Rick Bovell: [00:00:00] Just a reminder for fathers, you are needed. Even if your wife is doing the lion’s share of the work, be there for her. Don’t feel as if she’s got this. She doesn’t have it without you.
Tom Couch: That’s Rick Bovell, an ordained minister and father of two boys on the autism spectrum. Rick works with other dads and families as part of Joni and Friends, and he’s our guest on this Dad to Dad Podcast. Here’s your host, 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 a dad looking for help or would like [00:01:00] 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 and Rick Bovell.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with my friend Rick Bovell of Chicago, a father of five boys, an ordained minister, and a systems consultant. Rick, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Rick Bovell: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Michelle, have been married for 23 years and are the proud parents of five boys: Nathaniel 22, Ethan 20, Daniel 19, Stephan 16, and Evan 14. Both Ethan and Daniel are on the autistic spectrum and Evan has ADD.
Rick Bovell: That is correct.
David Hirsch: Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Rick Bovell: Okay. I was born in the Caribbean island of Barbados back in ’71, so I grew up in a household full of [00:02:00] uncles, aunts, grandparents. So it was a good mishmash of people. And my aunt and grandfather and grandmother were lovers of Jesus. And they were the ones who initiated that relationship that I had with Jesus.
David Hirsch: Okay. So you grew up in Barbados and then from what I remember, in a prior conversation, you moved to New York.
Rick Bovell: Yes, moved to New York when I was about 10 years old.
David Hirsch: And how long were you there and then where’d you go from there?
Rick Bovell: Oh, lived in New York through college. Was married there. And after our second year of marriage, we moved to Georgia. Spent nine years there and we’ve been in Illinois since then. So moved to Illinois back in 2006.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious, you mentioned that you grew up in this sort of bustling household of uncles and aunts and grandparents. I’m wondering how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Rick Bovell: Dad was a long distance Dad. He was [00:03:00] in the United States by the time I was two years old.
David Hirsch: Oh, wow.
Rick Bovell: So I didn’t have a strong relationship with him. Most of it was back then letters or cards for birthdays and holidays. And when I was about seven years old, I got an opportunity to go to the United States and spend some time with him. So it was always a long distance relationship with him. But the person that was in the house that was called “Daddy” was my grandfather. I patterned a lot of my life after him. So it wasn’t until I was much older that I really developed a good relationship with my own father.
David Hirsch: Okay. I’m wondering, reflecting on the relationship that you had with your dad, if there’s anything that he did or said that really stuck with you, that’s helped make you the person you are today?
Rick Bovell: With my father one of the things that I saw him do was work hard. He was a hard worker in whatever he did. Became[00:04:00] quite successful as a nurse. So he became an oncological nurse. He was working in oncology in many different areas of the hospital and became quite a successful head nurse. But in addition to that, he also taught me how to drive. And he was a good and patient driving instructor.
David Hirsch: [laughing]
Rick Bovell: And in many ways I’ve tried to model the way that I teach in the way that he taught me how to drive.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s fabulous. I know that you have a large family. It sounds like all but one of your boys might be of driving age. Our kids are just a little bit older than yours. They’re 22 to 29 now.
Rick Bovell: Okay.
David Hirsch: And going through driver’s ed, get your learner’s permit at 15, hopefully get your license shortly after you turn 16. It’s like a rite of passage for a lot of youth.
Rick Bovell: Yeah, it is.
David Hirsch: My wife was super nervous when the kids were learning to drive. Hands on the dashboard, barking at them, do this, don’t do that. They’re like, “Mom, you’re making me really nervous.” And I would try to be, you know, Luke Cool over there in the passenger seat, just [00:05:00] saying, hey you might drift a little bit farther to the left, a little bit farther. Not overreact. Because you don’t wanna make a driver nervous. And the driver doesn’t wanna make the passengers nervous either. [laughing]
Rick Bovell: That’s right! Even though they do.
David Hirsch: Yeah. [laughing] Anyway. It sounds like your dad was one of those guys.
Rick Bovell: Yeah, he was. He was. And I pretty much tried to model the way that I taught my sons to drive from the way that he taught me to drive.
David Hirsch: Got it. You did make reference to grandfathers and I wasn’t sure if you were referring to your grandfather on your dad’s side or your mom’s side. So I’m wondering what influence, what type of relationship did you have with your dad’s dad and then separately your mom’s dad?
