Dad to Dad 53 – Steve Duffley’s son Christopher is a blind & Autistic internet singing sensation
Steven Duffley: Christopher definitely was born in may of 2001. He was totally blind. We didn’t get the autism diagnosis until he was like four and a half, five years old. Oh, wow. Dang. That fall opened the eyes of my heart at a statewide night of worship the Boston news crews, ABC NBC Fox. They all at our doors. We had to pull Christopher out of public school that day and bring them all home. And maybe an interview is strong like that afternoon to nine o’clock at night. And it really moves people’s hearts because they kind of get out of their self and they realize if this little boy can get through all these struggles, my struggles are nowhere near his and he can still have joy in his heart.
Tom Couch: That’s special father, Steve Duffley whose son, Christopher Lee has inspired millions with his singing and his. Message. And we’ll hear this incredible story on this dad to dad podcast. Here’s your host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the data. 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. Fathers to support fathers to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help for 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 as David Hirsch speaks with special father Steve Duffley,
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend, Steve Duffley of Manchester, New Hampshire, father of five. A general contractor that does masonary restoration. Steve, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview, the special father’s network.
Steven Duffley: Thank you. It’s exciting to be here with you.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Christine had been married for 30 years and of the proud parents of five children.
Steven who’s 26, grace, 24 and Marie 22, Luke 18 and Christopher who’s 17, who was born 14 weeks. Premature is blind as well as autistic.
Steven Duffley: That’s correct.
David Hirsch: Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Steven Duffley: I grew up here in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was the oldest of six and a very athletic family.
My brother, Bob coached college basketball. And my brother, Jay is a restaurant here. And my sister, Joanne is an Olympian. She was a race Walker. And then my brother, Charles is a real estate developer in Texas. And my sister, Sarah is a social worker and a. The smartest of all of us all at the baby of the family.
So I came from a very active family. My mother is a Protestant congregational minister, and my father has passed away who was a realtor and pretty well known. They was drafted into the NBA, um, out of college. So, uh, had a very sports focused family and high achievers.
David Hirsch: It sounds like it. Yeah, that’s fabulous.
Yeah. So you made reference to your dad. I’m wondering if you could describe the type of relationship you had with your dad? My
Steven Duffley: father was very affectionate and love this all very dearly and he was always in your stuff. Kind of, he was always promoting his kids and very involved and he’d be writing, press releases and, and doing all sorts of things, cutting out, clipping, sending them to people, sending through us.
And, you know, we were in the paper or whatever. And. He took a stake in our lives and was always engaged with us. So, you know, he did play golf and other things, he had other interests, but he was very involved with the family and, uh, and, uh, loved his children dearly.
David Hirsch: So that’s fabulous. I think you made reference to the fact that he also played basketball was drafted in the NBA if I remember.
Steven Duffley: Yes. Yeah. He was a, he said all the scoring records at Samsung’s college here in Manchester and it’s the first. Person drafted into the NBA from the state back in 1953, it’s a great role model and very, very popular in the city. And it was a Toastmaster and did a lot of keynote speaking and stuff. So now
David Hirsch: what I found confusing was that he actually traveled with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Yes. What was that
Steven Duffley: about? And you got caught from Philadelphia, you know, there’s only eight teams in the NBA and 10 players per team. So he wasn’t one of the top 80 players in the country. So he toured with the Harlem Globetrotters and played against them in Canada and through the United States, they barnstormed went from city to city and 53 and 54.
He traveled with how it goes. Charters have played on the college, all Americans. It’s funny. You used to always say we get paid every night to lose. Because we’re going to beat him any night of the week. He said, but we got it paid to lose.
David Hirsch: I didn’t know that about the Harlem globe Trotters. I remember seeing them as a youth.
Yeah. This would have been in the sixties. I’m going to guess. And, uh, you know, it was very entertaining. Meadowlark lemon and all these other guys.
Steven Duffley: Yeah. They were great. Yeah.
David Hirsch: And did you mention, he got called up by the Celtics as well?
Steven Duffley: Yeah. When he was touring with the Harlem Globetrotters, he got called up by the Celtics, but there was no way to get ahold of him because he was barnstorming and they were, they, you know, there was no cell phones back then.
So he tried to get a hold of someone, touring Canada, going from small town to small town with the Harlem Globetrotters in the fifties. So he missed out on that opportunity. And we were still trying to find that letter, or am I siblings? It’s like, where’s that letter that dad got from the Celtics, you know, It’s one of those prized possessions that we cannot uncover and stuff.
So we’re looking for that letter. So
David Hirsch: that’s pretty cool. Well, I’m wondering, uh, under the category of advice that you might’ve received or important lessons that you took away from your relationship with your dad, what comes to mind?
Steven Duffley: Well, you know, he had a great sense of humor and he, he, wasn’t afraid to, you know, kind of.
Be the butt of the joke or whatever. He kept just thinking laughing. He wasn’t a real practical joker, but you know, we kept things funny and, uh, and didn’t take himself that seriously or, you know, life too seriously. You know, he had a great outlook on, uh, and sense of humor, you know, you know, we, they would laugh a lot and we had a lot of fun.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Was there anything that he always said or did that comes to mind that. Maybe you find yourself saying or doing
Steven Duffley: as well? Well, he always brought us to church, you know, and he was very Holy man and made sure that we were there going with him. You know, he, he, he killed us, but, you know, he was always there for us.
So whenever, you know, I turned around and looked up in the stands, he’d be there watching me at a game or whatever, and made all my games and just that type of dedication to kids, you know, that’s kind of some of the fondest memories.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you appreciate that more. Maybe not at the time, but looking back on it, you know, becoming a father yourself, especially if you have a large family like you to write.
