In this Dad to Dad Podcast we meet Rich Gathro. Rich and his wife Kathy are parents of two young adults, one of whom, Will, was born with a rare birth defect, Schizencephaly. We’ll hear the Gathro family story including how Will loves sports and ESPN.
Dad to Dad 54 – Rich Gathro, father of two young adults, including son, Will, who was born with a rare genetic disease, Schizencephaly.
Rich Gathro: We need to invite people into our lives and not be embarrassed or feel shame about our child. And the best advice we received was pushing him. You’ve got to keep pushing him to new horizons. That’s rich gastro, a retired career educator and father of two, including will, who had a rare birth defect called schizo and cephalad.
Tom Couch: We’ll hear the Gathro family story and hear among other things. How will went on to love sports and play baseball and basketball. That’s all 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 men. Our father’s 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 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 an intriguing conversation between Rick Gathro and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend Rick Gathro of St. Petersburg, Florida, a father of two children, and a retired peer educator. Rich, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Rich Gathro: It’s good to work with you, Dave,
David Hirsch: you and your wife, Kathy had been married for 41 years now. The proud parents of two children daughter Kay who’s 29 and son will.
Who’s 33, who was initially diagnosed with cerebral palsy and later with. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Rich Gathro: I, um, grew up in Connecticut, long Island sound. Growing up in the ocean has its ramifications. I’ve just recently had some treatment for skin cancer back then, you know, when you looked like a lobster, it was considered good.
And we now know many years later that it isn’t considered so good and family background, uh, My, uh, parents met right after the war. My father served in the war. He was from Massachusetts and she was from Ohio and they were introduced through a war buddy of my father’s. I have one brother he’s three years younger than me.
And we had a, I think an excellent childhood back then I think was simpler, less complex. We could disappear on the bike for the day. And there wasn’t a lot of worry back then we lived in a neighborhood that was full of postwar families. One of those mass neighborhood built right after the war. Just great childhood.
I’m still profoundly in touch with a couple of the guys I grew up with. I’m very grateful and thankful for my family background and where I grew up.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. It sounds a little Beaver Cleaver, like.
Rich Gathro: Yeah, well, I promise you, it wasn’t a went to Tufts city high school, which offered its own challenges.
You know, back growing up in the fifties a lot was hidden. A lot was not discussed things like alcoholism and abuse. You know, we had a friend that would, uh, regularly come to our house. He considered my father, his second father. And the reason is it turned out that he would come to our house. This his father was abusive.
And when his father was having an episode, he’d walk out and come up the street to us a lot is much more out in the open these days than once. Was it wasn’t I assure you it wasn’t leave. Leave it to Beaver.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, speaking of your dad, how would you describe the relationship with your dad?
Rich Gathro: I, um, I’m a.
Really grateful for the father that God provided. He was an overcomer and that is, he was a foster child himself, which is a story in and of itself. He, um, was from that generation that didn’t necessarily express words. Like I love you, didn’t express a lot of physical affection, but you just knew that, uh, The love was there.
He lived sacrificially, worked two jobs when he had to, to provide, he always took time to play with us. Boys, never hesitant to get down on the floor with us and like games with us or whatever. But I, I would emphasize the term overcomer in light of his background.
David Hirsch: Well, you had mentioned he was in world war II.
And I think that he was an athlete before that maybe you can describe a little bit of his upbringing.
Rich Gathro: Sure. Some of this information I picked up in his late years when I asked him if he’d liked to visit his hometown again, when he was in his early eighties, my dad again was in the foster care and his early foster memories were terrible memories.
But he settled with a farm family and they worked him, but they were good to him. And so he was in a rural town of Ashfield, Massachusetts. When we went to visit Ashfield, he let slip that in high school, he, as he was graduating, he was drafted by the Dodgers to play ball. His response was there’s a war.
David Hirsch: So you learned that at his age 80,
Rich Gathro: right?
Right. He was in his early eighties
David Hirsch: all your life. You never know. And drafted by the Dodgers.
Rich Gathro: I had never knew that. Wow. I knew he loved baseball and he taught me to play ball and he put a lot of time into teaching me to play ball, but he never said anything about being drafted. He just let it slip. As we were talking about.
The town he grew up in, in fact, when we visited the town, we met the catcher and pitcher on his team. My dad played shortstop. He said, you know, I was drafted by the Dodgers, but I had them fooled because I really had one of the best games I ever had when they came to watch me. And that’s how, that’s how you let it out.
But he said, rich, our country was at war and Amanda said, go play baseball. When his country’s at war, he goes to war. He’s got to serve his country. And the interesting piece of that story is it was because of the war. He met his mother because he enlisted at 17 and the Navy required his mother to sign off permission for him to enlist because he wasn’t 18.
And she shared that with her boss at the time who had some influence. And the boss said to her, would you like to meet your son? She said yes. And my father ship returns to port and the shore patrol waiting for him. And he said, what did I do? And they just said, come with us. And they went to a local bar and he met his mother for the first time since birth.
Oh my gosh. And the beautiful story surrounding that they had a good time together. He told me on his trip. He says we got drunk together. And we had a great time together. He said, but the beautiful story is he looked after her, the rest of her life. And I asked him, I said, did you ever love your mother?
