On this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, host David Hirsch talks with Robert Blackwell, a successful serial entrepreneur who is founder of Killerspin, a luxury table tennis company that’s transformed the sport and been a pioneer in the #UnPlugNPlay movement. His daughter Ali-Yah is 23 and was diagnosed with autism at age 2 as the result of reaching a vaccine. We’ll hear Robert’ and Ali-Yah’s amazing story, how he played ping pong with legal consultant Barack Obama and Pope Francis’ connection to Killerspin. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
To find out about Killerspin go to: https://www.killerspin.com
To find out about Robert’s work making it easier for organizations to go digital go to:
Contact Robert at: email@example.com
Dad to Dad 102 – Successful Serial Entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Has A Daughter With Autism Who Is Thriving
Robert Blackwell: Kids with special needs. I think the most important thing is faith and planning. You have to have faith that things will turn out okay. But you have to work towards that and not feel sorry for yourself. But just be focused on the outcomes for your child.
Tom Couch: That’s Robert Blackwell, David Hirsch’s guest on this Special Fathers Network. Dad to dad podcast. Robert is a successful serial entrepreneur. Who’s most recently started a high end table tennis company called killer spin. His daughter, Alia is 23 and was diagnosed with autism at age two. We’ll hear Robert’s amazing story, including playing ping pong with legal consultant, Barack Obama, and talking on the phone with Pope Francis.
That’s all on this Special Fathers Network, dad to dad podcast. Here’s David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs. Presented by the Special Fathers Network.
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 dads to support dads, to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.Org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re dad looking for help or would like to offer help we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: So lets listen in on this conversation between Robert Blackwell and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today. Robert Blackwell, Chicago, Illinois. Who’s a father of one and that successful serial entrepreneur. Robert, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for this Special Fathers Network.
Robert Blackwell: Happy to be here. Thank you.
David Hirsch: You and your former wife are the proud parents of a daughter Alia.
Who’s 23, who was diagnosed with autism at age two. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Robert Blackwell: I grew up, uh, well, I was born in Philadelphia and I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and moved to Chicago when I was 12 years old. I’m the oldest of five. And that was, uh, God blessed me with two great parents.
And I was lucky enough for them not to have much money. I was young, my father’s 23 years older than me and my mother was 20. So they were just really out of college when I was born. So I grew up in, grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and my family really didn’t have much money, but again, I say, God blessed me with really good.
Educated parents of character. Um, so they pretty much told me if I follow these rules, I could do whatever I wanted. So I would go when I was five, I used to walk to school. I would pick up returnable Coke bottles and things like that, that people would leave on the ground. I would take it and go get the nickel or whatever the return, uh, money was.
And then probably when I was. Seven or eight years old, I noticed that people would go to a, they would go to the candy store during lunch. If you got back late, the teachers would hit you with paddles. So yeah, things are different now. Uh, I decided that if I went and bought candy, And I sold it at school.
Maybe I could make money. So I did, I did that. And then I brought that business to Chicago. When I was 12 years old, we moved to Chicago. We were the first black family in Lombard, Illinois. That was not the world’s best experience during the 1970s. But I brought my little business cause I figured white people like gum as well.
And that was right. So I was selling gum in school and people were buying so much of my gum. They stopped buying ice cream from the school. So I did a deal with the principal to sell my gum in his ice cream. So I always just kinda like being in control of my own destiny and. So I went to school, uh, studied math fact.
I wasn’t, I was kind of a terrible student till I was 16 years old. And when I was young, my mother used to smoke, which drove me crazy. So I made a deal with her. I said, if I get straight A’s so you stop smoking. And she said, yeah. So I just changed my mind. And. I got straight A’s. So I went to school, studied math, and then I worked at IBM for a little while as a systems engineer.
So I was IBM for maybe about 18 months and I left. I was really an interest, super introverted kid. And, you know, IBM told you this place is for salespeople. And if you’re not a salesman, you’re a nobody. I mean, they said it in a nice way, but that’s really what the message was. So I left, I started a PC consulting company.
Then I, uh, I started importing cars from Germany, started importing a Mercedes and Porsches. And I did that business for a little while. And then I moved to LA there’s a company that it was in that business. It was called the gray market car business. They invited me to LA it turns out that business was really a currency arbitrage business.
