068 – John Dodd, A Father of a Girl With Down Syndrome is Incredibly Upbeat!
John Dodd is our guest on this Dad to Dad podcast. John has a daughter with Down Syndrome. He’s also had some significant challenges in his life but has remained incredibly upbeat. He’s a model for us all. Hear John’s incredible story on this Dad to Dad podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Dad to Dad 68 – John Dodd, A Father of a Girl With Down Syndrome is Incredibly Upbeat!
John Dodd: I had some wisdom that people have shared from time to time that I kind of created a David Letterman top 10 list. So if you don’t mind, I might share it. Now. It might be helpful for some of our listeners today. Absolutely. So top Tim thoughts for the parent of a special need child, doesn’t matter if it’s down syndrome or whatever. Number four. I never thought this one would be true, but it’s true. One day you will feel sorry for those who do not have a child like yours. You know, I think people who don’t have a special needs child they’re, they’re missing. Something. And that would be like 18 podcasts or explain what they’re missing. We won’t go there, but their lives are not as rich. And I’ll just, I’ll just leave it at that.
Tom Couch: That’s John Dodd, a special father. Who’s overcome some significant hurdles in his life and through it all. Has maintained a significantly positive attitude. John’s our guest on this dad to dad podcast. Here’s our host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process.
New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers. 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: And now let’s listen in on the conversation between special father John Dodd and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend, John Dodd, of Brentwood, Tennessee, a wealth manager and father of two girls. John, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
John Dodd: David, glad to be here and looking forward to spend a little time with you.
David Hirsch: Excellent. You and your wife, Kathleen have been married for 34 years. One of the proud parents of two daughters, joy 23 in grace, 21 who has down syndrome. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
John Dodd: Grew up in Atlanta, Georgia in as close to a ward and June Cleaver existence as possible.
Typical mom and dad as functional a family. As you could imagine, just a great upbringing and was not really raised in a. Christian home. Although we certainly went to church, you know, there’s a difference between going to church and knowing Jesus and we went to church and that was great. You know, all the major holidays and it wasn’t really, until I got two old myths where I got involved in campus crusade guy named Hugh Jones, knocked on my door and, and changed my life, introduced me to a personal relationship with Jesus, which was great.
Yeah. I became a Christian in fifth grade, but didn’t understand about the personal okay. Relationship aspect of that. And so got involved in campus crusade at old miss, and that’s where I met my wife and we got married shortly after college and she went to med school. I joined Arthur Anderson and doing tax accounting and financial planning, et cetera, and ended up at Ronald blue in 1994.
David Hirsch: So thanks for the quick fly by, but I want to go back a little bit to when you were growing up in Atlanta, did you have siblings?
John Dodd: Two siblings, two sisters, four years on either side.
David Hirsch: Okay. So you were the middle child if you will.
John Dodd: That’s right.
David Hirsch: And, um, I’m curious, uh, what did your dad do for a living?
John Dodd: He was a doctor internal medicine.
David Hirsch: And how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
John Dodd: It was incredibly wonderful, was a, what I would call an unconscious competence at delivering all five of the love languages. Even though that book had not been written in the seventies, I don’t think, but some combination of Gary Chapman. And then you got Gary Smalley.
He was just incredible, always supportive verbally. Physical touch is always hugging me, telling me, loved me. It came to my football games, kicked me in the rear end when I needed to kick it in the rear end. He was just, he was incredible. And it’s amazing to me, I’ve been in a number of Bible studies through the years with other men, and he asks this question.
How many of you had a great relationship with your dad? How many of your dads said I love you and just, just was supportive and like. 10% raised their hand and the rest. Didn’t it. It’s so sad to me. And this blows my mind. So I was so blessed to have a wonderful relationship with my dad.
David Hirsch: Well, I remember you telling me in a previous conversation that he was a doctor and that he hadn’t at one point thought about playing professional football.
What’s the backstory.
John Dodd: Well, he was a great football player in a real small town, the grains, Georgia, and got a football scholarship to Vanderbilt, which is basically how he could afford to go to college. And then he was pretty good in college and got the letters of interest from the Rams and the Cowboys.
Anything he did, he did a hundred percent. He. Learn how to play rap, you know, I’m going to play the piano. So he, he plays Rhapsody in blue at age 14. He graduated at the top of his medical school class, everything he did, he did the max. And I think that’s one thing that ultimately led him to commit suicide when he was 55, because he just, he could not have handle imperfection.
And when something broke, you know, when his car was broken, he just got super upset. You know, when. When insurance companies started practicing medicine for him and telling him what he can and cannot do that just frustrated him greatly. So he, he was excellent at everything he undertook. And I think we live in an imperfect world and when you’re a perfectionist that creates a lot of frustrates.
David Hirsch: he actually suffer from depression? What was that about? If you’re comfortable talking about it?
John Dodd: He did. Yeah, he was, he did suffer. He suffered from depression and suffered from football injuries. And, but he couldn’t take time off to get surgery because that would cost him money. Cause you’re not the office, you’re not making money.
So it was a, it was a, it was a pretty tough. Combination of things that I think he just thought the easiest way out was just to kill himself. So, wow. But you know, what I’ve learned from that is that I was 28 and we had a perfect relationship. And when he killed himself, I immediately thought, you know what?
I’m okay with that though. I’ll miss him greatly. There was nothing left for us to say our relationship was perfect because we kept short accounts. We had great transparency, great love for each other. And. Even before he died, I started writing him letters. You know how your kids don’t express appreciation until maybe they finally grow up and they realize, Oh, gee dad, you know, that’s nice of you to pay my auto insurance and my gas or my car, even though I, I paid for my car with lawn cutting money, you know, he, he just did all these, these grapes.
I love me enough to say no to some things. And that was great. But anyway, before he died, I just started writing them a lot of letters from college and just telling them how much I appreciate him. Much. 11, how much, what a great dad he is. He said I’ve met some other guys that don’t have great dads and wow.