And he said, I never knew her. So I can’t say that I loved her, but a man looks after his mother. Yeah. I’ll never forget that. So I had the privilege of getting to know her because of him
David Hirsch: that’s wild. So he grew up without a family right now. He was in this foster family. And that was what propelled him to go into world war II versus pursue this baseball dream that he must have had as a young man as well.
And I think, I remember you mentioning that, uh, he asked for the most dangerous assignments as a result of that.
Rich Gathro: Yes, that’s correct. He told me that when he joined the Navy, he said, gimme the most dangerous thing you have because no one will miss me. Now that wasn’t entirely true. I think his foster family really cared about him and, uh, he had one foster sister who literally taught him so much practical wisdom and common sense and took him to Sunday school and looked after him.
But nonetheless, he said, no, one’s going to miss me. You know, I’m in the whole world of whether you feel secure or not a person, his circumstance feels detached. They don’t think anyone will miss them. It creates a worldview. So, uh, he took that tough job at the time, which was serving as an armed guard. I won’t recall the Liberty ships.
Which we’re supplying England and Russia oil and other goods for the war effort. And so many of those Liberty ships were being sung by the German U boats. It’s a very dangerous job because when those Liberty ships went down, typically no one survived. In fact, he told me off of Murmansk in Russia. He watched the Liberty ship in front of him and behind him being sunk.
So, uh, it’s quite a story.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, it sounds like quite a man and thank God for men like him, the greatest generation, if you will, for the courage and bravery and the patriotism that they possessed, we wouldn’t be the country we are today, or take things for granted the way perhaps we do without none of that caliber.
So when you’re thinking about your dad and not to reduce it to one or two things, but was there any advice. You received or important lessons that, uh, you’ve carried on, you know, as a dad, yourself, because of something your dad said or something that he did,
Rich Gathro: he, um, he, more than once told me that you, you can’t control what others do, but you control what you do.
And, uh, he particularly taught me about the issue of prejudice. He could not stand prejudice of any kind. He, um, suffered prejudice, being a foster kid in a small town. He told me that when ever there was any kind of trouble, it was assumed he was causing it because he was the foster kid in town. But that built into him, anger towards prejudice.
I, um, vividly recall when I was early high school or late middle school. Using the wrong term for African Americans. And, uh, he looked at me and he said, you will never use that word again in this house. We not use that word again in this house. If you use it again, your things will be out on the street.
You judge people by who they are, not the color of their skin or their religious convictions. And I was just talking to my brother for his birthday yesterday and my brother recalled. How my dad was suggesting dating a certain girl and my brother objected due to her religious faith. And my dad gave him a lecture.
You judge pay people by who they are, not by the color of their skin or their religious faith. And, uh, you particularly pour that into us. He taught us to give our best, taught us to honor our family name. He, uh, Demonstrated with his own life and the way he treated people with kindness and grace, he was a very kind man, strong man.
He was strong enough physically and emotionally to stop a truck, but he had a big heart. I still remember him teaching us other things like only fight if you have to, because there’s always somebody stronger than you, but if you have to fight, fight, You know, that kind of thing. Just pray. He taught us a lot of practical wisdom.
He was never afraid to say, I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you. He’s never afraid to say that. And you know, as we traveled through life, one of the things we long for is our father’s passing and how always, I always felt his blessing. I mean, what more could I ask for from a father?
David Hirsch: Yeah, very powerful. Thank you for sharing what a amazing role model by the type of person they was.
And these pearls of wisdom. If I can call them that, that he was sharing with you and your brother growing up and, you know, the world would be a different place. If all dads were speaking those truths into their sons and daughters at such an early age, like you and your brother experienced. So thank you again, but were there any other father figures growing up?
Rich Gathro: Yes. I immediately think of two. One was my uncle, Ken who, uh, live with us when he was single and he had an insatiable curiosity and he imparted that to me. It was always talking with me about, uh, science technology and he was fascinated. With science and outer space. And he built his own airplane by hand.
Oh my yeah. And so IO that curiosity, one of most important parts of my life is curiosity and always seeking answers, always seeking information, always wishing to grow and understanding and wisdom. I owe a lot of that to him. Okay. And then I had a cousin. Bob cousin by marriage. Uh, Bob was the, uh, Navy buddy that to deliver my father to my mother, so to speak.
And, uh, he, uh, he was a great example too, of hard work. And, uh, you know, I still remember him teaching me how to improve my swing on a, with a baseball bat. No, that’s, there’s a boy to have men take interest in you. Uh, how do you, how do you measure the importance of that? Uh, when older men take interest in you had constructive positive ways and it was a Bob gave me my first job, uh, when I turned 16, you owned a furniture store and I delivered furniture for him.
And, uh, the, uh, He had never gone to college myself, but he advised me about going to college. I mean, so yeah, I’ve lived a blessed life by men, my bikes, and, uh, it goes on. I recognize I’m just, I’m very, very blessed. When I went off to college, a particular professor, dr. Howard boss took such an interest in me and I was not one of his better students, but he pushed me.
