Dad to Dad 56 – Chicago singing legend Wayne Messmer, a special Grandfather and Grand “Dude”..
Wayne Messmer: Know, the voice.
Tom Couch: He is Wayne Mesmer and he sung the national Anthem for years for every sports team and he’s been on TV, the radio on the stage, on the screen, and then it all stopped.
Wayne Messmer: As I hit the gas to pull out people’s trigger nine millimeter shot, point blank in the neck. What do you do? What’d you do? What do you do? What do you do? But through grit and determination, he came back. He came back to sing and he came back to be with his family.
Including his granddaughter, Jamie who has special needs. And in this dad to dad podcast, Wayne Mesmer tells his story to host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad, podcast, fathers, mentoring fathers that filled them with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Wayne Messmer: 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 father. It’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. As David Hirsch talks to our special guest Wayne Messmer.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my good friend, Wayne Messmer of Glenville, and now a father of two children, grandfather of four professional speaker gifted singer, author, actor, broadcaster, and business owner. Wayne. Thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview.
Wayne Messmer: You know, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation cause there’s the mission itself is something that I, that I clearly see the need to just reach out to those who, uh, who find this particular topic of fatherhood and the importance of it.
Uh, I’m willing to share my story and, uh, it’s going to be with you.
David Hirsch: Fabulous. While you are the first grandfather interview. So you’re breaking the glass ceiling. You’re breaking some type of ceiling.
So you and your wife, Kathleen had been married for 35 years and are the proud parents of two daughters, Jennifer 49 and Stephanie 46, as well as a grandson and three granddaughters, including Jamie who has G S D type one a, which I understand is a glycosylation storage disease.
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Wayne Messmer: I am a South side kid from Chicago city boy raised in Brighton park, which is kind of a ethnic area at the time we were there. It was a predominantly Polish Lithuanian. So South side. Yeah. Uh, went to a Catholic grammar school.
Loved it. Alter boy, five, Holy martyrs, which by the way was where the, uh, Pope John Paul, the second Saint John Paul, the second, actually Saint John Paul said his mass in his Polish language when he came to Chicago in the late seventies. And it was a happy existence. Nice middle-class little family where people kept their lawns.
Well, and the doors were kept open and you’d sit on the front porch and. Play and I would bounce a ball off the front porch and my brother, uh, bud and I buddy, and I threatened, uh, we’d be in the backyard plan, a home run Derby. It was a fun family where we, where we grew up, my dad was a good, hardworking guy.
He’d come home and I can still smell machine shop on somebody. What did he do? And he was a tool and die maker, worked a fairly close to home. And a mom was a stay at home mom, but she had worked at different points during her lifetime as mom, older sister Barb. And then the three years later, my brother, buddy.
And then three years later, me and then 16 years later, my sister, Tina, my dad used to describe it as something unexpected came up and dad was a guy who showed by example, world war II guy. Very proud of it, very private, very protective of his family. Good role model. I think of a husband and a father. And what a good solid citizen looked like using the use of dear, dear man.
David Hirsch: How would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Wayne Messmer: I think it was great. He was Wayne also. And, uh, he was Wayne, D as in David switches was his mother’s maiden name. And, uh, and I’m waiting Peter, Peter. I remember. One of the things that always drove me and nearly everything I did was I would never disgrace my dad’s hand.
So to me, I’m borrowing the name Wayne from my bad. The grandkids, Carson and Campbell who are up in Milwaukee area. Wallatosa, uh, they call me granddad, but I kinda took an interpretation of that. And they bought me a shirt that says the phrase that I like grand dude, grand dude. Well, it’s a man. It sounds much more than grandpa.
I’m all. Oh yeah. I would not do the grandpa, but grand dude. I think that’s me. And then the other two little ones have in Hinsdale, Jamie and her little brother Camden’s as I refer to as the Prince, he a and Jamie called me Daddo D hate deal.
David Hirsch: Saddle. You have
Wayne Messmer: two names. I got, yeah, I have two and an alternative.
You know, so you have to be flexible in these troubled times and the, you know, so those are the relationships that I’ve always had. It’s in terms of family are incredibly important. Uh, very close to my sister. Uh, my brother, every time he comes in town, he lives in upstate New York and, and, and my, my little baby sister, uh, who’s now about to, uh, she’s well, geez, I think she’s 51.
It’s hard to believe all the time passes, but, uh, that’s always been my thing. Faith, family. And friends in that order. So
David Hirsch: back to your dad, you’d said that he was a great role model in so many different ways. I’m wondering if
Wayne Messmer: there’s
David Hirsch: an important lesson or takeaway that comes to mind when you think about your dad?
Wayne Messmer: Probably one of the most significant conversations he ever had with me was really more of just a monologue. You know, it’s like you’re going to listen to this because I was always so extremely respectful of my parents. But, uh, I remember one time he sat down and just kind of laid it out concern, you know, you’re probably gonna get angry at me from time to time for one reason or another.
And I think I never get angry, you know, but I’m okay. And, uh, and he said, you know, you, and if you want to refer to me as your old man, you probably will sometime never in my life would I, or did I, but he said it. And you know what? I can understand that. But if I ever hear you saying anything negative about your mother, Whoa, we’re going to have to talk about that.
Wow. Sorry. I never would, but I mean, I remember that, like it was yesterday. I was in a sitting on the bottom of our bunk bed that my brother and I had in his little, little bedroom. That we shared. And, uh, I said, Don, don’t worry, dad. I made that promise really from my heart. And I think it was, this is what a husband and a father does communicating a message.
You know, this matters to me. I mean, you know, I mean, I, I signed up for lifetime at that point.
