David Hirsch talks with film producer and director Scott Sowers. Scott and his wife Sharon live outside of Atlanta and are parents of a special needs daughter, Gloria. Scott produced and directed a film called Special Needs, about people with special needs and the families that care for them.
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network 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 connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: Hi, I’m David Hirsch. This is the Special Fathers Network Podcast, stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: And I’m Tom Couch. David’s guest today is film producer and director Scott Sowers.
Scott Sowers: You can either get mad at God for all this stuff, or you can just embrace it and realize there’s a reason, and just let it play out, and go with it.
Tom Couch: Scott and his wife Sharon live in Atlanta, Georgia.
Scott Sowers: Hey, Glowworm time to get up, rise and shine!
Tom Couch: They are parents of a special needs daughter, Gloria. Scott produced and directed a film called “Special Needs,” about people with special needs and the families that care for them. Sharon performed the music.
Scott Sowers: I wanted to write a story not really focusing on the special needs person, but focusing on the people around them.
Tom Couch: Scott has also done great work with his church for the special needs community, and other Georgia churches are taking notice and asking for his help and guidance.
Scott Sowers: And like I always tell people, just love them up. Love them. Love your child, and the rest will follow.
Tom Couch: He coaches special needs kids in baseball, works with Tim Tebow’s “Night to Shine,” and he’s a mentor father in the Special Fathers Network.
Scott Sowers: If I can share with another father like we’re sharing right now, that’s what it’s all about.
Tom Couch: He’s an amazing guy, and he’s David Hirsch’s guest today on the Special Fathers Network Podcast.
David Hirsch: Being a father is very important to me. Being a good father means being a successful role model for your child, helping them be happier, more fulfilled and productive members of society. I’ve started a number of charitable organizations designed to increase the role of fathers.
One of them, the Special Fathers Network, is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. We’ve been interviewing some exceptional fathers of special needs kids, and we want to share their stories with you.
Tom Couch: So let’s get to it. Here’s David’s conversation with special father Scott Sowers.
David Hirsch: We’re here today in Atlanta talking with Scott Sowers, producer of the movie “Special Needs.” Scott, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Scott Sowers: Yeah, my pleasure.
David Hirsch: So you and your wife Sharon are parents of two girls, Kelly, who’s 34, and Gloria, 30, who was diagnosed with autism, mental delays and mild retardation.
Scott Sowers: Correct.
David Hirsch: So let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family, your siblings, the type of neighborhood you grew up in.
Scott Sowers: Okay. I don’t think we have enough time for all of it, but I was born in El Paso, Texas. I was number six of eight kids. I’ve got five sisters and two brothers. And we lived probably about a quarter mile from the Rio Grande river in El Paso, which was awesome. Growing up as a child, we played down by the river. We used to take bets who could cross the Rio Grande and go into Mexico. It was fantastic. But I really loved El Paso.
When you’re a kid, they say that all your memories are formed when you’re like between five and 10. And I can actually still remember the things that I used to do back there. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I mean, kids today have no clue what growing up outside means, and running on riverbanks, and riding horses through your neighborhoods, and playing hide and seek and kick the can, where you’ve got five miles to go hide in.
David Hirsch: So it was a rural environment.
Scott Sowers: It was wonderful. My father was a dentist, and we were members of the country club down there. We had all the 4th of July picnics. We had the swim meets, we had all that stuff, but it was just really great growing up in El Paso.
And then my mom would get sick with allergies and whatnot. She had asthma. So we ended up leaving El Paso and moving to San Angelo, Texas, when I was probably 10 years old. And that’s where I was raised. We were a very active family. We all played football, and my sisters were cheerleaders and homecoming queens. I mean, I’m kind of hitting the top parts of it. Yeah, it was good.
And then tragedy struck when my mother passed away. I was 13, and she was 43 years old. She left behind all these kids with my father. And she was the rock. So when she passed away, that was about it for him. He had his issues. He was a Bombardier in World War II. He had some drinking problems that I wish he could have gotten rid of. But the war haunted him his whole life. And so he was a tough, tough guy.
And I’ll just say he was very tough to live with. And I’ll leave it at that. And it affected all of us, especially after our mother passed away. Because when he’d get upset, or he’d have problems, she was the one that would take care of him and we’d all go on about our business. But after she passed away, the oldest would leave, then the next oldest would leave, and then we all kind of left. I ended up leaving when I was a senior in high school
I went to Austin, Texas, where I finished my senior year in high school. I got my own apartment and started working, and I’ve been working ever since. That was a quick way to grow up, but I don’t know if you can imagine a kid in high school with his own apartment. I could come and go as I pleased, you know? No, it was fine. It was different. I had a lot of support from friends and other family. But, childhood was tough. It was really tough.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, sorry to hear about your mom passing away at such an early age, and obviously that’s a big responsibility for a parent, mom or dad, to be raising eight kids. And your dad was a dentist, so I’m sure he’s working full time and he’s just trying to connect the dots.
You mentioned he was tough to live with or tough on you guys. How would you characterize your relationship with your dad, maybe as a young person, and then as you became an adult yourself, and then maybe before he passed?
Scott Sowers: Well, I can say, he was one of 11 children and he was the youngest.
