Our guest this week is Brad Serot, of Winnetka, IL who is Vice Chairman of CBRE, a global leader in commercial real estate.
Brad and his x-wife, Lexis, were married for eight years and are the proud parents of four children: Billie (6), Jonas (8), and 10 year old twins Stella and Ava, who has Cerebral Palsy.
Brad talks very authentically about his early denial about Ava’s condition, the dissolution of his marriage, going through counseling as well as finding purpose in cycling and fundraising for charity.
He also discusses the positive role Easterseals and the Epilepsy Foundation of Great Chicago have played in Ava’s development.
That’s all on this episode of the SFN Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email – Brad.Serot@cbre.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brad-serot-18ba271/
Phone – (773) 837-7101
Website – https://www.cbre.com/
Website – https://epilepsychicago.org/
Website – https://hpa.vc/about/
Tom Couch: [00:00:00] 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.
Brad Serot: And I would come back up to the room and I was just shattered, crying, whatever. And the nurse pulled me aside before I walked into the room and she said, no. You wipe those tears off. There is no room for that. You need to be strong for your family and for your wife. And I took a deep breath and it was like, again, just there’s these moments that I’ll always remember and cherish. And I just gave her a hug and she let me cry and she’s, you’re done now. Like, that’s that. Lock that up.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Brad Serot, Vice Chairman of CBRE, a global leader in commercial real estate. Brad is also the father of four, including a daughter with cerebral palsy. He’s got an interesting story to tell. It’s a story of growth, of getting to really know yourself, [00:01:00] and of helping others along the way. And we’ll hear all about it on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Now, say hello to the founder of the Special Fathers Network and host of the Dad to Dad Podcast, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network, a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs.
The Special Fathers Network Mastermind Group Experience is the most comprehensive program the 21st Century Dads Foundation offers. Dads raising children with special needs meet virtually on a weekly basis and form meaningful relationships while sharing weekly wins, discussing books, and sharing heartfelt challenges. One of the highlights of the year is attending an in-person weekend retreat. We’re launching 10 new SFN Mastermind groups in January 2024 with 10 dads per group. That means we’re only looking for 10 like minded dads in each of the following locations: Anchorage, Alaska; Bellevue, Nebraska; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, [00:02:00] Colorado; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Houston, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; London, England; Nashville, Tennessee; and Reykjavik, Iceland. If you’re a dad raising a child with special needs in one of these cities, we hope you’ll join the local SFN Mastermind Group and make the investment to become the best version of yourself. For more information, please see the show notes or simply go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: Now let’s hear this conversation between Brad Serot and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Brad Serot of Winnetka, Illinois, who is Vice Chairman of CBRE, the global leader in commercial real estate services and investments. He’s also the single father of four, including a daughter with cerebral palsy. Brad, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Brad Serot: Oh, thanks, David. Thanks for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your ex-wife, Lexis, were married for eight years and are the proud parents of four: Billy 6, Jonas 8, and 10-year-old twins, Stella and Ava, who has cerebral palsy. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? [00:03:00] Tell me something about your family.
Brad Serot: I grew up in St. Louis. I have three brothers. I’m a middle child, second oldest. For the most part a typical upbringing. My dad was an orthopedic surgeon. My mom was a stay at home mom for a while. And then when I was younger my parents got divorced and that played a big role in my life and helped shape me in many ways as a father today.
And my mom ended up not getting remarried, but had a man who lived with our family for about 12 years, and he was a carpenter. And so I had these two dads that sort of raised me: one that taught me a hard day’s work with my hands, cutting grass, changing oil, towing boats, building drywall basements, and doing manual labor. And then I’d go to the hospital and put a stethoscope on and me and my brothers would follow my dad around. We had this sort of unique dichotomy going back and forth between the two worlds almost.
David Hirsch: So if I can paraphrase what you’ve said your dad was an orthopedic surgeon, right? He worked with his hands and his brain, a white collar worker, if you will. [00:04:00] And you’re not stepdad, but the man that your mom had a longer-term relationship with after your parents divorced was like a carpenter or a laborer, right? And somebody who worked hard, but mostly from a blue collar standpoint. Is that a reasonable statement?
Brad Serot: That’s a hundred percent right. And both of my mom and my dad, both of them very much valued education. That was something that was instilled in the four of us. Apply yourself, work hard, get an education, you’re going to college. And so that was something that was in our DNA and in our ethos. But on the flip side, my mom’s boyfriend Jim taught me a different way of life and I took something from both of them.