Steven Duffley: Right. And you know, I have five kids, he had six in it. Boy, you know, you hope that you’re not missing out or, you know, by the time you get to the end, you’ve figured it all out. You know, sometimes the younger ones get more than the older ones because you’re still learning on the, on the older ones, you know?
So by the time the oldest ones are graduating from high school, I think you’ve just about got to figure it out, you know?
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, if nothing else, once the older ones are out of that nest, right then mom and dad can focus on the one or two that are still there. Right. And it’s easier to go to every event, but if it’s one out of one or one out of two versus one out of six, that you’ve gotta be, you know, scrambling around just to, you know, it’s more of a logistics issue than anything else.
Steven Duffley: Yeah. And the bigger families, you know, the older ones take care of the younger ones too. So they get a lot more support than the first couple. So, yeah, I agree. Totally.
David Hirsch: From what I remember, you went to the university of New Hampshire. Yes. And what type of degree did you take and what were you thinking when you graduated?
What was the world looking like to you? Then?
Steven Duffley: I, I got a degree in adult and vocational education and I was working summers painting houses. So. I could earn the tuition money and I was playing basketball at the university. And then I, uh, did my first student teaching year and I was coaching girls basketball at the high school level.
And after a year, or that I’m like, these kids don’t really care that much about learning or even basketball. And so I said, well, I’m making more money in the three and three months during the summer than I am the whole year teaching. Still. So I said, I’m going to teach my, my employees how to, how to work instead of a school kids.
So I made the swing after one year and one is my own business.
David Hirsch: And you’ve been doing the same type of work ever since.
Steven Duffley: Yeah. I’ve been general contracting ever since I’ve niched down though into the masonary restoration, waterproofing to water repellent. I’ve been working with my hands ever since just say my grandfather’s,
David Hirsch: well, that’s something to be said for people that can get things done and not everybody is handed, like you were describing every household did somebody that can do more than change, light bulbs and things of that nature.
Sure. Yeah. So I’m sort of curious to know how did you and Christine meet.
Steven Duffley: Uh, that was really easy. We both went to the university of New Hampshire and we didn’t know each other when we were there because there was, you know, 8,000 people there or whatever. But after high school, a friend of my priests that I knew was running a prayer group on the other side of town and I was at the cathedral and she was over at st.
Marie’s and it was a charismatic prayer group. The priest invited me to go over it. My wife was leading song there and she was part of the team. That ran that pro group. And, um, I met her there. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s one of those, you know, we slowly got to know each other over the course of a year or so, and then started dating and then.
And then got engaged and the rest is history.
David Hirsch: Well, it seems very straightforward. There’s not a lot of drama or a crazy twist to that story.
Steven Duffley: No, not much. Yeah. Well,
David Hirsch: thanks for sharing. So we’re going to talk about the special needs community, uh, initially on a personal level and then beyond, and I’m wondering, uh, before Christopher’s birth, did you or Christine have any connections to the special needs community?
Steven Duffley: So we were, we were foster parents. So when we had our. First two, we were taking in through Easter seals, a troubled girls in their mid teens. And my wife was background is social work. So we were dealing with girls that were fetal alcohol and other, other problems. And, uh, she did a great job with them, but as we added kids, it got harder to be a foster parent, you know, so as we added the third child and.
And so we were worried that they’re a little worried about, you know, some of these kids and infants and stuff like that. So there was a certain risk level that they didn’t really want to put us in. So after our third child, we stopped being a foster foster home until we got Christopher. So,
David Hirsch: okay. Well, that’s pretty ambitious to have young kids of your own and then be bringing these teenagers in your house.
Steven Duffley: Right?
David Hirsch: Not all parents are equipped to do that. And, um, Mom might want to do it, but dad doesn’t want to, or vice versa for that matter. So, what was it that you think led to you opening? Not just your home, but your hearts up to these a young woman in need?
Steven Duffley: Well, it was my, my wife’s background is social work.
So one, she was prepared better than most to deal with these kids and a veteran in summer, their caseworkers. Oh well, and I had to be kind of distanced because the whole, you know, male, female thing, and these are girls that, you know, that. Had trauma in their life and not good parenting, not good fathers.
So I had to be a good role model, but it was mostly hands-off. I know, you know, that’s not too much affection or anything. You couldn’t show them too much because you didn’t want to get caught in some type of lawsuit or something crazy, you know? So I. I was very warm to these and do anything for them, but I’m not, you know, I had to be careful I had to have boundaries, so.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well that helps me understand. Thank you.
Steven Duffley: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So Christopher’s entry into the world was a bit precarious to say the least, right. Um, and how I became a part of your family for that matter was very interesting. So what’s the backstory on that?
Steven Duffley: Christopher was born in Florida to Christine’s brother and his girlfriend.
And that was in may of 2001, we knew he was in the hospital up to like November. They’d ask us to pray for him. And then we lost contact with everything around November and we kind of forgot coming into the holidays where he, where he was. And I was running a men’s retreat and. March of 2002 Grissom was about 11 months old.
My wife, I got back from the men’s retreat and said, you know, I was praying with a group of woman for your weekend. And something came to my heart. We were talking about adoption and this and that Florida was losing kids in their, in their social service system and this and that. And I want to know the, all right, if I try to locate my nephew and I said, sure, honey, you know, I was kind of high as a kite anyway, coming back from the retreat.
Yeah. And I felt that Scott put her on her heart. That’d be great. So she called Florida social services, which is amazing. This is a big state. And the first person she talked to caseworker knew who Christopher was new. His half sisters knew they had been taken away from their mother in September the year before.