David Hirsch: It sounds like there’s a common phrase. That’s talked about within the fatherhood circles, is that the most important thing you can do for your children is love
Wayne Messmer: their mother. Oh my gosh. Yes.
David Hirsch: And demonstrate that or show that repeatedly.
And your dad was out there, you know, very intentional or proactive about getting the message to you about
Wayne Messmer: how important that was. Yeah, there was, there was no confusion. There are no gray area and it helped me significantly because much, like you said, the best thing you can do. Is give them an example when nobody’s looking of how much you care for their mother.
I mean, the advice that I would give to people who are step fathers,
David Hirsch: like you were, are, are,
Wayne Messmer: are, and, uh, and, and proudly display a trophy it’s over from the fatherhood initiative. That guy right there. Yeah. I’m looking at. That is very important to me and I, when I came back for the dinner last year, again, the schedule worked, maybe it was a serendipitous that I had that night available, but then it became, I have to go.
I have to go. And I have to give that little message of how important this really is. And maybe you don’t get it right now, but 10 years from now, you’re going to walk by the shelf and look at that thing and say that. That meant something, because this is where it triggers the sometimes the true value of a moment has never realized until it becomes a memory,
open your eyes, you know, hug your kids, pay your dog. You know, I remember, uh, New year’s Eve, but we’ll get, my brother was involved in is again, new wife at the time. Correct. My uncle used to, I always identify his current wife as his future ex. He was from LA. He was a beauty. I
David Hirsch: always introduced Peggy as my first
Wayne Messmer: wife.
It’s always nice. Better. His last might be a better word and he she’ll say you’re right about that. So here’s what I talk about. My amazing wife, who now is a hospice volunteer. I am never surprised. I am just more mystified at who it is that I’m married to, you know, but I saw her do that with the other most important woman in my life who was my mom who had a very slow decline and it was painful.
And Kathleen was her angel. Just tremendous. And I think one of the greatest gifts that a guy can have is to have a wife who is not only friends with. Close friends with his mother. I loved my mom. So, so much that it’s still difficult three years after she’s gone for me to, you know, to just think about it.
But she’s always, she’s always with me, you know, as his, as his dad, which is cool about having my dad had the, I could imitate his voice. You don’t just call me son appropriately because I’m his son, but I say, Hey dad, Hello son. That will be it. That’s exactly it. So I could, I could kind of at any moment, say hello pillows, and he’ll say hello back.
That’s kind of fun. That’s the beauty of genetics.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. I’m
Wayne Messmer: wondering if there’s
David Hirsch: any other father figures, people that played an influential role in your life while you’re growing up.
Wayne Messmer: People’s and I really, there are many people that I admired. One of which was a. Father John Smith who, uh, just passed away.
He was a man of faith and conviction. He is the guy who truly gave me, interestingly enough, I already mentioned faith, family and friends in that order. And it was during a homily at a mass at Maryville, and it was a Sunday morning mass and he took it as the musicians will say all second endings on some of the readings, because.
Bears game was at noon. So, but he talked about faith, family and friends. I remember him drilling that and it stuck so deeply. He’s always been one of my, one of the faiths. Pilgrims another, a couple other priests that I really have found to be really strong anchors for me, one is a father. John Cusack was a fabulous here in the Chicago archdiocese and a father Dominic Grassi, who is one of the most gentle big bears that you would ever meet.
A beautiful man who tells stories of great respect for family. Uh, and an admiration for his, his mother, the really captivated us. When we were in Chicago at st. Joseph parish, I had a band director who really put me in a right direction in high school. He was a character and became a dear friend, Jack chill.
Samino was his name. So, and anyone with whom I’ve ever had a musical weird, but. Intimate moment, you know, whether it’s an accompanist. Another singer, that to me is magical because I’m a musician first and everything else second. Okay.
David Hirsch: Well, let’s go back to a father, John Smith, who I’ve gotten to know
Wayne Messmer: over the
David Hirsch: last 20 something years.
You may not know this.
Wayne Messmer: Because
David Hirsch: I don’t think we had the conversation, but 22 years ago, plus when we started the Illinois father initiative, John Smith was at the table. And one of the things I remember
Wayne Messmer: he said,
David Hirsch: and it was like, it was yesterday. He said, we’ve tried everything else. Why don’t we try this
Wayne Messmer: too?
David Hirsch: Starting the Illinois fatherhood initiative and seeing if we could somehow raise awareness and resources to get more dads involved. And I thought, wow, that’s a pretty big statement coming from that big guy.
Wayne Messmer: He was, he was larger than life. So,
David Hirsch: um, when I remember you
Wayne Messmer: took
David Hirsch: a bachelor’s degree in music education from Illinois Wesleyan and a master’s in counseling from Loyola as well as a PhD in psychology from LaSalle university.
What was it you think you’re going to do with
Wayne Messmer: this education? I can tell you, I know specifically what I was planning to do, and now I’m a TV guy. So I wanted to be either dr. Bellows from my dream of gene as a man who just wanted to meet vibrate and. Well, yeah, of course. Yeah. I mean, you know, Tony and Roger forget about it.
If you don’t know the show, look it up. Or Bob Newhart, as a doctor, Robert Hartley who worked on Michigan Avenue here, married to Suzanne, Pleshette you take the, a home, you live in Lincoln park, you know, you’ve got your neighbor, Howard, you know, and, uh, and that’s your life. And I’m cool with that. I thought I was going to be just a psychologist.
David Hirsch: So that’s how you’re thinking.
Wayne Messmer: I still would like to do that, but now I can’t do it. I’d have to change my name. So who wants to go see Wayne mess bird until I’m there? Bro know, I don’t want to do that. I made it. I could move and be someone else
David Hirsch: you’re on the witness protection program.
Wayne Messmer: Yeah. I’m thinking of using like Sigmund Freud for apps.
