On this Dad to Dad podcast, host David Hirsch talks with special father Jeff Katz. Jeff is the afternoon host of The Jeff Katz Show at News Radio WRVA, in Richmond Virginia. He has three children including Julie who has global development delays and is non-verbal. Jeff tells his life story and why he truly treasures his daughter Julia. That’s all on this Dad to Dad podcast. To find out more about Jeff and WRVA go to Newsradiowrva.radio.com/shows/jeff-katz.
Dad to Dad 76 – Talk Radio Host Jeff Katz Treasures His Daughter, Julia, Who Has Global Development Delays
Jeff Katz: Julia in 16 years, truly. I mean this sincerely, I think Julia has touched more people than anybody. I know. I don’t know how religious other people are, but I look at Julia and I see the face of God. I see somebody who is pure with absolutely no ulterior motives whatsoever. Except maybe the occasional cookie, uh, but somebody who does take such great delight in a breeze or a cookie or splashing in the water or hearing one of her favorite songs, it’s almost a grounding. If you will, to really appreciate. Those things that so many of us just walk past.
Tom Couch: That’s Jeff Katz, radio host at Newsradio w RVA in Richmond, Virginia. Jeff has three children, including Julia who has global development disabilities. Jeff will tell us his story and why he truly treasures his daughter Julia.
That’s all 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 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: And now let’s listen in to this conversation with special father Jeff Katz and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Jeff Katz of Richmond, Virginia, who is a father of three posts to the Jeff cat show on Newsradio WRVA.
Jeff, thank you for taking time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Jeff Katz: Absolutely. My pleasure. I appreciate the invitation.
David Hirsch: Uh, you and your wife, Heidi had been married for 20 years now. The proud parents of three children, Harry 18, Joe 15 and Julia who’s 16 who has global developmental disabilities and is nonverbal.
Jeff Katz: That’s correct.
David Hirsch: Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up?
Tell me something about your family.
Jeff Katz: Okay. I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, blue collar neighborhood, Oxford circle in Philadelphia. My dad worked for the federal government for the better part of 40 plus years, uh, was never entirely sure exactly what it was that he did, so I used to tell my friends, he was a spy.
I don’t think that was the case, but who knows? Cause I really legitimately never knew exactly what it was that he did. And my mom was a nurse. She worked at Episcopal hospital in Philadelphia and at the time she was there Epsicopal hospital was the, uh, the rape crisis center for the city. So it was a very, very active, uh, ER, and uh, med surg floors.
David Hirsch: So I have this picture of your dad. Like that even have a coat and tie a hat, he would have his briefcase. He would go off to work every day and come back and never talk about what he does.
Jeff Katz: Pretty much. My dad always left for my dad, always left for work before we were awake. He was out the door probably by four 30 in the morning and would come home six-thirty, seven o’clock at night.
And yes, he was always impeccably dressed. Uh, sadly that trait did not flow down a generation. And, uh, he was always going to suit and tie and had his briefcase hard side face, by the way.
David Hirsch: That was the picture I had in my mind. Thank you for sharing.
Jeff Katz: Yes.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about, yeah. How would you describe your relationship with them?
Jeff Katz: Uh, my dad was a character. My dad was a kid, the guy that never finished high school. And as an adult went back to get his high school diploma. Uh, he left and joined the military. He served overseas. Uh, he served in between world war II when the official start of the Korean conflict. And, uh, he was pretty.
Seriously injured while he was over there. I only learned about it and the story behind it, uh, when he was honored, uh, at the chapel of the Fort chaplains in Philadelphia, and I was maybe 10, 12 years old. And I remember that my folks took me out to a, to buy a suit, took my brother out to buy a suit. And that was a very big deal.
And they, they told us we’re going to go to this event if you know that the story of the four chaplains, you know, they’re four chaplains on board, the United States, army transport ship, the Dorchester. Sure. Uh, it gets hit. Uh, it is the middle of the night. They’re on their way. There’s somewhere near Iceland.
If memory serves and the ship is going down and there is a rabbi, a Catholic priest who Protestant ministers and they are comforting. The thousands of men who are on board that ship. And they are helping those men get into life rafts. And one of the stories involves the, uh, the rabbi who told a young man, Hey, uh, take my gloves.