Rick Bovell: Okay. With my dad’s dad, he died when I was very young, so I don’t remember knowing him at all really.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Rick Bovell: He died when I was probably about three or four years old. But my mother’s dad, he’s the one that I grew up with, and everyone in the house called him Daddy. So I called him Daddy too. He was a guy that could do everything and anything that needed to be done around the house. [00:06:00] Now, like I told you, I grew up in Barbados and there we had goats. And he would get up in the morning and go milk the goats. And a couple of times I got up in the morning and watched him milk the goat and try to milk the goat like he did. I’d watch him out in his workshop, planing and doing things with wood. I even tried to dress like him. He would tuck his shirt in his pants and put a belt on and I would tuck my shirt in my pants and put a belt on and eat with a knife and fork and everything my grandfather did, that’s what I wanted to do because he was a model of a man. He was the one that raised this large family of seven kids. Provided for all of them. Well respected in the community. He was the one I looked up to. And not only I, but several people in the community, looked up to my grandfather. I wanted to be him.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. That’s another thing we have in common, Rick, is that I didn’t grow up with my dad and my maternal grandfather, which was who you were referring to, was my father figure growing up. [00:07:00] And he lived a little bit longer than your grandpa did. He lived to age 93. And what a blessing it is to have gotten to know him, not just as a young person in those formative years, but to get to know him as an adult as well.
Rick Bovell: Wow.
David Hirsch: It’s one of my most cherished relationships.
Rick Bovell: That’s a great gift.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering if there’s any other father figures that you had when you were growing up in addition to your grandpa.
Rick Bovell: There was Pastor Delf, and unfortunately he died just a couple of years ago. But Sherlock Delf was the man… When we moved to the United States, it was his church that we started attending. And he was a man of deep character, deep faith, and really rooted in the word of God. He was the one that taught me about responsibility. What it means to say I’m going to do something and do it. What it means to, even when it’s not necessarily my fault that if [00:08:00] I am the one that’s owning it, I’m responsible that I need to deal with whatever issues arise, even if it’s not my fault. I loved him dearly and his younger son became like my little brother.
David Hirsch: Oh, really?
Rick Bovell: Oh yeah!
David Hirsch: How much younger was he?
Rick Bovell: He was probably about seven years younger.
David Hirsch: Okay. So you could have been brothers by age, right? Yeah.
Rick Bovell: Oh yeah. Yeah. He is a successful surveyor, like his father was before him. His dad was a surveyor in New York City. He followed in his footsteps and still good friends to this day.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. I think there was somebody else that you had mentioned, not a father figure as a male, but I think it was your Aunt Claudine who you sing the praises of. Why is that?
Rick Bovell: Aunt Claudine as I mentioned probably a little bit earlier, she was the one who really introduced me to Christ. When I was a kid, I’d come home from school [00:09:00] and she would tell me Bible stories. My first heroes were not Superman and Batman, but David and Daniel and Solomon and Samson, those guys. So I learned at her feet many of the truths of the gospel, the truths of the Bible, and really how Jesus influences the lives of people. She was someone that no one could reproach and that’s because she lived her life to bring glory to God. And it’s because of her life in so many ways that I’m the man that I am, simply because she really introduced me to Christ.
David Hirsch: Got it. Thank you. So I’m gonna switch gears a little bit. I think you mentioned that your formative years were growing up in New York. And if I remember correctly, you went to Columbia and then City Colleges.
Rick Bovell: Correct.
David Hirsch: When you were in school or graduating, I think it was engineering, what were you thinking about? Where did you think your career was gonna take you?
Rick Bovell: Honestly, I [00:10:00] wanted to be Tony Stark.
David Hirsch: [laughing]
Rick Bovell: I wanted to have Bovell Industries, own my own company, build cool tech. But that’s not where life took me. Life took me the programming route which is what I’ve been doing for say the last 20, 25 years. I’ve been programming outside for various companies, and I’ve enjoyed that immensely.
David Hirsch: Excellent. It sounds like you’ve been able to marry, if I can use that word, your career, your vocation with your avocation as an ordained minister. And I’m wondering when is it that you followed through on that career path?