I could catch up.
David Hirsch: I’m sort of curious to know, how did you and Katherine
Wayne Messmer: we met on March 25th of 1981. It was a production of kiss me, Kate. It was being done by the shield park players, uh, directed by our dear dear friend, Cassie Williams, Maguire. I had been offered and accepted the lead for it. And there were three women who were then auditioning for the female lead.
One of which I had worked with previously, another one, I didn’t know. And one of them was Kathleen. And so I remember the next day calling Kasey as, Oh, we got the part. Uh, she does. Oh, well, Kathleen client was her name. And the fact he said, okay. And I, I used to refer to her as stripes because she was wearing a striped blouse.
Did she still has, did she kept as, as a mental, I said, this will go and they mess with our museum. Should there ever be one sometimes referred to as Goodwill or dumpster? But, and that’s all fabulous. And I met her and a little Stephanie who was, uh, her daughter came to the audition and I mean, I remember.
Oh, great, great. Cause I liked her. I liked the way she signed. I liked the way we sang together. And that was what the audition was. How does that work? So we did the show because we had the lead and it was a theater on the Lake downtown Fullerton Avenue. It’s taming of the Shrew set the music by Cole Porter and some legit singing.
Really good stuff. And, uh, we just had a ball
it was like when you poured two liquids into the same blast and they automatically just engage themselves. So I love that. That became a big part of it. Who I is singing with her.
that desire is one thing that it came in handy much later, the critical time in my life.
David Hirsch: I love that story. Thank you for sharing. So let’s, uh, talk about your career sort of by segment. If I can call it that. What was your broadcasting career
Wayne Messmer: about? Um, I’ve dabbled in, uh, college radio and a little bit at a actually Illinois Wesley.
And it was just starting their radio station at the time, a university, by the way that I just absolutely love, not just because they gave me the distinguished alumnus award, but that certainly didn’t hurt. But then I, when I got up to, uh, Chicago again, I thought, Oh man, am I going to do something? And I got a job downtown at city hall.
Working in the department of personnel. And I spent three years doing that as a job coach going out and talking to people. It was, it was fun to actually do, I guess, depending on your definition of fun. But anyway, I was looking to get into radio and so tape and resume at the time is what you do. And you can add no, no, no, no, no.
Thank you. Why don’t you go to a small town and work your way back? And I always take the half full I’m thinking. Sorry, mr. Program director. Maybe that’s what you had to do. This is what I want to do. I want to work in Chicago or not at all. So rather than being snobby, I thought take a different approach.
And I thought I’m just sorry that you won’t be here to share my success. I didn’t say that out loud, her and everybody got into first job, but somehow, you know, busted in on a weekend, a job from 4:00 PM to midnight, Friday night and Saturday nights, I w X F M one Oh 5.9 FM. And, or they were playing all sorts of stuff on weekends.
It was a brokered station. So I’d be the engineer for. The Irish hour and sometime we cannot, you know, so I’m the knucklehead sitting at the, at the board, but then I would have to actually speak on the radio. I would have the station ID and the top of the hour, you’re listening to one of the 5.9 of them w spin a fam Elmwood park, Chicago.
That led to overnight getting hired as an overnight guy for classical music. See, again, it helps having a classical background. I was a French horn player in high school and college then ultimately evolved into a, a different. Overnight kind of light classical stuff. And then into the morning program, doing a, an old time radio show, which I did for three years, six to 9:00 AM playing the old stuff that I love and listened to every day on the satellite radio.
And then ultimately had other opportunities pop up to literally go across. They say, I’m going to go, go across the street. Well, I did two WLS, uh, FM for a really good run with a guy named Paul Barsky for a few, uh, for a few years, that was in the Sandrine wonderful, uh, morning show. And then I went to WLS am as a.
Straight news guy. The president will be in Chicago tomorrow. You know, that kind of thing.
David Hirsch: It’s fascinating to listen to you talk about your various experiences in the broadcasting industry. I know that most people know you
Wayne Messmer: as a
David Hirsch: singer. There’s a great history of broadcasting, but. Whenever I mentioned Wayne Mesmer’s name.
Wayne Messmer: People are like, Oh, national Anthem guy.
David Hirsch: Exactly. Right.
Wayne Messmer: Cool. So, and you see hi. So the law,
David Hirsch: some are like black Hawks forever. I know. So you’ve always had a passion for something. And you’ve talked a little bit about how you met Kathleen, who were
Wayne Messmer: singing together. What is it that
David Hirsch: turns you on all these years about singing?
Wayne Messmer: Because it is the most natural gift that you can be given as a musician. You can learn the skill to play any instrument I’m learning to play the ukulele. But the voice, you know, the voice is the gift. It’s the, and truly, I, I, I accept it as a gift, you know, more than any, I mean, everything, the entire package is the gift, but when you really get down to it, to have the ability to speak and sing, and also the musicianship and the training to be able to.
To use phrases to sing glee. I love to sing, which is an emphasis on lyrics. And for me, it’s always leading the crowd in singing. And again, who’s watching me when DMS for my dad, I love what you’re doing with the national Anthem. He said to me, but don’t ever screw it up. Like somebody other people it’s not yours alone.
To play with. And, you know, I can certainly name names and point fingers, but I will neither point nor name.
David Hirsch: Thank you. Well,
Wayne Messmer: um, one
David Hirsch: of the things that I know that you’re, you also have a gift for her and it does have to do it here. Communication skills you’re sending
Wayne Messmer: in
David Hirsch: speaking skills is actually as a professional speaker,
Wayne Messmer: as a big thing, you know, and again, it’s part of using the voice.