It makes me really appreciate you. So the key lesson that I would want to share with my listeners here today would be while there’s still time, you need to return. To its rightful owner, a portion of what’s been given to you. And I think, you know, my dad gave me tremendous love and opportunity, and I responded and returned a portion of that to him while there were still time before he killed himself.
And I think as stewards of God’s time, talent, and treasure, we need to return to him. While there’s still time a portion of what he’s given to us. I think that speaks to the tie. I think that speaks to our, our time, our talent while they’re still trying to, while we’re still on the earth, we need to return to him a portion of what he’s given to us.
And because I did that to my dad, there was no regret when he pulled the trigger, there was, there was nothing left unsaid, and I think that’s part of how I’ve survived the suicide of the greatest man in my life period.
David Hirsch: Wow. That is a very powerful story. Thank you for sharing. Uh, I don’t know how people deal with that, but the way you’ve articulated it, it seems like the tragedy that it is or was, is put into a perspective that helps you understand it and move on.
So it’s not this burden or weight. That I’m sure your dad must have struggled with, you know, the trade off of taking his own life and the impact or sadness that it might leave with your mom and your sisters and
John Dodd: yourself. That’s it. Exactly.
David Hirsch: I’m wondering if there’s any other important takeaways from your relationship with your dad or important lessons that you learned from your dad?
John Dodd: You know, I read somewhere where C S Lewis said that 95% of whatever success we have in life is because of, and you know, he and my mom too, both were just great at expressing love and support and approval. Now, again, they would kick me in the pants if I needed it and I did need it, but I mean, we all do at some point, but.
You know, affection is responsible for, you know, 95% of whatever success we, who knows, but I think that’s so cool. Our flight and I’m, I’m the type person who needs that. And I believe there are a lot of people out there who do and who are starved for it. And I think it needs to come from mom and dad that, and that that’s the greatest this lesson.
I think that I learned and why I look back and they had their faults. They were not, I mean, We all have our faults. Nobody’s perfect. But you know, love covers a multitude of sin. I think affection covers a multitude of parenting weaknesses.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Fabulous. Thank you for sharing. I’m wondering if there’s any other father figures, um, while you were growing up or perhaps as a young adult that played an important we’re on your line,
John Dodd: you know, There was, there was a guy, a good friend of my dad’s, a fella named Harvey Mathis who, uh, who I knew who was about my dad’s age.
And he was friend of our family’s and he was always very generous. He taught me generosity. He always picked up the bill. When we went out to eat together, you know, as a family, he, he and his wife, they would take us out and we’d go somewhere. And he. Gave me a lot of opportunities that I would not have otherwise had.
So he taught me a lot about generosity, you know, to whom much is given much is expected. He was given a lot, he earned a lot and he gave a lot and I’ll always be grateful to him for that. And I think more so on the, on the female side, I had a number of females in my life who in addition to my mom had a large amount of impact.
David Hirsch: Who are they?
John Dodd: Well, I went to a, a camp in North Georgia camp Cherokee, and it was headed up by this wonderful woman named Jane Mac. And she, she had profound impact just she’d shared devotional every day. And just the way she walked and talked and had high expectations, she made me want to be better than I really am.
And that great. You know, when you meet somebody who. Even without them even saying anything to you, they just, they make you want to be better than you really are. So Jane Mac would be one, my aunt, who was my father’s sister and Campbell is incredible. And thankfully she’s still alive today and we have a great relationship, but growing up, you know, how.
As a, as a child, you kind of discount what your parents say.
David Hirsch: I think that’s human.
John Dodd: Yeah, it is. It is. Well, and I think, geez, you know, there’s a loose translation of Matthew 1357. I’ll let you know where Jesus says a prophet is not without honor, except in his own home. And in his own hometown. I think a parent often is not without honor except to their own home.
So you hope as a parent that your child. If they don’t learn from you, they learn from somebody else as long as it’s the same message. Well, I learned a lot from my aunt and Campbell, Emma, uncle, her husband, cot, Campbell, and just. Just good live lessons that my parents were trying to teach me, but maybe I didn’t listen to them cause they were my parents.
So I mean, now I was always tell people I was doomed to succeed. I mean, there’s no reason I should not have succeeded in life because I had a great foundation and a great upbringing.
David Hirsch: I like that phrase doom to succeed. I’m going to have to try to figure out how to apply that. So I remember you mentioning that you went to old miss and when you graduated.
What was it that you were thinking about doing or what happened after that?
John Dodd: Well, my wife and I were both in Jackson, Mississippi. She was at university of Mississippi medical school. I was at Arthur Anderson, then I got into banking. And so. Wasn’t really thinking about much other than just enjoying marriage, maybe starting a family at some point down the road.
After Kathleen finished residency, we moved back to Atlanta. That’s where I joined Ronald blue income, picked up a master’s in tax. I started teaching on the college level, enjoyed teaching accounting. That was fun. And then ultimately got. Into wealth management. So wasn’t really thinking about much of anything other than the typical American dream or ideal.
And that is, you know, live in the suburbs, have 2.5 kids go to church every Sunday and live happily ever after. Okay.
David Hirsch: And, um, you mentioned that Kathleen’s a doctor, what type of, uh, Madison district practice,
John Dodd: emergency room medicine. So she’s the ER, doc that you see when you get in trouble.
David Hirsch: Oh, my, the person you don’t want to see actually,
John Dodd: well, if you get in trouble, you want to see her first.
David Hirsch: Yeah. But the point is not to get in trouble to begin with.
John Dodd: Right. That’s exactly right.
David Hirsch: let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about special needs first on a personal level, and then beyond. And I’m curious before grace was born, did you and Kathleen have any connections to the special needs community?
