In this Special Fathers’ Network Podcast, David Hirsch talks with Dan Marquardt, from Marquardt of Barrington, Buick GMC. Dan and with his wife Jennifer are parents to 9 children, including six adopted children who all have special needs. It’s an amazing story of a couple who are trying to make the world a better place – and succeeding.
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. Today David talks to Dan Marquardt from Marquardt of Barrington Buick GMC.
David Hirsch: So was it a quiet household, or was it like pandemonium?
Dan Marquardt: It was more pandemonium.
Tom Couch: Dan and his wife Jennifer are parents of nine children, including six adopted children who all have special needs.
Dan Marquardt: They have physical challenges. Absolutely. But nothing that they can’t overcome.
Tom Couch: It’s an amazing story of a couple who are trying to make the world a better place.
Dan Marquardt: The joy and happiness each of these kids bring us every day is a gift beyond words.
Tom Couch: Here’s David Hirsch.
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 hear David Hirsch’s conversation with special father Dan Marquardt.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking with my longtime friend, Dan Marquardt, from his store Marquardt of Barrington Buick GMC.
Dan, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Dan Marquardt: It’s my pleasure, David. Thank you.
David Hirsch: You and your amazing wife Jennifer are parents of nine children, including six adopted children, ages 14 to five years old, who all have special needs.
Dan Marquardt: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your own family.
Dan Marquardt: Well, that’s an interesting one. My wife and I both grew up in Libertyville in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I grew up in a family of 12 kids, so I have 11 siblings.
David Hirsch: Where are you in the pecking order?
Dan Marquardt: Right in the middle
David Hirsch: Middle child syndrome.
Dan Marquardt: That’s it exactly. I’m sixth of the 12. But it was fun growing up in a large family—never a dull moment. And all my siblings were biological. We had a wide age gap between oldest to youngest, I believe it’s 24 years.
David Hirsch: 24 from top to bottom. Wow. So there’s some that might be 10 years older than you and 10 years younger than you.
Dan Marquardt: Yes.
David Hirsch: Holy cow. So the older ones would have been in college, like when younger ones were born.
Dan Marquardt: Yeah. It was quite remarkable.
David Hirsch: Your parents must’ve had their hands full for decades.
Dan Marquardt: Literally. Not even figuratively, but yes, literally.
David Hirsch: So what was it like growing up in such a large family?
Dan Marquardt: It was interesting. Being in the middle, I think I was able to really garner a unique perspective, because I could relate to my older siblings, which was a little bit of a different generation, and also relate to my younger siblings, which was also a different generation, having a 20 plus year gap from youngest to oldest.
But my parents were wonderful people. My father and mother really were steady, were constant, were present, and just affirmed their love for us and their love for our family, and really, a high emphasis on faith and trying to really live our lives for God and not just for ourselves.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about your dad, Larry, who I remember was a Korean war vet. How would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Dan Marquardt: It was interesting. My dad, he really had a passion to help people in need. His story growing up as a relatively poor kid on the south side of Chicago, he started working when he was 11 years old. He was going to the University of Illinois to be an architect and really felt called to ministry. So he left there and ended up going to SMU. And the Korean war was going on at the time. And he saw a lot of people actually going to SMU, because if you had a divinity deferment, you weren’t going to be drafted.
So there were a lot of kids go on to Southern Methodist University. But he just felt that wasn’t necessarily the right place for him. And he knew if he left, he’d be drafted, and he was sure enough drafted. So he served his two years, and then came back from the service and started selling cars and loved the car business.
But he saw there was a lack of scruples and integrity, even back in the fifties. And so he said, “I have to be my own boss”. He’s very entrepreneurial. So he sought out a business that didn’t have a successor, that had a great product, and Buick was as hot as any automobile product in the fifties.
And he wanted a place that was economically sound, and Barrington, even in the fifties, was a great community. So he came here, started selling. Within six months they made him a sales manager, and within three years he became part owner and eventually full owner. The automobile business was a way to support his family.
He loved cars, but he loved helping people. And so really his greatest passion was mission work, world missions, and then humanitarian work. The hospitals or the medical service providers—if Baxter or Siemens made a heart monitor that was 4% more accurate, or fill in the medical device, they would replace it, because they needed to have the most modern equipment to mitigate liability.
Well, a lot of that stuff ended up getting disposed of, and he said, “This is crazy.” So for years, in what used to be our body shop, he was collecting medical equipment that was fully functioning, from hospital beds to radiology labs, to all sorts of medical equipment. And he found a place through many of his networks, through the church, through world missions distributions—long story short, a lot of it ended up going to Mexico. Through Rotary and through those efforts, they actually built full hospitals in Mexico.