And I knew he was in a special needs, foster care at that point. But then he said to Christina and he said, uh, do you know that he’s blind? And she’s like, no, we didn’t know. Well, he has all these other respiratory problems all also, are you still interested? And she said, yes, I am. So she flew down in April the month later and, uh, you know, he’s 11 months old.
He had double pneumonia. He was in the hospital again. And she was called me in tears saying, you know, I don’t know if we can do this. Nope. We have four kids ages nine to two right now. And the take in this frail baby that’s, you know, they couldn’t even put an ID in him. He was so small and so under size and he couldn’t sit up and he would just be in a bouncy chair, bouncing his head against the, you know, the table, the whole day self stimulating.
And that was it. No, no vocabulary, you know, talking there’s 11 months, nothing, you know, couldn’t walk, couldn’t really crawl. So it’s like, wow, it’s like a newborn, you know? So she called me crying after seeing them in the hospital. I said, honey, we stand for life and his family. And I said, just go get them.
You know? And so it took us a few. We had re reestablish ourself as a foster family again, to get them get custody of them. And then Florida signed them over to us. And, uh, as foster parents, and then within a year we had, we adopted them. And he, by that time he was walking and moving and doing a lot of babbling and doing a lot of fun stuff.
But that would probably lead to another question.
David Hirsch: Oh yeah. Oh, there’s a lot of questions that is like a stunning entry into the world. So it’s Christine’s brother. I can just paraphrase. What you’ve said was the father, there was a girlfriend, the mother of the child. Christopher’s biological mother. Yeah.
Who’s not able to have responsibility for her child or children. Actually, there is more than one. Right? So what was it that was going on with the mom, as well as Christine’s brother that, you know, they sort of bobbled the. Ball, if you will, and then lost control of the situation.
Steven Duffley: Yeah, it’s sad. But, uh, Christopher, his dad was in prison for selling drugs and moving drugs.
And then Christopher’s mom was on drugs and she was a social worker. This lady had a good job and worked for the state and all this other stuff. And she lost custody of her kids because Christopher was born with Oxycontin and cocaine in his system. So he was a drug baby and, and they don’t pay much attention to the drug babies.
Right. They just kind of put them in the incubator. They give them too much oxygen that causes their, their retinas, that attach. So he went blind just basically, cause she, he didn’t get really good care when he was pretty, pretty premium. So too. And the same thing happened to Stevie wonder in many other blind people is they got too much oxygen when they’re in the incubator.
And their retinas detach. So Christopher, his father was in jail by probably by November when they last custody. And then the mother was sleeping on couches and, and she’s still not really part of his life, which is sad, but its biological father is very much so, so that’s completely changed. So. 10 years, but
David Hirsch: so this would be, this would be a brother-in-law I’ve got the family tree, correct?
Steven Duffley: That’s correct. Yeah.
David Hirsch: And his name, if I remember a prior conversation is skip,
Steven Duffley: skip.
David Hirsch: Yep. He appreciates all that you’ve done for Christopher, but doesn’t claim him as his own. I mean, he’s not referred to as the dad. How does, how does that work?
Steven Duffley: Well, yeah, it’s kind of sticky because my, my daughter, grace corrected Christopher one day because she was.
You know, Christopher was fooling around and he said, Oh, hi dad, or called him dad. And, uh, and Christopher, I mean, my daughter, grace pulls him aside and says, Christopher, that’s your biological dad, but he’s uncle skip to you. And he’s uncle skip to me and your dad, his dad. And that’s it. So, uh, she, she wouldn’t allow him to have two dads, you know, so it’s interesting, you know, and that’s kind of his role, his role that says the uncle is not, he’s not the father.
Christopher understands that, but you know, being autistic, you know, he kind of just as, you know, what he wants to do sometimes, and until he, until he understands it and gets his arms around it, and now he, he doesn’t do that anymore. So we kind of got put in his place by his older sister, so.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, I just thought that was very interesting cause you can’t predict that type of relationship or understand fully appreciate what the dynamics are.
So I’m thinking back to when Christopher was relatively young, you’ve brought them into your home. He’s spined and then what was it that you realized that maybe there was something else going on beyond the fact that he couldn’t see what type of diagnosis was there? How did you discover what else was calling on?
Steven Duffley: Well, he had early intervention. Well, he’s on a nebulizer, so he had all sorts of lung issues when they sent them up. But. Within a year or so, it was like, this is useless. This kid is the healthiest kid in the house. He had no lung problems after about a year or so. He grew out of all that. They said he was gonna have asthma for his whole life.
He’s never wheezed or had any asthma. He’s got a beautiful singing voice and everything else. Um, but the early development. So he didn’t speak that much until like first grade. So he was still kind of just responding to and repeating things. He heard, you know, a lot of autistic kids repeat a lot. And so.
No the first six or seven years of his life, he was a very low on the autism scale for he rather just self stimulate, play with his own toys and didn’t really carry above being social or being part of anything. So that was a little frustrating and we didn’t get the autism diagnosis until he was like four and a half, five years old.
Oh wow. We thought some of this was just delays from being blind. He had early intervention through Easter seals and went to preschool before. He got into regular public school, but we need to put them in public school because of the aid that he got from, for being blind, all the braille and national Federation of line stuff that we’ve done over the years.
So it was interesting. He has shelves for eyes, so he has fake eyes, plastic eyes. And we put those in around three years old because they said that if we didn’t put him in his face would never develop. And they’re like expanders expanders. So they would make his eyes grow. Normally. And his sides of his head wouldn’t cave in because he’d had like an hourglass head.
If they said, if you didn’t put the expanders in, but him not being able to express himself, he stopped eating and. Got really ornery over this. So it’s like, Oh no, you know what, what’s going on? He stopped eating, you know, he only eats like a pizza and peanut butter and jelly and he won’t eat anything else.
