He wrote the book “Windows into Heaven – Stories Celebrating Down Syndrome” He’s the father of three, including an adopted boy with Down Syndrome. He’s Stacy Tetschner and he has an amazing story to tell on this Dad to Dad Podcast.
Dad to Dad 41 – Author Stacy Tetschner wrote a book to help parents of kids with Down Syndrome.
Stacy Tetschner: One of the individuals. That’s our biggest supporter with this book is an OB GYN. He actually orders the books 10 or 15 at a time and keeps them in his office. And he said, I didn’t use to always know what to say to someone when they had a diagnosis of down syndrome. As now I have this book that I hand them and say, congratulations. You’ve got some amazing days ahead of you.
Tom Couch: That’s Stacy Tetschner. Stacy is the father of three, including his adopted son, Raymond, who has down syndrome. Stacey’s also author of the book, windows into heaven story, celebrating down syndrome. And he’s our guest on this dad to dad podcast. Now here’s our host, a man who spent decades advocating for fathers 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 your dad looking for help or. We’d 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 let’s listen now to David Hirsch’s conversation with special fathers, Stacy Tetschner.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend Stacy who lives just outside of Washington, DC. A father of three boys and president and CEO of United motorcoach association in Alexandria, Virginia, Stacy, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the special fathers network.
Stacy Tetschner: David, thanks for inviting me today.
It’s an honor to be part of what you’re doing here.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Michelle had been married for 29 years. You know, the proud parents of three boys, Stephan 27, Mitchell 23 and Raymond who just turned 16, who has down syndrome and was adopted at age eight months. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up?
Tell me something about your family.
Stacy Tetschner: Sure. Well, if you go back to the beginning, I grew up in the Plains of Nebraska. I’m one of the few gen Xers that you’ll meet today that went to a one room, school house, like little house on the Prairie. Eventually found my way to Arizona, where I met the love of my life there after high school, after a year of college.
Followed her back to Minnesota, where we got married and moved around a little bit to start a family, which kind of led to what, who you just introduced everyone to today as witches three amazing boys.
David Hirsch: That’s wonderful. So you were born in Nebraska, moved to Arizona as a younger person. And do you have any siblings?
Stacy Tetschner: one sister that’s about seven years younger than I am. She’s adopted as well and amazing in her own. Right.
David Hirsch: And what does she do today?
Stacy Tetschner: Um, today she’s a student. She works with individuals that have mental illness. She has schizophrenia herself and is on appropriate medications and doing phenomenally well and helping other people transition back to the typical world as well.
David Hirsch: Well, the amount of authenticity that she must bring to her job, having struggled or overcome some of these challenges herself, you know, as a particular value with the type of work that she does.
Stacy Tetschner: Yes. She is part of the solution to our, um, mental health issues in the world today.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thank you for sharing.
So how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Stacy Tetschner: My dad, I’m still fortunate that my dad is still with us. And actually I was just with him in Arizona this last week. And we have a very good relationship. You know, my folks were not as well educated, as many were, and his, and my mom’s goal was always to do better than they were.
And that was to get me through high school and off to college. I was one of the first ones in our family to graduate from college. I won’t say that was easy. But it, it took me 20 years, but 20 years to get a four year degree. I’ll take it. So
David Hirsch: I’m just going to clarify, when you say it took you 20 years, you graduated when you were 20 or you started college and it was 20 years later to get through college.
Stacy Tetschner: So I started college right after high school and dropped out after a, a good year of. Best year of partying of my life, probably then as my kids were growing up and I had said, you know, my parents wanted to set me up to be better than I was, and I want to set them up to be better than, than I am. I wanted to be that example for them.
So at night after they went to bed, I would go log online. Thank goodness for the university of Phoenix and completed my bachelor’s degree in marketing. The same year that I went back for my 20th high school reunion. Wow. So that’s, that’s where it took me 20 years to get my four year degree.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well that is quite a story.
Thank you for sharing and being so transparent. A lot of people would just slow to like, you know, shuffle it off to the side. That’s not something anybody needs to know, but I think it says something about your character in a very positive
Stacy Tetschner: way.
David Hirsch: So going back to your dad, what advice did you receive or what important lessons.
Come to mind. When you think about
Stacy Tetschner: your dad, you know, one of the lessons that our relationship has progressed, as I said, my sister is adopted, uh, my, my parents couldn’t have more kids after me. I guess I broke the mold or something. They just didn’t want to replicate what they had seen that already once.
But the interesting thing is my dad went on to adopt more kids after us, his, his, he and my mom separated and got divorced. He remarried. He took on a step son in that relationship. And then they took on a couple of foster daughters that, um, eventually became adoptive daughters of their own. And one of the things that I picked up from him in that whole process is always leaving the world a better place than you found it and helping people up that that may be an, a challenge and especially kids that are in a challenging situation.
It’s just something that he passed on to me and his uncles had passed on to him. And it’s just, I dunno, attached in her family tradition, I guess that’s
David Hirsch: very inspiring. Very inspiring. So I’m thinking about grandpa’s, uh, on your dad’s side to begin with, and then on your mom’s side, what role, if any, did they play in your
Stacy Tetschner: life?
What’s interesting is, is my mom and dad worked really hard to provide for us as children. When I say hard, they did a lot of physical labor. They were custodians that are high school or custodians at a local hospital. And before that, even the, the wholesale milkman that drove all around the country, but that took a lot of time.
And my grandfather and grandmother. Took us in and whenever they needed to go to work, they would drop us off at their house. In fact, on a Saturday morning, my mom and dad would go to work to clean the school. They’d have to be there at 7:00 AM. So at 6:00 AM, we were getting dropped off at my grandparents’ house, thrown into bed there.
So we could go back to sleep and we would wake up and my grandparents would have food there for us things to do, and sometimes work for us to do as well. Yeah, and that was on my dad’s side. And on my mom’s side, that grandparent for us, for me, was really the inspiration for wanting to have a professional career.