John Dodd: No, we didn’t, uh, an interesting backstory. I was born almost totally deaf and stayed that way for five years until the doctors figured out what was wrong and, and corrected it.
In short order, thankfully, but as a result of being born, almost totally deaf, I stuttered horribly and was always picked last for kickball. Didn’t think I could make good grades, so I didn’t make good grades and didn’t have any friends probably for the first, maybe. K through third grade. So, you know, get out your violin, you know, sad story, you know, and then thankfully my mom, you know, I always tell people I had a drug problem growing up.
My mom drug me to every speech therapist, reading therapist, you know, in town and, and. She did a fantastic job trying to help me overcome this stuttering problem. And eventually I did, and that helped me gain confidence and ended up succeeding in those areas and overcoming stuttering. But as a result of that, I mean, I, I was disabled and even to this day, yay.
A stutter. You don’t know that because my, if I come across a word in my brain that I can’t say, or I think I’m going to stutter on my brain, we’ll insert a synonym so quickly that you can’t tell. I couldn’t say the word I really wanted to say. So consequently, I have a pretty good vocabulary as a result.
So I still stutter. I still have special needs. I think all of us have special needs. We just are good at hiding them. And some people cannot hide them. Like if you have down syndrome, you have physical appearances that people either understand your quote disabled. And so. Got a little bit of experience with that in, in being disabled.
And, but I’ll never forget. We were after grace was born, she’s our one with down syndrome. We were at a, I think it was called like a buddy while we’re trying to raise money for down syndrome. So we’re at the mall. We’re walking around the mall, we’re going to register. And this sorority girl. Is that the registration table she’s running it.
And I walk up to her, I’m fixing the register and I look at her and I say, why are you here? You don’t have a child with down syndrome. And she said, Oh, this is my service project for my sorority. And I realized for the first time, that’s when it really hit me between the eyes. I’m the beneficiary of a service project.
And I had never been the beneficiary of a service project because I was raised. In a home that needed no help. And we were, we had everything we needed. I was the beneficiary of something like a service project. And that was, that was pretty humbling. And so I think that, you know, when you, when you have a child who’s disabled, all of a sudden you realize, boy, I’m on a different planet and I need some help.
And I’m grateful for those people. Who’ve gone before me. And you know, we stand on their shoulders.
David Hirsch: Yeah, very powerful story. I think that, uh, if I could paraphrase what you’re saying, the difficulties you had growing up, being born deaf and having to overcome the soldering after you got your hearing back provided you with more empathy or understanding for others who might have differences.
And you just don’t take things for granted.
John Dodd: Absolutely. And unless you’ve been there, you know, you can do it. That’s why I always am so impressed with people who get involved in things like special Olympics or best buddies or whatever, who don’t have a disabled. And I’m always looking at him going, why are you here?
Because you don’t, you know, you don’t have any background with it. And they’re just there because they love, they understand that there’s this incredible, you know, gift that you get when you give it’s better to give than to receive. We know that, but I just, I’m always amazed at people that they’re just there because they love special needs kids.
They don’t have one. Personally. I think that takes a really, really compassionate heart. It’s nothing for me to be there. Cause I’ve got a disabled kid, you know, I’ve got a horse in the race.
David Hirsch: Good point. Thank you for sharing. So I’m. How did Grace’s situation transpire? One was her diagnosis made,
John Dodd: well, we didn’t know until after she was born and we, it became evident.
And so we just, um, cried for about 24 hours and then great credit to my wife. She, as wives usually do as the moms do, unfortunately we dads a lot of time. We gotta be dragged along, but my wife took the lead and. Looked up everybody who was a year or two or three ahead of us and said, all right, what do I do?
And she went out and did it.
David Hirsch: So what was your first reaction other than the sort of overwhelming aspect of, you know, trying to figure out, well, what is down syndrome and what are we going to do?
John Dodd: Well, I tried to, I tried to escape and kind of get away from it, which I certainly understand, you know, you hear the divorce rate, unfortunately, among.
Marriages with special needs kids. It’s like 80%, thankfully, that didn’t happen, but it put, certainly put pressure on our marriage because all of a sudden, you know, our oldest daughter was not in me. We were, we’re not the sole focus of my lungs attention. And now we’ve got this, this new element. In our lives that we’re not used to.
And we don’t have that a book on it. We didn’t study about it. We don’t, I have an experience with it. So it created an adjustment period where all of a sudden, I had to stop navel gazing and go, you know what? I gotta put on my boots and get going and help my wife figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to create a structure, you know, where grace can maximize her potential.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So I’m wondering if there’s any meaningful advice that you got early on from doctors or
John Dodd: others, like you were
David Hirsch: saying, Kathleen might’ve sought out that were a year, years ahead of you.
John Dodd: Well, I think that the most immediate important. Experience, I think for any parent with a special needs child where all of a sudden they learn, Oh, this is different than I thought is, is really in Proverbs 29 18, where there is no vision, the people wander and you can interpret that a lot of ways.
I think that’s a great verse because for me, what was helpful is. You know, I have no vision for this child with down syndrome. I mean, our oldest was only two years old. I had no vision for, I mean, I’m a, basically a brand new parent and now I’ve got a kid with down syndrome. I don’t have a vision. And so I’m wondering, and I’m also wondering, I’m doing both, I’m wondering in the desert what’s going to happen or what really helped was to get a vision and the way we did that was my life.
Thankfully looking up. Some people whose kids were two, three, four years old. And we went over to their house and had dinner and I went and I saw the future and it was beautiful because we went and we saw what these children can develop into and it wasn’t scary. And I saw the future and it was really great.
And so that helped me understand what grace could become. So that was very helpful just to see it and to go, okay, you know, I think we can do this. I think we can make it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s a powerful testimony and it sort of gets back to the whole reason for creating the special fathers network is to put, uh, men who have a little bit more experience in the lives of these younger dads who are close to the beginning of their journey, raising a child or children with special needs.