David Hirsch: Oh, wow.
Scott Sowers: And that was in a coal mining family in West Virginia. And those stories are just endless. And his father was brutal. And back in the day, when you got a beating back then, you got a beating back then. So he was raised that way.
And they were all basketball champs, football stars, all his brothers—Uncle Dan, Uncle Scott, Uncle John, Uncle Buck, Uncle Tom. And they all went in the military, and they were all war heroes. They all did their stint and fought for this country.
Well, he was the sweetest man you’d ever meet. We used to have a morning dad and an evening dad. The morning dad was up at four o’clock and wake us up, take us fishing, come home, cook the fish for breakfast, wake everybody else up. Those were the days that were beautiful. Those mornings, those parts of the day.
He’d go to work and work all day. In San Angelo, I called him the poor man’s dentist, because you could come to him and get a tooth pulled, a root canal, a filling, and if you didn’t have the money, he’d just put it on an index card. Some people would bring him some fish or some venison or whatever, and he would take it. And a rite of passage for some of us was to work in his office when we were 14 or whatever.
But growing up, I was scared of him when he drank. And he didn’t drink that much. I think he had some problems from the war. They didn’t treat vets like they do now. They just said, “The war is over—go home.”
David Hirsch: There wasn’t PTSD or traumatic brain injuries or anything like that?
Scott Sowers: He had all that and then some. But he drank a little bit, and then every day he’d come home and he’d have that look. And you did not want to be there. And he was colorful in his language. But when he was younger, he was pretty tough on my older siblings. He was pretty violent, and it messed us up. I mean, it was horrible. It took a long time. We referred to ourselves as the walking wounded, because we all had our issues.
I was fortunate enough to be number six. And when I told you about my going to college, I went to University of Texas at Austin, and I was in Austin in high school, and I could have gone the full gamut. I had a trust fund from my mother’s family. I could have gone to school. I just didn’t do it. I went one year at UT and it just wasn’t for me.
I went back to San Angelo, and I tried going to college there. I took a drama class, because my mom and I used to love to watch movies. She instilled that in me, watching movies, writing stories, acting, all that sort of stuff. And I just decided to take a drama class in college. And the professor one day said, “Don’t think you can go to New York or LA and become a movie star. It’s just not going to happen.”
So of course, within two weeks I’m packing up an old Rambler, and I’m going to California, because I didn’t want to go to New York. I went out there, and I wanted to be a movie star and do the whole gamut. And it was fun. It was going to town.
And then my father got very ill. He was diabetic. He lost his foot. And so my oldest brother had followed me out to California. We went back to San Angelo and pretty much packed him up, brought him out to California, had him at the VA hospital there, trying to get him straightened out. He was living with me in the apartment.
He had a credit card that he managed to keep on him. Then one day he left a note that said, “Love you. See you,” and flew back to West Virginia. And there he was going to kill himself. So he jumped off a bridge into a river that was two feet deep and very muddy. My Uncle Tom found it out, went there and took him in. So he ended up in the hospital up there. He went from hospital to hospital to hospital. Each of us took care of him for a while.
He ended up in Texas and lost his other leg. He was 83 years old. We thought he was gonna pass away. And so we all got together, all eight of us, and he didn’t pass away. So we all went home. Finally, six months later, he did succumb, and we all met, and we had a funeral for him and buried him in San Angelo next to my mother.
David Hirsch: Wow. So it sounds like a tragic end to his life.
Scott Sowers: It’s a story I’ve been working on.
David Hirsch: That’s wild.
Scott Sowers: Well, that’s a lot of stuff to throw down on you.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. It sounds like you had to grow up pretty fast once your mom passed away, and it was a little bit of a Jekyll and Hyde type of experience. That’s what I heard you say. The good dad in the morning and then anybody’s guess in the afternoon or evening type of experience. You made reference to his dad being a coal miner and your dad being one of eleven. Were you in contact with your mom’s dad, your other grandpa?
Scott Sowers: Her grandfather was a judge. He was an attorney and a judge in El Paso, Texas. And a real quick story about him. In college he had two friends, and when they graduated from college, my grandfather wanted to be a lawyer. Sam wanted to be an accountant, and Conrad had a crazy idea that with the new invention of the automobile, people are going to want to travel. “So guys, you got to come with me to California. We can make a fortune.”
Well, they didn’t do it. But Sam Young worked in a bank and got Conrad a loan for a couple thousand dollars. He went to California, and he came back years later and built the El Paso National Bank building, and Sam Young became the president of that. And he made my grandfather his personal attorney. And his name was Conrad Hilton.
David Hirsch: Oh, my gosh.
Conrad: And I was staying at this hotel, and I happened to ask the hotel proprietor how much money he was making, and he told me he was making a lot of money.
Announcer: This is Conrad Hilton on the Art Linkletter TV show.
Conrad: So I says, “I’d like to buy your hotel, and I’m going to become a hotel man.”
Announcer: And that’s what happened. You certainly did.
Scott Sowers: Of course when I went to Hollywood to try and be a movie star, I thought I would connect with this man and see if he could help me out. And he wrote me a letter and said, “Your grandfather was my friend and personal attorney, but I really don’t know anything about the film business. My son might.”