And my grandfather on my dad’s side, by the time I got to know him was pretty much retired. Although he was, if you’ve ever watched a show, the American pickers, he was a picker. He liked to go out and. And buy things. He called himself a prospect versus a picker, but he would buy items and resell them on my mom’s side, that grandparent was a professional put on a suit, went to work every day and, um, really showed me another side of what work could be as well.
Besides what I learned in that small town in Nebraska.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thank you for sharing. Was there anybody else that served as a father figure when you were growing up or maybe perhaps as a young adult for
Stacy Tetschner: that matter? Uh, well, it’s interesting. I’ve been very blessed along the way. I think as long as you’re listening is a male figure, a father figure, whatever it happens to be, even as moms and females, God puts a lot of great people in your path and you just have to be open and aware and listening.
And I’ve had some incredible people along the way, whether they’ve been business mentors, parental mentors, um, or just teaching me how to be a better husband. There are a couple that I would, that I would say, you know, if, if I were looking at professionally, I had a regional manager for a restaurant chain that I worked for, I would sit down with him and we would have these in depth conversations that I never anticipated.
And I’d start complaining about, let’s just say salary, Hey, you know, so-and-so makes more money than I do. And we’re doing the same work or I work harder and he would, he was a great mentor and he’d sit down and say, when we. When we first negotiated your salary package, Stacy, were you happy with that? I said, yeah, I was, I was extremely happy though.
So what’s changed because is it, you’re just measuring yourself against some other, some one else’s measuring stick sound. I guess that’s what it is. He goes, so are you not happy with where you are and what you’re doing? I said, I am. He goes, then quit comparing yourself to others and compare yourself on your own journey where you want to be.
And that has stuck with me. I mean, that’s 30 plus years ago that, that I got that first message. And it’s one that stuck with me today that says, you know, stop comparing myself to my neighbor and compare myself to where I want to be. And there’s only one person that’s going to get me there. And that’s
David Hirsch: me, you know, what an amazing insight at such an early age, anybody else that comes to mind?
Stacy Tetschner: There, there are a few others along the way that were probably professional of when I think about personal on a personal side, the other was, I called them my other parents when I was growing up in my little town of Burwell, Nebraska. And a lot of times it was my best friend’s parents and they always showed that there’s another side of family.
My family did a lot of things together as a small unit. They had a bigger extended family and they would invite me to their events and I got to see what that was as well. And again, I don’t think they purposely did it to teach me anything, but just to expose me to other things and. To this day, I still value having that because it helped me as a father husband figure to look out and see, what is it that I want for my family?
What do I want to create? And again, I had those opportunities to see everything without naming names. These individuals. Really have done amazing things, just for opening my eyes to what you can really be as a family.
David Hirsch: So if I can paraphrase what you’ve said, it wasn’t so much what they said while you were interacting with them, but the role model that they were right, that gave you this insight, you know, a broader insight about what families do and how family members interact.
Stacy Tetschner: That’s correct. And that was just it. They were people of very few words and it was never about what they said, but it was about what they did. And, uh, even opened up to me that said, okay, later on, when we take family vacations and go somewhere, we would let the kids bring somebody along to that. Wasn’t something that my family did.
We were always a small unit, but. It was rewarding. And my kids today, I’ll still talk about when we got to take this friend or that friend along to the beach house for a week with us or whatever it happened to be. I love it.
David Hirsch: So let’s switch gears. You made passing reference to meeting Michelle either late in high school or early college.
How did the two of you meet.
Stacy Tetschner: It’s a funny story. We were, I was managing for a company called mr. Steak restaurants. I was about 18, 19 years old at the time, and I was an assistant manager and I think more than anything, cheap labor for them. But, um, Michelle came in, she had finished her first year of college.
She wasn’t sure she was ready to go back yet. And so she was taking a year off and moved down to Arizona to live with an aunt, needed a job. And she came in and. Interviewed with me for a job. My boss told me, hire this girl to be a hostess said, great. I look forward to it. She came in and wanted to be a server, a food server because they made tips and hostesses did not.
So she was batting her eyes and flirting with me during the entire interview. And so, uh, I was trying to convince her that being a hostess would be a great job. And so I hired her to be a waitress, a food server. And so I went home to my roommate that day and he said, so how was work today? I said, work was great.
I just hired the woman that I’m going to marry.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Stacy Tetschner: And so luckily that’s, that’s how it worked out. It’s a fun story to talk about and, you know, I can usually follow it up and say, unfortunately, mr. Steak restaurants went bankrupt a few years later, but that was not due to my management philosophies.
David Hirsch: I love it. So from the time that you met from that interview, when you hired her to be the waitress, not the hostess, how long did you date or how long did it take before he got married?
Stacy Tetschner: We dated and eventually got married. We got married in 88 and 1988. So that was about 80. Seven eight or the end of 1986 when we met.
So it was about a year and a half. And after a few months, she had decided to move back to Minnesota, closer to home. And at the time the restaurant, this particular restaurant was closing as the chain was closing nationwide. And so I said, I’ve got nothing keeping me here. And so I just followed her back there and eventually proposed and we got married and.
From there moved to various points throughout the country and mostly Northern California and had a wonderful first couple of years, I will say one of the things as a new husband that I stumbled upon and hers, a new life, we moved away from everyone we knew, and we became solely reliant on each other and that strengthened and helped us become best friends.
And that, that entire process.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you wouldn’t know it at the time, but you can look back and see that right.
Stacy Tetschner: That’s right. That, that wasn’t necessarily a strategy for us. It was just happenstance. And we knew we wanted to live someplace new and do something different. And looking back, it was one of the pillars that made our marriage what it is today.
David Hirsch: I love it. So prior to taking the job that you currently have at United motorcoach association, which is just the past year or so, you spent 25 years of your career. At the national speakers association in Arizona, the last 18 years as the CEO, did you move around a lot in that job or was that. Stay at home type of job.