You know, it’s cold out here on debt. You need a pair of gloves. And the young man said, Oh, but, uh, Lieutenant, uh, you know, what about you? He says, well, you know, I’m an officer. We all get two pairs of gloves. Well, the reality was, of course he didn’t have two pairs of clubs and those four chaplains went down with that ship.
They gave up their seats in those lifeboats. And so every year, the chapel, the four chaplains, which is located in Philadelphia, finds people that in their opinion, evoke the memory. Of those four chaplains. And so one year, uh, my dad was honored and I, and I, I always thought that this really defined who my father was.
My father was walking from our house to, uh, a street where we did our shopping while he got down there a little bit, not a little street, a big street called Castro. There was a fire and there was a fire on the lower level. Um, I’m assuming it’s sort of the same in other industrial cities. You know, there were apartments on top of the, uh, the stores stores in the first level two or three apartments up and he climbed up and he rescued an older woman, carried her down the steps, and I was getting ready to go back in when the Philadelphia fire department showed up and said, okay, you know, thanks very much.
We’ve got it from here. And. I don’t know, maybe a month or so later, we got this huge package from the white house and it was this certificate and letter for my father. From a then president Richard Nixon saluting him for his heroism. And all of a sudden we were getting a mail from the mayor of Philadelphia and the governor of Pennsylvania and the fire commissioner and all these other folks.
And, uh, the one that was the big deal, I guess, was the chapel of the four chaplains. And so we went there and they were honoring my father and I was very, very proud. And they started talking about him and probably for the first time ever, I really listened to somebody talk about my father. It’s not about anything.
And the gentleman who was speaking talked about Harold Katz and how Harold had served in the United States army, how Harold left Philadelphia with 2020 vision and a beautiful smile. And I thought, what. You know what an odd thing to say and I, yeah, and it didn’t quite resonate immediately. And I thought, well, I’ve always known my father too.
Have contact lenses and glasses and false teeth. So I thought it was bizarre. And then he started telling the story of how my father lost the sight in one eye and lost all the teeth. In his hand, he was in a Jeep, he was a military policeman and he was with somebody else. And the Jeep got hit. This started tumbling down the side of a mountain or something.
And. Uh, the crossbar that with the older Jeeps held the windshield in place. If you remember the episodes of mash that crossbar came loose and went through one cheek and out the other and knocked out every tooth in his head and costume division in one eye. And I was, I was blown away. And after the ceremony, I said to my dad, how come you’ve never told me the story?
I mean, I just thought it was, I just thought it was the coolest story of all time. And of course, I think in some part I’m thinking, Hmm, I wonder how I could use this. Could I tell other people about my dad be hero? And he said, listen, uh, number one, I was the lucky one. Cause the other guy in the Jeep didn’t come home at all.
Wow. And number two, you don’t do things for credit or for certificates or diplomas or trophies you do them because they’re the right things to do. And that’s the last time we ever spoke about that. And so that really defined for me who my father was and provided me with a life lesson that I have kept close to my heart, uh, that entire time and try to instill for sure, in my sons than anybody else.
David Hirsch: That is a remarkable story. Yeah. Thank you for sharing. What a role model your dad was not only to you and your siblings, but. You know, anybody that he came in contact with and the, the humility and how humble he is about the incident, uh, makes it even more impactful. Thank you. Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing.
Jeff Katz: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: Thinking about your dad. Are there any other takeaways when you think about your dad and foreign lessons that you might’ve learned, things that he said that like resonate with you today?
Jeff Katz: Sure. Well, probably the best lesson he ever taught me was don’t you stupid? And, uh, he we’d sometimes punctuate that with, uh, a few phrases at the end.
I won’t share with you, but you know, colorful language to make sure I got the, I got the points. Uh, and frankly, I think it’s a good lesson and don’t be stupid and it eliminates the need for a rereading of the criminal code or. Or sexual harassment training at work, or, you know, stealing candy, don’t be stupid.
You know, you’re supposed to do the right thing and that’s, and that’s, that’s the end of it. I think the other lesson that I always learned from him was that he was. My father, despite the fact that he thought he was very funny and now great appreciation for other people’s humor, which was a wonderful trades.
But every once in a while, he would venture off into the territory of trying to tell a joke, which would simply remind all of us that. He really just wasn’t all that funny. Uh, he tried though, and, uh, you know, we appreciated that.
David Hirsch: That’s wonderful. Well, thanks for sharing.