So I got a job at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, down in food and beverage. They had the Academy Award dinner there one night. I’m filling the carts with liquor bottles and wine bottles, and I’m writing on there with a marker, on the bottles, “For a good screenplay, call Scott Sowers.”
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Scott Sowers: Nothing ever came of it, of course, but it was kind of funny.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it sounds like a roller coaster upbringing. I think each of our backgrounds helps shape our character and the type of people we become. And sometimes those, uh, challenges have more influence on us than the easy times. That’s my way of looking it.
Scott Sowers: Absolutely. It builds character.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk a little bit about your career. You said you went to University of Texas at Austin, and then in San Angelo. You ended up moving out to California to pursue a career.
Scott Sowers: Oh, I was going to be a big star, obviously, back in those days. I loved movies and writing and stuff. I used to ride my bike to the theater and watch John Wayne at the Texas Theater and all those Clint Eastwood movies and whatnot. I just loved it. I don’t know. My mother loved it and I think she gave me the bug. But, on the side of her family with all being lawyers, that’s what I was going to the University of Texas to do. I was going to try to become a lawyer. Well, that didn’t work out.
But I went out there, I guess it was ’76, round in there. And I went out there and I started doing extra work. I tried getting an agent. I waited tables. I drove a cab. I valet parked. Everybody in California, I found out quickly, is an actor.
David Hirsch: So how long were you out in LA pursuing that?
Scott Sowers: Let’s see, in 1980 I met Sharon, who came out there to move away from Georgia. She came into this restaurant where I was working, a country western restaurant. Go figure. She walked in one day at lunch, and I just knew right then. I just knew it. I told her on the second date. I finally got her to go out with me. She came in to apply for a waitress job part time, and I told her, “The manager, the owner, will be back in a little while.” I knew he wasn’t coming back.
But I just hounded her, courted her. I mean, I had to marry this woman. I just did. I mean, I knew it. I told her that, and she said, “No, you’re not.” So it took about, I don’t know, a year or so maybe. We got married at my friend Jack’s house, around his pool, in 1981.
She started doing the acting with me. That’s not why she went out there. She went out there to work for the Beverly Hills Courier magazine, but she got started doing acting, and she was working on “General Hospital” as an “under five,” what they call it. She was like a waitress at one of the casinos one of the stars owned. And she was having fun, and she was doing well and she was so knock dead gorgeous. We both gave it a shot.
And then we got pregnant. One day she wasn’t feeling well. I was cooking, and when I cook, I don’t stop. She took a bath, and she still wasn’t well. So it’s like my mom touched me on the shoulder and said, “Take her to the hospital.” I turned off all the food, picked her up, put her in my little crummy car, took her the hospital, explained, “She’s pregnant, but she’s not…..” Man, they pushed me out of the way, rushed her in there, and she had an ectopic pregnancy.
David Hirsch: Oh my God.
Scott Sowers: She was allergic to penicillin, and they gave her penicillin, not knowing. So she died, and they brought her back, and then she came out of there looking like she’d been in a fight with Muhammad Ali. And I just lost it. And I had to call her parents. I went in the chapel at the church. Then I had to call her parents and tell them, and that was the toughest thing, but she survived.
David Hirsch: So this was when Kelly was born?
Scott Sowers: No, we lost the first one.
David Hirsch: Oh, I’m sorry.
Scott Sowers: Yeah. Then this guy comes in and tells her, “You may not ever get pregnant again.” When she told me that, I got with the hospital people, and I said, “If you let anybody talk to her…” Because my brother-in-law is an ob-gyn, or he was. So I called him. He said, “Scott, that happens. Just give it a while. Try again, you’ll be fine.” So we did, and we got pregnant again. And then we looked around California, and we went, “Okay. We don’t have enough money to live here. So let’s move to Georgia.”
David Hirsch: She was from Georgia.
Scott Sowers: She’s from Atlanta. And I knew I couldn’t go back to Texas, because it would have been…just not with my friends. It would have been horrible. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now, probably.
No, we decided to come back to Georgia, and her brother had a job for me in construction. So I kinda just gave the dream up a little bit. And then I just kept writing scripts and kept working. As I did theater here at a college. We had Kelly, which was…God, she’s just such a wonderful child. She was so funny, and just big. Kelly was big. She just a wonderful little blonde girl that was just full of vinegar.
So all we did is just work. Sharon is working IT. I got a job with a computer software manufacturing company, heading up their warehouse and inventory control and all that, which I still do as my day job today. Around ‘88 we got pregnant again. We had Gloria, and she was just a butterball. She was cute as she could be.
I’ll tell you a funny story real quick about how you get forced into your dream somehow. I was working for this company for ten years, getting it built up with the software company, and it got bought out by the big boys. Before we had Gloria, Sharon was working as an IT for AT&T.
She called me one more than 10 o’clock and was crying. I’m like, “What’s the matter?” “They’re shutting down this facility, and I’ve lost my job. I’m being laid off.” In 1990 everybody was downsizing. I said, “Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it.”