Stacy Tetschner: It was, uh, yeah, fortunately it was one of those jobs were in Northern California and looking to move to Arizona because Michelle’s family had moved there. My family was here and we were starting our own family, so we wanted to be close to a support system. So I took the initial job at national speakers association, not knowing what it was thinking.
It was a big national. Organization with offices everywhere. And as I did my research and interviews and eventually got hired to be their membership manager, um, I found that it was a smaller organization based solely in Phoenix, Arizona. So luckily for me, That 25 years, we raised our family and raised our kids all in the same location.
Didn’t move around a lot. Although I did get the opportunity to travel all around the world with that job, which was just a blessing. And it was that association was so incredible and became just like family for us. So that, yeah, still the members there today are like family figures.
David Hirsch: That is a blessing.
Stacy Tetschner: Truly is. So let’s
David Hirsch: switch gears and talk about the special needs community on a personal level, and then beyond. So before adopting Raymond, did you or Michelle have any connections to the special needs community?
Stacy Tetschner: We actually did is I had a step uncle growing up that had down syndrome. I didn’t know him well, but would see him every two to three years when that family came to visit us in my younger years.
And then. And eventually my grandmother and that man separated. And so I didn’t see him or his son again. Um, my wife has an uncle who has down syndrome as well. So down syndrome was nothing new to us, although we had never really pictured, would that be part of our own family or lives going forward or not?
And we didn’t think that it would be, but that, that eventually changed. Well,
David Hirsch: the story about how Raymond came into your lives is a very interesting one. And I’m wondering if you could tell it in whatever detail that you’d like.
Stacy Tetschner: Sure. So we were, we were very fortunate, Michelle and I intentionally had, we had our boys younger knowing that we would be emptynesters later on in life.
And as the boys got older and they were in elementary and junior high school. We still felt the need to have some additional children in our house, but we didn’t necessarily want to have our own biological children at that point. So we became foster parents. We became foster parents by taking it a friend of a friend initially.
And that little girl went back to her family after a few months. And we, we had this calling. To say, you know, there are other kids that need some help out there, whether it’s temporary landing pads or something, a little more longterm. And we were open to that. So we became officially licensed foster parents and they said in that process, here’s, what’s going to happen.
You will not get a baby. Everybody falls in, loves with babies, and that’s not going to be the case. You’re going to get some older children and they’re going to have some issues. So we did all the studying and all the prep for that. And the first call we got was there’s a little native American baby that has down syndrome that was left at the hospital by his mother.
And he needs a temporary landing pad. Just for about two weeks and then he’ll find a forever home and be off to that. And so we said we were up for it. We both looked at each other and said, we both had had someone with down syndrome in our background. We’re up for this. And had someone said at that point in time, we’ve got a baby that needs a permanent home that has down syndrome.
I don’t know. I can’t say would we have said yes, possibly, but we may have said let’s find someone else for that baby. Um, so we took it under the pretense of two weeks. And during that two weeks, his birth mom initiated a visit, which in the state of Arizona meant that there was a chance for reunification.
So it kicked it into a different level. And they said, can he stay another month and another month and another month? Well, the another months turned to about eight months later and we were starting to concern cause. We were trying really hard to stay at arms length and be good foster parents and say, he’s got a forever family coming.
We need to make sure he’s prepared for that. And we can’t fall in love with him. Well, the honest truth is we did fall in love with them. And, um, one afternoon my wife got a phone call from a gravelly voiced older lady named gay Ruby, and she says, Michelle, I’m in charge of placing Raymond for. Adoption, you haven’t met me yet, but I do have one question for you and that’s, what’s wrong with this baby.
And I’m being protective as my wife is. She launched into a bit of a tirade with this, this older lady, and just said, there is nothing wrong with this baby. He is just how God made him. He is perfect and he’s going to be perfect for the perfect family. And you need to make sure you find that perfect family for him.
And, um, that older lady softened her voice off and said, then why isn’t that perfect family? You so. After a few tears and conversation, um, that lady actually became one of our best advocates for this adoption. And so, uh, later that year for national adoption day, which this lady helped coordinate every year in Arizona, we adopted Raymond and made him imperfect a permanent part of our family.
The interesting story there, um, I’ll just take another minute. We went home then, you know, a couple nights later and we were having dinner with our older boys. And Raymond was at the table and we looked at them and said, mom and I have a, have something to say. We’re thinking that we want to make Raymond a permanent part of our family.
And what do you boys think of that? And our older one looks at our younger one and nods. They both nod their head and they said, we knew it after two weeks. It just took you guys a few months longer to figure that out.
David Hirsch: I love that. That was the answer. Stand on the story. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s such a heartwarming story.
Your point about how he came into your lives under the premise. That might be just a couple of weeks, you know, I think as the foot in the door, right. Which is, if somebody asked you to make a longterm commitment, right. From the get go, if you’re honest with yourself, you might pause, right. You might not be willing to sign up for that type of responsibility.
Right. But if it’s shorter term, right? Oh, what’s two weeks. Anybody can do something for two weeks. Gets extended for a month number month, number a month, number a month. And it’s hard not to get attached to somebody right. Such a young age for that matter.
Stacy Tetschner: Right. That’s
David Hirsch: just a remarkable stories. Thank you so much for sharing.
More importantly, thank you for opening, not only your home, but your hearts and, uh, you know, obviously Raymond is the beneficiary, not of having two loving parents, but two loving older brothers as well.
Stacy Tetschner: Right. And I will say that, um, As much as Raymond is the beneficiary. I think we’re even more of the beneficiary because our lives are richer.
Um, what we envision for our life at this point in time being empty nesters and, and traveling and things like that, all of those conversations came up during this decision process. And we looked at each other and said, you know, we can still travel. Raymond will be with us probably longer than our other boys were.
Although we do have visions for him to go to college. But we just had, instead of buying two plane tickets to go to Europe or wherever we’re going, we’re going to buy three. And, um, by taking him, we get to see things, not just through adult eyes, but through kid eyes as well. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Well, I get it, but I’m wondering, I understood the math.