Rick Bovell: That career path as a minister, it’s really funny. From the time I was a little kid, I said I wanted to be a pastor and a businessman. This was probably when I was about five years old.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Rick Bovell: Yeah. Then I got older and looked at minister’s lives and saw how [00:11:00] ridiculously hectic they were, and I said, no, I don’t think I want to do that. But it wasn’t until I moved to Illinois, another pastor friend of mine was preaching a sermon called “Preach the Word.” And it really tugged at my heart because I knew that I had the ability to speak. It was just something that I’d done, something that I had the ability to do. I was fine getting up in front of other people and talking. And I also had a passion to share the word of God, and I had an understanding of the word of God pretty well. So when he preached that sermon God used that to really tug at my heart to do the thing that I was afraid of doing, which was to become a pastor. But fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with a lot of the intricacies of church work. I’ve gotten the opportunity to do my passion which is preach, to look in the scriptures, see what God has to say, and communicate that to other people. I really do enjoy that aspect of life [00:12:00] very much.
One of the wonderful things that I get to do… I know that you had an interview with John recently, John who’s in charge of Joni and Friends here in Chicago. For the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to be Camp Pastor with John at the Joni and Friends Family Retreats. And it’s an opportunity to share the word of God with people who are hurting, who need the strength and power of Jesus Christ in their lives. And that’s one of the beautiful things that I get to do. This will be my fourth year getting to do that. It’s a real gift.
David Hirsch: Awesome. So I’m curious to know, how did you and Michelle meet?
Rick Bovell: We actually met through InterVarsity, which is a college campus ministry. She was in college in Connecticut and I was in college in New York. There was a college fellowship where New York, Connecticut, New Jersey campuses were together, and we met there.
There were probably three incidents where we actually met at different [00:13:00] conferences. And when she moved to New York to actually be a staff worker with InterVarsity, that’s actually when we got together. A friend of mine was taking us to meet another friend where she happened to be living. The four of us went out to a meal together. There was something that clicked and so we spent some more time together. That’s how things initiated.
David Hirsch: And the rest is history.
Rick Bovell: The rest is history.
David Hirsch: Let’s talk about the special needs community first on a personal basis, your family, and then we will talk about beyond.
Rick Bovell: Sure.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious to know before Ethan’s birth, did you or Michelle have any connection to the special needs community?
Rick Bovell: Michelle certainly did. When she was growing up, her mother had just open eyes to people who were hurting. And so within her community, anyone who was… and this is growing up in [00:14:00] Jamaica, by the way… anyone who was considered “mad,” which was anyone with any kind of intellectual or emotional disability, they were considered “mad,” she would be the one to look out for them. And so she would take her daughter along to meet some of these people. So her heart was just really open to the folks that community would often look at and discard through her mom. I not so much except maybe some people with Down syndrome at church and I had a cordial relationship with folks, but nothing as deeply as I do now.
David Hirsch: Okay. So if I can paraphrase what you’d said growing up in Jamaica, Michelle was exposed to this at a very early age which opened her eyes, opened her heart, to serving. And you didn’t have as much experience.
Rick Bovell: No, not at all.
David Hirsch: So what was it like when you first learned of Ethan’s diagnosis? Where were you, what [00:15:00] transpired?
Rick Bovell: Ethan was number two. And so we saw the development of Nathaniel, how he was growing and progressing. And Ethan just was not on the same track. Initially, doctors were saying, oh, it’s just gastro esophageal reflux. It’s this or it’s that. But both of us as we were looking we thought that there might’ve been something more.
So when he was about two years old, we had him tested for autism and the diagnosis was confirmed at that point in time. For us, we didn’t really have time to dread it or to mourn really. We just had to figure out what do we do next? And my wife is what I tend to call an information bulldog.
David Hirsch: [laughing]
Rick Bovell: She gets a hold of information and she takes it and runs with it. And she did a ton of research to figure out exactly what we should be [00:16:00] doing. And so we were driving to different therapies. And at that time we were sitting in a doctor’s office, the doctor said there is nothing you can do for this child. There’s this therapy and that therapy, but don’t worry about it. They’re not gonna do anything. And fortunately, we didn’t pay attention to that. And we tried whatever we could, and we spent a lot of time praying. And today, you look at Ethan, you wouldn’t be able to tell that he’d ever have had an autism diagnosis.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Rick Bovell: So for him, it’s really been a miracle. We found when he was maybe about four years old, that he was hyperlexic and he could just read anything. We had to go back and fill in some of the learning gaps later on. But he was reading. And we also had him in a special needs preschool. That worked out really well for him. After he had graduated from that and we [00:17:00] tried public school, for us that was not the best place for him. This was back in Georgia. The public school system was not a good fit for him, so we brought him home and Michelle primarily educated him at home. He was rather successful there in that environment.