And then I got called into my office at noon by the controller, and they had to lay me off for lack of work. So I just sat there and looked out the window for a minute, and I thought, “Well.” I didn’t hear another word after that came out of his mouth. I packed up. I called her, and I said, “Sharon, ah, I just got laid off.” “Well, that’s not funny.”
David Hirsch: She thought you were joking.
Scott Sowers: Yeah. So I came home, and needless to say, we went out and celebrated our freedom. But that was a wake up call.
David Hirsch: So we’ve got a three or four-year-old daughter, at the time, and you were both losing your jobs.
Scott Sowers: Correct. And Kelly was probably about seven or six. But I started a catering company, “Catering Fools.”
David Hirsch: And that was the name of the company?
Scott Sowers: Yeah. And it was just me. And that’s about the time we started finding out Gloria had issues. Because when they’re babies, you really don’t know. She looked fine, but then when you’d sit her up, she’d fall over. She wasn’t hitting her milestones. And one of my topics in a book that I’m writing is milestones.
So we took her down and had all the tests that people do. And we got the diagnosis. It was pretty hard to take. But Sharon, God love her, went and became an AMI certified Montessori school teacher. She started a in-home Montessori school where she could have eight students.
And she did that so she could be at home with Gloria, you know? And she did that for almost 20 years. And she had a good thing going on at the house. I built a school for her right there in the back, turned a screened in patio into a nice school. And you saw it in the movie, right? Right back there. The little Montessori school.
And I went to work for a 72-year-old printing company, and I thought I’d be there forever. Two years later they shut it down because of desktop publishing. And then I went to work for another printing company, and then I landed at RLR Plastic Company in 1997.
David Hirsch: So you’ve been there since.
Scott Sowers: They’ve been wonderful to me.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So let’s go back to when you realized that Gloria wasn’t developing at the same rate that her peers would have been, and the experience that you and Sharon had. You mentioned that it led Sharon into this path of creating a Montessori school and being able to be more like homeschooling, because Gloria would have been one of the eight students.
Scott Sowers: Yeah. She kind of grew up around it, and then when she was old enough to go to public school, we sent her to Brookwood, which was a beautiful program. She would go to school and it was just great. They had some inclusion, but Gloria can’t read, she can’t write. But she’s very personable. She’s a wonderful girl.
But she did that until I think you age out at 21. So when she did age out, she would come home and help Sharon. We say she was Sharon’s parapro. She’s so wonderful with the little kids, because Sharon has two and a half to five year olds. Gloria would just loved them and they loved her. It was a wonderful thing. It was really nice.
We didn’t know. Sharon thought there might’ve been something happened during the birth, maybe she was choked or maybe she was dropped and all these things. And I was just excited, and I don’t recall any of that. But at any rate, when she got older, we went through the tests. She was born in 88, and the tests back then, you took them for Fragile X. Let’s go there. Let’s do all these blood tests. Let’s do these things.
They did a muscle biopsy and took some muscle out of the front of her thigh, which really makes me mad, cause it’s still there. But long story short of it is, when we finally went to this doctor, he was a D.O., and I can’t think of his name right now, but he wore plaid shirts and striped pants. He was a character.
David Hirsch: Like Rodney Dangerfield.
Scott Sowers: He was awesome. One day, he said, “Gloria is going to be what she’s going to be. Love her. Work with her. And that’s about all you can do. And she’s going to be whatever she’s going to be.” And that’s the best advice we got.
Because what happens with this—and this is what I’m putting in my book—is we all have milestones as children. And I called it a big switchboard: crawling, walking, talking, eating. There’s a millions of them. But you notice that she wasn’t hitting the milestones. She wasn’t crawling. She didn’t walk until she was four. And we have to be cognizant of it still, because like every three or four years, one of those switches would go off.
So she would never talk. And now when you’re with her, she won’t stop talking. That’s what the signs are. When you have a child like that, you’ve got to watch it, because the diagnosis of mildly mentally retarded, developmentally delayed. I mean, Gloria is 30, and her hands look like she’s 14. She’s just a real pretty little girl with beautiful red hair.
But anyway, it took a long time to get the autism diagnosis. Took forever. And when we started shooting the movie in 2009, one out of every 106 kids was in the autism spectrum. Today it’s one in every 55. It’s getting crazy. The spectrum is growing, and I don’t know what it’s from. It’s crazy.
David Hirsch: So what were some of the more important decisions that you and Sharon made along the way, as Gloria was growing up?
Scott Sowers: Well, for her, it was schools. Do you want to put in public schools? Safety was number one with me, and it still is today. I will not let Gloria stay at home alone. I will not let her go anywhere without supervision. She has a caregiver when she goes to her day program. She goes everywhere with us, or she’s with her sister. Because you just had this little kid, and you’re trusting this person who can’t fend for themselves to go out into the world with strangers or with somebody else.
Safety was my main concern. And one day she was at some elementary school. It was a new school, and she was on the playground, up on the thing where they slide down, with a teacher holding her hand. Well, some child ran up the slide backwards, and they backed up like that. Gloria fell off…
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Scott Sowers: And landed. And there was no fluff. It was gravel, and she broke her femur.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Scott Sowers: I got the call, and they took her to the hospital. To this day, she’ll sometimes talk about that siren and the ambulance ride. But they put her in a body cast in both legs, up to her hips.