What’s another plane ticket for a young son. But is there any pressure from your older boys to say, Hey, what about us too?
Stacy Tetschner: Not too much. Now the good thing is we do have those visions as well, you know, are our dreams. One of the things that we look most forward to is when we can go rent the big beach house.
And they bring their families and we’ll have our family and with Raymond and any extended family and have those big gatherings and everything’s centered around the beach for us. That’s, that’s probably how we define success is how close we can live to a beach. I don’t think they’ll miss out on too much.
When we do that, whether we’re renting a beach house here or maybe one day, we can rent one in Europe and do the same thing.
David Hirsch: Outstanding. So I’m wondering if there’s any advice. You got early on, maybe not during that first eight months before he was adopted, but shortly thereafter, that helped you put everything into perspective.
Stacy Tetschner: I think just a lot of times, you know, I will say that the person gives me the best advice as my wife. And hopefully she’ll say some of the same things as well. We’re constantly bouncing ideas and thoughts and what’s next off of each other, but we do get some advice from parents, grandparents, and a lot of times friends and a lot of the best advice we get comes from our friends in the special needs community.
One of the best pieces of advice that we got is actually a related to Raymond’s education because we weren’t. This was new ground for us as it is for any parent of a child with special needs. And we had two typical boys that did extremely well in school and looking forward, we weren’t sure. What does that look like for Raymond?
What does extremely well look like for him and how do we not let this child down in that process? And so we constantly are reaching out to other people in our community that have. Traveled the path before us to say, what does this look like? And how can we make it better than it was for you? And how can we leave it better for the people that come behind us?
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well that peer to peer experience coming alongside another family, who’s a few steps ahead of you or years ahead of you. So that they can enlighten you about what some of the alternatives are. You can learn vicariously through some of the things that maybe they didn’t get right. The first time and maybe emulate, you know, the successes that they’ve had so that you’re on a little bit smoother path.
Stacy Tetschner: Yeah. That’s hugely important for, I think whether you’re a parent of someone with special needs or a parent of a typical child, or just traveling life and maybe without children, but look at. What have others done that you either want to emulate make better, do different. There are some times when I learn things from parents, not on what to do, but what not to do say, you know what?
This is, this is not a path I want to go down. This is not an attitude I want to have. This is not emotional state. I want to be in, how do I avoid that and stay away from it.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So what are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve encountered? With Rehmann situation.
Stacy Tetschner: I would say the biggest, especially in schools are others who want to limit him and put him in a box.
They want to say, well, he has down syndrome. He has special needs. So he needs to be in a special classroom or he needs to not interact with the general public. Yeah. And a lot of times my response to them. It’s not for shock value or anything else, but it is now there’s not a special needs line when we go to the bank or McDonald’s.
So why are we trying to create special needs, lines or boxes when we’re in the education system more often than not, we’re advocating all the time to have him fully included his peers fully included in everything that’s going on in school. We’re very blessed that he’s enrolled in a Catholic school that has, uh, this year, there’s a new school for him as we’ve moved out here.
And the school knew about us and knew what we’d like to what we were looking for. And we reached out to them and they reached back and said, we want to start this program at our school. And we would like Raymond to be the pilot student that goes through here. And how can we work together? Knowing that sometimes this is going to be messy.
But we’re, we’re creating a new trail for the future and we’re creating great opportunities for these typical students to have exposure to the type of individuals that they’re going to have exposure to in their life after school and their professional lives. So why, why don’t we fully include them in this life as well?
David Hirsch: love it. There’s another dad in our, um, mentor program. He’s down in North Carolina, Joe. Serone. And, uh, they have a 14 year old daughter, grace who has down syndrome. And I think the way he phrased it was, it wasn’t until like the last year or two that she realized that she was a little bit different than everybody else.
So they made no accommodations for her. She was mainstream and every aspect of her life. And you know, if you don’t get labeled from the very beginning, you don’t think any differently. Right. You’re just who you are. And I think that that’s what I heard you saying is that, uh, you know, you just want him to be accepted for the person that he is not put in a box or labeled somehow, um, as any different, right.
Because he’s the person that he is
Stacy Tetschner: right. He is. And he brings gifts that, uh, you know, if we’re willing to just stop and look and listen, um, he brings gifts and insights that we don’t have. And hopefully. There’s not a bias there so that people will actually listen and say, this is so incredible of an individual.
How can I learn more, be better exposed, be a better person for knowing
David Hirsch: them. Fabulous. So there’ve been any important decisions. Looking back over the first 16 years of Raymond’s life, you could say that was really key or this was really key. Uh, looking back on it.
Stacy Tetschner: There are, there are times, and I’m going to go back to a, I’ll use an education example, and then I’ll use a different example, but there were a few times where we were fighting a fight to keep him fully included and help educators see.
The value that would be available if he stayed in a typical classroom that we were just tired. We wanted to lay down and just say, you can’t do this anymore. Fine. Just let him go to that, that special classroom or whatever it was. And what was key for us was having a support network of other parents that said, don’t do it.
No, I just a little bit longer, or try this, or bring in this special advocate on your behalf to do some of the fighting for you. There are times when you have typical children, as well as children that have special needs that you just get tired and you get tired of fighting the fight. And as parents, nobody ever said it would be easy.
That that is some of the key learning from there. And then on the flip side, when we took the payment to a doctor, Doctors tried to do the same thing. And it took us going to three or four different doctors. And, uh, whether you’re advocating for your own health or the health of one of your children, doctors don’t know everything.
They have special training, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also a doc, it’s a medical practice and they’re still practicing as well. And until we found a doctor that said, Hey, Raymond’s a kid like any other kid. Yeah. If it’s hap have an extra chromosome and that’s going to throw a few things at us, but we’re going to treat him just like we would any other kid when he comes in here and that got us further along the path, as opposed to someone saying, well, he has down syndrome.