David Hirsch: Wow. That’s very interesting because I’m a math guy. Nathan’s the oldest. Ethan comes along, he is just a couple years behind his brother, and then Daniel is right behind Ethan by one year. If I understand the sequence, Ethan’s two, when he gets diagnosed with autism you’ve already got a four year old and a one-year-old. So that’s a juggling act. You’ve gone from the man-on-man defense of just having two parents and two kids to now zone defense.
Rick Bovell: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Three of them, two of you. And it seems like it would’ve been very hectic back then.
Rick Bovell: It was busy. It was busy. But I gotta be honest and say it’s not as bad as people think it is. We [00:18:00] had, fortunately, very compliant children and if Nathaniel’s busy and we say, hey, don’t go over there, Nathaniel’s not gonna go over there. And so with the other two as well, things could have been emotionally difficult in that we were running back and forth to therapies and so on. And as with autism, sometimes you can seem to flip a switch and emotions are high, can be very high. It could be a different environment or what have you, and something could set one of your children off. And so there was some emotional stress, but it really wasn’t as bad as people think it can be. We spent a lot of time praying and God gave us the help that we needed when we needed it.
David Hirsch: And it sounds like, not being judgemental, but from what you said Ethan was high functioning, right? Learned to read at an early age. He was able to [00:19:00] communicate better than somebody who might be low functioning. And just to be clear, is he verbal or nonverbal?
Rick Bovell: Oh he’s quite verbal.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Rick Bovell: As a matter of fact, sometimes with his jokes, we have to tell him to stop being so verbal. He’s constantly making jokes.
David Hirsch: [laughing] Oh, I love it. He’s got a sense of humor too, not just his ability to communicate.
Rick Bovell: Oh, yeah. He is a Pun Master.
David Hirsch: Pun Master?
Rick Bovell: Oh yeah. It is very hard to get through a sentence without Ethan coming up with the perfect pun for it. I don’t know what speed his brain operates on, but I’ve never seen anyone able to come up with a pun as fast as he can.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s gotta be entertaining and a little bit embarrassing perhaps sometimes.
Rick Bovell: [laughing] No. People actually love him wherever he goes. Young people. Somehow it’s a lot of girls. They just love his puns.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome.
Rick Bovell: Works out just fine.
David Hirsch: Nathaniel, Ethan, Daniel, a few years later, Stephan is born. And [00:20:00] then not so much later, Evan’s born.
Rick Bovell: Right. When Daniel was 18 months, we had a diagnosis on him as well. And his process has been very different from Ethan in that with Ethan, education started and got going pretty quickly. With Daniel, it was a little bit slower going. He is certainly not as verbal as his brother. He does communicate, but he is certainly not at the same relational level as Ethan is.
Now, most of my sons are artists. They draw well and the one who’s not an artist is trying to catch up with his brothers. Daniel is an excellent artist. His dinosaurs were beautiful, but he’s also developed great musician skills as well. So he’s a pianist. As a matter of fact, on March 26th he will be playing a [00:21:00] few pieces at Wheaton College. They are opening up their disability forum at Wheaton and the kickoff is on March 26th in the evening at Billy Graham Center, and he’s gonna be playing a couple of pieces there. So that has been his foray into life really. He is now at Judson University in their RISE program. And one of the big reasons that he was accepted into that program is his artistic ability, both drawing and musical. That’s the way that he’s opening doors for himself.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I think we made this connection when we first met about Judson. Let’s give a shout out to our friends Gayle and Skip Gianopulos,…
Rick Bovell: Oh yeah, indeed.
David Hirsch: …for being the spirit behind the RISE program, now I think in the second year, if I’m not correct.
Rick Bovell: Correct. Yes.
David Hirsch: Nathaniel, Ethan, Daniel, Stephan, and then Evan.
Rick Bovell: Yes.
David Hirsch: And so now you’ve got a basketball team.
Rick Bovell: That’s [00:22:00] right.
David Hirsch: And I’m wondering, was there still homeschooling for each of the boys, Ethan and Daniel, or did Daniel take a different path?
Rick Bovell: Yeah. Daniel was homeschooled as well. We recognized that worked out better for him as well. We also tried education at public school and homeschool worked out better for him. So for pretty much all of our boys they’ve been homeschooled.