So, you know, they can. Learn vicariously, maybe copy the good things that these other families are doing. And I learned vicariously through the mistakes or some things that they would do differently if they were able to do it, do it over so that you don’t have to make some of those same mistakes or waste some time doing things that might not be productive for your family or for your child for that
John Dodd: matter.
Exactly. And I think too, not just catching a vision by going over and hanging out with a family whose child is maybe five, six, seven years further down the road. I also had a few, I had some wisdom that people have shared from time to time that I kind of created a David Letterman top 10 list. So yeah. If you don’t mind, I might share it.
Now. It might be helpful for some of our listeners today. Absolutely. So top 10 thoughts for the parent, a special need child. Doesn’t matter if it’s down syndrome or to whatever number one, your child knows a lot more than you think they do. That will always be true. Number two, enjoy the moment. Do not let tomorrow steal today.
Number three, one day, you will look at your child and not see the special need. I’ll never forget. Somebody said that. They said you won’t see the down syndrome. And I thought no way. Well, it’s absolutely true. So you will not see the special need. Number four. I never thought this one would be true. But it’s true.
One day you will feel sorry for those who do not have a child like yours. You know, I think people are, I don’t have a special needs child there. They’re missing. Something. And that would be like 18 podcasts or something what’s you’re missing. We won’t go there, but their lives are not as rich. And I’ll just, I’ll just leave it at that number five, don’t put limitations on your child or pigeonhole them, you know, somebody said, and this is so true.
You’re going to hold your child back. And I thought, what, you know, we’re here to support our child, create this great foundation for success. But they were right, because they’ll be capable of a lot more than we think they are. So Kathleen and I are trying not to hold grace back. She’s done a lot more than we thought she could.
Number six, treat him like any other child. They’ll just take twice as long to do everything, you know? And in some cases, three times as long and they may never do, you know, they might not be the captain of the football team. Who cares, you know, what the captain of the football team has some disabilities, you know what I mean?
They do. I just know it, you know, the homecoming queen, she’s got some disabilities, the people that go to Harvard, they have this abilities, you just don’t see him as much. And by the way, your child that supposedly is disabled, has some tremendous abilities that these other people don’t have. So number seven, do not lower the standard.
Help them meet it again. It may take a lot longer, but they, they can do it. They can do it. Number eight, don’t get caught up in the way you feel. Now you will feel completely different one year from now, one year from then a year from then a year from then. That is so true. Don’t get caught up in how you feel in the moment.
It will get better. Number nine. Remember either they’re fearfully and wonderfully made or someone 39 is a lie. And that’s really boy, you know, we, we love to quote Romans eight 28 and all this and that, and everything’s warm and fuzzy. That’s easy to do when everything’s going well, but when you have a special needs child that brings you face to face with someone 39.
So either it’s true or it’s a lie one way or the other. And number 10, you can do this. If not, God would have skipped you. And I really believe, you know, God created Kathleen and a, with a capacity, a unique capacity that he did not give other parents to raise a special needs child. And I don’t say that prod fully.
I just say. You know, he’s given us the ability to do it. I don’t think I’ve got the ability to raise four boys. You know, that’s just kinda not, I don’t have the competitive gene. I don’t care if you know, my deal is for me to win at football, all means you have to lose, you know, I’m a high, I’m one of those, I’m an Otter, you know, I’m a nice guy.
I don’t want. People to lose. I want them to win. And if that means I got to lose checkers game, I really don’t care. So, you know, I’m not good maybe too, to raise four boys that need to be super hyper competitive. I don’t know. But, um, but I do believe Guidewire’s us uniquely to raise our special needs child, or he wouldn’t have given them to
David Hirsch: us.
Well, thanks for sharing your top 10 list. I’m curious to know where did it come from or over what period of time did you develop it?
John Dodd: Well, probably over. I mean, it was over 10 years, probably from the time grace was born. And I’m just the type guy I like to accumulate wisdom and write it down. I think wisdom is fungible.
In other words, it’s like a banana. If you don’t capture it, it just kinda goes away. It gets right. It gets mold. Nobody’s paying attention to it. So I like to keep it alive and I do that. Yeah. By simply writing it down on a word document or something. I can, I can remember it, my phone. So when I hear. What I call a nugget, just like a gold nugget.
I like to write it down and, you know, I just kinda I’m David Letterman fan. So I like the top 10 list. And so that’s, that’s the best wisdom I’ve accumulated so far. It’s and two, I think as a ministry, we have a special needs child. There’s a lot of reasons for that one is we need to be a ministry to those coming behind us.
You know, I stand on the shoulders of those. Who’ve gone ahead of us. Who’ve started special Olympics and did all these wonderful things that I’ve benefited from, well, I need to be a ministry to those coming behind us. And so that’s part of why I created this list is so that when we do get the call from somebody who says, Hey, I’ve got a brand new child with down syndrome, or what do I do?
This is the first thing I send them. And I think it helps.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Not to focus on the negative, but, uh, I’m curious to know what is it, some of the bigger challenges that you and Kathleen have encountered being parents to a special needs child?
John Dodd: Well, thankfully grace is super, super easy to parent, and I want to give a shout out to all those parents with autistic kids.
For example, that is, that is a whole nother universe. That creates incredible challenges that we’re not familiar with. So when you. Talk about challenges. I would say I got to put an asterisk by our challenges because they’re not very significant. Part of it is she’s she’s high functioning and we live in a community in Brentwood, Tennessee.
That is very. Open and progressive, too special needs. They just love specialist school system. I mean, it has been nothing but great and it’s worked really well. So I think, you know, in terms of challenges, we’ve had very few and integrated into the school system done. Well there graduated on time. The, you know, the special ed degree still doing some transition work with the school system.