Jeff Katz: Sure.
David Hirsch: So, um, where did you go to school?
Jeff Katz: I went to a graduated from central high school in Philadelphia, and that was the exam school. New York city has like Bronx science and stipends in Philadelphia. We had a central high school of Philadelphia and ever since then, I’ve. Dabbled in my collegiate work for years, never did quite get around to finishing any of it, but someday I’m sure.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, you had mentioned that your dad didn’t finish high school, right?
You did finish high school.
Jeff Katz: I did.
David Hirsch: So you’ve made some progress up and above what your dad did, educationally.
Jeff Katz: Yes. And my oldest boy, I don’t know if you can see over my shoulder. My oldest boy is a freshman at Stanford, so he’s, uh, hopefully elevating it, uh, one or two steps above me.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing. Yeah. And. Where did your career start and how did it lead to what you’re doing today?
Jeff Katz: Well, my first real job was in Philadelphia as a police officer. And, uh, I had not intended to be a police officer. My dad had a pretty massive heart attack and the family was in a, in a tough way.
And, uh, I was able to get a job as a police officer at worked in North Philadelphia and did that for a couple of years. And it’s, I think about how long ago it was. But I am still friends with so many of the, uh, the men that I worked with that long ago. I mean, it really has left a pretty sizable impression.
Uh, I transitioned from that. I started doing a lot of media work for the police union and, uh, began writing certain op EDS and the newspaper and appearing on radio and appearing on television. And, um, Just sort of threw caution to the wind and took a job with a very small radio station as a salesman in Atlantic city, New Jersey.
And I was by all accounts, the worst radio salesman in history, and there’s probably a small plaque somewhere devoted, uh,
David Hirsch: Did the radio get you a lot of business?
Jeff Katz: It did not. However, it wasn’t for my lack of trying, I guess it was, we, we played the easy listening music. I mean, it was just, it was. Boring beyond belief.
It was just terrible, but we played music and I was at a radio station and I had no idea what I was selling and that was the real problem. And so after a couple of months, there was an on air opening for an overnight music guy. And I went to my sales manager and I said, Tom, you know, I really would love to do this on air stuff.
Do you think I could put in for it? And then he was, uh, Tom was a very colorful character and he stood up and with a very big flourishy, he went to the big board and he said, okay, let me see April, you have sold nothing. May you have sold nothing. June, you have sold nothing. He says. I’m pretty sure we can get along without you.
So go right ahead. And, uh, so I went and I was now working six and a half days a week and making absolutely no money, but, but love the fact that I was on the air. We had a very small am station that. Really had no, it had no listeners, uh, it, it had no power. It was about, I think it was seven Watts, which you could look at a light bulb in your office and you’ve got about 10 times more power than that radio station.
But I said to the general manager, I said, look, I really want to do talk radio. And he said, we don’t have a talk radio station. He said, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. He says, I will give you two hours on the am station that nobody can hear. And nobody’s listening to you go out and sell that time. So I thought, well, now this is an interesting challenge because I knew I couldn’t sell the music station cause they didn’t know about it.
And then I went out and I started selling the talk station because I was selling me and I did have a little clue as to how that works. And that was my first real talk radio job.
David Hirsch: So how long ago would that have been
Jeff Katz: more than 20 years ago? That’s a long time ago. Yes.
David Hirsch: Are you a pretty young punk back then?
Jeff Katz: Yeah. Well now I’m just a old and decrepit, but yes.
David Hirsch: Okay, well, that’s fabulous. So you’ve written for the Boston Herald because I know that I’ve seen some of your pieces. Is that something that’s an on again, off again, or was that more of a full time gig
Jeff Katz: for awhile? I have always written columns and it’s been in a variety of different places.
The Boston Herald was for a couple of years. I also helped them launch their online radio station called Boston Herald radio, and very proud to say that mine was the. Was the first voice ever heard on Boston Herald radio. And, uh, it’s just a great team of people at the Herald and a newspaper that, uh, that I love.
And so when they said we’d like you to write a column for us as well, Yeah, that was, I didn’t even bother asking how much they paid. So I was, I was just thrilled to do it.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome.
Jeff Katz: Yeah.
David Hirsch: How long have you been with WRVA then?
Jeff Katz: Uh, I have just completed six years here.