David Hirsch: That’s excellent. I’m thinking about your dad, the orthopedic surgeon now. How would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Brad Serot: You know, it’s… Families are complicated. And my relationship with my dad has always been very friendly and very surface. We talked a lot about school and the weather and maybe some current events but really never got past that. My dad is of the old world where he felt that his responsibility as [00:05:00] a dad was to provide, which is very noble because he was an amazing provider. And so I have a great relationship. But he remarried and my stepmom and I, we just, we weren’t as close. And so as a result of just that relationship, my dad and I were not, didn’t have a super close relationship. We saw each other twice a week for dinner and for lunch. My mom, I lived with my mom and she was a best friend. She was always laughing, very silly, not taking herself too seriously, and it’s something that I very much so took from her today.
David Hirsch: That’s excellent. Thanks for being open and authentic about your relationship with your dad. And I’m wondering when you think about your dad, were there any takeaways, something that, a lesson learned that you’ve tried to incorporate into your own fathering?
Brad Serot: Yeah, having not just one child, let alone four, it’s really hard to find time and we’re all busy. I don’t care what your profession is and what your hobbies are. I was an athlete. And I played lacrosse growing up and baseball, and that was something that was really important to me. And my dad was really busy [00:06:00] working. He was always at the hospital. He got in early, he stayed late. And he missed every one of my games. And that’s something where, you know, I took a piece of that and I’ve talked to my dad about this. And obviously he did what he had to do and the best he could. But it’s something that I took away and I’ll make sure that I’m going to be at almost all my kids games and practices because I’m so sensitive to it. So that’s something where it was a… it was perceived as a negative for me and obviously I turned it around and said how do I apply that to my children and make sure that I’m present for them.
David Hirsch: Yeah, that’s almost the identical lesson that I took away from the relationship with my dad. My parents divorced when I was six. When my dad remarried, moved away, became a — at least from my six-year-old perspective — became a dad to somebody else’s kids. Didn’t see him for almost seven years and I didn’t do any more than play baseball, but he was never there. I can’t remember one game that he was at. And just like yourself, I was like, I’m gonna do a 180, right? I’m gonna be just the opposite. I ended up coaching 13 mostly travel baseball teams.
Brad Serot: See, you take those [00:07:00] experiences, and honestly they’re just as important of what not to do is what to do. And that’s so meaningful to you because it was so real. And it’s so real to me that as a father today, I know that I will manipulate or do whatever I can to my schedule at work to make sure and prioritize my children, their home life because I’m so sensitive to it. You’re so sensitive to it.
David Hirsch: It’s like the pendulum swings one way and then it swings back just the opposite direction. What you said is something I’ve said over and over, which is that we can learn from all different types of role models. There’s the ones you want to emulate, the ones that you want to be more like. And then the ones that you want to do something different, right? And that’s what we’re talking about, right?
Brad Serot: Yeah.
David Hirsch: You’re course correcting, right? You’re not going to follow in the same footsteps as the person ahead of you. So anyway, thanks for sharing. So I’m thinking about other father figures, and I’m wondering what, if any, relationship you had with your grandfathers, starting on your dad’s side.
Brad Serot: So my dad, his father, Rudy Serot, was just a personality bigger than life. He was a salesman among salesmen and friends with everybody. He was a [00:08:00] traveling salesman, so him and my grandma would come to the apparel center in Chicago from St. Louis, where I grew up. Drive up here in their Lincoln, go to the apparel, get a bunch of apparels, the latest in women’s swimwear, and then load up their car and drive across country to go sell stores from east to west coast and north and south. And so he had friends everywhere. And every time I spent with my grandfather, I always loved it. He was also one of those, we got to hit the four o’clock dinner special at Ponderosa so the kids can get the T-bone steak and all you can eat soft serve ice cream. It’s just hilarious stuff. And yeah, it was like the greatest thing ever, but that was Rudy for you.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thanks for sharing. How about your maternal grandfather?
Brad Serot: I never knew my mom’s dad. He passed when she was in her twenties. And my grandma had a series of boyfriends — Grandpa Clark, Grandpa Harry — over the course of time that were just, they’re really great guys. They’re always around. But on my mom’s side, it was the women that were the strong personalities. It was my Grandma Pat and my mom that were always ever [00:09:00] present and more of the role model.
David Hirsch: And father figures other than your mom’s not second husband but sort of a long-time boyfriend. Were there any other influencers?