So he’s just going to have these lung issues, all of his life. Um, this doctor didn’t accept that and he said, we’re gonna, we’re gonna push through. And when you find people like that, um, as parents, you have to hang on to them, Yeah.
David Hirsch: Well, like you said, the path is not an easy one. Everybody gets fatigued at some level.
It’s great to have that support structure, like you’re referring to and nothing against the medical community, but, uh, you have to be the best advocate for your child, you know, your child better than anybody else. And you know, if something just doesn’t feel right, or if you’re not on the same page, you know, it’s not inappropriate at all.
To get a second or a third opinion and, you know, try to find the right level of service for your child. So thank you for sharing. Um, what impact has Raymond situation had on his older brothers, as well as the rest of your
Stacy Tetschner: family? Well, one of the, one of the things I always jokingly offer is I don’t know that we would get to see his older brothers at home as much as we do if Raymond wasn’t there.
They come back cause he is the heart of our family. They’re constantly interacting. Hey, what’s Raymond doing? What’s he got going on? And you know, Raymond will send them texts of videos of what he’s doing. Raymond loves to drop. Um, and he has a whole drum set set up in our basement. He’s learned how to set up his iPhone to film himself.
And then texts those off to his brothers. They stay connected their brotherly unit, even though there’s a lot of years that separate them. And I think that Michelle and I benefit because they want to come home and see him, and then we get to see them as well. I think it would be easy for them not to come home and see us.
If Raymond wasn’t
David Hirsch: there. Where are the boys? We’re stuffing, whereas Mitchell.
Stacy Tetschner: Stephan is living in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is, he got married in the last year, just celebrated his one year anniversary. And so he and his wife relocated to Charlotte and Mitchell is, uh, decided to go back to school and he’s studying, uh, to get his master’s at Texas a and
David Hirsch: M.
Yeah. Well, that’s fabulous. Thank you for sharing. I’m wondering if there’s been any supporting organizations that you’ve relied on. Special Olympics, GGS, Playhouse organizations
Stacy Tetschner: like that. You bet. I mean, early on when Raymond was a foster child with us, you know, we were committed to doing the best we could by this young, this young man.
And so we connected with an organization called sharing down syndrome, Arizona, who had just a very passionate leader. That was a mom. She embraced us and. Connected us with resources early on as time has gone on whether it’s down syndrome, network of Arizona’s special Olympics. Um, I’ve coached for special Olympics as well.
I coached both of my, uh, typical boys and their basketball, younger basketball days. And. Have since gone on to become a coach for special Olympics, which is incredibly rewarding for anyone, whoever wants to do that. And most recently moving out here, um, near Annapolis, Maryland, there’s a place called GGS Playhouse.
And, uh, as much as we work to keep Raymond fully included, we also find those opportunities for him to connect with his peers that also have downs syndrome. So he stays grounded in that community as
David Hirsch: well. That’s fabulous. Well, special Olympics has played an important role in so many people’s lives. And then you may or may not know this about GGS Playhouse, but a Gigi is 16 years old.
She lives in the same community that, um, my wife and I live in, I should say her parents live in the same community. We’re fellow parishioners at the same church. This is the Gianni family, Nancy and Paul Gianni that I’m referring to Gigi his parents and their oldest Franco. Is now 22 and he was classmates with our youngest daughter Addy.
Who’s also 22. So they’re both seniors in college now. And we’ve known the family before Gigi was even around. So to watch the transformation from just a couple of families that were coming together, who had super young kids with down syndrome to renting a facility, to building out their first Playhouse here in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.
To witnessing the fact that there’s 37 of these across North America, including one in Mexico and more in a impressive is that there’s applications and inquiries for 200 more playhouses. So this is an amazing resource for any family that. Has been touched with down syndrome. It’s optimal to get plugged in from the very get go.
But like you were saying, Stacy, they’ve got programs for teenagers and beyond for that matter. So it’s just a beautiful resource.
Stacy Tetschner: It is. And if you happen to see them, I think on behalf of a lot of us, you can continue to pass on a huge thanks because they’ve done an amazing service. Or our community. And just recently, actually over the, I believe it was 4th of July, the parade in, uh, Savannah, Maryland, or right outside Annapolis for their GGS playhouses.
They actually made the Playhouse spokes, a center point of that parade. And. Probably one of the most amazing experiences, not just to see the kids and the adults that were in the parade, but to see the reaction of the folks along the street that were so accepting, supportive, and inclusive. And to me, that’s the definition of what starting these types of charities is all about.
And it’s, it’s not about, you know, down syndrome is not a charity. Down syndrome is just a, another facet of life. However, these charitable support organizations are what makes that possible
David Hirsch: very well stated. What were some of the other things you’ve done to help Raymond reach his full potential?
Stacy Tetschner: One of the things is just as you would, with any child being open to seeing, what does he take an interest in?
I’ll tell you that sometimes. We don’t always see that. And I’ll, I’ll share a little story. I told you, Raymond loves to play the drums. I have a, a friend through the national speakers association and professional speaker, and he is quite the jokester. So every Saturday, Raymond and I like if I’m in town, Raymond and I go out to breakfast, Michelle gets to sleep in.
And then get up and have the house quietly to herself. We go out and find a local breakfast place, sometimes new, sometimes that we like, and then go on a small adventure after that. But one morning you never know where the conversation’s going to go. And it turned to cow bells and flutter cow bells. And by the time we were done, I had pulled up the Saturday night live clip that stated we need more cow bell.
And are you sure that was sounding okay. I’ll be honest fellows. It was sounding great, but. I could have used a little more account ma’am and he came home that day and said that to Michelle and were joking later that week, telling some speaker friends about it. Well, the next day, a FedEx package arrived at our house with the loudest cow bell you have ever heard.
Oh my gosh, that, that the guy that sent it to us, I just said, Oh, you’re on Michelle’s list now. Well, he was going to be president. He was in line to be president of the national speakers association. He said, I can’t be president of this association and be on the CEO’s wife’s bad list. So two weeks later, a drum set an electronic drum set, shows up with headphones and he said, hopefully this will bring back the silence to your house and put me in good graces with Michelle.