So when Deutsche, Mark and dollar exchange rate flipped, that business kind of went away. So I started writing programs for commodity trading fund and the, uh, the guy I took all the good trades, put it in his account and spread out all the bad trades to his customers. So I said for sure. Yeah, for sure.
They’re going to put the programmer in jail to come back to Chicago. So I called my father. I asked my father if I could stay with him for a little while. Well, actually I had to ask my mother, well said, okay. And I a new spot. He was a trader. And I told him that I would work for him for free for six months if they just let me on the floor.
Um, so I did that. I was a. I was an arbitrage clerk in the Japanese yen and the Euro dollars. I did that for about six months and I was studying trading. Uh, so I was kind of determined, uh, to be a trader. So I, when I started writing these programs, I got pretty good at doing technical analysis and finding patterns in the market.
So I did that for myself. That was, I would say my, uh, probably the best time of my life professionally. Then I ended up financing a company that I had to take over. And I, so I took that company and I turned it into a company that financial modeling systems. So it wrote most of the financial modeling systems for Sears and farmers and Mellon bank and number of other kind of large companies.
And. I went and started a real estate company. I thought that I could help build transitional neighborhoods. And I did that. So I started a company called urban fishing development, that fishing parks, you know, if you give a man a fish, that whole thing. So I did that for a few years. I built. Kind of the first high end homes in this neighborhood in the South side of Chicago, because I thought that if I created an economically integrated black neighborhood, things would be better for everybody.
So that worked out and the year, year, 2000, I thought the stock market was going to go bad. So I decided Chicago had something called a ping pong festival. So we had the ping pong festival. Uh, we sponsored it. We met a lot of people through that, uh, that really helped our business. And then, and late 2001, I started to get what I call this entrepreneurial itch and I decided I was going to start a table tennis company.
So we started Keller spare. So. That’s that’s me kind of professionally.
David Hirsch: Well, that’s fabulous. Thank you for, uh, giving us that a 30,000 foot overview. And it’s clear, very clear that you’ve been an entrepreneur from a year, very young age, with the bottles with selling bubble, selling gum to your classmates and what Wichita.
And then when you got to the Chicago area, I love those stories. I can relate at a very small level, but, uh, that’s just amazing. So, uh, I’d like to dig in a little bit though. It sounds like you have a very close relationship with your parents, both your mom and your dad. And I’m wondering, um, you mentioned your dad was an IBM sales manager and that you were in
Robert Blackwell: business with.
Yeah. Yeah. I sold my half of the company. We started a company together and then I sold them my half in 95.
David Hirsch: So, how would you characterize your relationship with
Robert Blackwell: your dad? Uh, I would say he’s the only man I ever looked up to in my whole life. I really adore my father. I’ve learned a lot from him, you know, my father, or when I was growing up really said couple of things that have driven kind of the way I think about the world.
He said in life, the only thing you have, and the only thing you have in life is your name. So you can always make more money, but you can’t get your name back. So that’s something that really always stuck with me. He also said that, I said, I may not be the best in the world, but if I give a hundred percent, I’ll be in the top 5%.
David Hirsch: That’s pretty powerful.
Robert Blackwell: And then the last one he said is. That men talk and women work. So hire more women.
David Hirsch: Well, it sounds like you’ve got some really, really good advice at whatever age it was. And instead of just hearing the advice, it sounds like you listened to your dad too, which not all of us do. Right.
Robert Blackwell: Well, later in life, that was, I love it. Oh, one other thing he told me and he said, I remember when I was.
I was in my twenties. I had this office, um, it was myself and maybe I had six other people. My father came into my office and he looked at where I was sitting in the, where the other people were sitting. And he said, you know what, never treat yourself better than the people that work with you. So I got rid of my office and since then, I’ve never had.
An office that was as good as the rest of the people in the company.
David Hirsch: It’s a pretty important message that you’re sending to your work colleagues. You’re the boss, but you’re not like setting yourself apart with the corner office or something really fancy. Yeah. I think if that is sort of in business terms today as sort of a flattened organizational structure where everybody’s sort of on the same level, Right.
Everybody’s not on the same level. You have to make decisions. You have to take responsibility, but from a work environment standpoint, um, you know, we’re all in this together as the messages that sort of consistent with
Robert Blackwell: what you’re, I’d say we have different responsibilities and nobody is more important than anybody else.
Uh, I’d say none of us are more important than all of us. So nobody gets a call. Me boss. That’s like something that we don’t get to say. I just have a responsibility. Other people have different responsibilities. And I say my resp primary responsibility is to support and give the resources to the people that do the real work.