And then much like the medical industry, our municipalities, they would get a referendum, or they want to replace their fire equipment or the emergency equipment. He was able to get fire engines and ambulances, and actually they built entire fire departments and supplied them in Mexico, which is really remarkable.
So that’s just a small snapshot. In one of his real passionate ventures as well, a missionary called him—and this was, I believe, in 1990—and said, “Here in Ukraine, there are two segments of the population that are not going to make it through the winter: the seniors and the orphans.”
Long story short, through some contacts my late father had through the state department, they were able to get a few thousand Ukrainian orphans flown over to the United States and placed with host families. And about half of these children throughout Milwaukee and Chicago ended up actually getting permanently adopted.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Dan Marquardt: And, about the other half…in fact, my parents took in three Ukrainian orphans. I still remember them.
David Hirsch: As though the family wasn’t large enough.
Dan Marquardt: So just trying to get to the 15 number…
David Hirsch: Hotel Marquardt.
Dan Marquardt: I still remember, it was Uri, Nicola and Alla. They were the three kids from Ukraine. And it was really quite an experience for them. That was a neat and very impactful venture that my father was involved in. But he was involved in dozens and dozens and dozens of things like that over his years.
David Hirsch: What an extraordinary role model.
Dan Marquardt: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: Large family, open your heart, open your home to others. And did you feel like you had like one on-one-time with him, or was it not really easy to do that? Because you’ve got all these siblings, it’s chaotic, he’s working.
Again, I’m going back to how you would describe your relationship with your dad. You talked a lot about what you admired about your Dad and the role model that he was, but I want to dig a little bit deeper and say, how would you describe or characterize that relationship?
Dan Marquardt: Well, I spent more time with my father after I graduated from college and chose to work in the family business than any other time in my life. It was interesting. I think it was when Jennifer was pregnant with our oldest daughter Hannah, just before she was born, he said, “Let me give you a little bit of fatherly advice. I’ve always tried to ratio my time in thirds: one third for the work, one third for ministry, and one third for the family.” And I started laughing a little bit. And he said, “What are you laughing at Dan?” I said, “Can I give you my ratios of your time?”
David Hirsch: You have to divide that one third by twelve…
Dan Marquardt: But he was a good man and a good father. But did we have that one on one time? Not like we would have liked. But I also know that he didn’t have a really strong role model or relationship with his father either. He always emphasized with us the importance of faith—living for God, trusting God, compassion, caring for others. And then also hard work. And he was a great role model in that aspect, that he taught me hard work.
In fact, it was funny. When I was 13 years old—actually, it probably started when I was 11 years old—I harassed him. I loved cars since I was a little kid. I always wanted to be in the car business. And I told him, “Hey, you going to let me work at the dealership?” And he’s like, “You’re just a kid. You can’t work at the dealership.”
And I badgered him for years. And then finally, when I was 13 years old, he broke down one day. He was like, “All right, fine, come to work with me, during the summertime.” So my first day at work, he introduces me to the service director. He says, “This is my son Dan. This is your boss. Do whatever he tells you to do.”
And then he looks at the service director and says, “And if he doesn’t do a good job, just fire him.” And he walked upstairs, and I’m thinking, “Wow.” But that was much how my father operated—no preferential treatment. It was, you have to learn the value of hard work. And I did, at a very young age
But as far as the relationship, I would say we didn’t have a super close relationship. But I also, being a father now of many kids, I learned from that. What did I want to change with how I’m raising my children, and how was our family dynamic supposed to be? And what did we want? And so Jennifer and I were very intentional about that with our children.
David Hirsch: So after college, you had already been working at the dealership. Did you contemplate going to work…I think you might have contemplated going into the automobile business, but working for Buick, as opposed to working in the family business.
Dan Marquardt: Yeah, that was actually neat. It was my senior year of college. At that time a marketing manager for Buick reached out to me. And he says, “Hey, I know you’re at school in Michigan. Would you like to take a tour of a Buick City plant and come see Buick’s world headquarters?”
I said, “Oh yeah, I’d love that. That’d be great.” And he’d known I was management marketing major. And so I had a personal tour of Buick City, which was really amazing to see how much manual labor still went into manufacturing cars back in that era, but also how much it was automated.
It was really amazing to see that blend of automation and manual assembly. Afterwards we took a tour of the corporate headquarters, and sat in his office for about an hour. We talked about all sorts of stuff. He invited some colleagues in, and I had no inkling that this turned into an interview. And at the end of our probably two and a half hour discussion, he says, “How would you like to come work for me?”
