This Special Fathers Network Podcast features a series of conversations David Hirsch had over the last few months with The Autism Dad, Rob Gorski. Rob and his wife Liz are parents to three special needs boys.
Rob shares his stories and writes of his parenting experiences both positive and negative on his website “The Autism Dad.com.” These interviews took place over several days and we’re featuring them for you now.
Dad To Dad 16 – Rob Gorski, Father of Three Boys With Autism & The Autistic Dad Blog & Website.
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, we’ll be featuring a series of conversations David Hirsch had over the last few months with The Autism Dad, Rob Gorski. Rob and his wife Liz are parents to three special needs boys.
Rob Gorski: His challenge is going to be hardships. There’s going to be an infinite amount of sacrifice you’re going to have to make. But the rewards are so profound.
Tom Couch: Rob writes honestly of his parenting experiences, both positive and negative on his website, theautismdad.com.
Rob Gorski: I started writing it as a means of coping with everything. We try to live our lives the best that we can in the circumstances that we’re in. And we teach our kids to do the same thing.
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 is the Special Fathers Network, 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: These conversations took place over several weeks and we’re featuring them for you now. So here’s David Hirsch’s conversation with The Autism Dad, Rob Gorski.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend Rob Gorski from Canton, Ohio, who is also known as The Autism Dad. Rob, thank you for taking a few minutes to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Rob Gorski: Thank you for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Liz are parents to three boys: Gavin, 18, Elliott, 11, and Emmett, nine, all of who have autism and a number of other serious health issues. Thank you again for agreeing to do the podcast interview.
So to get started, for a little background, where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family and your siblings.
Rob Gorski: I grew up in Canton, Ohio—born and raised here. I’ve never escaped, I guess. Everybody’s always wanting to leave, but I got to stick around. I am actually the oldest of six, four boys, two girls. And with the exception of my one brother, everybody lives about half hour or 45 minutes away. We’re all within a few minutes of each other.
David Hirsch: Wow. That’s pretty amazing.
Rob Gorski: Yeah, it’s been nice having everybody close by.
David Hirsch: How would you describe your relationship with your own dad?
Rob Gorski: My dad and I are very much alike. Growing up that didn’t always mesh well, when I was a teenager wanting to assert myself. We’re very much alike personality wise.
And so there were some conflicts and stuff there. But as I got older, my dad and I have a really, really good relationship. I can call him for anything. He’s always there for all of us really. It’s a very positive relationship.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So your dad is still alive?
Rob Gorski: Yeah. My mom too.
David Hirsch: And how old are your parents?
Rob Gorski: Early sixties. My mom just turned 62 on February 2nd.
David Hirsch: So thinking about your dad, is there anything he said or he did by his example that sticks in your mind as far as the main message about importance of things or being a dad?
Rob Gorski: One of the things that I remember, we never had a lot of money growing up. I still don’t have a lot of money. My dad would work two or three jobs sometimes just to make ends meet. But he never complained, never made it look like it was difficult for him. And that was something that I didn’t really appreciate when I was younger. But as I have sort of come into my own, I recognize the amount of effort and sacrifice on his part, making sure that everybody had what they needed. That was something that I’ve always really clung as I became a father of my own.
David Hirsch: So if I could paraphrase what you’ve said, Rob, it was his work ethic and his actions that speak louder than words. He wasn’t, saying how hard or difficult things or challenging things were, but he just did what needed to be done.
Rob Gorski: Yeah, his pure devotion to our family, and everything that he had to do in order to provide for us, was pretty awesome.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about schooling. You went to high school there in Canton.
Rob Gorski: Yeah, it was a little north of Canton.
David Hirsch: And what did you do after high school?
Rob Gorski: Well, after high school, I went to college at Walsh University. I was going to school for forensic psychology. Probably my second year there, there was a gap between classes that I could take. And so I thought I’d fill the gap and take an EMT class, because I wanted to sort of bolster my resume.
My goal was to be an FBI profiler. I thought being an EMT and having emergency medical training would be a positive thing. I ended up joining the fire department and never looked back. I sort of found my calling. I did that for a long time, until I suffered a back injury right before September 11th. And that was the point in time where my career sort of started going down hill, because I was in so much pain all the time. And so I had to retire from that.