David Hirsch: That would be the woman in your organization
Robert Blackwell: where you go, there’s a lot of good people in the, the organization, but, uh, yeah, my responsibility is really to support those people.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So I’m, I’m still thinking about role models, people that had an influential role in your life. It’s clear that your dad was the primary role model.
I’m wondering. Well lineage standpoint, if your grandfather’s either on your dad or your mom’s side, played a role in your life?
Robert Blackwell: Uh, my on my mother’s side, but I would say my mother has played an important role as well, because I talk to my mother much more than I’ve talked to my father. My father was like a snippet guy, you know?
If I call my father it’s Hey, how you doing? Love you, everything. Okay, cool. Have a great day. That’s my conversation with my father.
David Hirsch: Well, let me just jump in because as a business person, myself, I think about IBM and the success that IBM has had for so many years there used to be this concept. Maybe it still exists.
You know, it takes you more than a page. Describe what you’re doing. You don’t really know what you’re doing. So in business communication, keep it short, keep it simple, be right to the point. And that sort of sounds like what your dad was. Keep it simple. Keep it short, keep it
Robert Blackwell: to the point. Yeah, but my father is somewhat, in some ways my father is me and my father are alike.
I’m an extreme introvert. He’s an introverted extrovert. Everybody thinks he’s an extrovert because he pulled good with people. But those of us who know I’m nosy, he’s really not. The only friend he has is my mother. He doesn’t really have friends. Didn’t go out with people. Okay.
David Hirsch: Well, it sounds like a man of a very high character.
And, uh, the reason I say that is that one of the things you mentioned earlier was you moved from Wichita to Lombard. So no doubt, that was very challenging situation. You were the oldest of your siblings. I think you said you were called in and you went into predominantly if not entirely white neighborhood and, you know, That’s not something everybody, you know, would do individually let alone with their family.
So it tells me something about his character and the courage. I think it takes at a basic level to, uh, you know, transplant your family and start over. Like you did
Robert Blackwell: well, he got transferred by IBM and this was a different time. And I was born in 1960 and the 1973, the whole busing thing came. So things were really.
You know, they were tense and healed. He did that because, you know, later he told me, cause it was not a fun experience for us. Uh, but it was looking for someplace in Chicago. Cause my parents didn’t know anything about Chicago. Really. They went and found a place in the head of the school board. He was trying to get us into like a certain school.
I guess he told me, and he went and spoke to Manford bird who was the head of the Chicago public school system. And he said, you don’t get to decide where your kids go to school. I do. That’s the way he told my father and my father said, no, you don’t. So that’s when he, I think my parents decided they were going to go to the suburbs and my father is probably obstinate a little bit, but yeah, I don’t think he, some politician was going to tell him what he was going to do with his family.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So back to your grandpa’s, um, either on your mom or your dad’s side, did they have much of a influence in your life?
Robert Blackwell: My father’s father, as a really interesting story, he was, he was the first black person that was admitted to Penn university. This was in the early 19 hundreds, but he couldn’t go because his father died, his father died and he had to work.
So he ended up being a janitor. He worked like three jobs, his whole life. And, but he also tutored my father in, uh, geometry and Latin and other things. Also, he was, I don’t say he wasn’t hard, but it’s the best way I would say it was like, almost like he was like a military guy, but I mean, I, I liked him.
Even though we never really spend a lot of time talking or anything. I mean, he worked all the time and I wasn’t in Philadelphia. That’s where he’s from. So, but I would go there. I was spend more time talking to my grandmother frankly than my grandfather.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, it sounds like, uh, there’s a lineage there.
If I can call it that, that your dad had a really good role model in his dad. Right. Who was really smart. But didn’t have an opportunity to go to college or university because he had to work. But, you know, he was somebody that influenced your dad in a positive way. And your dad has influenced you. So, you know, in a direct way that a cycle of other it is, you know, played an important role in your, in your life as well.
Robert Blackwell: Well, I would say that, do you mean my grandfather worked three jobs for most of his life, so he was mostly gone. By necessity. I would say he was a workaholic. My father worked all the time and that’s pretty much what I do from four in the morning until 10 o’clock at night, most days. So I’d say probably we have those things in, are those things in common?