They put it in front of him, you know, he stopped eating everything and like, Oh no, that was a little frustrating. We didn’t know what to do, but we just kind of hung in there and kept the, you know, Keeping his eyes in, he didn’t, he didn’t really flick them out too much. And, uh, we did have one incident where one of the aides on the bus bringing him home, he was on a special transportation bus, comes in a holding a.
When I in a, in a handkerchief one day and said, I don’t know what to do with this. He was like, don’t worry. He just flicked this.
David Hirsch: Oh my
Steven Duffley: gosh. He just liked this I out accidentally. I said that it only happened once, you know, and we’re having that poor four eight on the bus. So
David Hirsch: it must’ve been a little startling.
I can only imagine,
Steven Duffley: oops. He dropped his eye. So, so that. That happened, but he started to develop a real sense of beef. When we first got him, he got a clap, any imitate, any clap. And then we got them handbells with different notes on them. We brailled each letter of each note on the bells. And then by first grade he was playing, you know, songs on the bells, you know, you could pick them up and take it.
And then on the piano he could pick off, you know, Old McDonald had a farm and stuff like that. All of a sudden you hear him playing the piano, playing songs, you know, uh, in like three or four years old, um, he started just putting together music, you know, in his head. And by four he was singing praise and worship music.
And, uh, we were on a mission trip doing work during hurricane Katrina in Oh five. And, uh, we’re in Bay st. Louis. And the music ministry was singing open the eyes of my heart. I said, Oh, that’s Christopher’s favorite song. And one of my, uh, cruel leaders is on my team was singing this song and I’m like a deep baritone voice, you know, really deep.
I go down beside them and Christopher is singing next to him and Chris and my buddy, Joe hands, Christopher, the microphone was four and a half years old and he finishes the song with a good friend of ours, Terry and. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place four and a half years old everyone’s crying. They couldn’t believe that he could, you know, this little blind kid could sing with perfect pitch, that song.
And the next day he was on the bus going to wrap presents for all the women were going out there. Wrap presents for. People in the neighborhood. And, uh, he got up in the middle of the bus and started singing. And again, everyone was crying on the bus again. So solo, you know, because he thought it was great that people loved it, you know, and clap when he sings that’s wild.
So that was his first microphone, first audience. And, uh, besides. You know, our living room and his piano and his mom, his grandmother would take them to the therapy and she would harmonize with them in the car because she was a music leader. So at church, so they would harmonize together, you know, at four or five years old, you know, he was teaching them how to harmonize and he had a great ear, unbelievable year.
David Hirsch: that’s amazing. I love that story. I’m going to go back a little bit though.
Steven Duffley: Okay. Yeah, sure. It seems like
David Hirsch: it was. Not a straight line, like you said, there were some ups and downs along the way. And I’m wondering, looking back on it, was there meaningful advice that you and Christine got early on, on how to handle, how best to be prepared to deal with a child that can’t see?
Steven Duffley: Uh, I mean, we attended every workshop that the national Federation for the blind put on, you know, cause we live in the greater Boston area. So we were down to Boston. We have Perkins school for the blind right there as a resource. So we’ve, we had some great resources and New Hampshire is its own Federation for the national Federation for the blind.
So we got involved with those things very early. We got a lot of glitter advice because you know, the whole digital age is just coming out with all the. Voiceover stuff on the iPad and the iPhones. And so Christopher’s had so much technology compared to, you know, 10 years, if he was 10 years earlier, he wouldn’t have the amazing what they were doing for the blind right now, but electronic
David Hirsch: Pinteresting.
So I’m wondering, were there some important decisions that you and Christine made raising five children, including one with special needs? When you look back on it.
Steven Duffley: Oh, I am besides not taking ourselves too seriously,
because if you do, you’re gonna, you’re gonna end up killing each other. You know what I’ve learned a lot because you know, Christopher has been able to perform all over the country and I’ve met with parents all over the country that has special needs kids. And I’ll tell ya, we haven’t so much easier than some of these other kids with lower functioning autism and.
Other acting out Tourettes or whatever it is. I just think God has really given us the grace that we needed every day, just in our faith has helped us stay strong. Cause I’ve seen a lot of families that have been broken up, but especially trying to raise a special needs child, you know, the parents to go on each other or they’d play the blame game, blame each other and said, yeah.
And how do you, you know, how do you manage to those people? How do you reach them and say, you know, gotta stick it out. You know, your faith has got it. Carry you through this, don’t depend on your, your own strength. You know what I mean? So for you, you’re not going to make it, so you gotta, you gotta have a unified front once you gotta be together on everything.
And that’s hard because my wife has a different way of disciplining kids and men are definitely different than I don’t treat my girls. Like I treat my guys and I don’t want my guys to treat their sisters in the way I, you know, I treat them, but my wife and I have, you know, Hey, even though we don’t always understand each other, we’ll get out of each other this way for the most part and let each other take the lead when we have to be quiet at one week when we should.
David Hirsch: yeah. Well, I think not taking yourself too seriously is important, you know? Cause you could get really wound up about some things. I’ve heard you say that. Right. And then, um, you know, we do men and women have different ways of parenting.
Steven Duffley: Oh yeah.
David Hirsch: And I think acknowledging that as opposed to thinking there’s only one way to do this as important.
And you said something about your faith and what comes to mind. I was interviewing for the special fathers network, a rabbi out in LA rabbi, Bradley arts, and is his name. And one of the things he said it would really stuck out. And it’s sort of similar to what you were just saying about not relying on your own strength, but relying on your faith.