And that was right at the time when I was laid off. So luckily I was there to take care of her. And Sharon was working. I think that right there my father instincts just came out, and I said, “Never again is this going to happen.” I think for me and Sharon, it was her safety
And then the knowledge. I’ve got old videos of me doing flashcards with her—Apple, Banana. Like I said, you had to watch for when those switches came on. Right now even, she’s sounding more grown up. She’s sounding closer to a twelve-year-old than a six-year-old, and she’s 30. So at this rate, she’ll be 30 when she’s a hundred. I don’t know. She’s such a happy girl.
But trust me, she has her moments, like they all do. She will snap and go off on us big time. She doesn’t go off on people she doesn’t know. We’re her comfort zone to be able to go ballistic.
David Hirsch: That sounds like you’ve had a lot of different experiences, good and bad, like any family would. What impact has Gloria’s situation had on Kelly, do you think? Positive or negative?
Scott Sowers: Positive. I can tell you. I could pull up pictures of you with Kelly and her sister when they were little, Kelly pulling her around in a wagon, pushing her down hill on a sled in the snow. But Kelly has never treated Gloria like she’s fragile, like she’s handicapped or disabled or special needs. She just like, “Really?”
David Hirsch: Doesn’t cut her any slack.
Scott Sowers: And that’s a beautiful thing. I’ve got it in my book that some of the finest young adults I’ve ever met, even young kids, or siblings of special needs kid, they just get it. They get it. Now, there might be one or two that have an attitude, but eventually they get it.
And I see it everywhere. Some of them I know go into the field of special needs education and whatnot. But I think having Gloria in Kelly’s life has made Kelly a humble person, a more spiritual person, a more caring person, and a more independent, strong person. Because if anybody says anything about Gloria or anything like that about any kids, she’s on it. Now you saw the film. Kelly’s the blonde. And she’s the one with the little kids. She said, “You have a problem. Do you know what that word means?”
Tom Couch: And let’s hear that clip from the movie, “Special Needs.”
Actor: God, you’re so retarded.
Kelly: You have a problem. Do you like offending people, hurting their feelings? Because many of the words that you guys use today are extremely offensive to a lot of groups of people.
Scott Sowers: And that’s her. She is that person. That’s her to a T. Plus she’s also the head coach of 250 girls at her track team in high school. So that comes in handy.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it sounds like the girls have a wonderful relationship.
Scott Sowers: Sister time.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So you made reference, at least in passing, to spirituality. What role has spirituality played in your life, in Sharon’s life, or your family’s life, for that matter?
Scott Sowers: Well, let’s put it this way. Growing up, I always believed in a God. I was forced to go to church. My dad is like, “You’re going.” I was not Catholic my whole life. I was Presbyterian. I didn’t become a Catholic until 2000, although I did attend church with my Catholic family years before that, before I took RCIA and became a Catholic.
David Hirsch: Which is something we have in common.
Scott Sowers: Did you? Good.
David Hirsch: I went through the RCIA program back in 2010.
Scott Sowers: 2010. You’re a newbie, relatively speaking. But what’s cool is after I did it…I did it with Sharon’s mother, because she wasn’t Catholic, and she was married to Thomas Kelly. I mean, you talk about a father figure. Later in life that was my father figure.
Tom Kelly passed away, but oh, was that guy something else. He was a peach. He got me in the Stephen’s Ministry. He got me in it. He said, “You know, you need to join the Stephen’s Ministry.” And I said, “Well, I’ll think about it.” He said, “That’s not a question. You need to join this thing.”
I mean, you’ve heard a little about my past. I’ve got nothing to hide. I was bulletproof, ten feet tall. And although I believed in God my whole life. And my mother talked to me every day, I talked to her. She’s closer to me than she ever was. I never expressed my spirituality, I never talked about it. God forbid I became a Bible ihumper, like my sisters.
But again, I don’t know what it is, but when I met Sharon, that was it. She is probably the most spiritual person I know, and she is as close to perfect as I can even imagine. She really is. And she’d kill me if she heard me say this, and she will one day hopefully will.
David Hirsch: Kill you? Or hear this?
Scott Sowers: She won’t kill me. Again, spiritual. But her belief is so strong and her faith is so strong. And with Gloria, she took it in stride. And people would come to her and say, “Oh, what’s wrong with your daughter?” And she’d be, “Nothing’s wrong with her. She’s fine. She’s Gloria. I mean, what…?” “Oh, sorry.”
And again, I keep going back to what I’m writing about, the theme of my movie. We all have needs, all of us, whatever we’re drunks or drug addicts or anger or whatever it is, diabetes, sickness, we all have needs. But some are more special than others.
And that’s where Gloria has brought us to spirituality in a way. But you can either get mad at God for all this stuff, or you can just embrace it and realize there’s a reason, and just let it play out and go with it. And Gloria—I wouldn’t trade her for a million…I wouldn’t trade her for anything.
I would like her to be “normal,” like everyone else? Yeah, but not for me. For her. Because I’d love her to grow up and get married. She talks about it all the time. “Well, when I get married, I’m going to buy a big house.” I said, “Why, Gloria? You’ve got a house here.” But for her, I’d like her to be able to do the things, get married, have a family and so on and so forth. But she’s happy.