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, thanks for pointing that out. Uh, so at the top of the list or close to the top of list, there’s this amazing work ethic. That you possess that your dad possessed, it sounds like your grandfather possessed as well.
Robert Blackwell: I would just say I don’t, I don’t have a lot of interest. So to me it’s not work. I just, I enjoy, I enjoy it.
So it’s not like I like going out and doing a lot of other things. So it’s not any real big sacrifice on that. Okay.
David Hirsch: Well, they say, if you do what you enjoy, it’s not working. It sounds like that’s where you are. You’re just doing things that you know are fulfilling and you find enjoyable. And we’ll dig into that a little bit.
I’d like to talk about Keller spin. If you don’t mind sure. You started with a sponsoring a tournament. That’s what I remember you saying. And I’m wondering how did it more from being the sponsor to actually starting the business and you know, what was your, what were you thinking? It sounds really outrageous.
Robert Blackwell: I would say there’s. So when we sponsored this ping pong festival, I thought there was an opportunity in the things that like personally drive me is just to be the best in the world at something, you know? And I think I bought, that’s always, I’d say what’s driven me is just, I want to be. The best in the world at something.
If it’s a dog Walker, I want to be the best dog Walker in the world. So I think I’ve had that opportunity a couple of times. And I had this company, I was writing financial modeling systems. I created a methodology. So I think it, at the time we had done things that nobody had ever done on with killer spin.
When I started that. I looked at the industry and I said, why everybody in the world knows table tennis. Nobody can name the name of a brand. So I decided that I was going to start the company and it was going to be kind of a hospitality sport for ETI digital. I could use it to meet people because, uh, one is we didn’t have enough money to sponsor golf.
And I wasn’t interested in that anyway. And I thought that we could take this and we could be unique in the world. So when we started the company, I started off being a media company. And I say, because in sports, there’s really three parts of the sports industry. There’s equipment, apparel, and media. I’m pretty sure Nike is bigger than all the equipment companies in the world combined, probably so’s the NFL.
So I said we were going to be a content company that was supported by. Equipment. So what we were going to do was to make tables. It’s beautiful. And if we did that, those people that love table tennis would love it us because they believe what we believe. Um, so we decided we were going to create a, what I call a sexy, edgy, but non-offensive brand.
We started off by sponsoring women. We focused on women, even though 70% of people that play were men. Uh, I had this idea that men like women. So if we, uh, focused on women, one is we would be very different from everybody else. And that’s what I think in business, you have to be different if you’re not different, you’re a commodity.
So we started a killer spin and we started out. The first thing we did is I created a video. I had an idea because I should say when I was in the year 2000, I was head, I was a chairman of this ping pong festival because they asked me to be the chairman because we were the primary sponsor. And I remember I went to the U S open for table tennis in Fort Lauderdale.
This would have been in 2000 and I’d done some research. So I figured out who all the best players were and things like that. And soon they were going to be there in Fort Lauderdale. And I thought it was going to be like going to like an NBA basketball game or something where you’ll never be able to get close to these people, but wasn’t the case at all.
It was just a tournament in a gym. I could walk up to anybody and talk to them and I did. And when I was there, there wasn’t a such thing as a killer spin yet, but I got the idea that I could do better than this. So I went up and met a number of the players, uh, and said, I’m going to start a tournament and I’m going to reach back out to you, but I’m going to have this tournament and I’d like you to play in it.
And I think they all thought I was nuts, but in 2002, we had an event called a big extreme table tennis championship. It was. Kind of like a combination of the WWE and table tennis tournament. So in late 2001, I got a chance to meet the person who was the head of the Olympic team, Chinese Olympic team. I created a video.
I went to China and I showed it to him and I said, this is kind of what my vision for table tennis can be like, I’m going to have an event. Would you come and bring your national team? So that was kind of like asking Jerry Reinsdorf to come. And the bulls were there when, excuse me, when Michael Jordan bulls, but he did.
So we had this tournament in 2002 that also coincided with the 30 year anniversary of ping pong diplomacy. So we did that. It worked out really well. We produced it at a time by, on Fox. ESPN saw it. And then for years we created these tournaments for ESPN. So we were really the leading company in the world and doing that.
And after table tennis had gone down popularity for 20 years, uh, within 24 hours, once of us starting it doubled in popularity. I don’t know if it had anything to do with us, but it’s a nice coincidence. So then from there we’ve we created certain categories or created the media category. Uh, we created the clothing category, cause all the clothes were from Japan and in Germany and they just were horrible looking.