He said, I’m paraphrasing. I don’t know. How people who are nonbelievers can get through really challenging situations like this, raising a child with autism, right? Because if you’re relying on your own strength, you’re not likely to have a happy outcome, but if you put your faith in God, then the probability of being able to find the strength to be able to persevere, to get to the other side, not just to survive, but to thrive, you know, is.
So much greater. So what were some of the bigger challenges that you’ve encountered during the past 30 years? Uh, when you think about raising your children specifically,
Steven Duffley: Christopher, you know, I’ve appeared with them on stage and I’ve always had to be really on my toes dealing with him because he’s so transparent and he has no filters.
So the way we, the kids will say it, Christopher has no filters. He says it like it is. You know, people will ask him. So what do you think about the pie I made tonight? And crystal will say, it’s not as good as this or it it’s. Okay. It’s like we’re most people say he’s fine. Thank you know, he’ll tell you, he’ll give you a two, even though he should just be kind of trying to stay in the middle of the road.
So it’s funny how, uh, You know, I have to kind of pitch them every now and say, you know, come on Christopher. Don’t, don’t say it like that. And he’ll say, why are you pitching me for, you know, in front of everyone? It’s like, okay, if I got a, you know, I’ve, uh, I let the cat out of the bag. So, um, yeah, he has, he has no filter, so it it’s, it would be, but you can also make it humorous.
So I’ll take that and throw it into, into some fun poke and kinda throw it back at him. And, uh, you know, like your mother’s cooking type thing or something like that. So just give him a hard time. Are there
David Hirsch: some situations you can recall that, uh, you know, you had one of those situations, whether it was onstage or with a neighbor or at school or something?
Steven Duffley: Well, yeah, we were at, at McLean Bible. It was a pretty good size mega church and we were doing a special needs conference together. And I’ll tell you every time I would go off. The script a little bit he’ll he called me on and correct me. And, and so, so it got to the point where I had it start doing the same thing to him.
Whenever he would say something that would be off one word, I’d have to catch them. And so we have fun with it kind of going back and forth. It’s good. What I’m doing now is he’ll, he’ll start, especially if someone gets them off track on electronics or something, and he’s in the middle of something, that’s, you know, Where he needs to introduce something and say one sentence before he introduces something and he’ll just start going on and on.
I’ll start singing the TMI. So people tell me I give too much information. But it’s sometimes a compulsion I can’t, and I wish that they were open to my openness and really making up, making up some type of a burst that will go close to whatever song he’s supposed to be singing next or whatever. And I’ll sing it to the TMI song and it’ll all be about BMI, which means of course too much information.
So yeah, so we have a good laugh on it and it’s like, it’s not TMI TMI song and I’ll just go on and on.
Way too much. I’m sharing now. And here we go again with me way over the line. People are staring now. Like I’ll change the subject. We’ll be fine. We have a little fun on that.
David Hirsch: I think it’s something that you’ve inherited from your dad and maybe you’re passing down to your children as well.
Steven Duffley: Yeah, I’m a Kidder.
So yeah, I do get that from my dad.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous
Steven Duffley: very much though.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering what impact Christopher situations had on each of your other children and maybe starting with a given your son?
Steven Duffley: Well, Steve, you and your, he basically was the oldest one. He came in at nine years old. He was the first to kinda, you know, take Christopher under his wing and see Christopher had no stimulus when he was in Florida.
He would just sit on a chair and up one of those raised chairs. And just bounce his head against the back and stimulate him. So when he went from no stimulation in Florida and we’ve got them at around 15 months to four siblings that are running around the house, taking them out on the trampoline, he loved the trampoline, bouncing around.
Stevie was the first one to engage him and just be in his, in his face, you know, keeping them going. And then from there, grace was, you know, Christopher was his little doll. And so she was, you know, theater or real life, baby. So she was seven and then Ann Marie, she was cute as a button. She would just kind of be in there, you know, coaxing them along.
And Luke and him are almost the same age. They’re only eight, eight months apart. So they’ve been, you know, attached to the hip and the same bedroom, you know, sleeping in bunk beds, you know, together and kind of grew up together. And Luke never really got, you know, all the attention, but my wife and I have always tried to give Luke as much attention as we can, even though.
You know, Chris, they’re all traveling with Christopher a lot and then on the road. So, but, uh, Luke and I are very close to, so we give them a lot of time. And he likes basketball. I like basketball. So you know where he’s going to college next year to play basketball. So I said, I have a hard time giving you a hard time about going to college to play basketball.
Cause that’s what I did. So, you know, kind of the pot calling the kettle black at this point, if, if I sin against you doing that. So, you know the kids, you know, when people ask me, well, how did Christopher. You know, go from not being able to speak or anything to, you know, what he’s doing now. I said it’s because he had the siblings around him that engage them all the time.
He went from no stimulus to overstimulated and I mean, it was games and playing on the trampoline to electronic toys and. Quizzes. They’re always quizzing them. Christopher, how do you spell this? How do you do that? How do you, you know, and he could repeat back anything, you know, long you could do alphabet forwards and backwards at like two years old, but he didn’t know what he was doing.
It was all rote memory. And then, you know, the lights slowly come on a little at a time as he realized what was going on, what, what, what something meant. Got it.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering, um, do you think your children are any more sensitive? To people with special needs or have a higher level of awareness, having a brother that, you know, it was different or had some challenges.
Steven Duffley: Oh, very much so. Yeah. My middle daughter, Ann Marie, she teaches skiing to like four year olds and she’s got the patient’s job. They’d be out there in the cold from the little kids whining and complaining, and she’s got a great heart and she’s always worked in like daycare and stuff like that. So. She’s very good with children and anyone’s easier having a special needs son, a brother.