But spirituality is huge right now in her life and in my life. And mine has grown twofold since I started coaching baseball and coming closer to kids, and starting this special needs ministry at St. John Neumann.
David Hirsch: And then let’s talk about the movie. You wrote this script and produced this movie entitled, “Special Needs.” Where did the idea come from and what was your vision?
Scott Sowers: Well, I’d been working on a script with Sharon. I’ve written so many scripts, and it’s hard to get them done. I’ve written a country, strong violent country, mountain woman movie. I’ve written a Western comedy.
I wrote a thing called “Fast Food” that got produced in ‘89 here in Atlanta with Jim Varney and all these actors. And it was kind of a schleppy thing. But then all of a sudden I’m thinking, “You know, I gotta write something with meaning.” And so first thing writers know is you write what you know about, or you have to study a lot.
But anyway, I started writing this thing called “Special Needs,” because I’d been working with all these kids and whatnot. And the theme of that is what I just told you, that we all have needs, but some are more special than others. I wanted to write a story not really focusing on the special needs person, but focusing on the people around them—the father, the sister, the teachers—that everybody around them that has issues.
Like the lead actor, he was an alcoholic. He drove with cops while he’s trying to get his life together. And Kenny, of course, is that kid with autism, and his sister’s worried because she’s going to have to take care of him one day. And Kelly said she’s going to have to take care of Gloria, so I’m using all my family and friends in the movie. I wanted it to come to a head where all the needs of everyone around them kind of start playing out.
There were other things I wanted. If I had a budget, there were so many other things I wanted to do. First, it would have been nice to get a movie star to actually be in it. But that’s okay. We got the point across for a very, very, very low budget. If you notice at the end, I had people actually come up to me afterwards and ask me, “Did they get married?” “Who?” “Bobby and Ella?” And I said, “You know this was a movie, right?” And they laugh.
But I have a sequel. I’m working on a sequel, which is interesting. But anyway, so where I left. It was where I left the baseball team. I had a built in wonderful baseball team, and I wanted that scene with “Take me out to the ball game” to be like the old Mickey Mantle days, and they’re all hitting home runs.
And the kids had such a good time. But it was hard, because 2009 we had floods in Atlanta that summer. I’d get them all out there on the field and look up and here comes a gray wall. “Run!” And they’d all go home and it would flood.
David Hirsch: Well, economically, that wasn’t such a great time either.
Scott Sowers: No, it wasn’t.
David Hirsch: But I remember of the economic crisis of ’08 ad ’09. So those were really tough times.
Scott Sowers: Oh, it was horrible. I mean, nobody had any money. And this is what….oh, I’m glad you said that. Because my friend Randy’s father passed away. I went back to San Angelo, Texas, where I left to go to Hollywood, right? And he worked for a rancher buddy of ours. I didn’t really know him that well, but he worked out on a ranch. And after the funeral we were out at the ranch, and here comes this strapping young actor fellow who knew my family.
And were out on the front porch, looking out over 4,000 acres of mesquite trees, and he said, “So Scott, I understand you want to make movies.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, how much would that cost?” I said, “Well, I can do probably a low budget for $250,000.” And he’s said, “I got that.” I said, “No kidding.” He said, “Yeah. We’ll talk about it,” as he took another drink. And I thought, “He’s not going to remember this tomorrow.” Anyways, we talked and talked.
The next day he came up, and I said, “Well, you got my check?” And he’s like, “What did I tell you?” Long story short, he was going to help us out, and then the financial crisis happened, and he said, “I can’t go that much.” I said, “What can you go?” So I bought the equipment. I put up my end. He put up some money. We spent $21,000 together on equipment. Which was credit card, for me anyway. But at any rate, the movie ended up costing about $8,000 to do the whole thing.
David Hirsch: So the equipment costs more than the movie.
Scott Sowers: And I still have the equipment. And $6,000 of that was food, over a year of shooting.
David Hirsch: So really a low budget.
Scott Sowers: All the people that I talked to that worked on that film worked for spec, worked for points. I thought, “This movie is going to make a fortune, and everybody can make a little bit of money.” You Google ‘special needs’ right now, you get 160 million hits—and they all know somebody that knows somebody. I thought, “This has got to have a market. It’s got to do something.” Well. No. We got it done, and I’d been talking to Sony and I sent them the script and everything. They’d loved it. They said, get us the screener when you’re done.
So two years of labor of love. We finally got through post, got the script written, the movie done. I send it to them. The guy called and we talked for about an hour, and he’s saying, “If you had just got one B actor in it.” “What?” I said, “You could have told me before this.” But if you see these movies where there’s no stars, and then there’s one guy, Ben Marine or somebody shows up. They didn’t pick it up. Then all of a sudden, guess what happens? Oh, technology raises its ugly head. I thought we’d get into Blockbuster and all that. Well, there’s no Blockbuster anymore.
There’s no money there. There is for the big boys, but for independent films, the best you can hope for is to get it on a live stream, video on demand. So I’ve been pushing this movie for the last nine years, every opportunity I have. I have it up in stores. I took it around, I sent it to screening. And it took me two years to finally get Pure Flix to pick it up. And now it’s streaming on video, on demand with Pure Flix and this is their division of video on demand.