And he challenged me and, uh, he offered me a scholarship to study abroad. Uh, and when I I’ll never forget him shaking my hand when I graduated. And he said, I, I sorry. And emotional office, he shook my hand and said, I expect great things from you. Wow. How do you measure the value of that? It’s immeasurable to have people in your life.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you can look back and see the importance of that. Now, the role that, uh, your uncle Ken played, or the friend of your dad’s, I think you said his name was Bob who introduced your parents and, you know, helps you swing a baseball bat
Rich Gathro: Navy buddy.
David Hirsch: Yeah. And, uh, you know, people that play important roles along the journey like this, uh, professor, uh, Howard FOSS.
My recollection was that you went to Trinity when you were there or when you were graduating, what was it you think you were going to do with your
Rich Gathro: career? I’ve came across a quote that I have of my desk that says. Only fools think they are in control. Let go of how life ought to be and find joy somewhere in whatever your life is currently is.
Another quote over my desk is ruthlessly eliminate all expectations of how your day should be. I thought I would probably go into my father’s real estate and insurance business when I graduated, but I went into the Dean’s office to pick up my graduation down. And I was offered a job of college admissions counselor there at Trinity college in Deerfield, Illinois.
That was the beginning of my work in higher education. I soon discovered how much I enjoyed investing in those coming after me, just like those men that I named already. And I quickly learned that that really was my. HeartCry are HeartCry is something very different than our assignments, whatever jobs we take on, I believe God has a design on us.
That design for me was an end up in higher education. I Rose to being chief enrollment officer and we had student ambassadors. And I took the money. I was given to apply them blue blazers and gray slacks, and I took them camping and took them on trip to Washington, DC, and really invested in their development.
And I’m still in touch with a lot of those, uh, student ambassadors today. I discovered the joy of investing in, in students just like. My father, my uncle, my professor, all of them invested in me. There aren’t a lot of benefits to growing a lot older, but one of them is, is you can look back and see design.
You can see design even in failure and humiliating situations. As you discover things about yourself.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Will you remind me of that iconic? Steve jobs, commencement address from Stanford university for your member. He did not graduate from college and he went to college. Uh, it wasn’t Stanford. It was another Northern California school whose name escapes me.
Rich Gathro: Right.
David Hirsch: And he dropped out and he started automating classes. I think it was calligraphy or something. And there he was. Standing there at the pinnacle of his career. This is probably a better part of a decade ago. Now, speaking to some of the smartest, you know, graduates in our country, the graduating class at Stanford university and imparting his wisdom.
Right. And part of that was you can’t connect the dots going forward. You can only connect the dots looking backwards, which is sort of what you just said. You know, when you look back over your career or over your life, And it was some of those experiences that he was relating to the graduating class,
Rich Gathro: right.
David Hirsch: Dropping out, studying calligraphy and calligraphy is what you know was fused by Apple. Right. And some of the design elements of what would become the Apple computer and the different fonts. That were utilized early on, you know, at the beginning of when we all started to use personal computers,
Rich Gathro: if I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.
Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards. 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
David Hirsch: And he went on to tell a very touching story and very compelling story and, you know, for right or wrong people who are gazillionaires like Steve job was before he passed away, their message seems to carry more weight, right? Because of the extreme success. They’ve experienced, which is mostly measured in dollars and cents for good or bad.
That’s just the way, you know, a lot of people think, and that message has resonated that has gone viral. I think it’s been viewed tens of millions of times, and it’s one of my all time favorite commencement addresses. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, but I’ve watched it. A lot of times, right.
And I shared that, like I’m sharing here as an inspiration to anybody, especially young people who are closer to the beginning of their career and sort of wondering, you know, where am I going? How am I going to do things and not to worry about that, but just be passionate about whatever you’re pursuing.
And hopefully you too will be able to look back and say, I can look backwards and connect those dots. Right. I can see the plan or the design that God had for my life. So, thank you so much for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know, how did you and Cathy meet?
Rich Gathro: I met Cathy in early 1977. She was visiting Washington DC, and she’d been given my name as someone to meet and see what I was doing at the time I was living out by the university of Maryland and I was running something called national student leadership.
Which engaged university campus leadership students with an offer of speakers to come and talk about the moral and spiritual dimensions of leadership. And she came by, uh, to me, me and she subsequently came to partner with me in October of 77. We fell into like, and our, as our relationship grew, we.
Traveling on campuses and living in dormitories and student apartments and having all kinds of opportunity to really see each other at our best and worst. Our relationship grew into a deep friendship. I was given tickets by a professional hockey player to one of his games in Washington, in November.
And, uh, we had our first quote unquote date where I asked her if she wanted to go to the game with me and the relationship just grew from there. And by January 31st, I proposed to her and we were married in may of 78. Wow. And she is my partner in all things, you know, um, some people have the mistaken idea that, uh, one partner is to dominate the other.
But, uh, we live in mutual submission to each other. We belong together. We, we see each other, we supplement each other. There’s all kinds of arguments about the nature of marriage, but our, our marriage is one of great partnership. We’re very much dependent on each other’s counsel and that has proven, indispensable as we’ve faced the challenges of two, uh, adopted children.
Both of them with disabilities.
David Hirsch: so share with me the process for adopting well, and then when and how you discovered that he had this diagnosis,
Rich Gathro: but we, um, Hadn’t been trying for years to have children engaged in medical alternatives, et cetera. And that’s a whole story in of itself. And occasionally talked about adoption, but, uh, for a good period of time, one of us would be serious about it.