I said, “What?” And they said, “No, we really need some youth, some people who understand Buick’s heritage and are passionate about the brand.” And he says, “You would be a great complement to my team. How would you like to join my marketing team?” And I was really, really humbled, and stunned at the same time. And he’s like, “Take your time, think about it. Let’s touch base in a week or so.”
And so I prayed about that. Jennifer and I were engaged at the time, so I talked with her about it, and reached out to my father. And my father gave me some very wise counsel. He says, “You do whatever you want to do, but I want you to go in with eyes wide open, if that’s what you choose. Number one, you are a very opinionated guy. And you’re very passionate.” And he said, “Not that I think that’ll get you in trouble, but I can see you getting really frustrated really quick, because things at General Motors move slower than the government. So way slower than Congress. That will likely be frustrating for you.”
Then he said, “And number two, I know you and Jennifer want to settle down and have a family. You grew up in the same home your whole life. You were part of the same community”. He said, “If you go that avenue, your family’s not going to know that, because you’re going to bounce around the country and probably around the world. And that can be really tough on your spouse. It can be really tough on your kids. But when those opportunities come, if you ever turn them down, that’s where the ladder ends. You’ve got to keep taking those opportunities to move up the ladder.”
And then he said, “Lastly, no matter how high up you go, even if you become CEO of General Motors, you always have someone to answer to. As a business owner, yes, you have certain compliance matters and other things, but you’re your own boss. You can set your own schedule. You can operate in your own convictions. You can do things your way. You’re always gonna have someone to answer to.” So especially in hindsight, it was very, very wise counsel. And I’m grateful for the path that I chose.
And I’m also very thankful for one really unique blessing my parents bestowed on us: they were very focused on education. They really emphasized the importance of education, and they wanted us to pursue our dreams. So there was no nepotism in our household. There was nothing about, “Hey, you’ve got to follow in the family and dad’s footsteps. We want you to do this first.” It was always, “Follow your dreams.”
So we have a wide variety of vocations amongst my siblings, and everyone’s doing what they really wanted to do. I have two brothers that are attorneys. I have one brother that’s a pastor, one that’s a police officer. My baby sister is a physician. There are a lot of school teachers and also some small business owners, etc. So it’s just a wide array of vocations. And that’s really a testament to not only my parents’ emphasis on education, but really a rare compliment that they wanted us to do whatever we want wanted, and to live to our full potential.
So after contemplating the Buick offer, I chose to pass on that. I gratefully declined, and was very humbled by the compliment that it was. But in hindsight, I’m very thankful that I chose the path I did, and it allowed me and my brother Curt to become business partners. We have a great relationship, and we have something that our late father never had. That’s always a perspective I have to remember too.
My dad didn’t have a business partner or manager that he could completely rely on, that shared his same worldview and his same commitment to taking care of customers, someone he could trust with his bank accounts. He did it all himself, and that was a huge burden to carry that between all the things that he did. Having my brother Curt as a business partner has taken a lot of that burden off me, and has also enabled both of us to be able to be the husbands and fathers we really aspire to be. And that’s a huge blessing.
David Hirsch: Note to self: don’t try to do it all yourself.
Dan Marquardt: Yes. It’s a whole lot harder.
David Hirsch: So speaking of that, how did you and Jen meet?
Dan Marquardt: We actually met in high school. We were high school sweethearts, and dated through college. We got engaged my senior year of college, and got married literally six months after graduation.
I will still say she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. She’s really an amazing woman. In most of my best life decisions, and in the directions in our family and our marriage, God has used her to guide and direct us, just doing things in unconventional ways. And really she helps keep me on the straight and narrow in many ways. She’s an amazing woman.
David Hirsch: That is a blessing.
Dan Marquardt: Yes.
David Hirsch: And you don’t always know that until you can look backwards and sort of connect the dots.
Dan Marquardt: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about your connection to the special needs community. Gabe’s 14 and was adopted from Korea in 2004….
Dan Marquardt: Yeah.
David Hirsch: …At five months. You already had three biological kids.
Dan Marquardt: Yes, we did. We had three biological children. Jennifer came home from a doctor’s visit with one of our kids, at the pediatrician, and she actually stopped at the dealership. She stopped at my office. She was incensed. She had just come from the doctor’s office, and she saw this little blind girl in a dirty dress with matted hair who just looked like she was neglected.