I think once I realized that, uh, uh, that the instrument itself through speaking and singing. Is truly the gift. That’s what has to be used. That’s what has to be shared and respected. And I’ve always thought about whatever gift it may be as easily as it is given. It can be taken away. And that’s what I find so interesting about the work that you’re doing here, because the gift it’s a different gift.
It was given, you know, a parent who suddenly realizes as we did with Jamie, when she was born, was like, we don’t know what’s wrong here. And she was an apprentice and they couldn’t figure it out. They went to children’s. They took several days before they finally were able to figure out what glycogen storage disease is.
And it’s, it’s where she’s missing the transport gene to allow her liver to accept or to distribute sugar. In any form. What, what do you do with that? Well, before we had dr. David Weinstein in our lives, and he’s out at the university of Connecticut children’s hospital, who has dedicated his professional life to not just treatment, which he does such a magnificent yeoman’s job, doing.
With his clients, you know, around the world, 62 different countries, Jamie being one of them here in Chicago. But the thing is, he’s not only saving these children’s and grownups lives with GSD. He is on the verge and it gives me chills to say it, have a cure for this. So that’s a, that’s a mission. You know, cause my little Jamie, you know, she’s 12 years old, just the other day we’re together.
And it’s funny because she has told her mom, Stephanie mom I’m okay. But I think what she meant was the 24 hour a day, seven day a week vigil that you have over me is working. Wow.
David Hirsch: Well, I also know that you dabbled in acting
Wayne Messmer: and the
David Hirsch: recollection was that you were in the movie, babe,
Wayne Messmer: correct? The babe, babe is about a pig.
The baby is about the Ruth. And although John Goodman is at that point a portly man, I would stop short of referring to him as an animal that I just described. Uh, yeah, I played the New York Yankees radio announcer. And that was fun. That was another one of those matter. I haven’t been in a movie. Let me see if I can get an audition.
So I called a guy to get me an audition and went into a hotel downtown and the director and the producer were sitting at a table it’s, you know, it’s highly unglamorous and, uh, Arthur Hiller, by the way, it was the director. He was the guy who directed the movie, loves story. So all of a sudden, I just launched into there’s an overcast day here at Wrigley field and up comes babe Ruth.
Now the crowd is absolutely incest with this guy and we go on and on and on and on. And I described the 1932 world series alleged call shot of Charlie route. When he hits and I describe it all the way around. And, but before the ball goes out of center, field, right center, a swing and a long drive, I just stopped.
And these guys are looking at me like, what, what, Oh, you want more? You know, and it became fun. And they said, Oh wait, we’ve got to do something. So they wrote a part for the Yankees radio guy and did some of it slightly and lived there, but a little bit of it. And the everything that I did was kept in the movie and it was funny.
So that’s awesome.
David Hirsch: So, I don’t know that it fits into your acting bucket if I can call it that. But I also know that one of the things you’ve done is your one man play about Saint Damien.
Wayne Messmer: I’m willing to take a hit for the greater good of these people, whose message is simply. That God has not forgotten them.
I mean, these were the outcasts or exiled as they decided in paradise lovers, the leprosy and, uh, in Hawaii, they didn’t know what to do. I mean, there was this tremendous outbreak. Like he was a guy who knew his purpose. He understood why he was there. And he made a tremendous difference. He, uh, he was a guy that I has always been kind of a hero to me since I learned about him in probably fourth grade and wrote a book report about him, grew up to a resemble, him, bought the same frame beard, and, uh, Kathleen and I went to the Island of Molokai where this actually happened and the settlement there, which is now, um, It’s now manned by the national park service and these individuals, once you are declared a leper, you have 48 hours to, uh, pretty much have a farewell party because you are declared dead.
Your possessions aren’t taken away on Sunday morning. You paraded in Honolulu down to the boat. Well, if you go past Molly to the Island of Molokai, which still, I believe he is the soil is moist with tears. Faust. Thousands of people were buried there and off they would go and they were in some cases, literally thrown overboard and then left to fend for themselves, never to see their families again.
No visitors, no, it just didn’t happen. It was not, then never was Hansen’s disease contagious, but they didn’t know what to do. So they thought the best thing to do is they bought this little dismiss that this sticks out on the North end of this little Island with 3000 foot cliffs that come down, as they would say, where I grew up, you ain’t going nowhere from there.
So there was no way out. That’s a personal story. To me, it’s a, it’s my personal mission. It’s uh, number one, showing audiences, what a true dedication of a, in this case, a priest for life looked like, you know, and looks like, and there are many, many, many still out there. The great majority service to others is the best service above.
All period, very powerful.
David Hirsch: I was thinking about what Saint Damien represents and how you’ve been able to keep his memory alive, vividly keep his memory alive. And in the day back in the 18 hundreds, it was lepers going back 30 or 40 years. It was people who were diagnosed with AIDS.
Wayne Messmer: And Damian, by the way, is the patron Saint of the AIDS HIV community, because otherwise what’s the best way to treat him, just get them away from me.
David Hirsch: And I was thinking to a certain extent, what we’re talking about, people in society who’ve been marginalized to a great extent, have been those with disabilities that looked different at different don’t fit in a bit marginalized and. What we’re trying to do is shed a light on the fact that these are human beings.
And while they might have a deficit
Wayne Messmer: viewed
David Hirsch: from the typical community, we’re all created in the image of God. And we all have different
Wayne Messmer: assets and
David Hirsch: liabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. However you want to describe it. And I am so thankful to be sitting here today with you to talk about this, and I’m hoping you can.
Channel some of your st Gamion to what it is that we’re talking about.
Wayne Messmer: I would hope so because it’s there for us to embrace, to sit here with you. We could be doing 60 minutes. We could be doing a network news interview. It would not be any more important to me than the conversation and we’re having, because some one.