It’s Newsradio 1140 WRVA. You know how excited I am that we’ve got footage. Ball professional football coming back to Richmond. The Richmond rough riders are really getting geared up.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. That’s very interesting career path. Thank you. And I’m sort of curious to know how did you and Heidi meet?
Jeff Katz: Well, there’s an official version and not official version. I’ll I’ll tell you the real version.
David Hirsch: Is that your version is her version.
Jeff Katz: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Okay. As Heidi tells the story, she used to listen to me when I was doing mornings at wr O in Boston. And the reason she listened to me was she absolutely.
She just hated me. You’re on the air. She hated the show. She hated it, everything about it. And she, I used her clock radio across the room from her bed. And she said that way, when you came on, I was forced to get up and get out of bed and turn you off. I had to walk across the floor, no chance of getting back into bed.
I said, okay. Now, at some point we, we had a contest on the show and the contest was that you were going to win lunch with me. They’re going to be, I think, 20 listeners that one lunch with me at a, at a restaurant in Boston. And she had just broken up. With a boyfriend and she’s a big hiker. She still lives to this day.
And she used to go hiking with a group of people and stuff. So they came back from a hike and here I was, the radio was on and I was babbling about the contest where you could win lunch with me. And they said, well, you want to enter that show? I can’t do that. I can’t stand that guy. And they said, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Not, not to meet him, but you know, they’re going to be 19 other people there. There’s going to be somebody interesting. Why not enter the contest and meet 19 interesting people and get a free lunch? I don’t know. I don’t know. Well, she wound up calling the station through. This peer pressure of her hiking group.
And she claims that I, I asked her some very odd questions and I don’t remember asking any of those questions. So, uh, she did with that, let’s just put it that way. So the day comes and she’s supposed to come out to this lunch and she is now, you know, trying to think of reasons not to go and she’s running late and she has to do this and her friend’s like, Oh no, no, no.
You know, You won this, you have to go, you’re going to beat new people. So she went and I met everybody around the table, shook hands, and I met her and sat down right next to her and started talking and we had a marvelous conversation. And. Many times through the course of that lunch, my producer came over, says, Jeff, you know, you have to talk to everybody.
You can’t just sit here and talk to her. Her, you have to get up and move. I said, okay. Okay. And I would do that. I make a quick circuit to the table. Hey, it’s great. Thank you for listening. And I go sit down next to her. So. I liked her. And, uh, at the end of this, I gave my producer one of my cards. I said, Peter, do me a favor, go give my card.
So that, that woman, Heidi, that I’ve been talking to and he said, okay, so he went over to her and said, well, listen, Jeff really enjoyed talking with you. And, um, he wanted you to have his card. So, you know, if you’d like to get together at some point and Heidi took out one of her cards and said, you give him my card.
If he’s interested in going out, he can call me. So I did that. So that was 21 years ago. And, uh, I guess it took, you know,
David Hirsch: so you can say the rest is history.
Jeff Katz: The rest is history. Absolutely. Is
David Hirsch: that the official story or the unofficial story?
Jeff Katz: No, that’s, that’s the real story. That’s what that is. What I, years ago, I, I never included the, we met on the radio Pardot.
We ran into each other somewhere and, uh, but. Yeah. That’s what happened. It was one of those goofy things. There you go.
David Hirsch: I love that. Thank you for sharing. So let’s switch gears and talk about, um, special needs first on a personal level and then beyond. Yeah. So I’m sort of curious to know before Julia was born, did you, or how do you have any connection to the special needs community?
Jeff Katz: The only connection that I had is that I had an aunt, my aunt, aunt Ethel, who at the time was described as mentally retarded. That was the term that was used in the sixties and seventies. And. I remember that we used to go visit my mom, aunt Ethel. She was institutionalized.
And she was at a facility called Laurelton, which was again, I grew up in Philadelphia and that was if memory serves somewhere out, closer to Harrisburg, so a couple of hour drive to get there. And I can remember even as a little kid driving up to this place and thinking to myself, my God, it looks like a prison.
You know, it really that’s what it looked like. And the reality was in many ways it was, it was a, um, It was like a warehouse for human beings and we would take my aunt Ethel. It would be me depending on who went often. My father, uh, my uncle Mort always drove. He was big on that. And we would take my aunt out for the lobby to the store and we would always go to lunch and then dinner.