And the other would not be serious about it. But one day we both sort of woke up and said, let’s adopt the rest is history. We applied through a group called Bethany Christian services and, um, Fairly quickly for adoption, uh, were accepted and moved through the process.
David Hirsch: So you adopted well at what edge?
Rich Gathro: He, um, he arrived in our home when he was six weeks old, back in 1985.
Okay. Had Rina or before, or, uh, Kate or Kat, uh, arrived in 1989.
David Hirsch: And what age was she? Uh,
Rich Gathro: she was, uh, a little older. She was, uh, About six months old.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, through Bethany,
Rich Gathro: both through Bethany, her adoption was held up to this complicating family situations. Okay.
David Hirsch: So, um, we’ll get adopted at six weeks in 1985.
And, uh, how long was it before you thought or knew something was up or the diagnosis was made? Well,
Rich Gathro: he, he quickly had. Health issues. Uh, we spent the first couple of years of his life rocking him in his sleep quite often. Uh, he had difficulty breathing in the first couple years of his life. Uh, we alternated nights where we held him, rocking him.
So he was sitting up, um, they called me the raccoon at work because I developed these dark circles under my eyes
as he matured. And was approaching several months old. We realized there was something wrong. I would tickle him on his right foot and he would giggle and tickle him on his left foot. And he would look at me curious, and, uh, he wasn’t, um, meeting the markers, um, that a child should meet. And when they’re several months old and so we pursued, uh, Medical examination and ended up at Georgetown university hospital with a neurologist who informed us that, uh, our son had cerebral palsy showed us the cat scans and the significant portion of his brain was missing.
Uh, told us that, uh, upon basic examination, he would potentially never. Be able to sit up or walk or speak or communicate very discouraging report. My first words were, Oh, I’ll never get to see my son play little league. Is that what you’re saying? And he said yes, but children surprise us all the time.
That was one little Ray of hope from this neurologist who had didn’t have the greatest bedside manner, but he, um, Elise said that and, uh, we went home and wept. Called our friends. I don’t know where we would be without friendship, friends who have supported us through all these, the fierce kick, the a dear couple who love our children so much as we’d love their children so much.
So that was a beginning of our experience with special needs. And it’s been quite a journey.
David Hirsch: So the diagnosis starts out as CP. And over time from what I recall more of send to, or is further diagnosed more specifically as she has in Cephalonia. And what is that and what what’s transpired since that diagnosis?
Rich Gathro: Yeah, that’s a diagnosis that could not be completed unless the brain was examined after death until the advent of the MRI. It’s really interesting when Will’s diagnosis was initially communicated, who are friends, a friend, us Senator named Hatfield called me and said, I’m calling you about two things.
We, um, there’s a new thing at the national Institute of health called MRI, which can, uh, explore his brain much more profoundly. The other thing he said is. The other primary reason I’m calling is just to remind you that you’re not alone and that’s made a lot of difference, but the MRI was able to diagnose this kid since athlete is Giffen seflie is a failure essentially for the brain not to complete itself in gestation or much in gestation as the cells are crumbling along the nervous system.
A failure to complete at the base leads to spinal bifida, failure to complete the brain is schizo unsafely, and, uh, he is missing a significant part of his brain, particularly the frontal lobes. Wow. Failure to develop. They’re not, they’re still not sure what the exact cause is that may be genetic. It may be a vaccine or accident.
They’re not sure. They just know it happens in gestation.
David Hirsch: So about what age would, will have been when this MRI technology came to be, and the diagnosis was made,
Rich Gathro: uh, that let’s get this Heffley diagnosis was done. And really when he was, uh, six years old, that specific diagnosis, I remember it well because I was taking a graduate course in neurobiology and I made schizos athlete my project.
And again, Do the MRI being relatively new, everyone was fascinated. I actually went over to Georgetown hospital and they put the MRI up on the screen and all these doctors gathered around me to look at it with me. Uh, my professor was very impressed with all of the primary research research that I did on this topic, but the medical community was as fascinated as, as I was looking at.
Nature of the diagnosis.
David Hirsch: So you’ve got the diagnosis. He’s about six years old. You’re research this there’s a lot of people involved in sort of the fascination of it because it’s a new technology. And I’m wondering if that helped with the different types of therapy that you would pursue knowing more precisely what the diagnosis was and then how did it all transpire?
Rich Gathro: He continued with pretty much the same therapies that he’d been under with the, with the title cerebral palsy, because cerebral palsy is a connection between brain and body. It was eyeopening to recognize that he had serious brain deficiencies, but pretty much the physical therapy and speech therapy. Um, Occupational therapy all continued, uh, as it would have under normal cerebral palsy.
I tell you, the therapeutic community is such a servant community. I don’t know what all to say except the support of therapists. So was so profound to us. And we’ll special education teacher in preschool. Very gifted needed an apartment. And we had built one in the basement of our house and she moved in that apartment and became will second mother.
And, uh, she is trustee of his estate when we’re gone. And. If you read my business card or my, uh, email life is 99% about relationships. Everything else is just details. That’s what I say. All else is just details. Life is 99% about relationships. And so that special ed teacher was a gift. We need to invite people into our lives and not be embarrassed to ask for help, not be embarrassed or feel shame about our child.