Is going to hear some thing. We hope they will trigger a thought and maybe it will trigger an action, you know, because, uh, I mean, I had a setback and we’ll talk about it, but recovering from a trauma, you get over the, why did this happen? Why didn’t it? Well, whatever it might be, I mean, you’re fired, you’re downsized.
You’re lied to you’re cheated on your. In my case shot. Well, why did it happen? That’s not the question. You know, there must be a precipitous event before you can get up stronger and more convinced that I can do something, you know? So my prayers were not just to get. Well to be better. And so not the why me, but why did I get better to be able to speak, to use the gift again?
And I believe me all ego aside to have been given at a pretty decent level and then have it completely stolen and then to get it back at that level, it’s it’s miraculous. And if I were to not pay attention to that, I would be. Not only foolish. I would be very selfish. So I got better so that we could have this chat on a gray.
Drizzly morning in Chicago, as we just sit as a couple of guys talking about something that a lot of other guys need to know about.
David Hirsch: Absolutely. So let’s, um, talk briefly. About your business career. Cause that’s one of the other things we have in common is that, uh, you been a business owner with the wolves, right?
You also have your own financial services firm, my Mesmer associates. And I’m wondering what role that’s played in your life with all these other things that you’re so passionate about.
Wayne Messmer: If I were as smart as I am lucky, that would be good. Uh, I guess I’m not the dumbest guy in the block, but. I’m a builder.
I like that. I like startups. I like building things that work. And then I like to benefit from the fact that they do, and I don’t have to be there to turn the machine on every day and often night. So with the two businesses with the Chicago wolves, I kind of raised my hand and said, Oh, I can do that. Do what a conversation with four of us at a table.
I came home and said yes to I’ll write the business plan, the marketing plan, the media plan, the game presentation plan, the organizational structure, all job descriptions and hire everybody and put this stuff together. Yeah, I can do that. Are you out of your mind? Well,
David Hirsch: you were
Wayne Messmer: projected. Yeah, because I knew people and there are other people who could do that and I could probably hire them as part of the plan.
The wolves is a great opportunity. Uh, I saw the, uh, the situation with the financial company as an, as an opportunity because I wanted, I was doing a lot of speaking, tons of speaking. And, uh, we were too in building the business or a, a seminar based client acquisition model, business model. And so I thought, well, okay, I can certainly be the guy who can speak.
And so we did. And that was, that was rewarding.
David Hirsch: I remember you hired desk clerk.
Wayne Messmer: Yeah.
David Hirsch: It was a friend of the only father initiative
Wayne Messmer: when it was a pass rate guy.
David Hirsch: IFI Ricky Birdsong awardees.
Wayne Messmer: Yes. Yes. There’s two really
David Hirsch: important human beings.
Wayne Messmer: Yeah, I totally agree. And a good huggable guy.
David Hirsch: So the last aspect of what I think of as your career is as an author, and there’s a story that goes behind this, the title of the book, which came out in 1999 is the voice of victory.
And it was published five years after your life threatening and fateful event. I’m wondering if you can recall, but I think of it as the backstory about this
Wayne Messmer: all. Well, I tell it in real time and it’s almost unbelievable. The things can happen in an instant. There’s no question about it. Uh, walking back to my parked car after having song a Blackhawks game, which I did for every game for 13 seasons, it was a Friday night, April, then overnight of April 8th into the ninth of 1994.
Welcome back to a parked car. After stopping after a game at a place on the West side of Chicago, where it was kind of a local after game hangout, I get a block and a half and we walked back by car. I see a young man walking down the streets. Didn’t like the looks of it. So I got in the car, kept my eye on him about four car lengths ahead of me standing under a streetlamp, a very visible started the car backed up, started to pull out and I heard pow, pow.
Wow. Well, it’s like, Whoa. I mean, the first thing I think is I’m a TV guy. I’m thinking loud, crossfire shooting him. It’s weird. How you, you think about this stuff? What it was was the 16 year old was the lookout. The 15 year old ran up on me. Never heard him, never said a word, never. I heard him coming. And the first two sounds were him banging on the window right next to my ear on the driver’s door.
So buying bounds, full minutes, I hit the gas to pull out people’s trigger nine millimeter shot, point blank in the back. What do you do? What do you do? What do you do? What do you do? Um, Survive. Yeah, I grab on to life. Okay. What do I do, you know, at that moment? So obviously you’re in shock and I drove a block and a half back where I’ve just come from, took a good look at this 16 year old and took an, an indelible image of him whom I later.
In court. Oh, would drop the hammer on saying that is the person that I saw. Well got out of the car after I parked and walked back up to where I just come from. And, uh, the police called the Hawkeyes and knocked on the door and, uh, sat down and waited for the police. The ambulance to arrive could not make a sound except kind of a death girdle, scared.
To death. But at that moment, I knew that what I had done for a living up to that point may have just come to a very sudden and abrupt ending, but who I was, was not going to change. And so I thought, okay, okay. I don’t know. I remember the two paramedics bill Steiner and Henry Google. Uh, they came. I looked him in the eye and I’m handing you my life will, what did we do?
I don’t think I can fix this myself. I can’t walk it off. You know, so I get thrown in the, in the ambulance and off we go to County hospital and a life saving, tremendous place. And dr. Seth Krazner and his crew, um, went into action and, uh, I was conscious, uh, For about 90 minutes after the shooting, when, uh, I just finally zoned off and, uh, that night, 10 hour overnight surgery, and I woke up two and a half days later with a lack of question, none of which I could express and I couldn’t move my hands, couldn’t move my fingers or toes.
And I thought, Whoa, this is the worst nightmare than I thought. They had injected me. So I wouldn’t be flipping around apparently, but nobody bothered to tell me that. And I’m so I’m thinking, Oh, this is great. Um, something bad happened, you know, like the neck area is pretty sensitive, a lot of stuff in there.