David Hirsch: And have you held any jobs in the ordinary sense of the word since then? Or what have you done?
Rob Gorski: Yeah, well, I’ve been self employed since then. I owned a small contracting company that did a lot of work with a major residential home builder on the east coast. And I did that for permanent 10 plus years, I guess. And then as things deteriorated with my oldest, and my wife’s health started to suffer, I had to find a new balance. That required me to become a stay-at-home work-at-home dad. I sort of ran the office out of my house, and I had a couple of my brothers actually and a couple other people working for me. And it eventually got to a point where things were so difficult at home that I just didn’t have the time to keep up with anything.
So I shut my business down and began spending more time at home, because the needs of my family changed. It became one of those things where my wife was not able to handle the behavioral challenges that we were facing with our oldest at the time. It was really bad for a long time. And we had to make a choice of: do I work outside the home and sort of leave her to deal with that, so that we can be more financially secure? Or do we team up and just focus on what’s absolutely the most important
And we chose to sacrifice financial stability for the ability to make sure our kids got what they needed throughout the day, because each one of them is a full time job. And some of the behavioral issues that Gavin was dealing with when he was younger were pretty devastating. We were actually looking at having to do residential placement at a point in time. And while not working outside of the home creates a lot of problems financially, it was the right thing to do. If I had to do it over again, I would make the same choice.
David Hirsch: So your connection to the special needs community started when Gavin was diagnosed with autism. So go back to that time when you and Liz learned that Gavin had some challenges, and just tell me what that was about.
Rob Gorski: Well, Kevin was diagnosed with autism back in 2005.
David Hirsch: So how old would he have been then?
Rob Gorski: When we received the diagnosis? Oh, he would’ve been five, because he was born in 2000. Gavin is sort of a unique case, because there were sort of extenuating circumstances with him that could have been responsible for some of the behaviors he had. But when we got him evaluated, it ended up being an autism diagnosis.
I mean, I had only heard the word handful of times in my life. I didn’t really know what to expect. I always thought putting a name to a disorder or to a challenge we’re facing would make it easier. And it really didn’t. Gavin suffers from a form of autism called childhood disintegrative disorder.
It’s rare, like extremely rare. There’s almost no research. There isn’t really any research on it. There aren’t that many documented cases. And what happens is he developed typically until about three or four, and then all of a sudden things change. It felt like it was overnight, but in reality it was over a period of time. But as he gets older physically, he doesn’t really get older emotionally. And so there’s a huge gap between 18-year-old Gavin, and six or seven year old Gavin on the inside.
David Hirsch: So, Gavin was five years old when the diagnosis was made. And that would have been before Elliot was born, because there’s seven years between the boys. And then you have a second child, Elliot, who has also been diagnosed with autism. At what age would that have been with Elliot?
Rob Gorski: There’s about two years difference between the two. We were pursuing a diagnosis for Emmett actually first, because Emmett was nonverbal at the time. He didn’t respond to noise or anything like that. And they thought he was deaf. It turned out that he was autistic, and he was filtering out his surroundings. About the time that we were sort of on the tail end of getting Emmett diagnosed, we started noticing issues with Elliot. And so we had him evaluated as well.
And by the time both processes were done, they were both officially diagnosed with autism. Elliot was in preschool. Emmett was much younger. Emmett was two or three, I think, when he was officially diagnosed. And that was really tough. That was really tough.
David Hirsch: Well, our parents joke a little bit about when you have your first child, you’re, two on one, and then when you have your second child, it’s man to man, as far as defense is concerned. And then when you have more children, like you have three boys, it’s the three of them and the two of you. So now you’re in a zone defense, and your zone defense sounds a lot more complicated than anybody else that I know.
I’m not sure how you and Liz have handled all this over the last decade. But I remember you telling me, or maybe I read it someplace, that at one point Liz had a breakdown and had to move away. You separated for some time. Is that the situation?
Rob Gorski: Yeah, we were so tunnel vision on doing whatever we needed to do for the kids that we stopped taking care of ourselves and our marriage. You think the right thing to do is to always put your kids first, but you have to find a balance.
What happened with Liz was she suffered from caretaker burnout. That’s where you sort of give so much of yourself that there’s literally nothing left to give you. Just shut down. We ended up going through a separation for about two years. I had everything, the kids, on my own, while she lived with her parents.