David Hirsch: Evan’s the caboose of your five boys.
Rick Bovell: [chuckles] Yes, he is.
David Hirsch: And I’m wondering if he has been impacted with any diagnoses?
Rick Bovell: Most recently he’s been diagnosed with ADD. We probably saw this coming. So for him, education is structured just a little bit differently. He’s still homeschooled, but we try to make sure that we focus on one particular thing at a time to make sure that his brain kind of catches up to whatever he needs to do. Inattentive ADD is what they used to call it. I don’t know what they call it these days, if they [00:23:00] call it anything. But really a lot of it is not that he is jumping around and moving a lot. It just takes a lot more redirecting his focus unless it has to do with art. Yeah. He is probably the best artist out of all of my sons. And he has been doing some really beautiful things and once he is in that zone of drawing, he’s hyper-focused. He also hyper focuses on math a good bit as well. So that’s really interesting. And I’m really happy about that because I love math too.
David Hirsch: That’s wonderful. And I think one of our objectives as parents is to find what our kids are good at, what they’re passionate about, and then try to direct them, as opposed to trying to make ’em do things that they either don’t like or they’re not good at. And it’s interesting that you found that at a relatively early age with his art and with his math.
Rick Bovell: And the thing about his math is he loves using math in his art in [00:24:00] terms of just getting the angle and percentages right of different things. So he had an online math class once and the teacher was asking how you use math? And he was coming up with all these complex formulas that it was difficult for the math teacher to even fully understand exactly what he was doing. So that was just fun.
David Hirsch: That’s wild. So I’m thinking about some of the meaningful advice that you got early on, you and Michelle, despite the fact that you got this bad advice, incorrect advice, where there’s nothing you can do, you just have to accept the situation, right?
Rick Bovell: Yes.
David Hirsch: I just think it’s wrong for any professionals, healthcare professionals or others, to make statements like that because nobody knows.
Rick Bovell: That’s true.
David Hirsch: And even if it’s an educated guess, nobody knows. And to label people or create a ceiling or a limit I just think is absolutely wrong. So, [00:25:00] you know your kids better than anybody else will ever know your kids. And if you’re not advocating for them and helping them reach their full potential, who is?
Rick Bovell: That’s right.
David Hirsch: And like you said earlier, only God knows really how this is all gonna transpire. And if we’re doing our job as parents, it’s how to figure out how to advocate and create opportunities for our kids, as opposed to putting ’em in a box and treating ’em differently somehow, that’s gonna be advantageous for them.
And I’m not saying be naive or blindly optimistic, but I think that we need to figure out how to move forward, how to enable people to do things as opposed to the opposite of that. So I’m wondering, is there any advice that you and Michelle got early on that sort of spurred you to do the things that you’ve been doing?
Rick Bovell: There’s not one specific piece of advice that I can say someone gave, but it’s just been a range throughout our [00:26:00] lives. Just different people either pointing out scripture or talking about leaning on Christ that kind of helped us to move forward. One of the pieces of advice I have heard, not from any person in particular, is to rest an uncertain future in the hands of a certain God. Now, one other thing that I’ve been holding onto, God always means everything for good. And if we can believe that, I can look at my son with autism and say, I don’t know exactly how this is gonna work out, but I know that God means this for good. And if God means this for good, then I can push and find out all of the different ways that God is going to use this for good. And I haven’t found them all, but I’ve sure found a lot of ’em, a lot of ways that God has taken autism, [00:27:00] and special needs and ADD and use it for good.
And here’s one of ’em right here. An opportunity to speak to dads about their sons and say, don’t give up! Dad, your family needs you. I would not have had this opportunity with you to say that if it weren’t for my sons with autism, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to speak in front of Joni and Friends and encourage parents with truth in saying, God has got you in the middle of this. You can hold onto Him and you can not only survive, you can thrive if autism didn’t exist in our lives.
And I can also probably say one more thing that would be true. When Nathaniel was growing up, at the beginning when we just had him, he was ahead of the curve and we could have been one of those parents where it’s just this focus on this one kid who is at a hundred percent [00:28:00] all the time and how much better my kid is than your kid. When you’ve got children with disabilities, you’ve gotta step back. You’ve gotta be able to look and say, it’s not all about my kid and how well he’s gonna do and how much better he’s than everybody else. There’s a whole world of people out here who are hurting just like we are, who are dealing with difficulties just like we are. How can we come alongside other people and be a support to them instead of it being all about me?