What the heck happened in surgery? Cause apparently not only has my voice been stolen, but now for a day and a half. I lay there in kind of a, you know, a morphine induced funk building up to a boiling point, thinking I’m a quadriplegic too. I that’s a moment. I can also take myself back to. So when I deal with people with physical challenges, it’s like, I know you’re in there.
You know, I, I, I know your frustration. I mean, for some reason, and again, it’s to be able to spread a good word. I only had to suffer that for a day and a half. That to me is why that happened. So then all of a sudden, you know, and they will wear my fingers. And, but it was a long, long recovery. We went from a shorter than people would think and much shorter than I was told the doctor would say an hour and a nine minute, a year and a half for, I know what the speaking voice would sound like.
And I came back six months and five days after that shooting. We ultimately went from County hospital to Northwestern Memorial, which was a bit of an upgrade. Um, but I thank the Lord. They took me to County more. They, their experience is second to none, and it’s sad that they are so experienced in gunshot wounds.
But I walked out a couple of weeks after getting shot, walked out of the hospital. I went home and a limo and many of the other. Shooting victims from the day I was shot until the day I walked out and got into a car when body bags, you know, and, uh, it just gave me a, a very clear indication of the, of the temporary nature of, of what we have, but, you know, to come back and to be able to sing again at the first ever.
Chicago wolves home game, where my fingerprints were on every single thing. After that moment of singing as if the ice melted, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to walk on water.
David Hirsch: Well, that’s remarkable. There was a passage in the book. It was about one month later. And you wrote, I decided that my story would focus on family values and the importance of responsible parenting, not the popular topic of Gunjan
Wayne Messmer: CHRO.
David Hirsch: felt the overwhelming need to speak out with emotion and conviction to underscore the importance of gaining control of our streets and rebuilding the infrastructure of our families. I knew that this was the message now surfacing in my mind was extremely important. It seems profound. That, that was what was going through your mind
Wayne Messmer: a month after
David Hirsch: the shooting and given all that you had been through?
Wayne Messmer: Well, put it, cause it wasn’t about me. It was a bigger story that needed to be told my father’s children, which includes me, would not have done this. They would not have been the aggressor. And so what’s missing, what’s missing, you know, it’s, it’s the absentee father, it’s the role model. It’s the values, it’s the understanding of, of what is good, decent and civil.
And I wanted, uh, I wanted my message. Number one, not to be, uh, built around the anger that I was having to suppress one month after that, I would. Boiling inside. Cause I wanted to strike out. I had been victimized innocently and I was not happy about it. You
David Hirsch: talk about that in the book, um, separately, um, there was another quote that I have made a note of.
It became obvious to me that while my setback was physically devastating at the moment, feeling sorry for myself would have no immediate or longterm impact on my recovery. The poor me mentality is tremendously crippling in traps you in the role of the victim. And that’s exactly what you were taught
Wayne Messmer: every day.
We have the team in our pocket to reach down and unlock the ball and chain of poor me, poor victim every single day. And I will tell you that it’s very difficult to do that. I will, I will admit, but the only people who can move on have to deal with, uh, forgiveness, have to deal with reconditioning. And that is a Ooh, that’s a bitter pill.
David Hirsch: Well, you did that though. I remember that it was years after the incident. You took the initiative to take that journey. And I think that’s one of the most powerful aspects of this story.
Wayne Messmer: It’s something that I needed to do. And there was a reason and it was, it was for me, I w. Say that, but one thing that I, and I come pretty clean on this, when I do speaking and talk about this and saying if the last chapter of the book, the voice of victory is called a journey of faith.
And that’s exactly what it was. I had gone to church that morning. I was as a everyday church guy, I was working with a young man kind of mentoring him through his own career decisions. And one day he kind of turned the tables on me and said, you’ve talked about this. But when are you going to do it? And by it, it means often in the car and drive in for three and a half hours down to a prison and a signing in as an acquaintance and wanting to, I needed to open the valve and let it out.
Now, here’s what I say. I come clean with, with an audience because I say yes, as I was waiting there for 45 minutes for this young man to come down to visit, I think. And if I’m here just to get a last chapter for my book, do yourself a favor and just go. Because that wasn’t, that wasn’t right. My motivation was to not how’s the anger, not, not on house justice, isn’t ours to go out.
And the only antidote for revenge is forgiveness. Believe me, I looked for a lot of different pathways to try and diffuse this anger. And I did not want to continue. To give rental space to that anger and the hatred. And I also thought if there’s anyone who outside that ridiculous spatial enclave called prison, AKA hell who had a right to hate this guy, we may, I cannot and will not accept.
Hate to live within me. So I sat and waited for this guy to come down. It wasn’t like a currency exchange with the telephone and the double pane glass. Now this was in the cafeteria and I’m sitting there in comes this young man who was, I hadn’t seen him since being led away in an orange jumpsuit, sentenced to eight, 10, 12, and 21 years concurrently.
Sitting there. Uh, I stood up and I saw him and he, he just looked at me and his eyes just got big. And he said, Kim, I can’t believe that you have come to see me putting my hand out, shook his hand, called him, my name looked at the guy and said, I’m here to see how you’re doing. I wasn’t even sure. He’s going to know who I am obviously then.
So we sat down and we just started talking. I said, Hey, he said moment of truth. So did you know nothing? You can tell me. Can make your situation any worse than it is you look around here either, or it can’t make it any better. I have no influence over anything. So all we have is the truth. Okay. All right.
Like it or not, we are in Delaware bonded for the rest of our lives because we were at that particular intersection at that precise moment. So. Tell me what happened. Take me back to that night, from his perspective, from his perspective, which was just a little bit different, but I truly was the next guy to come along.