What it really did is it opened up a gift that we didn’t know that Raymond had. He is an amazing drummer. He has an amazing sense of timing and beat. And he is now about to start on his third electronic drum set because he’s worn the other ones out. And he’s, self-taught, we’ve given him lessons, but it also has opened up the world of music to him.
And so many other things that. Again, we would never have gone down that path with him, but thankfully, someone else who is so positively influenced by music, even jokingly shared that with Raymond and it turned out to be probably one of the most amazing gifts that has brought him out of his shell. And he, he will say to you today, he goes, I guess I think I’m going to be famous when I’m 23.
So I need to practice every day.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous.
Stacy Tetschner: That’s a, sorry, it’s a long story, but it’s just one of those, one of those things that we do. And the other thing that we do is I go to a lot of conventions for a living. And Raymond goes with me to some of those sometimes with Michelle sometimes not. And when he goes, he now knows, Hey, I get to put on a suit jacket or whatever it is, and we’re going to go meet friends and we’re going to go meet people socially.
It gets him out there and shaking hands. And I will tell you when I introduce him to older people from the older generation, um, and he comes up and shakes their hand, sometimes they’re actually scared. And they don’t know how to act and they don’t know what to do. And Raymond puts them at ease and walks right up and puts his hand out and says, hi, I’m Raymond socially.
Being able to expose him to opportunities to be confident with himself also helps other people to be confident with him.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, God’s hand at work in so many different ways, Stacy.
Stacy Tetschner: Yes.
David Hirsch: let’s talk a little bit about your book windows into heaven published in 2008. I love these couple dozen plus stories that you’ve compiled in this book, including your own, which was the lead off story.
How did you go about collecting these stories? What were you thinking when you and Michelle were putting this book
Stacy Tetschner: together? Well, as we talked about earlier, I was fortunate for a number of years to be a leader in the professional speaking community. And one of the things we teach for anyone who wants to be a professional speaker is make sure you get a book and put a book out there.
And one of the things we found after adopting Raymond was there were a lot of books out in the marketplace. And they were very academic books related to down syndrome, or they were a few stories that were, Oh, it was a terrible thing. I had this child, but things have turned out okay now. And we just didn’t feel they were uplifting and inspiring.
And. And having known the guys that had written chicken soup for the soul and having included our story in one of those books, we said, you know, there’s gotta be something we can do. That’s just a small book because being a guy I don’t like to read long books and we wanted something that was simple, what was going to give folks hope that said, you know, we’ve had a child with down syndrome and, Oh my gosh, this is a blessing.
And look at the great things that are ahead of us. Are there challenges? Absolutely. But. In the hospital room or in the weeks after having this diagnosis, what can we do to help inspire people? And so we were connected through a lot of different local down syndrome associations. And so I just wrote a letter to all of them and said, Hey, if you have parents that want to share a story, have them submit it for consideration.
And so they submitted Michelle and I poured over all these. Just amazing stories. And there are a lot more that didn’t get included in the book as well. And then we did an outreach and it’s funny because we, those actually going to be 29 stories that we were going to include. And I was watching, um, while we were editing the book one night, the show.
So you think you can, dance had come on for its first season and a young man out of Utah, uh, was trying out and he didn’t make it. But it was just amazing to say, look at the support this young man’s getting, and he’s willing to go up and beyond. So you think you can dance. And so I reached out to his mom that night via email, and she wrote a story and that’s how it turned into the 30th story.
The magic that has come out of this for us is, um, one of the individuals that’s our biggest supporter with this book is an OB GYN. He actually orders the books 10 or 15 at a time and keeps them in his office. And he said, I didn’t use to always know what to say to someone when they had a diagnosis of down syndrome, either after the baby was born or before, when we were doing tests that was now I have this book that I hand them and say, congratulations, you’ve got some amazing days ahead of you.
David Hirsch: Wow. That is just amazing. That is a testimony to the stories and not looking at the glass being half empty, but rather. You know, half full, which is the way you, I think, look at any of your children, which is, Hey, you know, they’re all a blessing. They all have different needs. My hats off to you. Is there any one story in particular that you would say stands out in your mind for a reason that might not be obvious?
Stacy Tetschner: Sure. There’s one story in here that I just love that huffs are friends of ours from Gilbert, Arizona. And they had Braxton who had down syndrome and happened to have down syndrome when he was little. And he had a series of challenges, whereas esophagus wasn’t necessarily completely attached. You went through a series of surgeries and everything worked out perfectly.
And then one morning his parents went in to see him and, um, he passed away due to SIDS. It was devastating for them. And. Later on, they decided to get pregnant again and they had, they got pregnant and they will tell you the Braxton lamp to heaven picked out TIAA and sent TIAA down to them who also has down syndrome.
Wow. TIAA is the same age as Raymond is. She’s amazing. Beautiful young lady. And then they had Tyler. And Tyler had down syndrome as well. And so then he talked to geneticists and said, you know, this is probably going to happen again. And again, you’re just, you happen to be the anomaly here and say said, great.
We do want to have one typical child and we’re going to go to Europe and adopt. And I forget which, which country they went to over there. And when they got there to the orphanage, they also saw the section of the orphanage with children with special needs and how those children were treated was just so devastating to them.
They went over there and they adopted another child with down syndrome. And so now they have four children with down syndrome, one, three of them, uh, on earth with them, one in heaven. And they’re just the most special couple. And I just love the story.
David Hirsch: Yeah, that’s a very, very powerful story. And the incidents of having two children with down syndrome, because it’s not known to be hereditary is an anomaly.
And to have a third child, like you said, is like statistically, you know, you can’t even calculate what the probability of that would be. Yeah. That is an amazing story. Any surprises while you’re putting the book together or after words, the book’s been out for about a decade. You bet
Stacy Tetschner: the biggest surprise for us.