No call clown clothes. That’s what hold on. So we did that and we really made table tennis. Beautiful. We kind of created the high end of table, tennis to designer portion of the table, tennis. So we believe that that people need people and that play connects people. So we’re all about what I call creating break time play that connects people to the people that they love and that need their love.
So in, uh, in 2002, 2002 16, uh, we created something called a world, unplug and play day. This killer spend now is all about, we call it plug and play. And I was talking to the Pope and I was talking about kind of the, the trends in the world and the need for people to take some time and disconnect from electronic devices.
David Hirsch: Let me back up to, you said you were talking to
Robert Blackwell: the Pope
David Hirsch: Pope Francis in Italy.
Robert Blackwell: I hope
David Hirsch: so. It didn’t happen just because you woke up one morning and said, I think I want to talk to the Pope. What’s the backstory there.
Robert Blackwell: Okay. Um, so about two years earlier, a friend of mine from UAE. Called me and said, Hey, these guys want to meet you from, this is very high end resort, Italy.
Uh, they want to meet you. You should go there. And I said, you know, dude, I don’t even take vacations, so I’m not going to do it a
David Hirsch: resort.
Robert Blackwell: He said, no, but you got to go. There you go. And they contacted me. They invited me me. So I went, there was a place called forte village. And it’s, it’s unbelievable place.
The places like paradise. So I went there, I got this vision for what this partnership could be. And I called the place killers couldn’t paradise. I said, well, we were going to do is we would kind of entertain our community. We would have do events there and we did. And then. I had to meet the head and of the Italian table tennis Federation.
Uh, we became really good friends, even though he can’t speak English at all and I speak no wagon. So anyway, his friend was the Emissary to the Vatican. It’s a guy who kind of the relationships, the outside relationships. And he said they had done some events at the Vatican I table tennis event for young people with special needs and Paralympics.
He said, well, we should talk to the Pope. If you had a good idea, we could talk to the Pope. And I said, okay, well, if we’re going to talk to the Pope, it should be something as big as a Pope. So I came up with idea of world unplugging play day. They dedicated to connecting with people you love and they need your love.
We had this event, so arrange the meeting, I guess he was interested in it. And we arranged the meeting. I talked to him, uh, we actually built a table special table for the Pope, with his insignia on it. So we have one of our, uh, Coachmen tables in the Vatican.
David Hirsch: That’s amazing. In fact, There was an article. I think it was in crane, Chicago business.
And here’s one way to get more people playing ping pong of religiously. Get the poke on your side.
Robert Blackwell: I’d say it’s kind of funny. Uh, yeah, probably two of the five most famous people in the world are connected to killer spin. Barack was the lawyer for killer spin.
David Hirsch: Not while he was president.
Robert Blackwell: He was a little distracted then, but.
I’ve been friends with bras since I met him in 92. Yeah. So he was a lawyer. So he was a founding lawyer for Kelly spin.
David Hirsch: So when I think about Barack Obama, Former Illinois Senator and president of United States. And if I can brag a little bit, he was also recognized by the Illinois fatherhood initiative as one of the fathers of the year in 2006.
So the little charity we have here in Illinois, Has the bragging rights to say that, you know, one of the former presidents, United States, as well as fathers of the year. So we have a little connection from that perspective, but yours is a much more meaningful relationship. I would like to acknowledge that when I think of Barack Obama, I think of basketball.
I don’t think of ping pong. So you’re going to have to help me reconcile that.
Robert Blackwell: Uh, well I sent him, I bid or just were friends and I had a company and. He was a lawyer. So he would do legal work for us. Um, and, but I did play him once and table tennis. Um, it wasn’t that good for him.
David Hirsch: Try you own a table tennis company.
He doesn’t play tables.
Robert Blackwell: No, he thought he could easily black. He immediately wanted to play me in basketball after that. And, uh, I think he would have won. I think he would’ve. I think he would’ve won.
David Hirsch: Okay, well, let’s leave it at that. I that’s the right thing to do for the Homer project.
so if I can let’s switch gears. Um, this has been really fun. Thank you for going into that. Do you tell that you have about the business? We can talk for hours I’m competent. Um, but let’s switch gears, um, and talk about special needs. And I’m wondering before your daughter, um, was diagnosed, if you had any previous experience with special
Robert Blackwell: needs.