It was a random act of violence. It was very surprising how it all went down. It wasn’t meant to be a shooting or a murder or any of that, even though the kid who pulled the trigger did go on, uh, on the stand and say, aye, Pulled the trigger with the intent of killing him. Okay. Now I’m the Hume in that sentence, that’s rather chilling to have described to you, which is what really landed all of those years on the other kid.
And so we talked and talked to talk to what, what that incident did to his life. It wasn’t me. I didn’t put you here. Your actions put you here. Um, what did this do to your family? What did it do to mind? What my wife’s getting a phone call at 1:35 AM that she should probably set aside a dark suit and maybe get down the County right away.
Cause it doesn’t look good. And my mom getting a phone call in the middle of the night from my mother, you know, it breaks my heart to even sink. That horrible phone call, you know, who calls in the middle of the night, somebody with bad news, you know, to go to, they say, what’s, what’s the only thing, worse than a wrong number in the middle of the night when it’s the right number, you know?
So. I talked about the battle of coming back and what was stolen. I mean, the police report says attempted armed robbery as if nothing was taken, they didn’t get money. They didn’t get my car. They could have, they could have reached in my heart, like an Indiana Jones movie and ripped out my heart and got less than what was stolen by taking my voice.
So we talked and we talked and we talked and I never let loose of his hand nor did I break eye contact for this entire conversation for two and one half hours, then that’s it, you know, stood up. And, uh, I just said, I. I bet you piece. We talked about a life after prison. We talked about a life in prison.
We talked about character. We talked about commitment. We talked about forgiveness. And, uh, it was, it was powerful and forgiveness leads to something that is tremendous. And that is freedom. Freedom. I unlock the ball and chain because we hear, you know, there’s, there’s a phrase that says there are only two types of people in the world.
Those who have been hurt. And those who have been hurt worse. Well, it defined, define what, what your Hertz is. No, I. This, isn’t what I ordered. You know, this isn’t the child. I ordered this isn’t the life. I ordered things they’re supposed to be swell and they aren’t well, and then you go through all of the, you know, the grief, anger, and all these other things.
And sometimes you have to just realize that there is a reason and we will never. Possibly know what that reason is, but every single human has some amazing, beautiful gift of a, of an eternal flame of burning inside of them. And shame on anyone who extinguishes that well
David Hirsch: said, let’s talk about, uh, the special needs community before your granddaughter, Jamie.
Was born. Did you and Kathleen have any connection to the special needs community?
Wayne Messmer: Yes. My darling wife is the daughter of an amazing man. Um, Marvin Tench, who was, uh, unbelievably committed. To the lions international as a district governor, as a tremendous supporter of the Peter dog program, the blind of a blind camp, as it was known and just a wonderfully giving man whom I never knew he passed away when gasoline was still in college, uh, before I knew her.
So she has that. She has that gene built within her. I do everything I possibly can to try and be involved in one way or another. I’ve been, uh, the voice of a Chicago and Illinois special Olympics for 30 some years. I just have a feeling for people who just can’t do. What others can, what we take for granted, what we absolutely take for granted matters.
Not a time that I go to the ball game at Wrigley field, which I’ve been there for 35 years with the Cubs. Then I don’t walk over past the handicapped section. As I love to call it, you say hi to somebody and they they’ve seen me as a, you know, whether it’s on TV or at a ball game before. And they’re not going to get down to get Chris Brian’s signature.
So. Maybe Wayne. Mesmer’s a good second. I don’t know. But you know, when you make somebody smile and even if they can’t communicate, you get somebody who just gives you a moan that is accompanied by a smile. I’m in man. I’m in
David Hirsch: absolutely. So, um, when you first learned about Jamie’s diagnosis, I was wondering what the reaction was.
How did you and Kathleen react to that?
Wayne Messmer: Um, you know, little baby’s first Christmas Christmases in the hospital and she comes home and she’s got the tube down, her nose. And even at age 12, she still has a G tube. And a part of this is maintaining a proper nutritional mixture and crazily enough, a combination of something that includes corn starch.
That’s part of the process of, of maintaining the blood sugar level, because it can go wacky at any moment. I just have to credit our daughter, Stephanie for her unbelievable dedication. And I think we need to do that. I mean, the person who is the who’s on call 24
David Hirsch: seven.
Wayne Messmer: Yeah. That person needs support. You know, they need recognition.
David Hirsch: Well, you’re the grandfather in the story and I just became a grandfather for the first time.
Wayne Messmer: I love.
David Hirsch: And it’s true from the grandparents’ perspective, the most important people on the planet now are your grandchildren.
Wayne Messmer: Oh, you
David Hirsch: love your children, but those grandchildren have a special place in your heart.
Wayne Messmer: Yeah, we we’ve, we’ve given our, our hearts to them. It rounds it out and I just, you know, you just want to hug all of them and we try and gather them as much as we can. And my wife has a tremendous of family. Director of cohesion. I think
David Hirsch: you’re the grandfather. You have this,
Wayne Messmer: you keep saying that, that you love,
David Hirsch: and you’ve got your granddaughter, Jamie, the one we’re focused on and what is it that you’re able to do?
What is it the Kathleen’s able to do? What type of advice did you get from others that helped empower you to be part of the solution?
Wayne Messmer: One is try not to be afraid to embrace all of the tremendous positive things that are happening to make sure that we do seek the best. Medical advice and also to support the research as we can.
We’ve done a number of, of shows, a salute to the forties with a big band and an original radio show that I wrote as a fundraiser. Well, lucky lady to be a lady tonight, you got to support the cost cause the day. Then I will stand there and you know, I’ll need a mop to wipe up. All of the tiers is the day when this is cured. They’re already doing the, the human testing with type one. Amy she’s wild one bead, and they’re having great success. But to be there when a disease or rare disease is cured.