Brad Serot: Yeah. Really my dad and Jim who was her second sort of quasi-husband. They played such a big part in shaping me. I would go from, Jim’s house on Thanksgiving, deep frying a turkey, playing horseshoes with my shirt off in the backyard with the family to putting a button-down on and then going to the Ritz Carlton to have Thanksgiving with my dad. And I had just such a drastic difference. Juxtapose. You can’t even write it. And they taught me how to camp and not to judge people the same way, but at the same time, my dad really liked nice things and I like nice things. And so it was pretty interesting, but those are my two biggest role models.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. So my recollection was you went to Southern Methodist University and then Miami University. You took a degree in marketing and finance. And I’m wondering, where did your career take you from there?
Brad Serot: When I graduated. I always say that people move to a different city or state [00:10:00] because of either a job or a significant other. I moved to Chicago to follow a girl. And my very first job, I didn’t really care what I did at the time when I was 22 years old. I just wanted a job. My very first job out of school was a door-to-door salesman for ADP, the payroll company, and that played a really pivotal point in my professional career because I didn’t really understand how lucky I was at the time with the training program that they instilled in me and hardcore sales 101. But I was at ADP for about a year. And then a year later I got into commercial real estate. And actually next week is my 22-year anniversary at the same company.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Brad Serot: Yeah. At the same company in commercial real estate at CBRE.
David Hirsch: You said that you moved to Chicago for a girl. Was it the woman that you actually married or was it somebody else?
Brad Serot: No. It was a girlfriend at the time. I was 22 years old. And then about a year after moving here, we ended up breaking up. And then I just focused solely on [00:11:00] commercial real estate and I just poured myself into it. But again, all these little things, I would tell you that there was, again, a pivotal moment. It’s sales at ADP, the payroll company where I had a manager who asked how I was doing. And I said, I was doing okay. The market was really tough, dot com bubble just burst and I was working real hard. He said, I think you’re failing. And if you want to continue to be here, if you keep up this mentality, you’re not going to be here. But if you want to be here, you know what you need to do. And that was this like lightbulb moment for me because no one had ever told me that I’d failed in my life. And he’s like, I bet school came pretty easy to you. Friends, girls. You’re failing. So get out of my office. You know what you need to do. And the next day I didn’t come in at eight in the morning. I came in at six in the morning the rest of the year. And I went from being the second to bottom of the list to the top of the list and rookie of the year. But the moment I broke up with my ex-girlfriend at that time, my career started taking off because I really focused on my job and the task at hand.
David Hirsch: Yeah, thanks for sharing. So let’s talk about special needs first on a personal level and then beyond. And I’m curious now, before Ava’s diagnosis, did you or Lexis have any [00:12:00] connection to the world of disability or special needs?
Brad Serot: I really was ignorant to anything special needs related. I was so inwardly focused that if it didn’t affect me or my wife at the time, I just didn’t see it. It wasn’t until Ava was born that a whole world opened up to me.
David Hirsch: So what is Ava’s diagnosis and how did it come about?
Brad Serot: Ava was born November 6th of 2013. She’s a twin. She delivered… We were at Northwestern Hospital and had a very traumatic birthing experience and spent about a month in the PICU. As a result of that, the formal diagnosis happened a year later when she was triplegic cerebral palsy. So that took us… the moment she was born, as many on this podcast who have been interviewed or other fathers will know, my life took a hard right. Ava’s life took a hard right. And that became the new normal.
She’s a twin. So there’s Ava. And Stella is a typically developing little ten-year-old now. Stella and her are fraternal twins. They’re not identical. [00:13:00] Very different personalities, very goofy in different ways. But that’s created a whole other set of challenges, which I didn’t even think about at the time and have reared their heads a little bit as the kids have gotten older.
David Hirsch: For good or bad, you know what a typically developing child would be like with Stella as the benchmark. And you’re reminded about that difference on an ongoing if not daily basis with the way Ava’s developed.
Brad Serot: Yeah. And it still presents itself, but as a daily heartbreak. And it’s one where you can’t spend your time there, but I was spending my time in that place for a while, but it eats you up inside. But now it’s all about just focusing on what we can do, and having fun and new experiences in that arena.
David Hirsch: I’m wondering if you can go into a little bit more detail about Ava’s birth.
