he mainstream from an education standpoint or do they have special ed classes there in Cayman?
Francis Arana: When my wife and sons came, because we still had not acquired Caymanian status, so we were still what they call expatriates. It meant that we didn’t have access to public school. And certainly private school was very expensive because for the first boy it was already certainly over a thousand US dollars a month for tuition.
So you could just imagine tuition plus mortgage and all the other expenses, plus trying to get a helper so you could see how the math was not quite adding up. And of course, in time I got a promotion and then my wife got a job and it made things a little bit easier. But still even with the older son going to a private school, it was still very expensive and my wife was not satisfied with the quality of education that we were getting. So we said, especially since we had to homeschool Khalid with special needs, then might as well homeschool both boys because Nayil was off the age that he could do certain things and he was just about to enter high school at the time, so he’d be able to do things on his own and on the computer. Yeah.
David Hirsch: That’s a huge decision, and an important one if you’re gonna homeschool versus rely on what’s available expensively through the private system or through the public schools, which you’d mentioned at least initially, wouldn’t have been available to an ex-patriot.
Francis Arana: Yes.
David Hirsch: Not to focus on the negative, but what have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered related to Khalid’s special abilities?
Francis Arana: One of the biggest challenges is that it takes a tremendous amount of patience, a tremendous amount of persistence. And remember that one of the persons in New York that was doing the testing had said that he’s never gonna speak. So when you get these small utterances from him, like for instance now that he’s interested in anything that is named food. So when we bring things from the grocery store or wherever, and he looks, and the first thing he’s gonna ask you is what is in the bag? But it took a lot of patience and a lot of work. And mind you that the helper was there during the course of the day, especially when Helen started to work. But we had to ensure that, let me see what it is that you have done with him and so on, and ask her to show me what it is that she has done to structure a program.
And also too the toughest thing is that both children had just different needs because nayil was quite advanced for his age academically, and therefore we had to find programs to challenge him. And then as he advanced throughout high school, obviously we would’ve forgotten some of the mathematics that we did in high school and junior college and so we had to get assistance from tutors in the United States. And that’s where I first learned about Bitcoin because one of his tutors from Atlanta said, you can pay me in US dollars or in Bitcoins. And I was like, what is that? You know?
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh. [laughing] What year would that have been just to timestamp that?
Francis Arana: That would have been roughly about 2015 thereabouts.
David Hirsch: That would’ve been pretty early on.
Francis Arana: Yes. It was the early days and I think Bitcoin would’ve been like about a dollar, somewhere around that time. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I didn’t even know that Bitcoin existed back then. It didn’t really hit the radar screen I think until 2019 I think it was for most people. It’s a phenomena, right? That’s the way I think about it, and it’ll be interesting to see how that all pans out.
Francis Arana: Indeed.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey will receive a Great Dad Coin. Thank you. Now back to the conversation.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious to know what Khalid’s situation has had on his older brother, your marriage or your extended family for that matter.
Francis Arana: I would say, and especially to the parents who would’ve been or who are at the early stage of their child just being diagnosed and so on and getting this very devastating news. Yeah, it could have one or two effects. Either it pulls you apart or it brings you together. And I say that because if the relationship in and of itself is not built on a very strong foundation, things like common values and love and respect for each other, then something like this is gonna be very devastating and it could drive you apart. But if whatever troubles that you’re in and that’s why sometimes when you make those marriage vows, in your young age and so on, you might not be taking it very seriously. But you have to think that these are in good times and in bad times. And this was one of the moments that you said, like certainly I said to myself, I said that my wife needs me. Certainly she’s prepared to give up a job and come to the Cayman Islands, and obviously I need to be the best husband I can be for her. We are gonna work through this together. Khalid is our responsibility and nothing has changed. We love him dearly and we’ll just have to work to give him the best chance in life. And as long as you approach things from that perspective, it makes life a whole lot easier.
David Hirsch: There’s a lot of truth to what you said. If you don’t have a strong foundation I think in any aspect of your life, if a storm comes by it’s anybody’s guess as to how that’s gonna transpire.
So I’m thinking about supporting organizations and I’m wondering which organizations have played an important role in your family’s life and in Khalid’s life for that matter.
Francis Arana: Alright, let me go back because over time things change. And I say that because we eventually acquired Caymanian status. I can’t remember when that would’ve been, but would’ve been sometime like about 2014, thereabouts. Yeah. Certainly during the early time that I had started this job with the Attorney General to set up the Anti-Money Laundering unit somewhere about 2014, 2015. And because of that, we had access to the Lighthouse School that Khalid could have attended.
And even it was our decision that he be supported by the helper. So the helper would accompany him to the school and help him along if need be, so that whatever that the children were doing, he’ll be able to participate and so on. Yeah. I believe that from about 2014, he finished Lighthouse School, perhaps just before lockdown, say about 2019.
And I was recruited to be a part of the Parent Teachers Association called the Homeschool Association. Through that I developed a bond with certainly members of the Homeschool Association. And that is where we learned about Special Needs Foundation, which eventually became Inclusion Cayman because at the time he was about to graduate, I said we don’t know what is going to happen because once he reaches the age of I think it is 17, then there’s very little else for him to do.
And in speaking with the parents also they said we have to see how we could get Inclusion Cayman. So that opened the window for us to participate in so much activities of Special Needs Foundation Inclusion Cayman at the time. And they seem to have been focused quite a bit in terms of transitioning into jobs, be it part-time and so on.