This is Jonas Salk stuff know I’ll be high five until my hand is sore.
David Hirsch: Well, that would be a very exciting moment. And what comes to mind is a favorite phrase of my grandmother. And she would say from your lips to God’s ears,
Wayne Messmer: I’m with you there.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering what some of the more important decisions you and Kathleen have made as grandparents to a child with special needs.
Wayne Messmer: One is learning how we can be a value. How we can, uh, give some respite to our daughter so that, uh, her and her husband Mark, and can go out and have dinner and know the Jamie’s with us. And, and she’s in good hands. Uh, cause it’s a process of feeding through a G tube. And finally, just understanding how to communicate him, really what this is and what is a symptom.
But if something seems to be going wrong, what does it look like? Yeah,
well, you’ve had to adapt what I hear you saying.
David Hirsch: I’d like to talk, not to focus on the negative, but I think just being real, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as a grandparent to a special needs child?
Wayne Messmer: The first is I can’t just pick her up and sweep her away and take her out for ice cream. I can’t take her away too far from her mother, because she really needs to be monitored. You feel so helpless that no matter what the situation is, even though it’s monitored so much better than it ever was, the other thing is not to interfere.
But not to ignore either. Now we all react differently. In my case, my son in law, very smart, good, decent, wonderful guy that I really, really enjoyed. And so I think that as a grandfather, you try and show that, uh, that in the best interest of everyone. That, uh, and again, you know, when nobody was looking, I got a PhD in psychology, so I gotta be careful to not be dr.
Wayne. I’m going to stay in and let’s have a family session, but you can do it kind of in a stealth manner and make sure that everyone, particularly the dad in this case is included and includes the child in their life. That they know that more than anything. We love you as a person, don’t let the anger of the situation being less than perfect.
Stand in the way. Take that aggression and use it for research. Use it for campaigning for funds. Use it for communicating to other people, but a love that kid.
David Hirsch: Now well-stated, I’m wondering if there’s any advice. That you can share with other grandparents about helping a child with disabilities reach their full potential.
Wayne Messmer: I think getting over the fear is one thing, fortunately, in our case, it’s, uh, it’s kind of a invisible disability. Well, the fear is real though. I mean, because the fear of loss cruise up,
David Hirsch: Stephanie textile off the ball, she in an environment with her. No things were uncertain and she has an episode. You know, death is like
Wayne Messmer: shortly around the corner.
It is possible that that’s frightening one day, get over that. I mean, you knew, I don’t know or be aware of it, but don’t let it get in the way and a cripple. You, I think the other thing is finding out what it is that your child really. Passionately loves, you know, meet them on that level. Take the advantage of, uh, the assets that we have as grandparents.
That’s one of them. I’m going to be only with you for a portion of the time, really, and yours as well. So guess what, it’s going to be good for both of us. There is a lady who comes to the Chicago wolves, hockey camps, and we’re 25 years in existence with his hockey team. And she’s been bringing her son God lover every year, at least a couple of games.
He has a, some real difficulty in communicating. And he’s in a chair, but Manny, he spots me and he just almost jumps out of his chair and he can’t say my name or his age. It doesn’t have to. And his mom gives me the, Oh, it’s so good to see you. And you know, the little Pat on the cheek and he just loves to see you.
And again, if then if that doesn’t feed your soul, you were in a wrong plan. You know, you need to seek out those, uh, moments of connection. Whatever it is. I mean, I was over, uh, just hanging around with Jamie and her little brother were kicking soccer balls at him. You day, he’s diving all over the place.
He’s 100% healthy, you know, thank God and she’s playing. And then she wants to sit down for a little bit. And so I just went over and sat on the steps with her. You know, she just puts her arm around my shoulder and I’m thinking. That’s all you can do. Be present, be available, be accessible and be open to meeting your meeting your in this case, your grandchildren meet them where they are play in their playground.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So I’m wondering why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Wayne Messmer: Because we’re aging, you know, and I there’s gotta be other grandpas out there dot O’s brand dudes who, uh, aren’t quite sure what to do. No, I don’t want to get in the way I don’t, I don’t understand that.
You know, I look at him or her and I get so frustrated because I don’t get the response I wanted. Well, it’s not about you. I’m sorry. This kid’s not going to play little league. We sometimes need to turn the lights off. You know, there’s a great phrase in a line in play. Damien, as I, as Damien sit there and reflect about in the evening when these lepers would congregate on the, on Lanai and they play guitar and ukulele and they would sing and he would just sit there and listen to them.
And there’s, this line is so significant that I hope people don’t miss it because. As Damien speaks, he says, and do you know what? In the dark, they forget that they are lepers
David Hirsch: very powerful. Well, let’s give a special shout out to our friends at the Illinois fathered initiative for helping bring us together over the years and separately with Chris, one of the other Special Fathers Network, mentor, fathers.
Wayne Messmer: Yeah. Chris is a wonderful guy, dedicated good family guy, great family guy, and a pretty decent fire chief. Do
David Hirsch: absolutely. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Wayne Messmer: It doesn’t hurt to hug. That’s it.
David Hirsch: If someone wants to get information. About the work that you do or speaking, singing opportunities or contact you, what would it be the best way about going to do that?
Wayne Messmer: If I weren’t, to me, I would go to a Waynemessmer.com and it’s all there.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Wayne, thank you for taking the time in many insights. As a reminder, Wayne is just one of the dads. Who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the special fathers network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor father or. Or seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation, your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.com. Thanks again.
Wayne Messmer: My pleasure. And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast produced by couch. Audio for the special father’s network. The special father’s network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcentury dads.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.