Later we found out that, ironically, it was our physician’s daughter, that he allowed her to wear her favorite dress, and his wife was out of town, and he didn’t know how to do her hair, and other stuff. So there was really an innocent story behind it. But until Jennifer found that out, she was just steaming hot mat.
She said, “If I had a blind daughter, she would look just as beautiful as any of my other kids.” And she was just really upset about it. But God used that incident to really instill in her a righteous anger. She just came into the dealership and said, “You know what? There’s so many kids in this world who need a good family, who need parents. We should adopt.”
And I just said, “Ahh, okay.” It was just kind of out of left field. But that’s what provoked it. That was the seed. And so I got home, and she said, “What do you think? Shouldn’t we adopt? Why would we not?”
And I said, “Well, I really don’t know anything about it. I guess we can look into it.” And we did. We went through Bethany Christian Services in Chicago. We went downtown, met with a caseworker. She’s typing everything into her computer, and then she turns around and says, “Well, you’re probably looking at about a four and a half year wait.”
I said, “Four and a half years? That’s absurd. I can’t believe there’s not a greater need.” And she said, “Well, given the fact that you already have three biological children, we don’t recommend you disrupt your birth order. And because your youngest son right now is one, you’re looking at an infant.”
So we said, “Well, multi-racial, anything. It doesn’t matter.” And she goes, “I understand that. Unfortunately, you fall way down on the list. So it’s about four and a half years.” I said, “I can’t believe there’s not a greater need.” And she said, “Have you ever thought of international adoption?” I said, “Tell me about international adoption.”
I didn’t really know anything about adoption. I hadn’t thought about it until like a week or so before. So she went into an explanation of international adoption, and what that means, and what the need is, and the different options that exist out there. And so I just said, “Well, I mean, Korea fits our parameters based on age.” And it was one of the few countries that actually placed infants, because that’s what we were told, that we had to adopt an infant by age.
So we started that whole journey and jumped in both feet with Korean adoption. It went quickly. We got a call. “Hey, we have a little boy. It sounds like he may have some minor medical conditions, but he looks healthy.” We saw his picture, and we said, “Yeah.”
David Hirsch: Sort of sight unseen, just a picture.
Dan Marquardt: Yeah. So we saw a picture, and they gave us a basic medical file. But we just said, “Yeah.” Gabe is an amazing kid too. He really has no physical challenges at all. And he’s brilliant. A very, very smart, very gifted young man.
David Hirsch: And you met him at age five months.
Dan Marquardt: Five months. And he was a gigantic five months when we saw him. We flew to Korea to bring him home.
David Hirsch: So he already made the commitment to say, okay, we’re adopting.
Dan Marquardt: Yes.
David Hirsch: Here’s all the paperwork. You probably had to write a check.
Dan Marquardt: Yeah. And we went through the whole process. So we fly to Korea to bring him home. When we see him for the first time, we’re stunned, because he’s gigantic. He looked like…my best comparison is like the Michelin tire man as a five month old baby. He had these rolls of fat. He was such a gigantic baby: 23 pounds at five months old. He was literally like a little Sumo wrestler. He was adorable, but gigantic and a backbreaker.
We found out though that Korea has primarily foster care. So he was with a foster family. And most of those foster parents are seniors who had grown up during the Korean war and post Korean war, who faced extreme poverty and never had access to much.
And those foster parents believed that a fat baby demonstrates that he is a loved baby. So what they did, and we found this out afterwards, is they literally doubled up baby formula. So the babies would get double caloric intake for what they were supposed to be getting by regular standards. And so he was very large. But he was very loved, until he could be with his family. But Gabe is an incredible kid. We couldn’t imagine our lives any other way. Not long after we had gotten home with Gabriel….
David Hirsch: So it wasn’t like, okay, check the box.
Dan Marquardt: Nope. Jennifer had this image in her mind of a little girl missing a hand or an arm. It just stayed in her mind, and she asked me one day, “What would you think if we adopted again?” And I said, “Oh, I would be up for adopting again.”
She said, “Well, but this time a little girl missing a hand or an arm or something like that.” And I said, “Why that?” And she said, “Well, it just breaks my heart to think that a little girl wouldn’t have a family purely because she’s missing a hand or an arm.” And I said, “Yeah. I mean, that seems very logical.”
So we had met with our adoption agency again and started the process, this time with China. And our caseworker said, “Oh, that’s way too specific. You can’t specify something like a limb malformation or missing a hand or arm. You’ll never get matched to a child.” And Jennifer said, “That’s really what we really want to do. So we’ll wait for little girl missing her hand or her arm.”