No. It said there, her five emotions that we wrestled with one is fear and other sadness, others, happiness, and others, anger, and another shame you grapple with all five of those emotions when you have a special needs child.
David Hirsch: Wow. That’s a lot to digest, but I think the point you were making about a need to invite people in your lives and not be ashamed, right.
Or to. Care about what other people think, because you said earlier, you can’t control what other people do or think for that matter. And you have to have the courage of your own convictions or maybe the safe, right. That while you can’t see, you might not be able to understand that things are going to be okay.
Not perfect as an okay. Perfect. But things are going to transpire and it’s going to be okay. And I don’t know how people do this without faith. So I’m wondering if there’s any, was there any meaningful advice that you and Kathy got early on that helped you, you know, sort of bolster yourself or develop a little competence and the journey ahead is unknown as it might’ve been,
Rich Gathro: we had conversations with people who had special needs, children that were older, and the best advice we received was push him.
Push him don’t let him be spoiled or lazy. Don’t cater to him where upon he doesn’t develop himself. You’ve got to keep pushing him to new horizons. That was actually very good advice. I’ve seen special needs. Parents who quite naturally do all this compensation in their child’s life. And they ended up having that child placed unnecessary demands on them.
Not necessarily demands, but unnecessary demands because the child gets used to being the center world. In fact, they’re a related issue to that is a divorce is extremely high, among special needs parents because one parent become so absorbed in the child. To the detriment of their relationship with the spouse when I coached little league, but by the way, my son ended up playing little league through the challenger division in our County.
I observed how there tended to only be one parent engaged and really raising a special needs child is best. When you have a two parent situation, you can’t always have that. Of course can’t always have that, but. Both parents need to lock into the development of this child for the good of their own relationship.
And they need to have open communication when they feel like the other spouse is not giving spousal engagement. Like they should. It’s a tremendous challenge to a marriage just really is a tremendous challenge that can’t be ignored. You have to not be afraid to a counseling. If going gets tough. We’ve been through counseling.
It, it helped immensely. We, human beings, again, needs a lot of support and encouragement through life. Uh, it’s all about relationships.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what I heard you say is that some of the advice you got was to push them, don’t cater to him. Um, and what I’ve heard, I think it’s a common thread with the families that have had more success than average.
Is that if you were to do all these things to compensate for what he apparently is enabled to do himself, or it would be quicker, more expedient in the short term just to do things right. Just because you know, you’re in a hurry or you’re impatient that. You unintentionally are further handicapping your child, not intentionally, but you realize maybe months or years down the road by not pushing by not slowing down and letting him try to figure things out himself.
You’ve inadvertently handicapped your child. And that’s not just children with special needs. That could be said of the typical community as well. Yeah. And, you know, these helicopter parents that come in and hover, right. And they’re just quick to pick their kids up, you know, if they bruise themselves or they fall, you know, they just want to be right there.
And I think that our kids, our society is at a disadvantage when parents don’t let their kids be kids and let them experience things and it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to fall down. Um, you know, and the true Testament is once you. Tripped or fallen seven times. The most important thing is just to make sure you get up the top and, uh, to keep moving forward.
So thank you for sharing that.
Rich Gathro: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering what impact Will’s situation has had on Kate, his younger sister, or for the rest of your family, your extended family for that matter.
Rich Gathro: Um, when it comes to Kate, it’s had a very significant impact on her profound impact on her. And in a situation where the older child has disabilities, there’s a unique challenge to enable the younger children to feel loved and important and cherished as well.
Put yourself in this situation. Okay. We’re we’re going out tonight. Katie, you get dressed while we dress will. Now, what does that say to a little girl? It says that a little girl, Will’s more important. They’re gonna dress him. And I have to get dressed myself. You know, you have to be really on guard because we see in Kate a much greater need for reassurance that she’s loved than we see in will now in their older years.
And I think it stems from all that attention will receive, uh, and her observing it and not understanding it at all. And I think psychologically, she needs reassurance. And now Kathy and I are very deliberate in that reassurance, consequently, but nonetheless, there is a caution there with your younger children, a man needs to take.
His daughter out for a date for dinner, into a move here, whatever. And to say, I love you, that kind of thing.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. There’s a lot more known today about the important about sibling relationships than ever before. There’s organizations that are popping up that are focused on siblings and you know, it’s not lost on most parents that when there’s a special need.
There’s an extra amount of resources that are directed energy. That’s directed to the child with special needs and the unintended consequences, the impact that it might have on the other children, that siblings. Yeah, I think going into it with both eyes open and being able to balance that, and it’s not as if you have two children aged to get 50%, like it’s equal, but there’s gotta be some equity.
And, you know, being observant of the circumstances and aware of the bigger picture, uh, will help ensure that each one of the children in a family, you know, uh, is as whole, and has the opportunity to develop to their full ability. So again, thanks for sharing. I’m wondering, um, if there’ve been some supporting organizations that you’ve relied on for Will’s benefit.
You mentioned challenger baseball, which you coached, you mentioned the special ed teacher, the one in particular and preschool. I think it was a, that moved in to the apartment that you have that developed this super close relationship with your family. But were there any other individuals or organizations that, that instrumental role on Will’s development
Rich Gathro: in terms of individuals?