I mean, so, yeah, she she’s really good. And then grace she’s, she traveled in toward with him. So he was my, my, my wife’s right hand, you know, we give her a little break cause it, Christopher needs a lot of attention even on the road or he’ll just kind of spiral into repeating and. We are constantly, you know, hear someone yell, Christa her stop repeating.
Cause he’ll like the sound of something and he’ll just play it hundreds of times over and over and over and over again. Then you catch them doing it in the car or you catch them doing it in his bedroom or whatever, just zone out and just start doing that. So, you know, you want them to be as normal as possible and not get caught in those, those habits.
Um, but it’s, it’s good. Grace. Grace is good at bringing them back in, so was Stevie, but you know, the kids get older and move on too, so, you know, and then it will be just, you know, Christina and I, the next year, Luke heads off to college. So
David Hirsch: got it. So I’m thinking about supporting organizations you’ve made reference to some of them, Easter seals, Perkins school for the blind national Federation for the blind.
Yeah. Uh, were there any other organizations. Locally, nationally that, you know, it played an important role in Christopher’s development.
Steven Duffley: Well, there’s so many different nonprofits that Christopher is gone to help raise money for the biggest is autism speaks. So he’s, he’s been kind of out there with autism speaks and got awards from autism speaks and is sung at their, uh, some of the top gala’s, you know, around in New York city.
And, um, So that was, that’s been a big one and Johnny and friends is another huge one. Uh, he’s saying it they’re national international events at this point, he’s doing speaking and a semi. So. He didn’t, we’ll do a presentation on his life story. So people always want to hear the rest of the story,
David Hirsch: which is still developing, right.
He’s only 17.
Steven Duffley: Exactly, exactly. The
David Hirsch: painting’s not completed. Right. You know, I would say that it’s coming together and it’s pretty impressive, but he’s still a relatively young guy,
Steven Duffley: very much so. And he presents very well. He speaks very well. And when people are really riveted by his story and he definitely could be a motivational speaker and, and even do corporate.
Stuff. So we’re not limiting where he’s going to go. Uh, it’s just amazing what he’s, he’s accomplished in just like six years, you know, he’s really been famous, so yeah. Music brings joy to people and seeing it as a gift in our share because I’m blind. I see people with my heart for what they truly are instead of what they look like on the outside.
David Hirsch: Let’s talk about the schooling. I remember you sharing previously that there were some challenges, um, with the IEP, um, you know, changing schools. Um, if you could just recap that.
Steven Duffley: Well, we’re Catholic. And most of our, all our children went to Catholic school. Christopher was separately. He had to go to a public school because of the resources from the blind that we got through through the state.
And, um, and so he, he had an IEP, but my wife was always trying to fight for as much, you know, she’d go to all different workshops and what resources were available, that these kids needed, you know, talking books for their books and talking about players and. And all different things that they would need being blind.
The whole electronic age is just coming into play, you know, where the iPhones and the iPads and jaws for windows that you could screen readers for computers and then real keyboards for typing, you know, and learning braille, just to learn braille and to understand braille. And he’s, yeah, he’s fabulous at all those things, but that wouldn’t have come without my wife pushing.
So we get to seventh grade and we had to stop and say, okay, Christopher is having an impact on people all over the country and we’re going to tour and we’re gonna, you know, peop people are asking us to go all over the country saying and speak. So in seventh grade we pulled them out of public school and we, uh, we started to homeschool them.
It took us two years to get them through seventh grade. And every minute of the day he was with my wife, you know, for those two years, Between touring and going to school work. Now we’re two years behind. He’s going to be 20, you know, 24, by the time he graduated from high school, if there’s rights, we said, we all were going to have to change our plan here.
We can’t because my wife wasn’t gonna let him, you know, until he got everything done through Vilax with the program we’re using, uh, we, we had a small Catholic school only has like 15 kids per class. And we asked if they would be open to a Christopher and for eighth grade, Then we had to supplement it with a math program from Hadley school, for the blind.
And then we have a technology teacher that’s going really good. He’s he’s her smartest student in the country. So, so now she even wants to have him work as a tutor, so to work with kids. So, wow. So that’s exciting. That’s exciting. So he’s, he’s really excelling in the whole electronics part and, and what can be done over, you know, with a phone and a computer.
Yeah, it’s amazing what he can do. He shows us how to use our phones and stuff. What’s wild. Pretty funny. Anyone has a question, they just call Christopher, he’ll tell you how to fix that. You got a setting wrong. I’ll tell you where it is.
David Hirsch: Well, I’m just trying to put myself in your shoes. It comes to at age 15 months, he’s blind. He’s got all these respiratory issues and you know, this, the story, you know, at the beginning, It seems like it was quite tenuous, very fragile little guy who was born, what? 14 weeks premature, one pound and a few ounces.
It’s a miracle. Right? I mean, I don’t know
Steven Duffley: how else you can explain people. Call him a miracle baby. Yeah, definitely.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s amazing. Yeah. So I’m thinking about how things have transpired. You’ve really helped enable Christopher to reach his full potential at such an early age. Um, you’d mentioned he started singing at age four or five and, you know, it’s, it seems like it’s snowballed.
Right. Um, how did that come about? What was the breakout? You know, if you could say, Oh, this was the turning point
Steven Duffley: and all that. There was two places where he, where he kind of broke up in 2011 era. So he’s 10, but what had happened is he had been singing the national Anthem at his older siblings, uh, basketball and volleyball games and all that.
Referees and stuff were like this kid’s unbelievable. You know, the paper you got all the sports writers, like you’ve got to do something on this. So all the referees and sports writers today, you got to do a column on this kid. He’s amazing. So he sang the national Anthem at the state championship hockey game.