David Hirsch: Yeah, that’s fabulous.
Rick Bovell: So I just thank God. I thank God for autism.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Some people say it’s a blessing, not a curse, and believe it, not just say it. And the way I’ve heard it phrased you didn’t come out and say it in so many words, but having a child with a disability, or in your case two boys with disabilities, makes you less selfish, more humble, and less arrogant. [00:29:00]
Rick Bovell: Oh yes, definitely.
David Hirsch: And those are blessings.
Rick Bovell: Yes, they are.
David Hirsch: The world does not need more selfish, arrogant people.
Rick Bovell: That’s right.
David Hirsch: There’s enough of those to go around. Not to focus on the negative, but just to be authentic and real, I’m wondering what were some of the biggest challenges that you and Michelle have encountered over the last 23 years?
Rick Bovell: Wow. Biggest challenges. Some of ’em came early. Again, just figuring out how to deal with the emotional outbursts that sometimes come along with autism. Just at the beginning, especially with Daniel, the tendencies to run away from situations or just not recognize where the bounds of safety are and just to make sure that the kids were safe.
And doing this without family. As I mentioned, we moved away from New York two years into our marriage. [00:30:00] So by the time Ethan and Daniel came along, we were away from family and that was a difficult situation. Just managing the emotional ups and downs dealing with disability without family. And just sometimes there’s a lot of loneliness. Being that family, being the different ones. Sometimes we’ve only got us to depend on. It’s great if you’ve got a husband or you’ve got a wife that you can always put your head on their shoulder. But sometimes we want more people around and when we don’t have that it can be very lonely. So it feels sometimes like you’re walking through life alone together.
David Hirsch: Yeah. You make a good point, which is, you’re in an intact relationship.
Rick Bovell: Oh yeah.
David Hirsch: And sadly, there’s too many marriages that end in divorce with special needs.
Rick Bovell: That’s right.
David Hirsch: It only becomes more challenging when you don’t even have a partner that you can rely on [00:31:00] emotionally or even physically to do certain things, especially when the children are young and there’s that sense of isolation. You’re going through this, and nobody else understands your situation. And one of the, I think, important aspects of why we’re doing what we’re doing with the Special Fathers Network is to reach out to guys and say, you’re only isolated if you choose to be isolated. There are resources, there are programs, there are opportunities, and you have to get outside your comfort zone a little bit to tap in. And that aspect of fellowship, whether you think about it in a spiritual or religious perspective, or you just think about it as something that people need to do is really important so that you don’t isolate yourself. You don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.
Rick Bovell: And just a reminder for fathers, you are needed. Even if your wife is doing the lion’s share of the work, if your wife is the information bulldog who gets all the information, who finds out what the therapies are, [00:32:00] be there for her. Don’t feel as if she’s got this. She doesn’t have it without you. She doesn’t have it without you. Be the man, be the support that your wife, your children need you to be. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can be a rock and sometimes that’s what’s needed more than anything else.
David Hirsch: Well stated. So I’m wondering what impact Ethan’s and Daniel’s situation has had on the other boys or the extended family for that matter.
Rick Bovell: That’s a great question. My oldest son, Nathaniel, is now working with an organization called Prairie State Legal which provides services for those with disabilities or elderly or those without adequate income. And part of the reason that he is working with this organization is because he grew up with a [00:33:00] sensitivity to people with disabilities. He actually started out, I believe in his last year of high school as what’s called an STM, a short term missionary, with Joni and Friends for the Family Retreats to help support families with disabilities as a friend and mentor to all young men with disabilities so that their families could have a time of freedom. So he’s had a heart for people with disabilities. My middle son. Stephan can’t wait until he is able to also be an STM at Joni and Friends. And one of the career paths that he is looking at is special needs teacher.
So my boys have grown up with a love, not only for their brothers, but it extends out to others in the disability community. Just the other day, we were at a parent-teachers meeting and we had no clue that this was coming. Apparently my son Stephan in school, [00:34:00] there was a new kid that came into class with autism. He is the one who has invited that young man to sit next to him, who’s helping him focus, who’s making sure that he is on task in class. Was not asked to do this, but just picked it up on his own. And we had a teacher in tears at the parent-teacher meeting telling us about our son.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It sounds like it’s really touched the hearts of your boys and not just because like you said, they’re brothers, this is part of their character now. This is who they are and how could the world not be a better place with more young men like that? That’s fabulous.