I just can’t emphasize the importance of good friends, but, um, organizations. Yeah. First of all, special Olympics. I don’t know how acquainted you are with the Myers Briggs type inventory and personality test, or there’s four letters for you. Well, we’d like to say that Mar sons four letters are ESPN. He loves sports.
He always knows who’s being traded to who and, but special Olympics have brought him a lot of joy. He’s won all kinds of ribbons in soccer and basketball. And I can’t praise that organization enough. As he grew into his teen years, he developed a great deal of loneliness. Special needs folks. Often their circle of relationships are caregivers and not peers.
And, um, Long came this organization called young life, which works in high schools and a division of young life called Ernie and partnership. Capernaum was the place where four friends lowered their paralyzed friend through a roof to Jesus and where Jesus eel is paralytic, but it’s a movement in the high schools reaching out to teens.
Special needs and disabilities. Okay. As we’ll entered the high school years, he would actually cry himself to sleep and loneliness. And Kathy and I O prayed broken hearts for him. And a friend came to the door to see Kathy, her name was Pam Harmon. And she said, I know I’m middle-aged and so forth and so on.
But I want to tell you what I’m. Getting involved to the young life. Kathy immediately thought she was coming to ask for financial support. And Pam said, you don’t understand, I’m going to start work with teenagers that are disabled in high school. And I want to start with your son. And I want the first club on the East coast to be his school, Kathy, just bald.
And she started that first club and all of Will’s special needs companion started showing up for that pizza parties. And then they had camp. Now, Pam Harmon is vice president of young life in charge of this work all across the nation called Capernaum wonderful, wonderful woman, but I’ll never forget we’ll going off camp.
They made videos and this kid. Would watch these videos of that experience for hours. When the bus returned from camp, I had to carry him off the bus because his feet were blistered so badly and he was exhausted. And they said to me, he said to me, we’ll never slept for a week because he didn’t want to miss anything.
He, um, just benefited greatly by that later Katie did. Of course, uh, unfortunately Katie’s disabilities. Um, We’re not as great then. So she had, was able to function at a higher level and didn’t experience some of the loneliness that we’ll experienced. Now, again, along the way, there are other organizations we had will in a group home when he turned 22, you know, in the corner of the law, that the care for special needs children runs through age 22.
The services tend to decline dramatically at age 22 because of certain laws and regulations and turn at 22, we discovered this group home in Texas called cornerstone ranch, where a friend’s child had moved to it’s a wonderful place. And we moved in there for 10 years. He had just a great experience becoming a Texan.
He. Began to deny being a Virginian and began to declare he was texting and his favorite sports stay, remain Texas teams. And now here in Florida, now that he’s back with us, there’s a various organization here that we’re very grateful for. Um, there’s an organization here founded by a woman who has a brother with special needs, who noticed that.
The special needs folks don’t have enough social life and what she does with her organization called hello, hug, hug, and an acronym for help us gather is she puts on social events. There’s usually something every month, whether it’s a Valentine’s party or Halloween party, or they have actually a kind of a prom do all these social events, uh, very, very, very special.
And Will’s plugged into that. We’ve plugged into a local Methodist church on Wednesday nights that has a worship service for special needs children and their families called handy capable, especially as parents need to network with each other and discover where the gaps are and work together to see that they’re
David Hirsch: filled.
Yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing. In fact, I’m familiar with the cornerstone ranch. I was introduced to those folks through some friends and Cynthia and David do an amazing job with the cornerstone ranch there in McKinney, Texas. So a big shout out to them. But, uh, I do remember you telling me that most of the years there were.
Transformative for will. It was just the right place that added this balance to your family. But every parent should experience that type of transition, you know, with their son or daughter who ages out of the educational system, you know, beyond age 22. But I also remember you telling me that there was a really raw experience of that led to Will’s departure.
And I’m wondering if you can share that because this is the real world. Things don’t always work out that way to everybody’s expectation. And you know, there’s some twists and turns along the way.
Rich Gathro: Absolutely. We learn more from our failures than our successes. That’s for sure. We learn more about ourselves from our failures and where things don’t work out after in about his ninth year things weren’t going as well.
Uh, and that accelerated. First of all, we believe that he wasn’t on the right medication. He, uh, began telling a counter volunteer counselor there that he was discouraged and depressed, and they encouraged us to put him on Zoloft, which is a miracle drug for some people. But for him, it accentuated, uh, impulsivity.
Oh, he’s on a medication for impulsivity as well, but it really, really enhanced his impulsivity. And he became very frustrated where most of the rest of us were fairly docile and cooperative. He was more independent minded and one of the more higher functioning residents and he became more disagreeable.
And finally, to a point of, uh, of explosion. Where the board for your potential liability and, uh, much to our great frustration and despair and asked him to leave. And he stunned. He was absolutely stunned via asked to leave. It was very, it was a divorce. Uh, no one does well with divorce. And it was a divorce after those 10 years painful divorce, but the people are cornerstone or good people like, and they made some changes in leadership.