Well, sure enough, we got matched to a little girl who had no left hand and forearm, and then her right arm hadn’t fully developed. And that’s our daughter, Maddie.
David Hirsch: How much time had elapsed between the time that you made the inquiry about a young girl without a hand or an arm until the match got made?
Dan Marquardt: It was probably a little over a year. And the process of actually getting matched and bringing her home was probably about a six month wait time. So it was probably from when we brought Gabriel home to bringing Maddie home, the total window was probably about two years.
David Hirsch: Just out of curiosity, because this is a big deal. You’ve got young kids, you’re going to South Korea to make an adoption. You’re going over there, just the two of you. So somebody is picking up the slack here while you’re going off and doing these things.
Dan Marquardt: Right, right.
David Hirsch: I’m sure some of your siblings, or your parents, are thinking, “What are you guys thinking?
Dan Marquardt: Actually, we had a lot of interesting reactions, people thinking, “What in the world are you guys doing?” And a lot of people thought we were a little crazy. But it gets crazier because we kept going.
David Hirsch: And so Gabe, then Maddie, and then you got a boy and a girl by adoption. Now you have five kids. So most people would say you were pretty fully challenged.
Dan Marquardt: But yeah, we just kept going. And it’s one of the things too, that the more kids we adopted, the more our hearts just grew with this passion and this hunger to not just care for kids, but the realization that the kids are such a blessing.
Because parents would say all to us all the time, “You guys are so amazing, what you do. You guys are so great.” And I said, “Well, we’re so blessed,” and we really are. It’s one of these things that, yes, they came into our family through unconventional ways, but the realization that the joy and the happiness each of these kids brings us every day is a gift beyond words.
And it’s an even greater gift when you see these kids who literally had nothing and no one in this world that loved them, gave them affection or attention or stability. Every child needs a family. And the reality is that there are more orphans in the world today than there ever have been in world history.
And when you actually go to an orphanage, then you see dozens and dozens of kids who are longing for a family. It just breaks your heart. Some good friends of ours adopted a little girl from China, and he speaks Mandarin. They were at the orphanage picking up their daughter, and all these kids swarmed them. And he could understand everything they were saying.
“Are you my mom and dad that I’ve been waiting for? Are you my family? Are you bringing me home? Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?” And he said to hear dozens and dozens of kids saying this, it took all of his composure not just to weep and to break down on the spot.
So when you see that firsthand…a lot of people say, “Oh, you guys aren’t going to keep adopting again?” And we just feel like, “Well, how can we not adopt, if we can give our kids the love and attention that they need?” Even with this current adoption that we’re in the midst of…we always used to say, “One child at a time.” Although with Kevin and Millie, we broke that rule and we adopted two.
But it’s just a beautiful journey of faith. Are our kids better off being adopted? There’s no question. Their lives are forever altered, but our lives are forever altered in the most beautiful way. And I like to use the comparison: if someone offered anyone a million dollars cash, most people would associate cash as a blessing, because it could change your lifestyle, it could change a whole array of circumstances.
But a child, and the blessing that a child is, is so beyond monetary value. And so to deprive yourself—and that’s really the way that I look at it—it deprives you of the blessing of a child. Adoption is a reciprocal blessing. Yes, it’s a blessing to you. It’s a blessing to that child as well. It’s really a win-win. It’s a beautiful thing. It really is.
David Hirsch: Wow. Were there any challenges along the way? What do you consider to be the biggest challenge you might’ve encountered? Because there was Gabe, there was Maddie and that happened four more times. And now you’re considering a seventh adoption.
Dan Marquardt: There are always different challenges. Adoption isn’t free. So that I think is one challenge. There are costs associated with international adoptions. But it’s a journey of faith. And I tell people all the time that it’s one thing that is completely out of your control. You don’t know the timetable, you don’t know the child, you don’t know a lot of variables.
It’s a journey of faith, but many journeys of faith are the most rewarding. And it’s one that we wouldn’t change anything. We’ve had bumps in the road. I mean, we had one adoption with an agency we didn’t use again, nor did we recommend to anyone, but their licensing got frozen before we could bring our child home.
And there were a couple other variables as well. Our caseworker had been working on our home study for four months. And then unfortunately she took an immediate leave of absence. She found out she had cancer. But we found out that she had all of our bios and interviews in her head. She hadn’t written anything down. She immediately took a leave of absence and had no notation.
So we had to start all over again. And so we’ve had the little bumps in the road like that, which are not common. That’s one thing I try to encourage people that are thinking about adoption or contemplating, praying about adoption: jump in, because it’s an awesome journey.