And again, I had so many great support organizations helping us either pull the stories together. But if you look at the cover of the book on the right hand side are pictures of all of Raymond’s friends. And we just happen to have a photographer and an event. And she took a lot of different photos and sent them.
But the book designer said, we found this one picture that we think would be great. It’s in black and white for the cover of the book. And so we went with the larger picture that’s on there. We had no idea who this was. We paid for the rights to the photo and put it on there. After the book came out, I got an order out of Canada for 10 copies of this book.
Like that is just really strange. So fulfilling a lot of those myself, I sent an email off and said, Hey, seems that you, uh, ordered 10 copies and I’m just curious, why is it for an organization? I can give you a discount, whatever it is, if you want to do something. And they said, actually, uh, our son who passed away is on the cover of your book.
And we had had. Put his picture out and just kind of to remember him and we found it so special that you put it on the book as a much more special conversation than I’m making it right now. Cause I’m not going to tear up when I tell it again. Um, but needless to say, I stuffed about 30 copies into a bag and shipped them off to Canada for those folks because.
To find the individual that the family who’s individuals on the cover of our book by pure happenstance was just a, I call it a God students every once in a while you get a coincidence from God. And so that’s a godsend.
David Hirsch: That’s an amazing story. Any others?
Stacy Tetschner: Yeah, there are probably a lot of others. It’s, it’s been 10 years and some of them have faded in the memories, but those are my favorite.
But the last one is probably the title of the book, windows in the heaven and a speaker friend of mine. I invited her to come speak to a group of parents one night over dinner and she did some research. So I told him, I think I said early on Raymond is native American and she did some research in the native American community.
They, their belief. That she had found is that children of special needs are a window to the great spirit. And so as we were trying to pick a title for this book, It was around the time that she came and spoke to this group and Michelle and I just looked at each other and said, we could translate that into words, that we understand more in our Christian faith and that’s windows into heaven.
And so that’s how the title of the book came about as well. So there, there have just been these gifts and God’s sentences along the way that that have made this just such a special book and a special process that have led to what it is today.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thank you again for sharing. I’m wondering what role spirituality has played in your life.
Michelle’s life, your family’s life for that matter.
Stacy Tetschner: We are a very spiritual and very Catholic family. It just so happens that our spirituality is rooted in Catholicism. I did not grow up Catholic. I, I joined the church after our first son was born through an RCI program, but one of the most supportive communities in doing all of this beyond the speaker community has been our Catholic community.
It was really important to us to have our kids go to a Catholic elementary school. They didn’t necessarily graduate from Catholic high school because high school wasn’t the right fit for them. In Raymond’s case, we never knew it was an opportunity for him to be rooted in Catholic education. And as he got older and we realized that the Catholic community was becoming more and more open to this in certain incidences.
We decided to pursue it. I will tell you that, um, it tested our faith a little bit because this is the community that said every life has value. And yet we were turned down by four different Catholic schools that said we absolutely believe every life has value, but we don’t want every life going to our
David Hirsch: school.
Stacy Tetschner: That was a tough message for us to hear. Then it so happened. One day we went as, as we often where we met with another principal and we were prepared for no, we were prepared for another note and she, and we sat down, we explained our story and what we were looking for. And she said, great. He can start at the beginning of the school year.
And so we already had our argument. Ready and teed up for when she said no, how we’re going to try to get her to yes. We started to talk and we looked at each other and said, did you just say yes? She said, absolutely. Yes. Then we asked later, why did you say yes, she goes, I knew it was yes. Before you ever got here, because we have a school nurse who had a dream for her daughter to go to the school and she passed away when she was three years old with leukemia and she never got that opportunity.
And before you ever came. She came and talked to me and said, we have to do this for this family. So virtuality does have a huge role. And today. My wife has become an advocate. I can’t say that I’m as nearly as great as an advocate or an expert because she’s developed her expertise into inclusion, especially in Catholic schools and not, you know, helping parents get beyond.
That first know that they may get, but helping them paint a picture for why yes would be good and what words they need on their talking to, um, principals and pastors and priests as to why the sober, in fact, she’s even turned that into a next book where I think my name might even appear as a coauthor and I have done very little.
But it’s called included. And so it’s going to be a series of stories of how inclusion has worked, especially in the down syndrome community, but it can be translated to whether it’s someone on the spectrum, someone who has CP, whatever it happens to be.
David Hirsch: I love it. Well, we’ll have to circle back in a couple of years and maybe do another interview maybe with the two of you, as opposed to.
Stacy Tetschner: That would be great. She would have a lot more to say than I would.
David Hirsch: Okay. So what are some of the more important takeaways that come to mind when raising a child with differences?
Stacy Tetschner: Every child, knowing that every child has differences, knowing that we’re all more alike than we are different. If we focus on the 20% that we’re different.
I think we’re making a mistake. We’re selling ourselves short and we need to be more focused on what is that 80% that were alike, whatever the percentage happens to be, and know that at the core, we’re all human beings and we’re all here to exist differently. But together, and for us, that’s been the core all along that that Raymond has taught us, even when we looked at him and said, you know, this is different.
But that’s not different enough to exclude or not include or keep him from doing things that he really wants to do in life. And it opened our eyes to see who else out there is doing these amazing things. We know people with down syndrome today. That are driving cars that are commuting from New York to Washington, D C to work in a professional office that are going to college and getting a college education.
And we all send though individuals with down syndrome who aren’t going to graduate from high school. The fact is there’s a different path for everyone because everything that I just said to you could be said about a typical person as well. So we’re more alike than we are different. And I think that has got to be the takeaway and that tolerance isn’t just for our community.
The political climate has, since I’ve moved to Washington, DC politics could learn so much more, um, from what we, what we now know in our
David Hirsch: community. Well stated. What advice can you share with the dad or parents for that matter about helping the child with disabilities reach their full potential.
Stacy Tetschner: First of all, Don never put a lid on what you think they’re going to be able to do, because they’ll surprise you every time.