Brad Serot: Yeah, so the twins were full term. After 22 hours of labor, we were told to go natural. It resulted in a crash C-section. It was a very confusing day. But what ended up happening was that Ava [00:14:00] was born and she didn’t breathe for 11 minutes. And she had a mystery skull fracture on her skull and blood on her brain. And she had what’s called a subdermal hematoma. She was also a head cooling patient, which at that time was very new technology or procedure. Just basically they put a head-shaped cooling ice pack there flowing water through it constantly to keep the swelling down. And then she was in a coma for the first month of her life. So it was a really shocking day. This wasn’t even on the radar, David. It wasn’t even as a realm of possibility of something that could remotely happen. I’m at the best hospital and the best doctors. How could something like this possibly happen and happen to me and to my child and to my family? But it did.
I remember Lexis started producing milk. And I would take a syringe because it would have a couple drops of the colostrum, and you would run down to the PICU and I’d go in back and just try to put some drops in Ava’s mouth in the hopes that would do something and [00:15:00] help her because all the goodness is in those first drops.
And I would come back up to the room and I was just shattered, crying, whatever. And the nurse pulled me aside before I walked into the room and she said, no. You wipe those tears off. There is no room for that. You need to be strong for your family and for your wife. And I took a deep breath and it was like… Again, just there’s these moments that I will always remember and cherish. And I just gave her a hug and she let me cry. And she’s you’re done now. Like, that’s that. Lock that up. But it was this really special moment where the day before Thanksgiving of 2013, Ava came home and we brought Ava and Stella home and had Thanksgiving at the house. And it was a very thankful Thanksgiving, no doubt.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing. I can’t even imagine what that first month of life would be like. You’re expecting these twins. Obviously you knew you were having twins. And one is healthy and normal and the other goes down this path that, like you said, you couldn’t even imagine. I’m assuming mom and baby go home from the hospital after a couple days, [00:16:00] Stella. And then Ava is at the hospital, PICU, like you said, for a month or so.
Brad Serot: Backing up a minute. Stella was on the smaller side. She was just a peanut. So she was a preemie, even though she was full term, and so she stayed in the NICU for about 25 days.
David Hirsch: Oh, okay.
Brad Serot: So both of our girls were in the NICU together. And I look back at how beat up… it looked like my daughter had been in a 12-ring boxing match. But how quickly she recovered in such a short period of time. The swelling, she woke up from her coma. She was able to latch on to mom towards the last few days because they wouldn’t let you leave unless she could eat. It was just like this miracle. Yes, my daughter is disabled. Every doctor from the time she was born, every therapist that we have seen, and we have seen lots, that read her charts, point to her, and then look at me, and they’re like, there’s no way this is the same girl. Because they’re expecting [00:17:00] someone that is so much more impacted. And again, for all of us, I feel very blessed to have her with us.
David Hirsch: Yeah, thanks for sharing. So you mentioned that some advice, meaningful advice you got was from that nurse that said, hey, you need to put your — I’m rephrasing this — you need to put your big boy pants on. You need to be strong for your family. Was there any advice that you got early on, beyond that, that you look back and say that was pretty pivotal as well?
Brad Serot: Lexis was so good in the eye of the storm. Lexis really inspired me in those days because she kept saying that this is the new normal. This is our new normal. And that was just something that she would say. And it really resonated with me, but it was really the two of us. We didn’t openly really talk about what happened. We did not openly talk about it with others, even really our family. And it was just the two of us. And we just felt like we were in the trenches. We were in this battle together. It was us, our girls, and we’re going to do whatever it took to make sure that we nurtured them the best we could. But we really didn’t share enough to even get advice, David, [00:18:00] from others, to be honest with you. And we were in such a place of denial of the reality of the situation.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for being so open and transparent about that. That was your way of coping, right? Not good or bad. Just that was your reality. You look back on it and I imagine there were some fears that were running through your mind. Can you remember what those were?
Brad Serot: Oh gosh. Yeah, not only was I terrified, but all that I would play in my head was, will she ever be able to run and play sports? Will she ever walk down the aisle? Will we ever be able to dance? Will she go to college? Will she be independent? Will she have friends? Will she fall in love? Will she be a mother? Just all these things that you wish for your family, for your kids, for your daughters. And it resonated in my head like a record every second of every day. And so my inward closedness really started going down this really angry path. And it wasn’t until years later that I was able to turn that around.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thank you for [00:19:00] being so open about that. Not to focus on the negative, but what have been some of the bigger challenges that you’ve encountered along the way with Ava’s condition?