We’ve got. Job opportunities lined up that seems to be going well. So that, and the Christian community has been great with, you know, young life Capernaum, their special needs division. That’s been incredible. Our church has been great. We’ve got a special you’ll need Sunday school class. So all of that has just really gone.
Well, I think going forward, the challenge will be Kathleen and are not going to be on the earth forever. And so we need to create a situation for grace to be successful longer term without a spinning around. So that would maybe be a group home, getting conservators, lined up all of that. We’re entering that phase.
Haven’t been there very long. So I think that’s probably our next challenge that we’re trying to scale that Hill, if you will, but really haven’t had any significant issues so far. Well,
David Hirsch: thank you for sharing. And, um, I guess everything is relative. Like you were, you’re saying, if you can put your situation in perspective, knowing that there’s other situations and even within the downs community, not all downs, individuals are high functioning, right?
So that brings along different challenges when there’s, um, an intellectual challenge included, you know, with the down syndrome. So, but that’s just life. Right. You know, not everybody has high functioning, you know, in the typical
John Dodd: community either. That’s right. That’s exactly right.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know what impact has crisis situation had on joy or the rest of your family for that matter?
John Dodd: You know, that’s a great question, David. I think joy would say and has said that naturally when grace was born, which would be two years after joy was born, a lot of attention was placed on her. And rightfully so because of this down syndrome and enjoy suffered for it. There’s no, there’s no question. Joy is the greatest, big sister ever.
And you know, I think like any parent where you’ve got more than one child, I think that the typical child suffers because joy, you know, typically developing great personality, lots of love everything. You know, seem to be going fine and it was going fine, but at the same time time, you know, if you have two hours and you’d like to spend an hour with joy and an hour with grace, it’s probably more like 30 minutes was spent with joy and an hour and a half with grace.
So there there’s no, there’s no question. I think the typically developing child, I don’t know if suffers the right word, but probably gets less attention than they, than they need. And they deserve et cetera. Joy has turned out great. We can not be more proud of her, but I think, you know, I do, I do wish we could, you know, if I could do anything over again, I would say as much as you can try to, you know, try to spend.
As much time with your typically developing kids, as you can, knowing that you just, it’s just impossible to do that. But I would say, you know, check the oil frequently with your, you know, your typically developing child, you know, honey, are you getting enough attention? You know, are you, are you okay? You know, I mean, and you don’t ever know if they’re going to be honest, they might, but it might not be honest because they might.
Say that well, I know my sister needs a lot of attention and you know, I’m okay. But you know, they’re never okay. I mean, kids were, Hey, we’re needy. We need all the attention we can get when we’re growing up. So. I think that’s just a tough balance that every, every parent faces. And again, if I could do anything different or maybe I should have a top 11 list, you know, make sure you check the oil of your typically developing child and make sure they’re getting enough or at least include them, or at least, Hey honey, I know.
You know, our special needs child is getting more attention. Right. I’m just, I’m sorry. You know, I can’t, I’m doing the best I can, you know, what can I do for you? Whatever. I think we could have communicated a little bit better with joy and yet, you know, when she’s five years old or seven years old, I mean, how does she know how much attention she needs or how does she know what she’s not getting?
You know, we often that in hindsight, and then it’s too late.
David Hirsch: Um, Chris know what supporting organization to have you and your family relied on. I think you made reference earlier to young life Capernaum and your church. What role
John Dodd: have they played? Well, they’ve been great from a, just a, a spiritual standpoint in terms of helping us introduce grace to Jesus. And Jesus to grace and we’ve done family camp with young life.
If just, you know, experiencing. Things that normal typically developing families do like family camp. Well, young life has a family camp where you can integrate special needs kids as well. So that’s been great. Just going to church on Sunday, you know, you’re dropping off your typical kid over here and their Sunday school class, but you’ve got an atypical kid.
Where are you going to put them? You can’t put them in the normal third grade class. You either need an aid. To go within there or maybe a special needs Sunday school class. So it’s been real helpful to have be able to experience a normal Sunday where you drop your kids off at Sunday school, you go to worship, et cetera.
That’s been great, special Olympics. Fantastic. And best buddies has been incredible. You know, we, I think as Christians, we, unfortunately, we, we love to bash liberals. And I would say the Kennedy family are liberal and, but were, we’re not for, I forget her name now, the, the founder of the special Olympics, you know, JFK is sister
David Hirsch: Eunice candidate.
John Dodd: There you go. And the fact that the Kennedy’s had, I forget her name, right. They had a special needs sibling or not for, for that. We wouldn’t have special Olympics and then their son. Timothy Shriver started best buddies, which is incredible. And so special Olympics, best buddies started by liberals. I’m so glad they were liberal.
They have just created some fantastic organizations. It’s so interesting because all these typical people, you know, that don’t have special needs because they’re involved to the Hill in special Olympics and in best buddies and have really, you know, they, they have experienced firsthand the blessing of being around.
Special needs kids. And I think that gets back to John nine three, you know, where the disciples asked Jesus, why was this guy born blind? You know, cause he sinned or his parents, you know, bulls are typically clueless. And these, this is now it’s so that the works of God may be displayed in him. Okay. And you know, that’s, I mean, that’s what best bud and special Olympics does.
And so those organizations have been great. We’ve got a very strong, like. Down syndrome association of middle Tennessee. That’s been a great resource for us. So, and again, our school system on the, not every school system is as progressive, which is really sad. And so ours has been very welcoming and, and provided support and services for us to really, to help grace maximize her potential.
And she’s done exactly that.
David Hirsch: So, uh, talking about best buddies. I remember reading, or maybe seeing someplace that grace was recognized last year. What was that about?
John Dodd: Oh yeah, she, well, she was the best buddy, I guess, fundraiser of the year, at least here in middle Tennessee. Typically what best buddies does to raise funds, to defray the costs of operating the program.