If we’re limiting them, it gives permission for anybody else to limit them. But secondly, just as you would any child find out what are they passionate about? What is it they want to do with their life? What is their vision for their life? And if you ask them or if you help them discover their own strengths, if, if you know what their strengths are, you can actually.
Help manifest their dreams. You can help them achieve their goals, whatever it happens to be whatever, whatever belief system you’re in use that belief system to help establish your child as well. And just give them the opportunity. And I will also say, and I may be a little more harsh on this than some people I don’t give them.
I don’t give Raymond breaks. Like I do a lot of other people. Now, my older kids will say that I’m a lot easier on him than I was on them. And I think that just came with age. But, you know, as a, as a younger parent, I was willing to go head to head with them and with a lot of other people. And at this stage in my life, I’m a little more Zen and willing to say, okay, We can go down this path and this direction, let’s just keep the ball between the bumpers on the bowling alley and we’ll all be fine.
And so that’s where we are with Raymond. And I probably would be that way if I had any other typical kids right now as well, just help them grow, to reach the potential that they want by talking to them, communicating with them. And don’t, don’t put them in a box.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well well-stated, if I could paraphrase what you’ve said, I think it boils down to expectations.
And not limiting your expectations or their expectations, you know, sky’s the limit. Why would you put a lid on, like you said, anybody, whether it’s somebody who works with you, but typical family member or otherwise again, easier to say because of the society that we’ve grown up in, but I’m hoping that that’s the direction that things are moving is that we’re taking the lid off of these issues, these paradigms that we’ve held for so long.
You know, the world’s going to be a better place. These people, everybody will, you know, have an opportunity that they might not have otherwise had. So thank you for being an advocate, not only for Raymond, but for so many others.
Stacy Tetschner: One of the things David that my wife taught me in all of this, it can all start with our language.
And so I would encourage anyone because there are a lot of folks that don’t even know. What words to choose when interacting with someone with special needs and just remember, it’s always people first, there’s never a down syndrome child. There’s a child with down syndrome. And one of tools I always like to give, give back to anyone I talk to is giving them words, because words we’re all judged on our words.
And if we can have the right words from the start, then we’re all going to be much more comfortable and willing to take down those barriers.
David Hirsch: 100%. In fact, there’s another fellow in the network, Clayton frack out in LA who, when his son was born without a fibula and only one digit on his left, a hand met with Betsy Braun Brown, one of these well-respected child psychologists, and they put a script together for Agora when he was like six months old.
And they handed it out to all the family members, the neighbors, when he got into the preschool. So everybody was using the same language. So that the only thing I ever heard was reinforcing, you know, who he is not defining him by his disability. He ended up having his lower leg amputated toe to hand surgery.
So he could actually use his left hand with more success. And this kid has become a rock star, like a public speaker at age four, like speaking to middle kids that a little bit older, he was on the Ellen show. He plays football, he plays basketball. He plays soccer. And he just tells the story, right. He doesn’t know any different.
So that’s what I heard you saying, which is the language is so important from the very beginning. But if you find yourself raising a child and maybe you weren’t as focused on using the right language from the very beginning, there’s no time like the present to draw a line in the sand and. You know, be more intentional about the communication going forward.
Stacy Tetschner: I think it’s, I couldn’t agree with you more. I wish I could reach through the phone line today and high five you, because I would,
David Hirsch: so let’s give Susan Rowan a shout out for introducing us. She’s just an amazing, yeah. Woman and I very gifted public speaker herself.
Stacy Tetschner: Yeah, Susan Earl had, and she is, she actually wrote one of the endorsements of our book.
Um, but she has written the book how to work a room. And because she’s such a master at networking and knowing how to work a room, she’s met me, she’s met you. And then she connected the two of us and what a gift that’s been for me. And I hope you felt the same day with
David Hirsch: ditto. So why did you agree to be a mentor father as part of this Special Father’s Network?
Stacy Tetschner: I have received so much from other people. Now we talked a little bit about a few of those at the beginning, and there’s so many along the way. They’re too numerous. Um, For those who much is given much is expected. And so I’ve been given a great deal and I feel that I must also give back and not because I have to, but because I want to just to show how thankful I am for those who, who blaze these paths before me and who I hopefully can make the path smoother for, for those that come after.
David Hirsch: Fabulous. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Stacy Tetschner: Last thing, I would just like, say, David is with this podcast, you are, are reaching many and, and helping change the perception of this world and changing how well that we can all be as, as fathers and parents. And so the last thing I want to say is thank you for taking the time you do this as a labor of love.
You do this to create the positive change you want to see in the world. And we need more people doing this. Like you do. So thank you for taking the time.
David Hirsch: Well, that’s very nice of you. Thank you. So if somebody wants to. You get a copy of windows in to heaven or to contact you, how would they go about doing that?
Stacy Tetschner: The best way to get a copy of the book is to go to Amazon. And once you’re on Amazon, you’ll see my name on there. Stacy tensioner, which is very hard to spell, but it’s for those who are interested, it’s S T a C Y. T as in Tom E T again, S C H, M as in Nancy, E R. And then if you email@example.com, because I am kind of a Yahoo myself, you’ll be able to get in touch with me on email, but otherwise, if you’re looking for the book it’s on Amazon and.
Because it’s been out so long, 10 years Amazon has discounted it. So I think you can buy a copy today for less than $7. And I wouldn’t care if they gave it away for free. I just want more people to be inspired by these great kids and young adults and even older adults with down syndrome.
David Hirsch: Fabulous. Thank you again.
Stacy Tetschner: Yes,
David Hirsch: Stacy. Thank you for your time. In many insights. As a reminder, Stacy has just one of that. Who’s agreed to be a mentor. Father is part of this Special Fathers Network 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,
Stacy. Thanks again.
Stacy Tetschner: Thank you, David.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast produced by Couch Audio for 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 with 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 help, 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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And to find out more about the special father’s network. Go to 21stcenturydads.org.