And my aunt Ethel always got a steak. That was her thing. And by God, she was going to have a steak and then we’d have to take my NFL back to Laurelton. And she would cry and scream and fight not to get out of the car because she simply did not want to go back inside that facility. And it was, you know, it was a terrible existence.
It was, again, it was a warehouse really for human beings. And number of years later, my aunt had the opportunity. They placed her in a group home in, uh, Pottstown, Pennsylvania. And she was living in a beautiful home in a, in a neighborhood. I don’t know, 10 of them, other women who had a variety of disabilities, they had staff members that worked at the, the group home.
And I could remember, and we went there, uh, for the first time. Number one, we were all thrilled that. You know, there were no Gates, there was no razor wire. It was, it was. And, uh, it was all righty of, of women again with actual needs and challenges and disabilities. And, uh, but they were in a home and they were sitting on couches and some were watching TV and some were crocheting and some were playing with the dog and some were playing with the cat and we took my aunt Ethel out, as we always did.
We went to lunch week. Bought some things we were getting ready to go out to dinner. And, uh, when we took her back, uh, my answer, okay, listen, uh, you have to go now because, uh, the ladies and I are going, we’re going to a movie this evening and I just don’t have time. And it was, you know, even to this point, I mean, it was the most amazing, meaningful, wonderful blow off that anybody ever had.
She had her life. And she worked in a sheltered workshop, which for her was a wonderful experience. She and the ladies, uh, took the bus from, you know, up at the corner bus stop to work. And they worked in the workshop and, uh, they came home and they took turns cleaning and making dinner and taking care of, as I said, the dog and the cat and seeing, seeing relatives when they had time and going out and.
And living life, which is exactly what she was entitled to do. And so it was, um, it was a marvelous, marvelous thing to say.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, that’s a very inspiring story. And, uh, what else? 180, right?
Jeff Katz: Yeah.
David Hirsch: From living in a warehouse for human beings to living in a group home and having a pleasant existence.
Right. You know, and now obviously she had her challenges, whatever they were, but, uh, it’s um, inspiring to hear that, uh, The second part of her life was a much more pleasant existence, then institutional nature. I think that the world is changing right as it relates to how we think about people with differences.
Right. And that, uh, you know, it was thought previously, like sort of public housing was thought, Oh, well, let’s put all these poor people together. There’ll be economies of scale. All right. Let’s put all these people who have differences together. There’ll be some economies of scale. And you realize that creates these human conditions that are not humane.
Jeff Katz: Exactly.
David Hirsch: So thank you for sharing. So that was your real first exposure to special needs.
Jeff Katz: Yeah, absolutely.
David Hirsch: So, uh, What is Julia’s diagnosis and how did that transpire?
Jeff Katz: Well, uh, Julia’s official diagnosis is global developmental delays and disabilities, which is apparently a medical legal. Talk for she’s 16, she functions at the level of an 18 month old.
We can’t give you any more details. So I mean, that’s, that’s what it is. And as I’ve often said, what about Julia? You know, she’s, she’s Julia she’s, she’s my daughter. She’s my princess. She’s not a, not a collection of labels or, or diagnoses. Uh, she’s, she’s a person. And, um, but again, we know, uh, here she is 16 years old.
Functions at the level of about an 18 month old, uh, child, uh, she doesn’t speak, uh, she, um, learn to walk. I’m going to say about two years ago and it’s still it’s. I always describe it as Franklin tiny, you know, it’s, it’s not steady, but she did it. And when Heidi and I first became aware that there was something different about Julia, my oldest guy, Harry was about a year old.
And Harry, the Stanford man was always, he was always hitting his milestones far before he was supposed to hit his milestones. So he’s, he’s, he’s been that overachiever and you’d be happy to sit down with you and explain how, how overachieving he is at some point, it’s a smart kid, but
David Hirsch: I’m going to ask him.
What his father means to him. That’s the question I want here.
Jeff Katz: Oh my gosh. I’m not sure. I want to know. Not yet. Maybe in a couple of years I’ve listened to the answer, but yeah, so, so I mean, we were used to Harry doing everything. He was supposed to do everything. The book, you know, the little owner’s manual.
Here you go. You had a kid and no. Okay. Page seven, you should be turning over and crawling and yep. There he is. He’s doing that. Check it off the list. And Julia wasn’t, uh, Julia was clearly happy. She was pleasant, but she didn’t roll over and she didn’t try to crawl and you could take her and literally put her down on the floor and you could have come back an hour later.