Brad Serot: Early on, it was just as basic as we’re going to the third birthday party, the fourth birthday party, the kids, they’re going to bouncy houses and they’re running around. She wanted to do it. She wasn’t at a place just yet where she felt ashamed. She was too young. That came, that’s come more recently. Or being embarrassed. And to be honest, it pains me to admit this, but I was ashamed, and that shame really came from feeling that others were judging me as a parent. That I failed, that I did something wrong, and that’s why my daughter is like this. And she’s not able-bodied the same way that others, that her sister is. Whatever insecurity I had, that’s been tough.
As she’s gotten taller and heavier, that’s become a whole new set of challenges that I’m learning, and I’m actually talking to lots of dads about what do I do? Logistics come into play. We’re looking into our first powered wheelchair now, because she’s had a manual chair. And because she only has [00:20:00] the use of one arm, and she’s probably got an 80 or 75 percent use of it, the one arm pushing manually is not an option. She can’t stand on her own because she can’t find equilibrium. And so you have these challenges of when you have caregivers getting her on and off the potty, right? And going up and down stairs. How do we logistically do that? What does that look like? How are we getting in and out of cars? How do we get her from the chair onto and in her bed effectively if I’m not home? And there’s just certain things. And as she’s gotten larger, having a caregiver strong enough that I feel comfortable, right? So these are all things.
And then really personal but also just a reality, because of the cerebral palsy, it triggered her pituitary gland. And my 9-year-old daughter who is turning 10 next week has gone through hyperpuberty.
David Hirsch: Oh my.
Brad Serot: And she had her first period at the age of 9 years old. And that’s something that every single month I never thought that I would be helping my daughter in this way before. But this is my daughter and there isn’t anything I’m not going to do for her. And if I have to put rubber gloves on and [00:21:00] help her during that week, there’s another… Of course, whatever, that’s not even up for debate. But making sure that she has the care and other nurses, qualified females around to help out as well. But it’s just… these are things that were not even on the radar.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thank you again for sharing. I’m curious to know what impact Ava’s situation’s had on her siblings, not just her sister, her twin sister, but her younger siblings.
Brad Serot: So her and her twin are the oldest. And her direct twin and even the younger siblings over the last three years have really expressed jealousy or anger because Ava gets so much attention. As an adult you just want to explain. Can Ava run and play sports like you? No, she’s not on the soccer team and she can’t play cheer in the same way we can and she’s not as mobile and she’s not as active the same way. She requires daddy or a caregiver to get her up and move her through space and requires that attention. She needs help cutting her food, she needs help eating, she needs… just all the things. And as an adult you try to explain that to [00:22:00] your younger children but they’re not ready for that.
Then, through a lot of therapy, I’ve changed the language that I use. And it’s really about, it’s really hard to share dad. It’s really hard having a daughter or a sister that’s disabled. It must be really hard on you. And just trying to acknowledge it and name it for them, too. And that’s something that I was not even aware of because I wasn’t putting myself really in their shoes. But through lots of therapy and trying to understand how to better connect and communicate and support them as well because they deserve that. So these are all things that, with a lot of effort and also because I want to be the best damn dad I can be to them as well, and they deserve that.
David Hirsch: Yeah, one of the most important things you just shared, inadvertently, was reaching out to get help, the therapy.
Brad Serot: Yeah.
David Hirsch: That wasn’t like occupational therapy or speech therapy for Ava, that was therapy for dad. That’s a big hurdle.
Brad Serot: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Can you remember, you made reference to being in denial. When was it that you came to the realization that, hey, I need some help.
Brad Serot: When I was in it in the early days, I didn’t think that I needed help, right? And I thought [00:23:00] that I could handle it. I thought that I was uniquely… Literally, I would say this to myself, and it was this sort of egotistical moment where I am uniquely equipped. God must have done this because I am uniquely equipped to handle it. And whatever you throw my way, I will handle it. And now my mission in life is to make sure that this little girl lives the best version of her life, and I will stop at nothing to make sure that happens. And that was literally what I would tell myself constantly, right?
And everybody has a breaking point. Everybody has a breaking point. Even me in those moments when I thought I was, there’s no way I’m going to break. And my breaking point was when we moved from the city in 2018. My daughters were turning six. They were five and they were turning six that year. We moved to Winnetka. It’s a beautiful suburb in Chicago. And I moved into this wonderful house. I built a sensory gym in the basement for my daughter and for my other kids to play on. And I had this moment where I thought I had made it in the world, in life. Like, this is it. Now we’re going to focus on being great parents and raising these kids.