David Hirsch: Could you reshoot the movie with somebody?
Scott Sowers: Absolutely. Yeah. If somebody came along and said, “We’re going to put ten million bucks into this and we’re going to use, oh, I don’t know, some actor, like, I dunno, Joe Mantegna or somebody like that.” Fundamentally, I think the story’s there. And I’m hoping something like that would happen. Because I really have a good sequel I’m working on.
David Hirsch: You’re also involved in the special needs community, through the church, through the archdiocese as well.
Scott Sowers: Yeah. I got involved here at church. We had a disabilities ministry that wasn’t really going anywhere. It was there, but it didn’t have a committee. We put a committee together. And then they wanted the chairman, and I said, “I’ll do it.”
David Hirsch: These were parents of special needs kids now coming together to form this committee?
Scott Sowers: No, no, this is the church. The church itself had a disabilities ministry. And there were a few special needs parents there, but not everybody.
But when I took it over. There was another mother of a special needs child, and I said, “You help me, and I’ll do this.” She said, “I’ll do it.” So first thing I did is I changed it from disabilities ministry to the special needs ministry. And then I started thinking, “What are we going to do?”
Because again, I keep going back to this: special needs should include people with physical disabilities, people with all different types of disabilities or special needs. So anyway, what are we going to do? So I used to take Gloria to this respite on one night, and they’d had the guys there and they put movies on and give them a sandwich and parents could drop him off. So I thought, we’re going to do that here.
And the Knights of Columbus have been fantastic. They have breakfasts every once in a while. I’m sure you’re familiar with that. And they dedicate one of them to the special needs. They do it for the different ministries. And they raised enough money at that breakfast—and we broke the record two years running for people showing up—and that money gets us through a whole year and then some.
Plus I go out and I hit up people I know, and we have fundraisers. We have a donation box at the door, and we do whatever we can to keep this going.
David Hirsch: So that’s through St. John Neumann church?
Scott Sowers: St. John Neumann.
David Hirsch: And you also mentioned that you were involved with something with the archdiocese.
Scott Sowers: The archdiocese called me. Maggie called me up. She’s the head of the committee up there. She asked me if I wanted to get involved, and I said, “Sure.” So I went up there and got involved in that, because she saw what I was doing here, and she wanted to integrate that into other churches. And that kind of snowballed out, and in our deanery, it’s starting to happen. They’re having their special needs ministries and carrying on and so forth.
And the auxiliary bishop here, Bishop Talley, he loves special needs. He would have a faith and charity mass every year. Actually, I think he had two, one in the fall, one in the spring. And it’s just all special needs kids doing everything. And it’s the most beautiful thing you ever saw in your life.
And the last one he did was up in a church in north Georgia where it was Hispanic communities. And I tell you what, it brought tears to your eyes. They had kids up there, hundreds of people there, and these people are very proud there. They don’t show themselves, but they came out in droves because the Archbishop was there, and that was his last one before he left. And he’s down in New Orleans now or somewhere in Louisiana. But he really was an awesome guy.
David Hirsch: Sounds like he had a good influence. Does that tie into the “Night To Shine”? or is that something else?
Scott Sowers: The “Night To Shine” came about a few years ago when Tim Tebow saw a church do one, and then the first year he did in 40 churches. he called it the “Night To Shine for Prom.” And then the second year, I think he had 120. And this is fourth year, and this year he did over 500 churches in 26 countries, same night. They all come out. This is our fourth year, I think, third or fourth year. The girls all get free prom dresses. The boys get tuxedos. It’s all depends on where you are.
He did one in Haiti that would have just brought tears to your eyes. There was a red carpet into what looked like a war torn building. He carried the kids in, there might have been 60 kids there, and they had big security around the whole thing. Then he gets on a plane, he flies. He keeps making his way home during the day and time zones, making different appearances, and he ends up in somewhere on the east coast, either in Florida. We were hoping…everybody keeps hoping he comes to their event.
But at the end of the night, they drop the balloons. We had 1700 kids there. We have over 500 special needs kids, not here, at the big church in Gwinnett. It’s a huge megachurch. That’s where the people put that on with Tim Tebow.
So anyway, they did 500 kids. They all had one or two escorts, and food. And then of course, the big screen up there, and Tim Tebow comes on and gives a special message to everybody and tells them how wonderful they are. And they’re all kings or queens of the prom. I feel sorry for people that don’t get it.
And I’ve asked myself, again, in this book I’m working on, had I not had Gloria, or if we had not have Gloria, would we have the same friends and be doing the same things we’re doing now? And to be honest with you, I have to say probably not. And that’s not sad, but that’s just the way it is, I think. And for people to come from outside our realm and volunteer and help to do these kinds of things—they’re heroes. I mean, that’s awesome, because you don’t have to do that.
David Hirsch: But what I love about it is that there’s a sense of building community. We’re bringing people together who wouldn’t otherwise come together. Young people and old people, men and women, people in the special needs community and outside the special needs community. And the more we can do that, we’re getting closer to being part of the solution.