The local film people showed up for that and they shot him singing the national Anthem out on the ice. And then next day, the newspaper decided to do a full page, front cover article on him. And it was like 60 column inches. It was a huge article and his whole life and what he’d been doing. And. That same day, the article came up, all the Boston news crews, ABC NBC Fox, they all at our doorstep wanting the story.
Everyone wanted the first story. It’s like, Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. So we had to pull Christopher out of public school that day and bring them home. And they did interviews from like that afternoon to nine o’clock at night off that front page or article. So that was the first, like in Christopher thought, you know, this is going to happen every day now, you know, cause he’s autistic and understand it.
So it’s not every days ago at school or illegal, I’ll get an interview, play piano. And he had his first Fenway park, uh, sitting at the red Sox that summer and all his teachers and stuff came to the game and principal, the whole, all the school came. So that was fun. And then he sang that fall, open the eyes of my heart at a statewide.
Um, A night of worship and he was the only soloist. Everything else was just kind of group singing. And that video has got hundreds of millions of views. It goes all over the world. It’s been translated into the language of different languages has been shown at church services everywhere. Everywhere we go.
Everyone, you ask the people in the crowd, how many people have seen Christopher Singleton? The others? My art it’s usually. You know, 20, 30% of the crowd, anywhere we go, I get stopped in airports and see the singer yet.
People know him just by that one video.
yeah, it’s crazy. You know, we would never know when we took this little kid and I was, my wife would be traveling around the country and affecting people’s lives, fainting hearts, you know, amazing.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s a testimony to God.
Steven Duffley: It is.
David Hirsch: There’s no other explanation. Really?
Steven Duffley: There is no, you know, it’s just all the Holy spirit and.
And I told my daughter, grace, and she was singing with them at the grace. Just kinda jump on for the ride. Yeah. Thanks. Yeah. So
David Hirsch: I love it. Um, I’m sort of curious to know, I think you mentioned in our prior conversation that Christine had this idea to create a charity, not for profit in the name of no greater love ministry.
And I’m wondering what was the original vision and what’s transpired since then?
Steven Duffley: Sure. No greater love ministries because we were dealing with a lot of churches and we thought that. If we were a nonprofit that we could take donations that way work with a nonprofit. And the nonprofit also produce two CDs with Steven B.
Taylor, who is a double winning producer out of Nashville. So grace and Christopher saying eyes in my heart and a believer, and then the nonprofit was out there, but it really was kind of hard to figure out what we’re going to do with it. And my wife decided to. Cause she was finding it was, there was no funding for special needs kids in Catholic schools.
She decided to team up with the fire foundation. Other thing Lewis, the fire foundation raises money. So special needs. Siblings can go to the same Catholic schools, their kid. So it’s gone from no greater love, which we, you, we thought, uh, no with can owl, no greater love to the fire foundation, which is in support of special needs family.
So. That’s where her heart is and, uh, for the money from the nonprofits gone, but we’ve been able to retain the CDs cause we didn’t take any money from the nonprofit in Christopher’s name. So Christopher, we get the royalties from the sales, which is nice.
David Hirsch: So is this like going into a trust fund and his name for his future benefit then?
Or how does that work?
Steven Duffley: No, we’re basically the whole mission possible and podcast and everything else is his. So soon as he turns 18, it all becomes this. So there’s no trust fund. It is to the business. So, uh, it’s not that we don’t want it or anything. Uh, it, my wife will continue to speak and tour with them, but, uh, we really wanted to give this, this is Christopher’s future, so we wanted it and to have stake in his future.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about the mission possible podcast.
Steven Duffley: Yep.
David Hirsch: Uh, how long has it been around, uh, how did that start? How often do the podcasts,
Steven Duffley: what Christopher just finished it hundred hundredth episode, which is quite an achievement to get past the a hundred. It’s not a lot of podcasts make it that long, you know?
And, uh, we started it because he loved radio, but he wasn’t spontaneous and he couldn’t edit, edit, live radio, you know? So I said, Christopher, why don’t we, I got a few friends that do podcasts and this and that. Why don’t we learn? You know? So we learned, you know, From John Lee Dumas, Neo fire, and a few other people, and kind of got involved with a few podcast communities that our homework took about three or four months and put together the mission possible podcast, thinking that this would be something Christopher can call his own.
And, uh, and what he does is he, whenever he’s traveling, he interviews people and ask them about their mission and it keeps it short 10 minutes. You’ll have music sometimes. And it’s supported by patriotic. He has patrons that support his ministry, basically. That’s his baby. Mission possible podcast starting in three, two, one, where all things are possible with your host singer performer, inspirational speaker and YouTube sensation with millions of fans.
Worldwide. Welcome Christopher
Hey guys, Christopher, Duffley back with another episode. And today I am at first Baptist Concord in Knoxville, Tennessee, and we’re actually going to have hopefully two episodes, but at this or a similar place anyway, but what we’re in Knoxville right now, I completed two worship services. This
David Hirsch: is like one thing, the nuts, right?
You can’t predict, you know, it’s such a wholesome message.
Steven Duffley: You know, a
David Hirsch: young guy, you
Steven Duffley: know, coming into
David Hirsch: this world in a very precarious situation at the time of his birth and all the challenges that were early on overcoming the blindness overcoming, if you can say overcoming autism and, you know, trying to make the best of what you have.
Steven Duffley: Right.
David Hirsch: Everybody’s got different gifts and different challenges. And if you focus on what we can do, as opposed to what you can’t do, the world is always a better place.
Steven Duffley: Right. And you know, it’s always good to meet other people that are out there. But when Christopher started his podcast, the quick background of that, he was 14 years old.
He produced his own show. Did his own intros. He does all his own offloading. He has no one produce it. He does all his own production work. It’s amazing. Since 14, we figured it all out together, but he’s the one that took charge and has done it. So that’s why I call it his baby, you know?