And three months after [00:24:00] moving into that home, my now ex-wife was expressing that she was unhappy and we went into couples therapy. And so that was my first foray into therapy to answer your question in a long winded way. But that was my first foray into therapy. I was still in this sort of denial. I can handle it moment up until that time. And in 2018, until the summer of 2019, we did couples therapy. And then June of 2019 we filed for divorce and I transitioned from couples therapy into getting my own therapist. I had a therapist prior in my life, before I even met my wife for a short stint. And so I was just like yes, I have a lot going on here and I can’t talk about it with my mom all the time. So it’s like I need somebody else to talk to who’s not gonna say it is what it is, this too shall pass. I love you, son. You walk on water. Like I needed something a little more objective. Amazing by the way. I love my mom and she gave great advice, you understand what I’m [00:25:00] saying.
We talked about sharing and being vulnerable and opening up through the divorce. In that moment of 2019 to 2020, I started changing my perspective, and I felt very trapped when it came to Ava. I felt like I was going to explode because I hadn’t talked about something that was so personal, so near and dear. And it’s part of my personality to share. I am wired to share. I do not hold anything in. And this was a big secret that I had been keeping. That is, I was faking it. I felt like I was faking it to the world, to my partners, my colleagues, my friends, and my loved ones that everything was okay. And it wasn’t okay. And I wasn’t okay. That was a hard thing to admit.
David Hirsch: Yeah, thank you for being so transparent about it. One of the more seasoned dads in the network — he’s in his mid 70s, part of the Special Fathers Network Mastermind Group — refers to this as testosterone poisoning. Men have testosterone poisoning. It prevents us [00:26:00] from looking at our situations more objectively or reaching out for advice. The old adage is we’re the gender that doesn’t pull over and ask for directions when we’re lost. We’re going to figure it out ourselves. And that’s much of what I heard you saying, right? You were going to figure it out yourself. Until you get to the point where you’re like, can’t do it. I’m not superhuman. And the lifeline, if I can call it that, was to get some advice, right? Not just like your mom, like my mom would. That’s the closest I’ll ever experience to unconditional love. But she was not objective about my situation, right? She would just try to pump me up and let me know that everything was going to be okay.
Brad Serot: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And it’s really important to be able to zoom out a little bit, take a look at your situation from a different perspective. And it’s a strength. You realize that now, Brad. It’s a strength to reach out and get some help, right? Because there’s very talented people out there that have been there and done that. Life is not meant to be really hard. You don’t have to grind it out on a daily basis. It’s good that you have [00:27:00] that commitment, that perseverance, like we’ve developed in the business world or in sales. But in reality, you get to a point where you put a certain amount of effort out, and if it’s not happening, you just have to say, hey, maybe there’s somebody that can help who has more experience than I do or has a different perspective on this. So I’m just thrilled that you’re more transparent and open about that today.
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 we talked a little bit about the impact of Ava’s situation on her siblings [00:28:00] and the path that you’ve been down even though the kids are really young, right? 10 and under. Concern that they have about all the attention that Ava gets versus themselves, which is typical for little kids, right? When you’re young, everything revolves around you. You as an individual. It’s not until you get to be a little bit older that you realize that it’s a bigger world out there. I’m wondering what impact Ava’s situation has had on your extended family.
Brad Serot: Yeah, I think that at first, we didn’t really let our extended family in the door. They would come and visit. We really just weren’t an open… We just shut the doors. I can’t describe it. Obviously I watch a lot of Disney at my house these days. These days, it’s like in Frozen, the castle was closed. Nobody was allowed in. That’s how it was. We were just very closed. And really, in 2020, when I moved into a house in Winnetka, a rental house down the street, I started living a different way. And it has nothing to do with my ex, it has nothing to do with us as married. I was just in a place where there has been so many life changes and so I had to be more open, and I had to bring my family [00:29:00] into it. I needed them, and I needed to be open and honest with them.
I have a modern family, David, which means that my older brother lives in San Francisco with his wife and child, and I have two younger brothers that live, one’s in Scottsdale and one’s in St. Louis with their children. My mom and dad are in Arizona and Florida. And I say that because I didn’t have this network around me to support me. I felt very isolated. And then furthermore, I was going through this divorce completely alone during COVID, right? So I moved into my rental in January of 2020 and really two and a half months later COVID hit.