And Julia would have been in exactly the same spot. She wouldn’t have rolled over. She wouldn’t have tried to crawl somewhere, so we knew something was going on. And we just didn’t know what I had this memory of it, my aunt Ethel. And I thought, well, I don’t know. You know, I had always been told that condition was the result of not getting enough oxygen when she was delivered.
Can reality, is that what I know now, uh, is that Ethel had syndrome. That’s what that would have been. In terms of a diagnosis. And I thought, okay, well, is, is that what this is? Are there chromosomal things? Heidi had never had any relatives or any real exposure to anybody body with, with disabilities. So we went through the process that I think most parents go through and you are at first.
You’re very concerned about your child clearly, but you’re also asking yourself, so what did I do and how did I mess this up? And why is my child going to not be able to do this or not going to be able to do that? And why me? There’s a lot of why me. And you’ve got to get through that. And you’ve got to wrap your head around the idea that you, you may or may not have had a role in it.
You know, uh, sometimes it is just that luck of the draw. So we also noticed a little dimple in Julia’s back, uh, like right on, right above her tush. And, uh, we said we were short. That’s what the big issue was. And so we went to the pediatrician and the pediatrician poking and prodding and asking questions.
You know, the, the little dimple was, uh, related to, uh, one particular thing, uh, physical malady, but he said it was, it’s going to be a big issue, but he said, but I want you to take a look at Julia’s hair. Okay. You know, I love Julia, so sure. I’m happy to look at her hair. And he says, do you see how her hair starts in the middle of her head and rotates out from there?
And I said, yeah, he said, well, yours doesn’t and mine. Doesn’t and Heidi’s doesn’t and folks who are developing appropriately. Their hair is off to the side one way or the other. It’s not directly in the middle. He said, so that’s an indication that we have some chromosomal issues and that began the process.
Yes. You know, Julia in 16 years has seen more doctors than I’ve seen in 50 and has been through more. Chromosomal tests and a variety of things, you know, you, you just sort of at some point say, okay, I don’t know what this is. And one of the drawbacks, I suppose, with the internet is that, uh, we’re all, uh, genetic experts and medical experts.
And so Heidi and I were online and we were convinced, Oh, it’s clearly this syndrome and you go, Oh my gosh. So. Kids with that syndrome don’t live beyond six or somebody with this ailment is going to have a painful and. None of it apparently was correct, but we don’t know. We, we, we can say, they can say, look, uh, if you look at the spacing and Julius teeth, they’re spaced in a way that tells you there’s a chromosomal component, you look at her hair, there’s a chromosomal component.
You look at the fact that her nose is a little flatter than yours or your wife’s. That means there’s a chromosomal component, but we can’t tell you which of the chromosomes. We can’t tell you what it is. And so you, well, I don’t want to say you cause I’m sure everybody’s experience and journey is, is unique.
Ours was that we said, okay, we need to know everything we can to make life as good for Juliette as possible. But again, she’s Julia and she’s not going to be defined by, uh, a diagnosis. So. That’s that’s where we are. We know that, um, Julia loves music and she loves water and she has tendencies that are probably on the, uh, the autism scale, but that’s not necessarily a diagnosis.
And, and we know above all else that, uh, uh, Julia is actually very healthy and strong and loves cookies. That’s that’s her thing. So, um, anytime I can sneak her extra cookies, I, I do that even though I’m not supposed to.
David Hirsch: So she loves music, water and cookies. Yup. She’s really strong. You did mention that she’s nonverbal.
So I’m wondering, how does she communicate? Does she have a device that she uses to communicate?
Jeff Katz: Yes. At school she uses some touch screen stuff. It’s pretty basic what they’re doing there. Uh, some things with buttons, I think for, for Heidi and myself, we’ve. We’ve kind of figured out what it is that Julia once and while that’s, it’s a good thing.
When your mom and dad, you also, you have to sit back and say, okay, let’s, let’s be honest about this. You’re not going to be around forever. Right. And Julia is going to have to be able to communicate with other people who do not have the same insight that you do. She’s going to have to learn how to do as much for herself as was possible.