And I think that suited us very fine because they worked to transition him to be able to go on the job. And he works at one of the restaurants in Caymana Bay. And quite unlike his dad, he has met famous people at that same restaurant. [laughing] I won’t mention any names, but there’s a famous actress that he went and he hugged just because he’s that kind of individual, just a loving child and he got back hugs from that particular actress. So that’s wonderful. But he knows what it is that he has to do in terms of prepping tables for lunch and that also gives him some sense of purpose and he could make a worthwhile contribution, I believe. Yeah. So Inclusion Cayman, a good contributor.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So the Lighthouse School, Inclusion Cayman. And I remember you telling me an interesting story about his Special Olympics experience and having an opportunity to compete internationally.
Francis Arana: Oh, yes. I can’t remember what year that was, but it would’ve certainly been before lockdown. There was this Special Olympics in Doha and he won gold medal. And the competing teams for the finals were Russia and the United States. So for a small little place like the Cayman Islands to beat Russia and the United States in bocce was I’m certain a big surprise, even to the parents and to the whole special Olympics committee. So he certainly came back with the helper, Nadisha. They came back certainly as heroes in the Cayman Islands. Even a friend of mine sent me a text saying, Francis, your son win! How come you’re not celebrating? She was excited.
David Hirsch: Yeah it’s not quite Lionel Messi on the…
Francis Arana: Yes.
David Hirsch: …Argentina soccer team, but that is very exciting. What a wonderful story and experience to be able to travel internationally with Special Olympics.
Francis Arana: Indeed.
David Hirsch: I’m thinking about advice and I’m wondering what advice you might offer a dad who finds himself at the beginning of a journey, a diagnosis with autism or some other type of special need for that matter.
Francis Arana: I would say that certainly from my perspective, what I’ve learned is that as a young parent, you are always very eager to teach your children all different kinds of things. As an older person or a more mature person, I should say, what I’ve learned is that sometimes it is the child that teaches you. And I say that because having a child with special needs, I’ve learned how to become more caring, more understanding, more empathetic, I would say. Because I have a neighbor with a son with special needs and that little boy whenever he sees me… He has Down syndrome. He will want me to pick him up and then as soon as I pick him up, he will point to my door and say door, meaning that he wants to go to my house. So whenever I’m outside, I have to think about the possibility of him wanting to come over and spend a little time and so on. And I do that willingly because I do understand that sometimes all the parents want, especially of a young child, is just to have an hour or two together without having to give that constant attention to a child with special needs. Had I not had a child, I would not have understood and known how those things are important. So sometimes you are the one that is changed in a very profound way. Also, what I would say is that you just have to do things slowly and it’s going to be a long road. But progress will be made. Yeah, progress will be made and you just have to work very hard and find every single resource at your disposal.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I think what I heard you say was that parents often think that it’s their responsibility to teach their kids.
Francis Arana: Yes.
David Hirsch: And what I heard you say is that it’s been Khalid who’s been a teacher to you as it relates to being more empathetic, more understanding, caring, and patient and what great attributes to learn or be reminded of. So thank you again for emphasizing that. So I’m curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Francis Arana: Because I can relate to that dad that perhaps is at that early stage and has young children because those could be very, what I would call frightening times for that young father, because a lot of men… The first thing that comes to mind in times of trouble is to flee. That’s what we have a tendency to do. But it takes a certain amount of guts, let’s just say, to just hang in there and wade through it. I will say that you will see that success toward the end and it isn’t that the child is gonna all of a sudden be very bright and no problems at all. But what I will say is just be patient and make the child the best that child can be. So that is your job as a dad and is gonna be a long road. But trust me, that some of the things that people would not expect because when they told us that our child wouldn’t speak and then when he sees us coming in with groceries and he wants to know what’s in the bag, especially if it’s something ready to eat, and when we go walking, because we usually walk or jog in the evenings, and I ask him, should we jog or should we walk? Say I wanna walk. And that’s what he would say. I would wanna walk. So I said, why? Because I am tired. So when you reach that point that at least you could have some kind of conversation or at least for him to be able to express himself, those are moments of what I call quiet victory and satisfaction, you know?
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing and we’re thrilled to have you as one of the mentor fathers. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Francis Arana: All I would say to especially young dads or dads with young children, just that at the beginning I said, do not give up. Hang in there. Work a whole lot more cooperatively with your significant other in the interest of your child. Yeah, that is what I would say.
David Hirsch: Excellent advice. So let’s give a special shout out to Shan Harriman at Inclusion Cayman for helping connect us.
Francis Arana: I would say amen to that. I knew Shan because she worked in the government administration building where we would meet up every now and again, so I can’t think of a better person in charge of Inclusion Cayman and for all the help that Inclusion Cayman has given to us.
David Hirsch: So if somebody wants to learn more about Inclusion Cayman or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Francis Arana: They can reach me at Francis.Arana@gov.ky. So they could reach me by email.
Or they could look up for Inclusion Cayman and give them a call. And certainly they have my permission to give out my number, my personal number. I have no problems with that, especially if it’s a dad in need or so, or they just want a little bit of advice or what have you. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah, we’ll be sure to include your contact information in the show notes, so it’ll make it as easy as possible for somebody to get ahold of you or to reach out to Inclusion Cayman. Francis, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Francis 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. Francis, thanks again.
Francis Arana: Thank you very much, David. It was my pleasure.
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.
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