So there was this moment where as much as I would and do virtual meetings with my family, as we all did back then, which seems like light years ago, for all intents and purposes, I felt very alone. And I had to find another extended family locally in community to have an outlet to really help share and be a part of my life, Ava’s life, my children’s life. Which one of the many beautiful things about COVID was [00:30:00] our world view shrank and my community shrank to the neighbors across the street. Having playdates and going to each other’s houses for garage beers or parties in the driveway. And you’re just together more. And it was just a really interesting sort of study I found just for myself is that became an extended family for me and something that really helped me get through this. So you want to focus on how to heal from those past experiences, but really focus on today and moving forward.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I think you’ve said something very profound, which is if you spend too much time in the past, it can drag you down or weigh you back. If you project too much out into the future all the worry and the concerns that you have no control over you don’t know what’s going to happen anyway, you’re robbing yourself from being present today. And that’s what I heard you say. You’ve got to be in the moment, right? You’re robbing yourself and your family members, if you spend too much time in the past or in the future for that matter.
I’d like to talk about [00:31:00] supporting organizations and I’m wondering what organizations come to mind that have benefited Ava or benefited your family over the last eight, 10 years.
Brad Serot: So one other sidebar story is that during COVID, the main coping mechanism that got me through my divorce and got me through COVID was cycling. So luckily I have some friends that were cyclists and were like, get out here, let’s cycle. And it really was this sort of therapeutic… When you talk about therapy, it was my therapy, it was my temple, my church, whatever. It really got me through it. And through cycling, one of my colleagues signed us up for this ride in Colorado called the Triple Bypass. And the reason it’s called the Triple Bypass is because you climb three enormous mountains. Up 12,000 feet of vertical climb over almost 120 miles of cycling from Evergreen just past Vail to Avon in Colorado. And you do it in one day. And he signed us all up and I was like, what the hell? I’m in. I literally felt like Lieutenant Dan in [00:32:00] Forrest Gump on the mast screaming at the hurricane in the skies. Like, bring it! Is this all you got? Let’s go!
And so 30 days before that ride, I was like, you know what? I’ve never really publicly talked about Ava. And this is going back to 2021. I’ve never publicly talked about Ava. I’ve never publicly talked about our family and I’d like to raise some money for some organizations that are near and dear. One of them being Easter Seals in DuPage in Fox Valley, and then one of them is the Epilepsy Foundation, because Ava also has epilepsy. She’s been seizure-free for the past two years, knock on wood. These are just organizations that are amazing and do such good for so many.
So I was like, screw it. I’m gonna use this as an opportunity to raise awareness and money. I never have raised money, David. I’ve always donated to friends. I didn’t know how much to raise. So I said, you know what? I’m going to raise $20,000 and I’ll match it and I’ll give both organizations $20 grand and I’ll feel really good about that. So I sent an email out to my family and my clients 30 days before the race. And within 24 hours, we raised $50,000. Within 48 hours, I raised $100,000. And 28 days later, we [00:33:00] raised $367,000. Last year we did the same thing, and in 30 days we raised $508,000. This year, we did it again, and we raised $581,000.
David Hirsch: Just amazing. Just amazing.
Brad Serot: It’s the “Yes We Can” ride. And “Yes We Can” is a motto that we say in our house. All the therapy that Ava does — occupational, physical, speech, behavioral, swim, whatever, you name it — every time it’s tough and she doesn’t want to do it and wants to give up, we always say “Yes We Can” . That is something that I’m really proud of and super, super near and dear. What made it really special this summer is that my kids were at the finish line. They had never really… They’d always heard about it. They’d never seen it in action. They didn’t really understand what it was about. And it was this really special moment where I had the entire family and all my kids. cheering us on at the finish line. And it was just like super, it was just very emotional. And it was this beautiful bow on top for me.
The other thing about that ride, year one of that ride, David, in 2021 was I cried three times on that ride. And I got to a point where I don’t know if you’ve ever been physically broken before. I’ve been [00:34:00] emotionally broken before when Ava was born, but I was physically broken. And it was truly… I was… I could not go on and there’s a layer of mental strength and I went to that place of all the pain and sadness and shame and hurt, all those things we talked about the first half of my life as a father and I let it out and I cried as hard as I could and it came up three different times. And at the end of that ride, year one, that piece of me felt peaceful. It was no longer in pain. I can’t describe it. And so as I’ve been writing, I’ve learned that it’s been very healing and therapeutic. And so I love to share that because there’s other dads that I talked to along the way, and there’s something about the suffering and the overcoming of the suffering that is very healing. That’s a whole other podcast, but still.