They will identify maybe 15, uh, and back fasteners for best buddies and they might be special need. Most of them are not. They’re just young professionals in the community that have gotten involved in best buddies. So they will kind of have a fundraising competition where you’ll have 15 ambassadors for best buddies, go out and try to raise the most amount of money.
And last year grace did it. And so she was recognized the best buddy of the year. So that’s, that was exciting. We, we love that organization and it does such a great job for maybe for our listeners who might not be familiar with typically best buddies. Looks to join a typically developing person, like a ninth grader with a disabled ninth grader, with a special needs person.
Who’s in ninth grade and wants a friend. So best buddies. Basically, if you want a friend, you have a friend. And so they will connect typically developing child with a. I don’t like the word disabled, but I different a child with special needs and they’ll go well, once a month, or more than that, we’ll go to tick Fila and eat lunch, or they’ll go eat ice cream or something after dark, or they’ll go to the football game or whatever, and just do life together.
And. It’s a fantastic organization. I think it goes from ninth grade all the way through college. I believe their college program now that, that connect and it it’s great. It’s, it’s an extension really of special Olympics where there is no athletics involved. It’s just being friends going there. Hang out together and it’s just, it’s really a great blessing for both parties.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Thanks for sharing. So, um, is there a GGS Playhouse there
John Dodd: and you’re not going the woods? GDS Playhouse is fantastic. I’m glad you mentioned that. I forgot to. Yes. And they have been here. Maybe for the last seven years or so. And it’s been a great resource for us, especially I can reading therapy in jobs, skills, job training, uh, grace is involved even in a yoga class.
And so it’s a great part of the community. It’s very near our house, easy to get to, and it just connects people with. Down syndrome with opportunities to do everything. You name it again. Just the few that we’ve been involved in would be job skills. Grace got a job with the predators, our hockey team handing out programs downtown.
That was a fantastic event. She got her first paycheck, which I still have not cashed. It was for 36. It was $36 made out to grace. And I mean, it’s just, it’s incredible. Cause you never, as a parent. I have a special needs kid. Again, you don’t have any vision. Right because you just, there, you’ve never had this experience before.
I never thought she’d get a paycheck and boom, there you go. She’s got a paycheck from the predators. So that came through GGS and their job programs. So GGS is a fantastic, fantastic resource.
David Hirsch: Well, let’s give a special shout out to Nancy and Paul Gianni who are GGS parents. And I don’t know if I’d mentioned this to you, but, uh, they’re neighbors here in the Chicago area.
And a fellow parishioners at st. Anne’s church. So we’ve known the Gianni family well before Gigi was born. And, uh, it’s just been a blessing to see that ministry. They might not refer to it as a ministry, but that ministry grow and blossom with now more than 40 playhouses scattered around North America, including one in Mexico.
What’s most interesting is that they have inquiries. And applications for more than 200 additional playhouses. So, um, from
John Dodd: your lips to God’s ears,
David Hirsch: let’s hope that, uh, you know, that group continues to expand and make an, uh, make an important difference in the lives of families raising a child or children with down syndrome.
John Dodd: And to that, our ed GGS has had incredible impact on typically developing people. I mean, it’s, you know, it’s that whole John nine, three thing it’s and special Olympics has two best buddies. Again, as I mentioned earlier in the interview, all is kind of amazed. When I look at somebody who’s very involved in something like GGS and I’m like, well, no, wait a minute.
You don’t have a special needs kid. So why are you here? They’re here because kind of that John nine, three, they are attracted to what these kids can do. I think God just gives certain people a heart that is looking there’s a, there’s a, there’s a hole in it, and it can only be filled by hanging out with, with special needs kids.
And it’s powerful. So I would say GGS has had a huge impact in the lives of just, you know, people that don’t have a special needs kid they’re just drawn and they get blessed greatly.
David Hirsch: Um, is there a Johnny and friends there in your neck of the woods or not?
John Dodd: Great question. We just had a fun. Johnny was just here in Nashville.
And earlier this month, September, 2019, there is a Knoxville, Tennessee branch of Johnny and friends. And we are looking to establish one in Nashville. And so Johnny was here. We raised money to support that ministry, and that would be things like retreats for families, for parents, you know, marriages with.
Special needs. Kids are under a lot of pressure. They offer retreats for that. There’s a family camp in Tennessee that they help sponsor. And so, yes, we’re. I know Johnny is expanding her, her physical locations. And again, in Tennessee, there’s just one in Knoxville and we’re looking to open one in national.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, Johnny and friends has played an instrumental role in a lot of people’s lives over the last 40 years. I think that’s the time that Johnny and friends, the organization has been around. It’s really an amazing organization you made reference to there. Programs for families. And, uh, we’re blessed to have another one of the, um, special fathers network dads, Steve Bundy, who was one of the senior guys with Johnny and friends out in California, involved in the program.
In fact, he was, if I’ve got my numbers, right. Podcast number 34. So, um, thanks for sharing. I’m wondering, um, you mentioned in a previous conversation, something about while there’s still time devotional, what is that?
John Dodd: Well, it’s just a kind of a speech on put together that I speak from time to time to various groups.
And part of it is about since I’m a financial advisor and I’m also a career. And because of that, my worldview is we don’t own anything. God owns it all. And he just puts us in charge of a certain amount of it. And so we’re called to be stewards and. One thing I’ve learned about stewardship was through my dad’s suicide.
In the sense of that, you know, while there were still time, you know, while he was still alive, I returned to him a portion of what he gave to me. So I returned to him the love, the acceptance, the words of affirmation, all of that, a returned to him, a portion of what he gave to me. And because of that, when he died, I didn’t go Looney tunes.
You know, I had been a good steward of what he had given to me. And so when we had to part company, when he died, I was okay with that because I had been abused steward of what he gave me. Okay. In the same way I realized, well, the parallel is huge. God has given us time, talent, treasure, while there’s still time.