It took two years for to get back on her feet. We now realize that we have to prioritize ourselves. You have to be selfish before you can selfless. And so in order for us to be the best tracks we can be, we have to take care of ourselves individually first. And then we focus on marriage because we’re better parents together.
And that’s something a lot of parents struggle with, and don’t realize until the marriage falls apart, or they start suffering these health problems.
David Hirsch: Well, the phrase he used was being selfish before becoming selfless. And I think that that is something that is a really important message for parents—not just dads, but both moms and dads—to be aware of, so that they don’t get to the breaking point.
Sadly too many marriages end in divorce, 50% of the overall population. And that testimony would be 75 or 80% for those raising kids with special needs. And this is the central issue about not taking care of yourself, not focusing on your relationship with your spouse.
And then all of a sudden it’s like you pass the point of no return, and you just break up. You just end up going in different directions. And who suffers? The kids, if there’s only one parent there to be handling things on a day-to-day basis.
Tom Couch: David and Rob’s conversation and resumed several days later with David asking just how it was that Robin and his wife Liz were able to cope with having three special needs kids.
David Hirsch: In addition to the episode that we just talked about with your wife’s health and then getting the family back together, what are some of the bigger challenges that you and Elizabeth faced?
Rob Gorski: Oh man. Well, dealing with some of the health issues that the kids have feels insurmountable at times, specifically with our oldest, Gavin, who just turned 18. And the health issues he has are exceedingly rare, and there’s really very little out there to help. And nothing is curable. We’ve had to come to grips with the fact that he’s never going to get better. And the reality is that as we go forward, he’s only going to get worse.
David Hirsch: So just to be clear, Rob, each of the boys has autism, including Gavin. What are his health issues, or what are his primary challenges?
Rob Gorski: I want to say about six, seven years ago now, he started having health problems for the first time. Inside of a window of about a year and a half, when he was diagnosed with epilepsy, he lost his immune system. He has something called common variable immunodeficiency. Basically his immune system is defunct, and it doesn’t work. And so he has to receive donor antibodies twice a week through infusions in his stomach.
He was also diagnosed with a very rare autonomic disorder. They don’t really have a name for it, because they don’t really know for sure what it is. Out of nowhere, his brain will just stop controlling his autonomic functions properly. So, he could be just sitting, watching TV, and then all of a sudden his blood pressure will crash and he passes out.
Or his body temperature won’t regulate properly. So he’ll either overheat, or he’ll be too cold. He is physically incapable of sweating, so he can’t cool himself properly. So we have to always watch how the temperature around him. His heart rate is not properly managed by his brain. And it’s scary because there’s no cure for it. There’s no treatment for it.
It’s basically supportive care when a crisis happens. It’s been a few years since he’s had a major crisis, which is really good. But every time it happens, they have no way of knowing if he’s ever going to pull out of it.
David Hirsch: So if you had one child with autism and health issues, that would be like a fulltime challenge?
Rob Gorski: Correct.
David Hirsch: Yeah. But you don’t have just one, you have two other boys who also have autism and health issues of their own, isn’t that right?
Rob Gorski: Yeah, they each have unique challenges.
David Hirsch: So how would you describe Elliot’s situation?
Rob Gorski: Elliot’s biggest challenge is anxiety related and sensory processing related. He’s, he’s crazy smart. He gets along really well with his friends at school. They’re in a special school for kids with autism, but he’s very high functioning.
But the anxiety he experiences can be crippling for him in a lot of ways. He worries about everything and everyone. He sort of carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. He has matured in a lot of ways, faster than a lot of the other kids in his class, but emotionally he’s in a different place than a lot of his peers.
And that tends to lead to some struggles, and things along that line, because kids are kids. I mean, kids can be jerks, whether they have special needs or not. It’s just how kids are.
David Hirsch: Absolutely.
Rob Gorski: And he tends to take everything to heart and doesn’t realize they’re just being kids. So it’s kind of a daily struggle in that area. But thankfully, aside from asthma, he hasn’t really had any significant health issues that have made a complicated situation, more difficult.
David Hirsch: And you have a third son whose name is Emmett.
Rob Gorski: Yes.
David Hirsch: Does he have any additional challenges, health wise or otherwise?