Scott Sowers: Yeah. And it’s great. I mean, it’s like one of my baseball teams. I have buddy helpers, they come out, and they’re scared to death. They’ve never done it before. They see these kids in wheelchairs, they see kids grabbing their arm and stuff. We talked to them before the game, and I’m like, “Guys, look. They just want to play baseball.” And I see it in their eyes, in wheelchairs and yelling.
And I don’t give any slack. I yell. I’m just like a coach. I give them a hard time, but I’m telling you, ten minutes into it, they’re loving it. And the coaches come to us and say, “Thank you for doing this.” They come back and they say, “You wouldn’t believe how my kids reacted to that. It changed their lives.” And I said, “Well, come on back. We can use you.”
David Hirsch: Oh yeah. Well, you think originally when you’re volunteering that I’m helping somebody, right? I’m doing something good for somebody else. But you realize at some point, maybe right away, maybe not so quickly, that you’re the one that’s growing. You’re the one that’s benefiting.
Scott Sowers: And you also think, “There but for the grace of God….” And that’s where Sharon always steps in and says, “There’s nothing wrong with these kids. They are who they are. They’re perfect.” And it’s getting better.” There are still a lot of cruel people out there that don’t understand, but not like it used to be.
Not like when I was a kid. I used to make fun of kids like that, and sometimes I’ve wondered if that’s why I had Gloria. I used to think God’s punishing me because I made fun of kids. And then that went away, because that’s not what God does.
David Hirsch: So we’ve talked about the baseball. I think you mentioned previously too about Special Olympics. What role if any has Special Olympics had?
Scott Sowers: Gloria has always done Special Olympics. As a kid she did the track and field. She does the basketball. We just finished up her Special Olympics basketball skills in this beautiful facility out in north Georgia, 12 basketball courts. I mean, there’s guys there—if they’re special needs, I’m Hercules. These guys were nailing three pointers.
Well, Gloria is more of a bounce/dribble/shoot thing. They got the silver, missed it by that much, but it’s a wonderful thing. And you wouldn’t believe all the people that are there and all the coaches and volunteers. Just to be around that is really phenomenal. We have a fantastic Special Olympics program in Georgia. They really go all out. I mean, they do.
David Hirsch: We have a good one in Illinois as well. In fact the 50 year anniversary celebration is taking place this July in Chicago. It’s a three or four day event and it’s going to be at Soldiers Field. And people from all over the country and outside the US are coming to Chicago to celebrate.
So, I’m thinking about advice. Is there advice that you would share for those raising a child with differences, or for dads who are raising a child with a physical or intellectual disability?
Scott Sowers: Don’t be afraid of anything. And like I always tell people, just love them up. Love them. Love your child, and the rest will follow. Don’t be afraid of anything, and don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do something. I mean, just love them. If you love them, the rest will come.
David Hirsch: That’s great advice. So why did you become a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Scott Sowers: Well, when Tom mentioned it to me, I said, “I’m on it.” And I went in and signed up. There’s no thinking about that. If you’re a father of a special needs child, whether you’re 20, 40….I’m 61. I mean, if I can share with another father like we’re sharing right now, that’s what it’s all about. If I can help one person get through one moment of sadness or angst or anger, or anything that’s troubling somebody, that’s a good thing.
And I know it’s reciprocal. I know that they’re going to tell me something that I’m going need. So it never hurts to talk. There’s not enough talking today in the world. There’s too much technical, emailing and texting and all. There’s not enough talking.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I’m really appreciative that you’re taking the time, and you didn’t have to think a lot about it. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to recruit hundreds and potentially thousands of other dads to step up and be mentor fathers as well. Is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Scott Sowers: Not really. I think what you’re doing is a wonderful program. I’m glad to be a part of it. And for those dads out there that get this information, and they’re praying about it or thinking about it. I’m one of these guys that’s “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But do it. Sign up. You may get a call from some guy. You may not ever get a call.
I’ve been down that road as a Stephen’s minister. Just sign up. If you have a special needs child, sign up. If you’re a young man and you’re starting out with a special needs child, and you want to talk to somebody, pick up the phone, reach out. We’re here. Just do it because just do it. No ifs, ands or buts. Sign up as a mentor and do it, because you have no idea how much stuff you have to share until you start sharing.
David Hirsch: Great advice. So if somebody wants to get a copy or watch the movie “Special Needs,” how would they go about doing that?
Scott Sowers: They need to sign up for Pure Flix, video on demand, I think. It’s pureflix.com, or just type in “Pure Flix.” And just sign up, because they have family films, faith-based films. You can put your kids in front of it and not have to worry about it. And just type in “Special Needs,” you’ll find it.
David Hirsch: Awesome. Scott, thank you for taking the time and sharing so many insights. As reminder, Scott’s just one of the dads who is agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising children 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.
Thanks again, Scott.
Scott Sowers: You’re welcome. Thank you.
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 fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And thank you for listening to this Special Fathers Network Podcast, stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network podcast was produced for 21st Century Dads by Couch Audio. Music provided by Purple Planet. Find out more at purple-planet.com. And to find out more about 21st Century Dads, go to 21stcenturydads.org.