I tell people all the time, you’ll never regret adopting, but if you don’t adopt, you will likely regret it, because the blessing of each of these kids. And that’s one of the things Jennifer and I look at every morning, to see these smiling faces and get a hug and get a kiss from each of my kids—it’s just a blessing beyond words.
And as a father of several kids, you can relate. But had we just stopped at Charlie, or had we just stopped at Gabe, how the whole dynamic, the face of our family would be so radically different. And yeah, if we had stopped with any of our children, it breaks my heart. It’s hard to even try to comprehend. Like Mabel, who is just one of the most adorable, sweet, loving kids.
In fact, her name means lovable, and that’s very, very fitting for her. Had we stopped at six kids and didn’t bring Mabel home, and Mabel was now seven years old and living in an orphanage in China. And what would her future look like? It’s heartbreaking to try to even comprehend that.
I mean, people say all the time, “Are you done?” I say, “Well, this’ll probably be our last China adoption, because they’ve changed the rules. But are we open to domestic adoption now? Absolutely.”
David Hirsch: And you’ve been called not just to adopt, just to be clear. But with each of the five Chinese adoptions, you’ve intentionally adopted a child that might not otherwise be adopted because of the physical disabilities.
Dan Marquardt: Yes. And it’s amazing how God works too. Like with Maddie, she’s an amazing young lady. She’s 12 years old now, which blows my mind in and of itself. Yeah, she has physical challenges, but as we tell any of our kids, you can do anything. You just may have to do it different. We’ve taken that mindset. We would never refer to any of our kids as handicapped. They have physical challenges. Absolutely. But nothing that they can’t overcome.
Maddy does the dishes. Maddie has no left hand, no left forearm. Her right arm didn’t fully develop. So she has very limited range of motion. She does the dishes, she does her laundry. She does all of her schoolwork. In fact, out of all of our children, she has the best penmanship out of all of our kids. I know. It’s amazing. She rides her bike. She does everything. She’s a beautiful, very talented young lady.
But I still remember very vividly that she was frustrated when she was probably four years old, five years old. She was frustrated because she couldn’t get her shirt on by herself. Jennifer said, “You’re going to have to figure it out.” A lot of people say, “Oh, that’s so mean.” But it was not in a mean way, but in a loving way, to motivate her, to inspire her to figure it out. “You have to figure out a way out, because you can’t be 10 years old and mom’s putting your shirt on. You have to learn these things at a young age.” And so she does, and she comes up with some amazing and creative ways to do things. But she’s able to do everything.
All of our kids from China have some type of a limb malformation, but it doesn’t slow them down at all. Do they do things different? Yes. Do they look a little different? I guess, to the person who sees them the first time. To me, I don’t see them any different. It’s just doing things differently.
David Hirsch: So you told me the story some time back. Shortly after Kevin had been adopted at age two, I think it was like a dinner table type of conversation. So recount that situation, because it was very powerful
Dan Marquardt: It speaks to exactly that whole concept we were talking about with Maddie. With the last several kids, we found it easier for me to travel solo to China. And Jennifer’s very structured and has routines with all the children. Not only because it’s less expensive and permissible by China, because it’s just easier with the transition coming home, because with Chinese adoptions, you have to be in country two weeks.
So I traveled to China to bring Kevin home. I fed him and took care of him for the two weeks. We get home, Jennifer and the kids pick us up at the airport, and we’re at home at the dinner table having our first celebratory welcome home dinner with Kevin. I’m feeding him. And Jennifer looks at me and says, “Well, give him a fork.” And I said, “He doesn’t have any hands.”
Kevin is our only child that has no hands, and he has no left foot either. And he’s an amazing kid, and a really one of the happiest and funniest kids I’ve ever seen. But Jennifer looks at me and says, “Give him a fork.” I’m like, “He doesn’t have any hands.” So I’m like, okay. I got the look. So I got a fork and I gave it to Kevin.
So he just looks at the fork. And he looks at his siblings, and he sees how they’re all eating. And now mind you, he’s two years old. He puts his arms together. He grabs the fork, kind of moves it around a little bit. He kind of flips it over, sticks it in his food, puts it right in his mouth and starts feeding himself. And my jaw almost fell off.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Dan Marquardt: It was just such a reminder. Not only was it amazing, it was humbling at the same time. Here I was babying him, if you would, catering to him, when he didn’t need that at all. And Jennifer, being the amazing mom she is, just immediately as a reflex, just was in tune to it. “Give him a fork.” But yes, that is a great picture and a great reminder that kids can do anything. They just have to be persistent.