Rob Gorski: Yes, he does. He has a very rare fever disorder. It’s called . That’s the acronym. It’s basically an idiopathic periodic fever disorder. And what happens is for some unknown reason, he runs fevers all the time. It used to be on a cycle where he would have a fever for roughly ten days, and then it would be about two weeks off. Then it would come back, and he’d run a fever for another ten days. Like for example, he missed school this week because he started into another fever cycle. And now what happens is a low grade fever. He gets mouth sores that cover the inside of his lips and his tongue, in his mouth, or his cheeks and down his throat.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Rob Gorski: He doesn’t eat. He’s miserable. He can’t sleep. That interferes with a lot of things, because he runs a fever all the time. You never know if he’s actually sick, or if it’s just the fever from the fever disorder. And so that’s sort of butts heads with the schools fever policy. It’s an ongoing struggle to where we’ve considered resorting to homeschooling in some fashion, because we’re really struggling to keep school moving forward.
He does great in school. He’s the highest in his class. He’s actually learning about a grade ahead of the grade that he’s in. And so academically, he’s not impacted by that, but it’s still created problems with truancy laws and things like that. And in one way, shape or form, it impacts us every day.
And then his other biggest thing is his anxiety and sensory processing, like his brother. Emmett struggles with clothes and food textures, things like that. And he hasn’t worn socks and regular shoes. For probably two years, he wears Crocs barefoot. We finally got him to at least do that, but on a good day, it’s hard to get him dressed. And on a day that he’s miserable because of the pain in his mouth or something, it’s impossible.
David Hirsch: So the common theme with the three boys is autism, but they also have demanding other needs. And there’s only the two of you. How do you cope? Do you have a strategy that you trade off, or is one of you the primary for one of the boys, and the other of you is the primary for the other two. What is it that you and Elizabeth cover that works for you?
Rob Gorski: I wish I knew the answer to that because. I’m not always sure how we’ve made it this far. We put the kids first is often as we can, because we talked to them before you, as parents, we have to take care of ourselves too. There are times where we have to sort of take turns. There is sleeping, for example. Emmett struggles sleeping at night a lot of times. So one of us is usually up with him.
Because of my wife’s health related issues, a lot of the responsibility falls sort of disproportionately on me. We try and find some kind of balance as best we can, but what makes this so challenging—and this the same thing for a lot of families with autistic kids—it’s such a dynamic and fluid situation that every day can be different from the previous day.
And what may have worked this time may never work again. And so it’s constantly having to try and think outside the box and come up with creative ways of resolving issues that have no simple solution.
David Hirsch: So let’s use this as a segue to talk about one of the coping skills that you described to me, which is that you started journaling and writing as a way to overcome some of the challenges. When did that start, and what value has that been to you?
Rob Gorski: I started writing, I spent about 10 or 12 years now
David Hirsch: that long.
Rob Gorski: Wow. It’s been, it’s been awhile. Yeah. When we first started working with Gavin’s diagnoses, when he was first in 2005, my wife suggested that I start writing like in a journal. And I’m a tech guy. So writing with a pencil with paper is not something that I enjoy doing. So she helped me start a blog. Honestly, it was basically just word vomiting, everything that I was feeling in the moment.
And I just hit publish, and I walked away from it. I didn’t know anything about social media, because there really wasn’t a whole lot of it back then. But it was therapeutic for me, because I didn’t carry all that around with me. I could say what I needed to say, be as brutally honest as I wanted to be, and walk away from it feeling like I had dealt with it, and then put it down.
So I’m not carrying that weight. And I don’t know how people started finding it, but they did. And I was saying a lot of the things that people were feeling, but were uncomfortable saying themselves, and it just sort of took off from there.
David Hirsch: give you an example early on, Rob, but something that you wrote that, people found like, Oh, you really resonated with them.
Was there something early on that was a catalyst, something that you were brutally honest with yourself about, that others could relate to? That would be a good example of what you were just describing.
Rob Gorski: Yeah. You have a special needs child. You’re supposed to have an infinite level of patience. It’s a horrible thing for you to yell at your child, because they have special needs. You should never lose your patience, never lose your cool. You should never have resentful feelings because being autistic or having health issues, isn’t their fault. They didn’t choose this and they’re certainly not trying to be a problem or be frustrating.