Since then at any rate, we were back in Washington, D C with Wale. We had brought him home to take a break due to some explosions down there. And we were in Washington D C with will and got the call. He’s not to come back. Now I insisted that I bring impact for closure and pick up his things. They offered to ship his things.
And I said, no way, that’s cold. We’re coming back to have some closure. It was a painful, painful breach, but he would always, when he talked about cornerstone express, such love and gratefulness and appreciation for the people there and the surrounding community, but at any rate, there’s a happy ending. So to speak to the story, In that we had to bring him home here to Florida.
And for months he was filled with despair. I took him for professional counseling. I immediately took him off the Zoloft. I sense that that was an incorrect medication for him. The, the medical team here also, uh, agreed with me. That’s all off. Can do funny things to people and we’ll have a unique brain at any rate.
Uh, he’s no longer on any kind of antidepressant and he’s having a ball here as he’s network here, very happy, but he still has great affection for cornerstone. And the happy ending is two of my favorite students from Pepperdine university running their Washington D C program. Two of my favorite students were marrying each other and I was invited to their wedding.
Then I noticed the best man who was one of my favorite students was going to be there and so forth, so on. And so I came up with a bright idea. Let’s go to Texas for the wedding and have a reunion at cornerstone and to Cornerstone’s credit, they jumped at the idea and they threw will a wonderful reception.
Party banners up welcome back will and so forth and so on. And it was a joyful, joyful point of reconciliation and peace over that. The breakup, when we left will, who uses an assistive technology device type in basically, that was wonderful, bad, but I’m now a Floridian. I want to live in Florida. I am thriving in Florida.
So we have, we have peace again, relationships, there’s a businessman, but a bit younger than me that I met, who asked if I’d be willing to meet with him. It heard me speak in Tampa and came up to me and asked if I’d be willing to have coffee with him once a week for awhile to quote unquote, mentor him.
Now, I believe mentoring is co-mentoring, but anyways, so I began to meet with him and wheel came home. I brought will along. And quickly discovered I couldn’t get a word in edge wise and this young, younger businessman, Rob now meets with him every week to mentor. Well,
David Hirsch: wow.
Rich Gathro: And have a wonderful relationship.
Basically. I’m telling you about the importance of thankfulness for what we have, where we’re blessed by what we’ve encountered here in Pinellas County, Florida, networking with parents. Again, often a single parent caring for the special needs community. I never, when Kathy and I never thought part of our calling would be to the special needs community, but you have to pay attention to what’s in front of your nose.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. It sounds like that was a roller coaster of an experience. The exit from cornerstone.
Rich Gathro: Oh, an emotional roller coaster. It was a tragedy for us at the time, but as a happy ending. Yeah, of course. Now our concern is we’re getting older and what happens for we’ll next as parents of special needs folks, you’ve got to think about estate planning.
You think about where are they going to go when you no longer provide the care. You’ve got to think ahead about those kinds of
David Hirsch: things. Well, that issue still needs to be resolved. So that’s the work in progress. That’s what I hear you saying.
Rich Gathro: Yes. Yeah. So
David Hirsch: let’s talk about Kate for a moment. She’s the younger adopted sister, right?
And if I was following the math about four years younger and she had a typical upbringing, um, until a certain age and she had her own life and death, healthcare challenges as well.
Rich Gathro: Absolutely. Absolutely. God bless her shit. She’s an overcomer. She’s my overcomer daughter on the challenges she’s faced as a young child, she had terrible hearing problems due to infections, and that got her off to a slow start, but it was nothing like what you would face when she was 10 years old.
And we noticed first that there was something strange about her walk, all of a sudden, and then she started hallucinating. That first, we thought there were just some bad dreams, but it got worse. So we sought medical care. Well, there’s an interesting story there too. The neurologist called us in Indiana where I was receiving an honorary doctorate.
One of the highlights of my life to be told that my daughter has a mass in the center of her brain.
David Hirsch: Oh my God.
Rich Gathro: Yeah. And um, that, to me defined the word terror. I’ve never been a fearful person, but I been terrorized. When you find out your child has a mass in the center of their brain. Fortunately, we had a friend that was a pediatric oncologist and she quarterbacked us in a lot of ways, but her initial diagnosis, they thought she had a stage four glioblastoma, which is a killer medical science that advanced the point where they could do some things and do.
Some surgery and so forth that hadn’t been done. We’ll never forget being in that waiting room with a dozen of our friends. When the surgeon came in, asked for the gathros or 15 people stood up and the surgeon goes, I’m never wrong, I’m never wrong. I thought this was a glioblastoma, but it looks like a penial glioma to me.
And it’s not supposed to be there. I’ve sent it off to two labs just to confirm, well, now appeal glioma. If it occurs after puberty is exceptionally dangerous, but before puberty or in the first years of a child, much more dangerous. But, um, we felt like she was delivered and uh, cause she wasn’t supposed to potentially even live.
Now it did damage. Uh, she’d lost some memory. She lost fine motor skills, but on the last through radiation and surgery, she was delivered from it. And it was a magnificent experience. Again, support from friends all around the world. Again, I was in higher education and I received an email from a group of Russian friends running, where I ran a study abroad program.