Rick Bovell: Yeah. We are blessed.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering if there’s anything that you and Michelle have done to help Ethan and Daniel reach their full potential beyond the homeschooling and some of the things you’ve already mentioned.
Rick Bovell: One of the things that we try to do with them, as with all of our sons, is just encourage them that life is not about them. That they live [00:35:00] life for the glory of God. And so in every single thing that they do, they have to reflect how great God is. And so that doesn’t mean that they have to be the best at everything that they do, but they have to try with the talents that they have been given to show forth how great God is. Understanding of that has been helpful for them in academics. It’s been helpful for them in their art, whether it’s drawing or playing music. It’s been helpful for them in relationships.
So we try to also just open opportunities for them to do whatever they’re good at. For Ethan, that was helping him recognize in school that really one of the things that you can focus on real well is graphic arts and graphic design. So he’s going to college for that. For Daniel, it was going to Judson with a [00:36:00] concentration on the arts, and that has opened up some doors for him to perform and to show off his artwork. Letting them know that they have talents and abilities and they have to use those talents and abilities to glorify God. And that’s their chief end. That’s what they were created to do, and so in everything that they do they wanna do it to the best of their abilities.
David Hirsch: So let’s switch gears from your family and talk about some of your experience in the special needs community beyond. And you’ve mentioned over and over, because I know it’s been such a meaningful experience for you, reference to Joni and Friends. So for our listeners who might not be familiar with Joni and Friends, what’s the mission? Reflect briefly on their various programs.
Rick Bovell: The mission of Joni and Friends is to help [00:37:00] people with disabilities to recognize who Christ is, so to open up an avenue for them to know Christ, but also to open up churches and help them to bring in the disability community so that God’s house is full with all types of people.
In addition to working with churches, they also have something called “Wheels for the World,” where they will travel all over the world and bring wheelchairs to people so that they can get mobility. And in the process of bringing those wheelchairs, they also bring the gospel and a Bible to share with those folks.
And for families within our communities, one of the things that they’ve had is Family Retreats where families can go and have a time. And I think for all of the families, they would say, this is a slice of heaven, where they go and find people just like them, people who love them and are able to relate to them. A place where they [00:38:00] don’t feel different. Find young men and young women who are willing to give up time and money to serve their children so that they can do things that they never thought possible and parents have an opportunity to rest, to not have to chase around the child or deal with medication. A lot of different things. They have an opportunity to spend time with each other, spend time with like-minded individuals. And also hear the message of the gospel and something that will uplift them for the other 51 weeks of the year.
And the fact is that the only thing that’s necessary is a heart change. It’s a change that says these people are also important to God. And because they are important to God, they’re important to me. And just loving on people.
I was speaking to a friend recently [00:39:00] that was mentioning there is this program, this church that’s in their community where they have gone to, and it is the big production like Willow, and they have tons of people and tons of volunteers and tons of space in order to make disability programs work. But for their child, when they go to visit grandparents somewhere else, there’s a little church where there are no programs, where there are no rooms, no quiet rooms in order to accommodate all the people with disabilities. But what they have are people who just love on them. People who just say, come sit next to me. I want you to be a part of my time here. I want to invite you over to a meal. I want you to be a part of our community. And that is just as impactful and sometimes even more than the big productions. Someone that [00:40:00] is able to say, you matter to me, and you matter to Christ just as much as anyone else in here who doesn’t have a disability. That is probably the most important things that Joni and Friends is trying to communicate. It’s not the big program, it’s the heart. And we wanna love people with disabilities because they are part of our communities and because they are loved by Christ.
David Hirsch: Yeah. If I can paraphrase what you’ve said, it’s having a change in mindset and a change of heart that’s more important than whatever other resources other programs might have, at least at the very beginning because everything else will follow through from that.
Rick Bovell: That’s right.
David Hirsch: Very powerful. Very powerful. So I’m looking for some advice now, and I’m wondering what are the more important takeaways that come to mind when raising a child with differences or for that matter, [00:41:00] dads who have a child with a physical or intellectual disability?