But the reality is that it still impacts me as a person that way. I tell people all the time my kids drive me crazy. I mean, I love them to pieces, and I would do anything for them, but they drive me crazy—and it’s okay to admit that.
You got two sides. You get people who criticize me for saying things like that. “You should never say stuff like that. It’s terrible.” Then you have the other side that are saying like, “Oh my God, I feel the exact same way. I didn’t know it was okay to talk about that.”
And it’s okay to talk about anything. You can feel resentment. You can feel the anger or whatever you want, whatever you need to. It’s what you do with those feelings that matters. One of the things that I stress with, I was calling my parents, but like the families that follow me around the world, you’re only human.
And you were a human being who is charged with a job that requires superhuman abilities, so you have to cut yourself some slack. You have to recognize you have limitations. Emotions are something that’s inherent to human beings. You’re going to feel whatever a situation makes you feel. You have no control over that.
It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. It doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible parent because you’re angry or resentful at behaviors that your child is exhibiting or something. And so that was something that really resonated with people. It’s sort of polarizing to an extent, but it was something that really brought people around because they could relate to what I was experiencing, because it’s what they experience every day as well.
I just encourage people, “Talk about it, don’t, don’t let this stuff fester, because it’s not going to do you any good. If, you beat yourself up for feeling frustrated or angry, it just feeds the beast. It becomes toxic. Write about it, talk to somebody. Therapy is a godsend for families like mine.
David Hirsch: When did this morph into more than just you writing for your own benefit, realizing that maybe there’s a bigger purpose here?
Rob Gorski: Well, my first blog was called “Lost and Tired.” People either hated that name or they loved the name. And to me, I thought it was perfect because at any given point, any given day, I am either feeling lost or tired, I’m always tired. And most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing. So I’m lost.
I mean, the blog became popular within I guess a few months. When we started to write, there was a really powerful situation that happened. Well, I wrote an article for CNN health about an experience that I had with a homeless person at a grocery store.
It was a situation where I witnessed people being very cruel to somebody who very obviously had challenges. The person was not doing anything wrong. He was trying to help them. And he was laughed at. They almost ran him over with their car. It was a very powerful experience for me, because when I looked at this guy, I saw Gavin.
Because Gavin is so awkward around people. He means well, but he’s extremely awkward. And I could see the same thing happening to him. And so I came home, and I spent the next couple of days trying to put my thoughts together, because it really shook me to my core. I wrote an article just for my blog. And that was the first thing that I ever wrote that went viral. Ended up getting picked up by CNN, and then that sort of exploded the amount of people that could see it,
David Hirsch: So that was a catalyst for communicating with a much wider audience. That’s what I hear you saying.
Rob Gorski: Yes.
David Hirsch: Did you brand what you’re doing as The Autism Dad back then?
Rob Gorski: The Autism Dad started shortly after my wife and I separated. I decided that it would be best to put that part of our lives behind us and start with something new that would be my story. Because it was me and the boys, I was raising the kids on my own. And so I came up with The Autism Dad because I thought that was more fitting.
I thought it could be a more positive approach things, I focused a lot dealing with being a single parent with this kind of thing, and then navigating the dynamics of at the time we were going to get divorced, navigating that in a positive way so that it doesn’t impact the kids, or it has as little impact on them as possible. If that makes sense. I don’t know if I will have that. Right. I started The Autism Dad on August 1st of 2015. So it’ll be three years this summer.
David Hirsch: So what is that when you say that you’re the self proclaimed Autism Dad? Is that a blog? Is it something beyond that?
Rob Gorski: I thought it sort of describes who I am and what I write about. I’m an autism dad, and it sort of lets people know going into it, what they’re going to read about, I could be a resource for people, and that’s sort of my ultimate goal. I want something positive to come out of the struggles that I personally deal with every day, whether it’s my own demons or dealing with things with the kids ,or marriage, or just everyday life. That’s one of the ways that I maintain my sanity is by using my experience to try and help others.
Because I know what it was like to go through this with no guidance. And I’m hoping that if nothing else, people realize that they’re not alone, that they’re not the only ones that are going through this. Most of the time, it’s just people just saying they’re so thankful to know that they’re not the only ones going through this.