Um, the only, I would say the only experience that I had is I didn’t really have any special needs people with special needs in my family. When I was in high school, I used to get in fights with people that would pick on kids with special needs. I just really hated that I would just go pick fights with people who were picking on people with special needs.
I just really hated that. That’s my connection. That’s it,
David Hirsch: but it sounds like from a young age, when you were in high school in Lombard,
Robert Blackwell: you felt like
David Hirsch: it was a social injustice, right? That’s what I hear you saying.
Robert Blackwell: I felt like what kind of person picks on somebody who’s weaker than them? That’s really it, there was no kind of social justice, anything, uh, I just thought, you know, you’re weak and if you’re gonna.
You know, to pick on somebody weaker than you, that soul substantially, we can, you, you have to be just a terrible person and you deserve whatever, have something bad to happen to you. If you go and do stuff like that.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, um, it’s an important character trait of yours, though, right? When you see something that’s wrong, you know, you want to do something about it and, um, You know, again, that’s a leadership trait.
I think about it as a leadership trait. And you were displaying that at a relatively young age, that’s not something that you know, thinking about. So what was the backstory as far as being diagnosed with autism?
Robert Blackwell: Well, um, everything was going fine with Alia and then we went to the pediatrician. Yeah. And they wanted to give her these vaccines.
And my wife said they want to give her a lot of vaccines. Should we do that? And I said, Oh, she just listened to the doctor in retrospect. That’s I it’s one of my great regrets. Her intuition I think was right, because almost immediately after that she stopped talking. It was like immediately after that.
Uh, she stopped talking and that’s when she got diagnosed, not long after that. So
David Hirsch: I don’t want to step on any landmines, but the concept of vaccine and autism seems to be a bit controversial and it’s sort of like, or there’s smoke there’s fire from my perspective, not being very close to it. Um, there’s something going on there, right.
Even though. The medical community. There’s no connection right. Between vaccines and autism. But what you’re saying is that there was immediate reaction to your daughter’s experience, vaccines going non verbal, and then relatively shortly after that being diagnosed autism. So how do you think about that?
Robert Blackwell: Well, I, I think about it like it is, first of all, then there is no chance that a scientific study can say, there’s no connection. That’s like saying if somebody’s studying peanut butter, there’s no connection between peanut butter in anybody getting sick. Uh, there are people in the world that are allergic to it.
Vena butter now. I’m sure. Some study that is sponsored by a Jiffy is going to show that there’s no connection between peanut butter and people getting sick well, for the great majority of people, that’s probably true, but these vaccines, yeah, they have mercury in it. Now you can’t take that’s one of the most toxic substances on earth.
So I would say that. Why they can conduct these things. And I’m not saying that nobody should have any vaccines, but the idea that nobody on earth can have a negative reaction to a vaccine or the combination of these vaccines, can’t make people. It is a little bit ridiculous. You know, it’s better off to say, listen, one Adams.
Some people are going to get sick. Yeah. It happens. Right. Some people don’t yeah. From drugs, you know, and people are allergic to bees and all kinds of things. So I, yeah, I just, that’s my that’s my thought on it.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, I think of it and I don’t mean to sound impersonal about it, but it’s sort of the unintended consequence, right?
If vaccines help the great majority, and there’s a purpose for vaccines, we have to acknowledge that that’s just sort of irrefutable, but the other side of that, the unintended consequences that, well, it might work for a lot of people or most people, but it doesn’t work for everybody. And what are we doing about.
Those that are being impacted in that other tail of the distribution.
Robert Blackwell: Yeah. And by the way, like booster shots, you know, you get booster shots for vaccines. They only do that because a small, a fraction of the people, it doesn’t take the first time. So the, they give everybody another shot. Not because everybody needs it, but because a fraction of people.
They think need these bolster shots, the second dose.
David Hirsch: Got it. So I’m trying to put myself in your shoes. You’re a relatively young, you have a young daughter who, around two years old, when this all transpires, when you first heard the term autism, what was going through your mind or what were the fears that you and your wife had?
Robert Blackwell: Well, my sister in law told me that that might be what was going on with her. Uh, and so did my sister, my youngest sister, who’s a teacher, but my sister in law told me that’s what she thinks is going on. And for me it was because I, I tend to think it’s going to far into the future. You know, how do I make sure that she can have an independent life?