Former KGB agents telling me that they had a prayer meeting for, I mean, people prayed for us all over the world. There’s amazing. And we think it was a miracle that she had the PDL glioma instead of the glioblastoma age 10. She had that. It was a terrifying experience. Sadly, at age 21, she had a stroke and they’ve discovered that when a child’s been had radiation in their brain, It’s not unusual to have a stroke in that region.
In later years, the stroke further effects speech for the expected fine motor skills, but she’s a fighter that kid I’m so proud of her. She is a fighter it’s packed. Today’s her birthday and she’s married lives in the South side of Lana. And she’s a tiger. Well,
David Hirsch: let’s have a shout out for Kate happy birthday and, uh, you are blessed in so many different ways.
Um, you’ve had these life threatening rollercoaster type challenges and somehow some way through prayer, through faith, um, have been able to persevere, um, that doesn’t always turn out that way. No,
Rich Gathro: I’m just grateful. I’m
David Hirsch: wondering what role spirituality has played in your life and your family’s life?
Rich Gathro: Well, you know, established religions like organized God, but, but I don’t believe that God is, uh, it can be organized.
He organizes us and our, our absolute reliance, not only Kathy and me on each other spiritually. And I would say, I am blessed with a wife who to put it in colloquial language kicks my butt spiritually. Uh, I don’t want to do without each other spiritually, but again, our community of friends who understand the difference between Jesus who came for us, who both divine and human, who sets the example for us.
Who wants us to experience union with God, the difference between that and just establish religion and Christianity. I don’t know what we do without our companions and Jesus and each other. There are moments you cry out in despair. I envy those people who claim. They never doubt. Uh, I brewed, but when I’m done with my brooding, I recognize, um, There’s something much larger than me.
That’s and that’s a God who loves us and watches over us and directs our paths. Our faith is, has been central. Our children share our faith though. Both of them went through great periods of rejecting our faith in their teens. They’ve both come through and, uh, we have a family that prays together. And it makes a big difference.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I know that there’s this old Axiom. I can think it came out of our parents’ generation. I’ll call it the greatest generation. And the advice I remember getting as a young business person was don’t talk about politics or religion. And I understand why I got that advice from my revered.
Father figure my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, because it’s controversial or it can be controversial, both politics and religion can be controversial. But the unintended consequence of not talking about politics, not talking about religion is you don’t develop a vocabulary. It doesn’t become part of who you are.
Right. And your daily routine, you’re sort of hiding your shielding and that’s the unintended consequence. So not letting politics or religion play a more. Important role in our lives. So again, I want to thank you for being so transparent and forthcoming about it. Sure. I’m curious to know why is it that you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the special fathers network?
Rich Gathro: It’s it’s not all that complex. All my life. People invested in me and I’m game and ready to invest in others.
David Hirsch: You do have a history of, uh, yeah. Uh, helping others. I do outline that from a very young age.
Rich Gathro: I see the impact of mentoring. We all want to be known as human being. We want to, you know, when all is said and done, we want to love and be loved when we’re loved, we thrive.
So I’m delighted to be a mentor father. I don’t claim to have all the answers. But, uh, yeah, I’m here to say, you can do this. You can make it. You can’t make it alone, though. Thank you. Rugged individualism is going to be the answer here on raising these children. You have companions and you need those companions, and that is the order of creation.
We need companions and, uh, I don’t know what I do without those companions.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re thrilled to have you thank you for being part of the network and let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friends at Johnny and friends, as well as the cornerstone ranch for putting us in contact with one another.
Rich Gathro: Oh yeah. I forgot to mention Johnny and friends. Fantastic organization. The privilege of meeting Johnny years ago. She then followed it up and sending me all kinds of materials for will fantastic organization. Fantastic. Yeah, I
David Hirsch: think it was, I first learned about you and reading Doug Maza and Steve Bundy, his book, another kind of courage.
You were one of the dads that they profiled and I thought, no, I need the meat bridge. Cathro and it took a while. But, uh, I think it is divine intervention that we’re having this conversation and that we’ve made one another’s acquaintance. And I really am looking forward to learning what God has in store for our
Rich Gathro: relationship.
You bet, Dave pleasure to get to know you, Dave. Thank you.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Rich Gathro: Oh, well, when you pointed to the book, another kind of courage. I would just mentioned that I have a plaque in my closet, and it’s a quote from John Wayne courage being scared to death, but saddling up anyways.
Okay. I read that when I would, I get dressed in the morning cause you face life challenges saddle up anyways, you know,
David Hirsch: great advice. Thank you.
Rich Gathro: What do you find a little bit fun? Great. Greatly, greatly deep spiritual thought.
David Hirsch: So same. So, uh, if someone wants to get information on shits in cephalad or contact you, how would they go about doing
Rich Gathro: that? Uh, with my email, uh, simplest way. And it’s easy email. It’s our email@example.com. Gathro is spelled G as in George, a T as in Tom, H R O R firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoot me an email. Correct.
David Hirsch: Rich, thank you for taking the time. And many insights as reminder, rich is just one of the dads is a grade 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. Rich, thanks again.
Rich Gathro: My pleasure.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast produced by couch audio for the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process.
New fathers with special needs children. Connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers, go to 21st centurydads.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.
Tom Couch: If you enjoy our podcast, be sure to like us on Facebook and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts. I’m Tom Couch. Thanks for listening.