I’ve had grandparents reach out to me and tell me that until they read my blog or watched some of the videos I have up on YouTube dealing with what a meltdown looks like in real life, they had no idea what their kids were going through. They had like an autistic grandchild. They were sort of the opinion that it was a lack of discipline, or it’s something that they’ll outgrow.
And it’s not like a discipline. It’s not something they’re going to outgrow. It is something that requires education and compassion and an understanding that things aren’t going to be the way that you want them to be, but to embrace them for what they are. And they had their eyes opened, and they’ve found ways to be more supportive to the autistic kids in their own life.
I mean, that’s like a huge thing for me, because that feels like I make a difference in everything that we’re going through by helping people. And so it kind of gives you the strength to get up and keep going.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So what’s the most important takeaway or takeaways that come to mind if you’re giving somebody else advice, even though I know you don’t like to give advice about raising a child with differences.
Rob Gorski: The two big pieces that I tell people: number one, like we talked about before, you have to take care of yourself. It’s almost instinctual to put every ounce of everything you have into your kids because they need that. The problem is that you can’t sustain that. And you’re setting yourself up to fail. Your kids need you for as long as you could physically be around. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to meet the needs that your kids have. And it’s like, we talked about, you gotta be selfish to be selfless.
They use the analogy a lot. Like when the oxygen mask comes down on a plane, you’re instructed to put your own mask on first, before you put it on your kids, because if you can’t function, you’re not going to be any good to anybody else around you. So I always tell people to focus on taking care of themselves.
And then the other thing is you have to learn to trust your instincts and trust your gut, because personal experience over a long time tells me that nobody is going to always agree with what you’re going to do, because they just don’t understand why you’re making decisions that you make for your kids and why it’s best.
So you have to just trust your gut. I tell parents a lot of times, especially when they have newly diagnosed kids, when they’re trying to learn from their doctors or they’re trying to find out what they could do for their kids, you know your child better than anybody else. If you feel something’s wrong, something’s probably wrong.
And you need, fight for that. Don’t let someone just blow you off or whatever, just push it till you get where you need to get, because you’re your child’s voice. You’re their advocate. And I guess those are the two big things. Don’t get pushed around. Do what you know is right, regardless what everybody else thinks. And take care of yourself.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking along advice, not sort of openly about raising kids with differences, but now specifically with dads who are raising a child with a physical or intellectual disability, or both for that matter, any specific advice you could offer a dad, a young dad who’s maybe at the beginning of his variance raising a child with special needs.
Rob Gorski: I think one thing hits dads a lot harder than it does other people, but when my two youngest were born, you have this vision in your head about what life is going to be like. A lot of us think like, “Oh, it’s going to be like football games, baseball games, basketball games, whatever.” When you find out that your child has special needs, like your entire world feels like it just imploded. Because you don’t know what it means for one thing, and then everything that you’ve planned out in your head, it has just been torn away.
And it’s truly unfortunate. I think it’s this moment that sort of dictates whether the dad is going to embrace the new situation and adapt, as opposed to maybe no longer being around, because I I’ve seen that way more often than what it should be. If you can be open minded and give it a chance, understand that it’s not going to be the way that you thought it was going to be or the way you had it planned.
No idea how awesome it still is going to be his challenges. There’s going to be hardships. There’s going to be an infinite amount of sacrifice that you’re gonna have to make. But the rewards are so profound. Every accomplishment is like…sometimes it feels like a miracle. My my son’s wearing pants today. He’s nine years old. I mean, to me, that’s a victory. I look at that, and I think, “Oh man, I’ve done something right.” You just have to let go of what you thought they were going to be like, and allow yourself to embrace whatever’s coming.
David Hirsch: Oh no, the message I heard loud and clear was that you need to embrace the situation and adapt. And it seems more obvious that if you have a child with special needs, with autism in particular, that that’s good advice. But I think that’s just good advice probably for anybody.
Because we’re all going to have situations that don’t go as planned. Some people joke and call it Plan B or Plan C. And for those that are rigid and very black and white about things, it’s very tough. It’s very challenging. And sadly, if we’re talking about being in a relationship or being a parent, sometimes it looks easier to push the eject button and move on.
Rob Gorski: Exactly.