David Hirsch: Um, so we’ve touched a little bit on spirituality.
I’m wondering. Yeah. Uh, what, what role has that played for you, Christina and your other family members for that matter?
Steven Duffley: Well, I mean, I go to mass, I try to go to mass daily. So I’m a daily communicant. I very involved with my faith and one of my best friends is a priest and my family. I mean, we were kind of raised that way.
My mother was a Protestant minister. So basically I always told my wife, I married you because of your faith. I mean, you have wonderful deep faith and, uh, her mother’s the same way and her father. So it’s good to have that as kind of the center. You know, when you look at marriage, it’s a covenant between you and your wife and go on, you know, it’s a triangular relationship.
And if you don’t have that, that relationship with God, it’s hard. You don’t have the graces. There is to overcome the hard time. And I think that’s why we were able to get through those early years with Christopher, because we had the grace in our family and our faith. To make it through that. God gave us enough strength and grace didn’t make it through another day, even though we didn’t sleep much or whatever.
David Hirsch: well, thank you for sharing. I think personally sleep is a little bit overrated, but that’s just me. I know that some people need eight hours. I’m just not one of those people.
Steven Duffley: I need six though.
David Hirsch: Everybody has their number.
Steven Duffley: I know.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about advice now. I’m wondering what some of the more important takeaways are.
That come to mind when raising a child with a difference or for dads for that matter, they’re raising a child with a physical or intellectual disability.
Steven Duffley: Well, you’ve already mentioned, and it’s very true. I like to have fun while I’m doing it. So I’ll try to keep it light, not take myself too seriously. I tell it to a lot of people.
You can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re raising a special needs child. You know, you gotta go with the flow and work on what you got. And I think having a relationship with God is one of the most important things you need to have in order to have the strength to get through the deal. Of course, the loving and supporting wife has been is huge.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, don’t underestimate the importance of having two parents, right,
Steven Duffley: right. Oh yeah.
David Hirsch: Imagine. You are not in the picture, what a burden it would be to Christina to do all the things that have been done or vice versa. If she wasn’t there doing everything that she’s been doing, you know, you wouldn’t be able to do this.
Steven Duffley: No, I know we’re good friends with Emily Colson and, um, and she’s a single mom raising a special needs child and it’s tough. You know, boy, you can see it and you can see it in their eyes. And it’s a lot, take a lot of energy out on when you’re here and you’re the sole provider for a special needs. You gotta hats off to them.
David Hirsch: Yeah, the sad reality is that there’s way too many single moms out there. The estimates are 24 million kids growing up in father, absent homes, half boys, half girls, and most women, a clear majority of women did not sign up to be a single moms. Right. It was just the. The circumstances that led to that situation.
And it’s even more dramatic, you know, when there’s multiple children and then if there’s a child or children with special needs. So we, as a society can do better. And that was the whole impetus for starting the 21st Century Dad’s foundation, focusing on the Special Fathers Network to shore up the dad part of the family.
So I’m very thankful for your engagement. And I’m wondering why is it. That you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network.
Steven Duffley: Why? Because I think people need to know that they’re not alone. You know, there’s other fathers out there that are raising special needs kids and they have support, you know, there, there are other guys that are concerned and want it and are there for you.
And I’ve had a lot of men, other fathers around me that have been great support to me as peers and as mentors. And you, you can’t be. I tell this to guys all the time, you can’t be an Island. You really need to be out there supporting other people and getting support from other people asking for help. So that’s why I’m here because I want to make sure that men know that they don’t have to do it alone.
You know what I mean? Even if there were a single dad,
David Hirsch: you know, we’re very thankful to have you as part of the network. Um, so let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, Aaron Walker, a serial entrepreneur, founder, and author. Of a view from the top and who also runs a series of mastermind groups?
Steven Duffley: Yes. I met Aaron on, well, I wasn’t as community for a couple years on his Facebook group. And reading along with all the stuff that masterminds are doing, I’ve been learning a lot from the books we read and the other people. And it’s nice because you have people from all over the country, different walks, different, uh, occupations that share their life.
And there’s a strong. Spiritual component to it all, you know, high moral values and excellent, you know, just really focusing on doing things the right way and doing things with excellence.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love that concept of a mastermind group and having guys get together, hold one, another accountable so that we can each be the best person that we can be.
Yeah. So I’m wondering, is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Steven Duffley: Well, just then I said earlier, just don’t take yourself too seriously and have fun, you know, live in the day. You know, it’s so important not to get caught up in the past or the future and try to be there, you know, right now for the, for that kid that, that needs you be present, you know, when you’re there with them.
David Hirsch: Well, great advice, uh, to be present, can’t change the past. Don’t want to dwell on the past. You don’t know what the future holds, so if you worry too much about it or get too caught up in. All the different iterations of what could or might happen. You know, you’re robbing today, right? You’re robbing the energy from today,
Steven Duffley: right?
David Hirsch: So if somebody wants to get a hold of you get information on the mission possible podcast, how would they go about doing that? Well,
Steven Duffley: everything email@example.com and you can get ahold of us through there. There’s podcasts, there’s a store and there’s booking info. And it’s all being updated too.
So hopefully we’ll have a fresh face on that too. Coming up
David Hirsch: very soon. So that’s Christopher Duffley D U F F L E y.com. That’s it
Steven Duffley: that simple. And then my personal, if anyone wants to me personally, it’s just definitely.com. dot
David Hirsch: com. Steve, thank you for taking the time and many insights as reminders. Steve is just one of the dads who has agreed to be a Metro 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. Steve. Thanks again.
Steven Duffley: 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. 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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Thanks for listening. .