David Hirsch: So what was the most important gift or gifts that you think your six adopted children have provided you or your family?
Dan Marquardt: Themselves. I mean, it’s themselves. I could go through each one of them and how special they are to me and to Jennifer and to their siblings. They’re just all incredible kids. It is beautiful to see a child who comes from an orphanage setting, who has likely experienced a lot of neglect and not been given a lot of love and affection and attention, to see that bud blossom and become this child that God created them to be.
And I I’ve seen that with each of our kids. To see them come in with trepidation, with some fear, with sadness, with lack of emotion, all these different factors, and to see them just blossom. And that is one of the most rewarding things for me is to see these smiling happy faces every day. And to see that they all have very bright futures, and that they can do anything they set their minds to.
David Hirsch: So what advice can you share with a dad, or with parents for that matter, about helping a child with disabilities reach their full potential?
Dan Marquardt: Well, number one is that every child needs love, encouragement, stability and opportunity. And if you give a child all of those things, they’re going to thrive. Children are born with all sorts of different challenges. I’ve got several friends—I’ve got several siblings—that have had children born biologically with physical challenges. What do you do?
You give them the medical care and attention they need to live to their full potential, and you love them, and you support them, and you encourage them, and you give them opportunity. And that’s what every child needs. And I think that lesson I learned very early on, that our kids can do anything. They just have to do it in a different way sometimes.
And we’ve never put limitations on any of our kids for anything. Can I go ride a bike? Oh, you can’t do that. “Yeah, sure. Let’s figure it out.” They may have to do things in unconventional ways, but to give them that persistent unrelenting assurance that they can do anything speaks volumes.
And, it’s funny. I just looked at our daughter, Maddie, when she went for her first pediatrician checkup here in the States. He was very concerned. He was feeling her abdomen. He is very concerned. He’s like, “Oh my goodness, she’s got a hard mass here.” He’s feeling around. And then he realizes after like maybe ten seconds, “Oh my goodness, these are super developed abdominal muscles. I’ve never seen abs like this on a child before.” He was absolutely stunned. At first he thought he had a hard mass in her stomach. There was some serious concern. Then he realized it was one of these things. So Maddie’s core is like no other person on the planet. She’s just solid muscle.
And you know what? If you or I tried getting up after we laid down, and sit down without using arms, and do that constantly throughout the day, and bend over to pick things up two inches off the ground versus two feet off the ground or three feet off the ground—it’d be a different dynamic. So it’s just that our kids are in many ways built a little differently physically, but they can do anything. If your child doesn’t have hands, guess what? They can still brush their teeth.
I’ll give you a quick story. So my son, Charlie, loves basketball, and we’ve got some friends of ours that are in NBA. So we were at a Bulls game and Nate Loenser, who is one of the Bull’s assistant coaches—Nate has no left forearm or hand. So we were in the Bull’s family room and Nate came over to our son, Charlie, who has no left forearm or hand—same arm, by the way. He goes over and starts talking to Charlie. It’s like, “Hey, I’ve seen you at some of these games,” and they start talking.
And so I came in and I said, “Hey, Charlie.” And he’s like, “Hey.” He was just, it was like one ear out the other, he’s so focused on Nate. And they’re talking. And I said, “Oh, hey Nate.” And so we introduced each other. But he’s talking to Charlie. He’s like, “Yeah, Charlie, you can do anything. When I was in high school, I wrestled, I played football. I played basketball.”
Charlie’s like, “You played basketball? You don’t even have a left arm.” He’s like, “Yeah. You know what? You don’t need your left arm to shoot.” And he’s like, “I wore a prosthesis when I played golf, and I wore a prosthesis when I played football, when I was a receiver. But that was the only time I wore a prosthesis.”
He said, “You can do anything. And by the way, Charlie, I stuck with baseball. I played baseball. I became an Allstate player. I got a full ride scholarship to college for baseball.” And he has no left forearm or hand. Now he’s an NBA coach.
Charlie was so awe inspired by Nate, and Nate was so kind. He gave me his card, and he’s like, “You keep in touch with me. Use my cell, call me any time. We’ll get together after the season with Charlie.” And he says, “Any way I can encourage Charlie or any of your kids, I’d love to do that.”
David Hirsch: So he’s got a role model.
Dan Marquardt: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Charlie has a role model. He sees somebody who’s just like him as far as what might be considered as a disability or a shortcoming. And all of a sudden the paradigm gets broken.