In other words while I still draw a breath and before I get to heaven, while there’s still time, if I’m a good steward, I need to return to God a portion of what he’s given to me. And it’s not just about money. It’s not just about the tie or whatever. It’s about loving the world, loving your neighbor as yourself and doing what Jesus actually told us to do instead of throwing stones, you know, put the stones down and let’s love our neighbor as ourselves.
So. For those who have lost, loved ones are early or even late, you know, dad lived till he was 87. You know, you still hope you can say, you know, I returned to my loved one, a portion of what they gave to me. I gave it back to him. I was a good steward of it. And boy, if you can say that, that sure helps you get along in life, you know?
David Hirsch: well, that’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing. And I think one of the takeaways that I have just from our conversation here is that you don’t want to take things for granted and you don’t want to hold back making those comments, because like you experienced, you know, your dad didn’t live to the ripe old age of 80 something.
He was gone much sooner, much more abruptly. And sadly, that’s just the real world is that a, you know, People are leaving our presence here on earth
John Dodd: at
David Hirsch: random times. And you don’t want to have regrets. So if you were to be intentional, it would be in the message would be, be intentional sooner than you might think, or just to consistently be intentional.
John Dodd: That’s exactly right. And I would encourage everybody to read any book written by Bob Goff. You know, he is so good at seizing the day, you know, Carpe diem, seize the day. Not not waiting around and, Oh, I’ll get to that later. I’ll write that letter later. I’ll express that thought, no, you got to do it now because there is, there is no tomorrow you have to live as if there’s no tomorrow.
David Hirsch: Well, there’s a funny phrase that comes to mind, which has a similar message, which is someday is not a day of the week, so that a, you just need to. Put it on your calendar and do it right. As opposed to talking about it.
John Dodd: That’s right. Exactly right. Excellent.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering what type of advice you can share with other dads or parents for that matter beyond what we’ve discussed about helping raise a child with disabilities to reach their full potential?
John Dodd: say if you’re married, You know, I don’t have any experiences as a single parent, so I can’t speak to that other than to say, God bless you, man. I feel for ya. That is tough. I can’t imagine it, but I can speak to being married for four years. And I think the first thing as a husband, I mean, yeah, you’re, you’re a dad, but if you’re married, you’re a husband and I think the husband role.
Comes first. And I think the key there is communication got to communicate with your, with your wife and make sure she is okay because, you know, at the end of the day, I guess it’s the way God made us. I don’t know what the deal is, but it’s the woman. It’s the mom, you know, they are the ones that are the central figure in mind.
And so, so crucial in raising a special needs child and raising kids period, but particularly special need child. So dads. Husbands check your wife’s oil. Okay. How is the oil doing? You know, if you don’t check the oil, you know, your car is going to run okay. For some period of time and then it’s going to blow up and you’re not, I’m going to be expecting that because you’re not checking the oil.
All, you know, is the car’s running fine. So, and for Kathleen or not, the key. We have 30 minutes together in the morning, not every morning, but most mornings or are in the evening. Whenever it comes and we drink coffee and we just, we just talk and I mean, that’s our oil checking time. And you know, I don’t understand these men who I’ve suggested to some of these dads in the past and like, well, have you asked your wife, hi, honey, how are you?
Things going in our marriage? What, what can I do better? Yeah, give me a grade. I’m a, I’m so old school, you know, I’m, I’m still the th the T you know, the 70 to a 79 is a C right. A 80 to 89. You know, I don’t know this new scoring system. It’s ridiculous, but, you know, I want to be making an a all right. 90 to a hundred, and I know I’ve got a lot of warts and all, but, you know, I want to be scoring today.
And I want, ultimately for Kathleen on her tombstone to say, you know what, I could have married a lot of men. But I’m glad I’m married John dot, you know, cause there’s people that do stuff a lot better. Not do no question, but I want her to be glad she married me. I think that is key because if you got marriage problems, man, you’re going to have a hard time raising a kid, much less a kid with special needs.
So that would be my first thing. Check the oil, ask your wife, look, what can I do better? How can I help you? You know what. You know, read the five, love languages, figure out what your wife’s love language is and go do that. That’s number one. And then number two. Love your child unconditionally. You know, I, I get back to what my parents did.
I mean, they weren’t perfect, but dad gum, they got the right stuff. Right. And by that, I mean, physical touch. I mean, hugging your kids, physical affection, hugging them, telling them you love them. Verbal affection. That’s key. That is, that is huge. And then helping them. Reach their potential. And you know what that may mean they don’t football or they don’t do this, or they don’t do that.
And that applies to any kid. So knees are not in the last thing I would say is just be patient and it kind of gets back to one of my top 10 deals. Look, your kid is going to succeed. They’ll do something. The bell reached their potential. You’ve just got to take your time. You gotta be patient. And I think for men that’s just hard.
I don’t think we’re naturally patient. I think moms are a lot more patient than we are. So love your wife. Well, love your child. Well, and just be, just be patient.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Thanks for sharing. So why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
John Dodd: Well, I think it gets back back to stewardship.
I mean, I have, because I’m the parent of a 21 year old special need child. I have experience and that’s worth something I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done some things really well. I think God can use that for those who come behind me. And I think when we don’t invest in others, That’s not fun. I mean, that’s like, that’s like the dead sea, you know, or flows into it and like nothing else.
And I don’t think that’s very attractive. That’s not the way I want to live my life. So there is a level of pain. Certainly, you know, I’ve got scars from my dad’s suicide from being picked last for kickball, whatever it is, but God can redeem that pain. I don’t think he wastes pain at all. And I think the only way to redeem it.
Is to help others who are experiencing that same pain, help them. So maybe their scar is not as big as yours. And I just want to give back because people have gone ahead of me who have given back to me, but not just that a stewardship opportunity. What has God given you the ability to do? What experiences has he given you?