So it was really my thoughts for her primarily. And it put, I’d say a big emotional burden on them, especially my wife, because she had to then really dedicate her life to Aaliyah’s education and taking care of her. And she’s phenomenal mother. So my. Thing was, you know, there’s a goal. How do we make her independent?
And that was pretty much it. That’s all I thought about.
David Hirsch: So how long was she nonverbal?
Robert Blackwell: She started to become, we changed her diet. We ate pretty clean anyway, but we made sure that she didn’t eat any gluten. I mean, we mostly I’d say the help we got was from other parents that we’ve, that we met, did the research.
We could. Made sure that she ate really cleanly. She went to a lot of, uh, for years, speech therapy and occupational therapy, things like that. She went, she had gone to a Montessori school, which was good for her. And then, uh, when she got out to, she did homeschooling for a few years, and then I, uh, I went and got us a house in Wilmette.
So she could go to Nutrere because, you know, we had looked for schools in Chicago and they were either glorified hospitals, or they just didn’t have anything that worked for her. So I said to myself, I’m going to go figure out where the rich people are, because for sure they have solved this problem. So I worked at the North shore.
Or the greatest number of rich people were, and the found out about Nutrere and I was right. They have a fabulous program. I mean, they were just great for Alia. So from when she was in eighth grade, till when she finished transition, she was part of the nutria. Um, she went to school at nutria,
David Hirsch: so she was mainstream then if she went to high school,
Robert Blackwell: yes.
David Hirsch: Okay. Fabulous. So, um, Not to focus on the negative, but what were some of the biggest challenges that you encountered? Either one, she was, you know, as a youngster or even when she was
Robert Blackwell: in high school. I, I don’t really remember any big obstacles other than it was, I’d say some burden on my wife because she pretty much couldn’t do almost anything else.
See, homeschoolers is really a full time. Job for her for years. So for me, Alia was, it’s never been any challenge for me because I mean, she, she was just a delight to be around. She’s a delightful person to be around.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s important to acknowledge that moms are the on average. Strongest advocates for our kids while the typical or atypical kids, both in the area of health care and education.
And it sounds like your wife did an amazing job raising your daughter. Was there a turning point in your experience with all this or not really?
Robert Blackwell: Yeah. There’s no turning point. I would say it is just right. It was. You know, progression, she got better and better and better over time. And I see all that work kind of paid off.
So she’s, you know, she’s, you know, very high functioning, you know, she works now. She works for killer spin. She loves being a part of the company. What are you actually do
David Hirsch: for killers?
Robert Blackwell: Well, you know, like a lot of people in their early twenties, it’s more gopher work than anything. But my goal for her is for her to have her own killer spin agency, because I decided what I wanted her is for her to have some work that has dignity.
Not that it’s not dignified to go do some repetitive work, but you know, I think that’s not going to help her. Pay for herself, right. I mean,
David Hirsch: to be independent and self sufficient.
Robert Blackwell: Yeah. So I thought if she could, she could have her own agency, you know, just be like a little insurance agency so she can go and have her own customers and then things will work out.
So that’s what we’re going to be doing for her. But then I thought about, you know, there’s so many families that have these, the kids that leave when they leave the transition programs, there’s really nothing for them. Uh, so I said, we’re going to start an agency program for these young people with special needs so they can have their own businesses, just like an insurance agent.
So we would tell people if you’re going to buy from us, please consider buying from one of our agents or they can go, you know, their parents, grandparents could go and say, if you’re going to buy something, we buy something for my kid or they could go at, so it’s not going to insurance agent, right. The company referred things to you, but do you go and build your own network as well?
So that’s something that we’re there. We’re going to be rolling out this year.
David Hirsch: Well, I’d love to circle back a year or two years down the road, because I think it’s really important. Um, I’d like to put you in contact with some of the other dads in the network who the most important thing to them is providing people with disabilities, with employment opportunities.
And like you were saying, Robert real employment opportunities, same wages, same measures of success. Not charity. And I think this is the next wave for people with disability, providing them with economic opportunities. So under the banner of advice, I’m wondering if there’s any advice that you can provide a parent or a dad for that matter, raising a child with challenges.
Robert Blackwell: Um, Isaac, I have a number of friends that. Have kids with special needs. I’d say, I think the most important thing is faith. You have to have faith that things will turn out. Okay. But you have to work towards that and not feel sorry for yourself, but just be focused on the outcomes for your child. The likelihood is that most of the work is going to be done by the mother.