Dan Marquardt: Yeah. And this guy is an NBA coach. He can do anything. And so just for Charlie to see firsthand and meet someone. So I look forward to my kids, to Jennifer and my kids, to being an inspiration to other kids. And in fact, it was remarkable. We were at church last week. I had already left, but Jennifer had gotten pulled aside by a couple. They were talking about their daughter and son-in-law who had come to our church and had seen our family in the Christmas program. And they remembered seeing a bunch of kids who had limb malformations and were missing hands or arms.
And needless to say their grandchild was born a few months ago, missing a forearm and hand. And they said, “Well, we remember there was that family at your church at Christmas time that they had a bunch of kids that were missing hands or arms. Can you reach out to them?” So Jennifer bumped into these folks and was able to be a support and encouragement for this family that had an unexpected surprise when their child was born without a left forearm or hand.
And, you know what? We have several for them to see. Okay, here’s a child who is five and seven and ten and twelve, and look, they can do everything. It’s not that big of a deal. And to be able to just be an encouragement to them and to see our kids be able to do the same, years down the road, decades down the road, just like Nate did for Charlie and will continue to. I think that’s really inspiring.
David Hirsch: So beyond your own family, I know that you and Jen have a passion for a number of different things. Which is amazing, because you work full time, you run a business, you’ve got this extraordinary large family. Spend just a minute or two reflecting on your commitment to the A&M partnership and what that’s about.
Dan Marquardt: Well, A&M is something that means a great deal to me and to Jennifer. It’s Abstinence and Marriage partnership. A&M was founded by Scott Phelps about 20 years ago, and is one of the very few abstinence and marriage education organizations left in the United States. They’re not dependent on federal grants or state grants.
They publish educational materials for Christian schools, for public schools, and circulate them throughout the country. They also provide training and resources and educational support for schools and for students. And it’s a real diamond in the rough, and it’s one of our best kept secrets in the Chicagoland area.
But I know certainly that fatherhood is something that’s near and dear to your heart. And you know the statistics as well as anyone, of children that are growing up in a home without a father. And a lot of people would say, “Oh, it’s old fashioned. You can’t teach abstinence.”
But you know what? With the risk of STDs today, with the risk of so many other factors—teen pregnancy—I mean, if kids actually understand that there’s an alternative to choose and the rewards that it offers. And this isn’t just speculation. There’s just an amazing statistical, quantifiable, irrefutable fact of the lifetime benefits to children and to marriages and to relationships. And if adults choose to do something else, that’s their decision. But as education goes, I believe it’s important that kids understand choices and are given options.
And unfortunately, today that option of abstinence isn’t even taught in most schools, and kids don’t even know about it. And when they hear about it, they like it. They understand, and they see the value on it. And so it’s something I’m passionate about. Because I’ve seen firsthand how people who when they were growing up—friends, kids—that didn’t know that was an option, and the poor life choices they made, and how it affects them even in the present day.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re winding down here. So why is it that you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Dan Marquardt: I love the concept of the Special Fathers Network, because I had a real world example of this from a business colleague. We had worked together probably three years ago. And he reached out to me. He still had my cell phone number from our initial business interaction three years ago. And he reached out to me and said, “I know this sounds like a totally crazy thing, but I just found out that my wife is pregnant with twins.” And they already had three children.
And so he went from three kids to five kids overnight. And he was just literally overwhelmed. He didn’t know how to receive this, whether he should be excited, traumatized, anything. And he was a younger dad. But we talked for an hour, and I just gave him encouragement, and tried to give him a grounded perspective on this incredible blessing that he and his wife have. And so we literally talked for an hour, and after that hour he said, “Man, I feel so different. I feel so much better. That anxiety’s gone. I really appreciate this time.”
Well, nine months later, maybe give or take, I got a phone call, and he said, “I just want to tell you what that hour meant to me.” And I’m thinking, I’m trying to grasp at what he’s talking about. And he said, “I was like at my wit’s end. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t really know anyone else to turn to. And you’re the only other guy I knew that had more than three kids. And you have a lot more than three kids. So I just really appreciated your sound counsel, your encouragement, and getting my head screwed back on straight. I felt so much better after that.”
David Hirsch: Awesome. So is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Dan Marquardt: Well, I’m always an advocate for adoption, so anybody that is listening, I would encourage you to really do some soul searching and prayer and really strongly consider adoption.
David Hirsch: Well, Dan, thank you for your time and many insights. As reminder, Dan is just one of the dads who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of this 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.
Dan, thanks again.
Dan Marquardt: It’s my pleasure, David. Thank you so much.
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. And again, to find out more about the Special Fathers Network, go to 21stcenturydads.org.