Rick Bovell: All of us, when our children are in the womb, we have ideas of who they’re going to be. And when our child is born with differences, sometimes we have to toss those ideas. Sometimes we have to open our mind to new possibilities and figure out who your child is before you start with the grand plans. And there may be a mourning process involved in that, mourning the loss of what you thought was going to be. But then your eyes can be opened to what can be, and as you start seeing glimpses of possibilities, start opening doors as much as you possibly can to let them walk or wheel through those doors, or even be pushed through those doors sometimes, [00:42:00] and just allow your mind to be open to what the possibilities can be. They may be different from what you dreamed, but there are possibilities for every single child with disabilities.
David Hirsch: Yeah, I love it. What I hear you saying is that we need to maybe adjust our expectations. There’s this concept in business of pivoting, right? You’re going down this path. You realize that the plan you have is not gonna be successful unless you change or you pivot. And when you’re confronted with something consequential, like a diagnosis of autism or cerebral palsy or whatever it might be, you need to pivot, right? You need to figure out what changes do we need to make to be successful? Because if you just kept doing the same thing and not recognize that there’s different needs or expectations, that’s just gonna make things more difficult. Yeah, that was well stated. Thanks.
Rick Bovell: My wife is a writer, so I’m gonna steal something from her, [00:43:00] which is lowering your threshold for celebration or changing your threshold for celebration. A lot of times with a typical child, you’ve got the kid who’s the football star. So you celebrate when you win a game. But sometimes a kid may not ever be a football star. The celebration, the big celebration, may be that the 15 year old is finally using the potty on their own. But still celebrate! Still celebrate. There’re going to be opportunities to celebrate and you’ve gotta open your eyes to what those opportunities of celebration are. They may be different, but they’re there.
David Hirsch: I think it’s the small victories. That’s what I hear you saying. Celebrate the small victories. So any advice you wanna throw out there to dads or parents for that matter, for helping children with disabilities reach their full potential?
Rick Bovell: Probably the only thing that I can say is you have no clue what their full potential is. [00:44:00] You don’t know. I had no clue. I still have no clue. I’m seeing that my kids are doing things that I didn’t necessarily expect that they would do. But trust in the One who knows what their potentials are and keep asking Him for advice. As fathers, we know that we want to move our children and help them to go as far as they possibly can. One of the things that we know that if God is our father, the passages in Ephesians says, that He has set works beforehand for us. He knows what our full potentials are and He knows what our children’s full potentials are. We don’t have a crystal ball, we can’t look into the future, but God has already looked into the future. Continually ask Him, what is the next thing that I should be doing for your child? And wait, and listen, and read the Bible. Open up your [00:45:00] mind for Him to speak to you through the word, through other people, and He will speak to you and show you what opportunities are available for your child next. That’s probably one of the biggest and most important things that I can remind every parent of is that they also have a parent. They also have a Father who is willing to listen to them and give them advice.
David Hirsch: Yeah. If you only had one piece of advice, that would be a good piece of advice to not only hear but to follow through on. Thank you. So I’m curious to know why did you agree to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Rick Bovell: Because I didn’t have one. And because I know things would’ve been different for us if we had someone to depend on, someone else to talk to. Just getting to a stage in life where there are a lot, where there are more men that I can hold [00:46:00] onto, more men that I can talk to and share ideas with and cry with if necessary. I wish I’d had that when I was younger, and so offering that to a younger dad, to a younger family, is just another way that God is opening a door for me to be who He wants me to be. So if I can help someone else sail those waters a little bit smoother, I’m happy to do that.
David Hirsch: Thank you so much for being part of the network. Let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, John Ebersol…
Rick Bovell: Indeed.
David Hirsch: …who’s the Midwest Area Director for Joni and Friends. They just do amazing work.
Rick Bovell: They sure do.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Rick Bovell: No, just thank you for this opportunity. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, David. I look forward to listening to more of these wonderful podcasts.
David Hirsch: Thank you. If somebody wants to get involved or get information on Joni and Friends or to contact you for that matter, how would they go about doing that?
Rick Bovell: Contacting me is easy. [00:47:00] It’s just my last name, firstname.lastname@example.org. And Joni and Friends is Joniandfriends.org. In Chicago, it’s Joniandfriends.org/chicago.
David Hirsch: Great. Rick, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Rick is just one of the dads who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stCenturyDads.org. Rick. thanks again.
Rick Bovell: Thank you.
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 [00:48:00] mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Go to 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.”
Tom Couch: If you enjoy the Dad to Dad Podcast, be sure to like us on Facebook and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcast. And again, to find out more about the Special Fathers Network, go to 21stCenturyDads.org. Thanks for listening.