And I would say, make sure that she has some support system and that you have some party that you can go talk to because things will be stressful. And depending on what your, um, Say your own temperament and the temperament of the mother is going to be a, you may have to deal with a lot of stress. Uh, but I would just say, just have faith and have faith that you’ll figure out, figure it out.
And it’ll things will work out, be, be prudent, which means start to save money, act like that. You that’s one of your bills. That you have to put money every month in an account for, you know, for your child, just act like it’s a, it’s a bill that you have to pay.
David Hirsch: Great advice about the importance of Paige port systems, counseling, imprudent.
And I think it all has to do with. Having realistic expectations, right? Not giving up and saying low expectation. I’m trying to put it all into perspective.
Robert Blackwell: The only thing I would say is I wouldn’t have realistic expectations cause you don’t know what that means. Just have a plan to create the best possible outcome and believe that that you can get there.
It doesn’t mean you’re denying the facts of the situation. But to me, when people say realistic, who knows, what, how do you determine what realistic means? You know, if we were in the 1950s and somebody said, we’re going to, you know, somebody’s going to go to the moon. Well, that doesn’t sound very realistic to me.
I mean, great things can be done by determined people. So you don’t know what’s realistic. The only thing that’s not realistic is overcoming the force of nature. Everything else is possible.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you. So I’m curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the special father’s network?
Robert Blackwell: Uh, because I think a couple of things, one is I think God has blessed me much more than I deserve, and I’ve been helped by lots of people. Right. I started off with a great mentor and my, and my father, and there are other people who listened to my crazy ideas when I was in my twenties and they, they still kept talking to me.
And so I’ve been helped by lots of people. Um, so I just think in life, You know, God said it’s better to give it’s better to give than to receive. And I believe that’s the case. So I think that we all have some obligation to look outside ourselves and try to be helpful to others. In fact, I don’t think it is possible to be happy if you’re just focused on yourself.
David Hirsch: Words of wisdom. Thank you. So let’s give a special shout out to Garrett, Rehbein of Ray by and paving, rip buying group and for the ditch Digger CEO podcast for helping connect us.
Robert Blackwell: Gary’s a great guy.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap
Robert Blackwell: up? No, listen, it’s my pleasure. Pleasure meeting you.
And I think what you guys are doing is super important. Um, I do think that. It’s good for men to have these kinds of support networks, because you have those kinds of support networks with like CEO groups are other, let’s call it business, mentor groups. I’ve never heard of anything like this. Probably this is something I never would have thought of, but I do think it’s important that you can go and.
Talk to another man about the situation, because it is going to be different than you talking to other people. Women tend to talk a lot about, they tend to be more social. Uh, it’s better for them to be. They can be more emotional. My view men, uh, especially. Men who tend to feel like that they’re alpha ish.
You just try to be salt. You know, you try to be problem solvers and you try to figure out what’s the answer to this. That’s kind of describing myself. Uh, but I never really went to talk to other people about what do you do? And. What are you going through any advice? I tried to help people that I know new went through that.
And, uh, but there’s some, yeah, nothing formal that I’ve ever seen around this and it’s stressful. And to me, it was more stressful. The stress that my wife was feeling rather than my stress from my, my daughter, because she’s just an angel. I mean, she, I, in my case, I’m really lucky because she didn’t have any physical limitations.
We were just concerned about her ability to be independent and someday, but I think what you’re doing is phenomenal. It’s needed and happy to be helpful if I can.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re thrilled to have you as part of the network. Thank you again. If somebody wants to learn more about UKI, digital killer student table tennis.
The work that you do, how would they go about contacting him?
Robert Blackwell: Uh, well, you can look at the websites, tki-digital.com killer spin.com. Or you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Hirsch: Awesome. We’ll put those in the show notes. Robert Robert, thank you for taking the time in the many insights. As a reminder, Robert is just one of the folks who’s part of this special father’s network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
You could like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation. You’re out. Please go to 21stcenturydads.org. Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network podcast. We hope you enjoy the conversation as I did, as you probably know, nonprofit organization, which in, we need your help to keep our content free, to all concern. Please consider making a tax deductible donation. I would really appreciate. Also posted new on iTunes podcast, family, friend, and subscribe to get reminder when each new episode is produced. Robert thank you again.
Robert Blackwell: Thank you. This is great, David.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. 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 would special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer up, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups and search dad to dad.
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