David Hirsch: Yeah it’s like a metamorphosis. That’s what I heard you say, right? You went through this process, this is a really difficult riding experience that you’ve just described. This triple bypass, right? Physically demanding, emotionally demanding.
Brad Serot: Yeah, [00:35:00] nine hours, grueling. It’s just, yeah, horrible. It’s horrible. Right.
David Hirsch: And you’re probably reminded about the training, or maybe lack of the training, that you had hoped to do in advance of the ride. Now that you’ve done it, not just once, not twice, but three times, you have a confidence. Not a cockiness, but a confidence that says, hey, I’ve been there. I know what to expect. I know what it’s going to take to get in the adequate amount of shape to participate in this, even though you’re not getting any younger. And you get this sort of — I guess if you were talking about running, it would be like a runner’s high from the experience. But you get this riding high from putting yourself out there and testing yourself. And it’s therapeutic, like you said. So thank you again for sharing. And that’s an extraordinary amount of money that you’ve raised. $367,000. $508,000. $581,000. Holy cow! Maybe you should have a calling as a professional fundraiser or something.
Brad Serot: Yeah, no. The real estate market’s in a goofy spot right now, David, so that might be my new full time job.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing. So I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering what [00:36:00] advice you can share with parents, maybe specifically dads, who find themselves with a child that was recently diagnosed with whatever type of disability it might be.
Brad Serot: I would tell you that you’re not alone, and that there is this amazing community out there that when you’re ready to start sharing, because you don’t need to have a child with a disability because everybody is going through something. And I would tell you that… And again, this is my personal experiences at the moment that I started really sharing personal about my family, my daughter, and what we were going through, what I was going through, it set me free. And I really wish that I knew that sooner.
David Hirsch: Yeah, thanks for sharing. It’s very consistent. You’re not alone. There are a number of communities out there, right? You just need to get plugged in. And you didn’t use the word make yourself vulnerable, but I think that’s what you’ve done. And you see the benefits, the rewards of doing that, right? There’s a sense of freedom, right? The weight you’ve been carrying around, shouldering, is lightened. Doesn’t mean you’re not going to have challenges, doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to be difficult, but you’re in a [00:37:00] better place, right? You’re bringing your A game to your family, to work, and to the other things that are important to you. Why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Brad Serot: I found a mentor father by just sheer luck. And through that experience, it also helped push me into sharing more, being more open. As I started sharing and meeting more people, which led me to you, David, the more I learned, too. There’s just so many dads I met that are going through either something similar or different and I’ve learned something every single time. And so knowing that you don’t know it all, that you can learn something along the way whether it’s from care, therapies, connections, financially, just you name it, it runs the gamut. And these are all different things that are really helpful that there is no playbook for this stuff. There’s no handbook. This is it. And so being a mentor is something that I feel like it’s part of my duty. [00:38:00] Something that I’m passionate about, as are you.
David Hirsch: Yeah, thanks. We’re thrilled to have you in the network and it’s not lost on me that you have not quite ten years of fathering experience, so no doubt you have some experience that you can share with a younger guy. But you still have so many mileposts ahead of you. So you’re in the middle. You’re willing to mentor somebody else, but there’s still some mentoring that you’ll benefit from by guys that have been at it for not just 10 years, but 15 or 20 or 25 or 30 years. Anyway, I suspect that you’ll be wearing a couple hats. That’s my point.
Brad Serot: Oh yeah.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Brad Serot: No. Listen, I’m appreciative to have met you and everyone along the way that’s led me here and I’m excited to meet more dads and share and learn to be honest with you and I consider myself more of a student. So thank you for having me and I look forward to continuing the discussion and learning from everyone else.
David Hirsch: That’s great. Let’s give a special shout out to Special Fathers Network mentor fathers Tom Costello who [00:39:00] happens to be podcast dad #69, and Larry Kaufman podcast dad #146 for helping connect us.
Brad Serot: Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Larry
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about CBRE or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Brad Serot: Call, text are always the best for me. Cell phone’s always the best: 773-837-7101. I’m an open book. And so I’d welcome speaking to anybody.
David Hirsch: Thank you for being so open. I’ll put that in the show notes and maybe your LinkedIn profile, just to make it as easy as possible for people to reach out to you.
Brad, thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, Brad 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 [00:40:00] 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. Brad, thanks again.
Brad Serot: Thank you so much, 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 [00:41:00] 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.