David Hirsch: I just need to get out of this situation. The grass has got to be green someplace else. And that’s a very shortsighted way of thinking about it.
Rob Gorski: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So each of us is going to have challenges. They’re just going to be different types of challenges and it just really is a path I think. And testimony of your commitment to your spouse or the mother of your children from the dad’s perspective.
And then do your children and, they really need you. They depend on you in so many different ways. I think about it as being there, physically being there, emotionally being there, spiritually…and oh, by the way, they could use the financial support too.
Rob Gorski: Yeah.
David Hirsch: It’s just a fabulous insight.
Thank you for sharing it. I’m going to drill down on this one more level. Is there specific advice that you can provide the dads or parents about helping a child with disabilities reach their full potential?
Rob Gorski: One of the things, our youngest, Emmett, he didn’t talk for the first four years of his life. And we were told that he was nonverbal, that he would never talk. So we started teaching him sign language, because it didn’t occur to us at the time that doctors could be wrong. I mean, how can they see the future? And there’s no litmus test or blood test is ever going to talk.
We continue to push and provide as much stability and resources and support we could, knowing what the doctors said is likely to be the case, but we never gave up on him and he never gave up. Now he’s nine years old, he’s talking better than most grownups. You would never know he’s only been talking for a handful of years.
I guess the point is, by supporting them and providing unconditional love and acceptance regardless of the challenges they face, is the best way for them to reach whatever their potential is. And it has to be their potential. It can’t be where you want them to be or where you feel they should be. It’s what’s best for them.
I want my kids to reach whatever their potential is. They may not necessarily be a predetermined level that they can cap off at or top off at. So all you can do is continue to find new ways to support your kids and help them navigate life.
Despite the challenges they may face, being autistic, or having other emotional or physical health issues, things that complicate everyday life. And so just allow them to be themselves, and love and support them no matter what. It may not be what you want in the end, but for my wife and I, and we decided a long time ago that in the end we want our kids to be happy and healthy. And if that’s where they end up, then I feel like we’ve done okay. If that makes sense.
David Hirsch: Yep. Well, what I love about what you’ve said, Rob, is that you have to redefine success. It might be different than what you’d envisioned, but to provide your kids with unconditional love and acceptance just where they’re at and who they are.
And that the goal, I think really for any parent, typical ones or other, is to make sure that your kids are happy and healthy. It’s no different than I think everybody else. And they know that you love them, and they know that you’re proud of them, no matter how different they may be or, or how much they may struggle. That goes a long way.
That’s just great advice. Great advice. So why is it that you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Rob Gorski: I want to make a difference. I want people to be able to benefit from the mistakes I’ve made. I know how scary things can be, especially for dads, because we have this preconceived notion that you have to be tough all the time, and you can’t cry or you can’t show emotion or whatever.
And I would really like to be able to guide people into helping them sort of embrace the situation they’re in and learn to adapt to that and make the best of that situation. I didn’t like feeling like I was alone or that there wasn’t anybody out there that understood where I was coming from or understood the challenges that I was trying to overcome or face.
If there’s one thing that I can do for another dad specifically, I guess, is to let them know that they’re not alone in this, and that there are dads all over the world who struggle with these same things. It’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be whatever.
You just have to be the best that you could be for your kid. Biggest part of that is sticking around and being actively involved and doing the best that you can do. So let your kid become the best that they can be.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. That’s fabulous. So, is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Rob Gorski: Well, I really appreciate getting a chance to talk to everybody, and I think it’s important that we all learn from each other. And I’m always here, if anybody needs to reach out and talk or whatever. Yeah, they can find me at theautismdad.com and my contact information is up there. So I’m always happy to listen.
Sometimes that’s all people need is just someone to listen. I even help people get started blogging, because I find it to be a huge benefit for me. Anything I can do to help make things better, what I want to do.
David Hirsch: So if somebody wants to follow up with you or support your work, they can simply go to theautismdad.com.
Rob Gorski: Yep. You can send me a message on Twitter or Facebook or whatever. All my information is there, and I’m happy to help in whatever way that I can.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So, Rob, thank you for taking the time and for the many insights. As a reminder, Rob is just one of the dads who has agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydad.org.
Thanks again, Rob. I really appreciate it.
Rob Gorski: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
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.