What wisdom has he given you and how can you apply that? You know, if you. If some guy needs help in how to start a business, I got no clue. That’s not what I do. That’s not my experience. You know how to coach a football team. That’s not what I do, no clue, but you know, each of us has certain abilities, certain skills, and that God has given us.
We need to use him for, for his glory and, and for the good of the body of Christ. And, and for the, not the body of Christ, but praise God for unbelievers who kind of go, wow, you’re willing to love my kid. This is what, what is your deal? What’s different about you all? It’s the love of Christ. He told me to love my neighbor as myself and, you know, so that’s what I’m doing.
So hopefully we can bring some people to Jesus and help, you know, it’s, it’s just, uh, a great opportunity to express unconditional love.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thank you for sharing and thank you for being part of the network. We’re glad to have you. Let’s give a special shout out to pan Harmon of young life Capernaum for putting us in contact with one another.
John Dodd: Yes, Pam is fantastic and has such a great heart for our, our friends. She calls them our friends with special needs and she’s so great at that has devoted a lot of her life to helping, you know, helping them. Meet Jesus love Jesus. Certainly there’s challenges there to help them understand it. It’s hard enough.
Right? Right. If you’re not special needs to understand Jesus and to grasp him. And, uh, so she’s done a great job at helping our friends and, um, I’m grateful to Pam.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to share before we wrap
John Dodd: up? Let me close with this, and it’s a great encouragement to the dads. And I think this is why like it or not dads, you are incredibly important.
We are important what I’ve experienced with grace and 21 years and having a child with down syndrome is this, when we are out as a family, we’re at the mall, we’re at the movie we’re at home Depot or whatever. We are under constant surveillance. And a lot of you dads know what I’m talking about. People stare, they’re watching and they look at your kid because your kid is different and they’re looking at you and they’re looking at mom.
And they’re what they’re asking when they stare, when they look part of what’s on their mind is wow, this kid’s different. Disabled. Oh, how sad. I mean, that’s the way I used to look, you know what? I didn’t have a kid with special needs and you saw one yet. I always felt compassionate. I felt sorry for that family because, Oh my gosh, they’ve got this kid with special needs.
Oh, well, that doesn’t changed. That’s one of the thoughts going through people’s mind. And so when I’m out in public, people are staring and that’s fine. You get used to that. It’s no big deal, but here’s what they’re asking. One of the things on their mind, they would never tell you this. But you, and I know it’s true because I used to think this before I had a child with special needs.
They’re asking this question, what does that child worth? Cause they’re, they’re looking at the family and they see mom now, you know, moms are great because most moms are, you know, they’re just, they love their kid. It doesn’t matter if the child has three heads and 14 toes. I mean, they that’s the way God wired moms, praise God for that.
Cause we men, we just, a lot of times we can’t handle it. I think that’s why you see a lot of men take off when they have a special need shop. But the world looks at mom and they expect mom to love that child. And, and to embrace that child and to think that child is written, they expect that because she’s the mom, but then they look at the dad and they’re asking, how is that dad going to value a child?
Who will never score a touchdown. You know, they’re not going to be the King or the Prince or the whatever, you know, all the things, the world values. So greatly, they’re looking at dad and they’re asking, how is that dad gonna value that child? Because the world doesn’t value that child for the most part, right?
Because they’re disabled, they’re not going to do all this thing. The world’s think’s important. So they’re, they’re looking at dad. And the way dad response is going to speak volumes about the value of these children, about that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. So. I mean, I’m always hugging grace.
So I’m always doing high fives. I’m always trying to demonstrate to the world. This is an awesome kid and that every human life has tremendous value they’re made in the image of God. It doesn’t matter what the world. Classifies them as, but that really, that, that stops with dad because they expect mom embrace this kid, but not dad.
And when the dads out there are supporting their special needs child and loving them and given the world a visible demonstration, Of who God is and that these kids are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God doesn’t make mistakes. That that’s powerful. I mean, that’s, and I’ve had, it’s really interesting.
We’ve been in public situations. This happened at Disney. It happened at a restaurant. It happens fairly frequently. These perfect strangers come up to us. And of course they’ve been observing us and they’ll say, Oh, your family is incredible. I just, we just never seen anything like that. You know, we’re just eating, you know, it took flight or whatever, and we’re just doing life, you know, and home Depot and these people come up and they say that, well, why is that?
It’s because they are now free to attach value to this child. That they were not able to attach previously because they don’t know how to value a special needs child until they see the parent. Attach the value and the number one parent who attaches the value. I think it’s the debt because the world expects mom to do it, but not the dad.
So that’s what I would encourage our dads. You’re under constant surveillance. You already know that, use that for God’s glory. Use that to give the world a visible demonstration of who God is. And so that John nine, three holds true in your life. This was done so that the works of God, maybe at Home Depot.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing. So if somebody wants to get a copy of the top 10 thoughts for a down syndrome, parents information on young life, Capernaum or contact you, how would they go about doing that?
John Dodd: Sure. It’s JohnPalmerdodd@gmail.com. We’d love to send it out and would love for you to, even if you don’t have a special needs child or whatever, send it to other people. If we can get wisdom out there, that’s a good thing.
David Hirsch: John, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, John is just one of the dads who’s agreed to be a mentor father as a 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, your own, please go to. 21stcenturydads.org. There are a host of ways you can support the Special Fathers Network.
You can post a review on iTunes, share the podcast with friends as well as make a charitable donation to the 21st century Dads Foundation. John. Thanks. It’s again,
John Dodd: David. Thank you. Enjoyed it. And. God bless our, our listeners feel free to email me. If you got any questions or love to just support you in any way, I can.
Tom Couch: Thank you for listening to the dad, to dad podcast presented by 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. Special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups and search dad to dad.
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The dad to dad podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.