And, you know, that could be a challenge, a timewise if you’re waiting for Julia to herself. And again, food is a great motivator for Juliet, just as it is for her, her dad. Uh, she, you know, she’s, she’s my girl, but if you’re trying to get everybody and get homework done and get this done. You don’t necessarily have an extra hour so that Julia can sort of explore the food or make a choice each time.
And you, you know, you just kind of feed her and it has to get done. And so that’s, you have to be aware of, you have to be cognizant as, as, as a parent that you are going to have to let her do. As much as she can. And sometimes that, that can be a pain and then what’s funny or not funny is that you’re the parent of a special needs kid.
And you’re like, Oh my God, I can’t believe that. I think her activities are a pain and then hiding that, which opens like, yeah, she’s, she’s simply one of the cats kids, which means she can be wonderful and loving and she can also be a pain. This is it she’s like anybody else in this house. So I, you know, if I’m at work, Julia has figured out if we have a playroom set up for her and I have installed a gate because as Julia’s learned how to walk.
That’s wonderful on the one hand, but Julia has absolutely no concept of, Oh, those are steps I could fall down or the stove is hot or, you know, she’s got her toys and she has it television and it’s right. Where she can see us, but for her safety, we just have, you know, like a baby gate or a little child gate up, but she has outsmarted me many times and figured out how to get it open, especially if somebody has forgotten to lock it.
And I’m not. Saying who that is, but it’s Heidi and Julia’s one mission, as I said is cookies. So she gets out, she goes to the cupboard. She takes out a package of cookies at Heidi has sent me more photos while I’m at work. Julia is. In the middle of the kitchen floor and there are 30 cookies scattered about her and there’s one bite taken out.
Each one, she picks it up, she bites it, she flings it in the air and she gets a fresh one. So I, now I think , but again, I’m at work and I don’t have to clean it up. So. I guess, I guess the humor is sometimes lost on Heidi, but I find it very, very amusing.
David Hirsch: So I no doubt she would be referred to as the cookie monster in your family.
Jeff Katz: Absolutely. Always her favorite character on Sesame street facts.
David Hirsch: I love it. So I’m wondering if there’s some meaningful advice that you received early on, either from doctors or therapists, that’s allowed you to put this all in perspective. And in a positive light, like you’re describing
Jeff Katz: well, uh, I think we’ve gotten a lot of information.
I don’t know that I would describe the advice from doctors necessarily as being positive. I think doctors by nature have a tendency to be clinical. And my mom who spent 40 years as a med surge nurse would tell you that doctors care about symptoms and nurses care about patients. My doctor, friends, some of them would argue with that.
And some of them acknowledge that’s mostly true. So. We’ve we’ve consumed a lot yeah. Of information and a lot of data and a lot of details from the medical community. But I think it’s been good. Julia. That’s that’s educated. Yeah. And it’s been Julia who’s given us the opportunity to, to see things differently.
She. You know, at various stages in her life, she’s been in a, in a big traditional wheelchair and that’s one of those skills. I wish I didn’t have the ability to assemble and disassemble a wheelchair, but it also has prompted other children to come up and with no filter say, Hey, what’s the deal with her?
You know why she got wheels? And sometimes you see moms or dads going, Oh my God, don’t say that. And we’re. Perfectly okay. With absolutely come up and let’s talk about it and yep. Julia likes cookies. Just like you do prefers them to string beans just as you do, but you know, she has trouble walking, so she’s got the wheelchair and invariably the response from kids is, Oh, okay.
And they’re off to do something else. It’s just not, not a big deal for them. I think the other thing that we’ve taken from Julia is that. Julia appreciates things on a level that the vast majority of us do, not most of us. And I include myself, this we’re thinking about things and how many things do I have and how do I get more things?
And you know, what do I do with the things I have and things of that? Well, thank you. So that sort of, uh, Julia. You know, Julia loves a breeze, face lights up when the wind blows and she can feel that she, she giggles in a way that is truly just the best sound I have ever heard when she hears something that she likes or is funny or some sort of song that she enjoys when Julia.
Cries, which thankfully is not all that often. It is it’s gut wrenching because she can’t tell you, Oh, I fell or my ear hurts or I have a cold and I can’t blow my nose. Um, and you just, uh, you just sit there and try and discern what’s going on, but the, to, to hear Julia cry is just, uh, uh, It’s it’s, it’s the worst sound ever, but the giggle is the best and Julia in 16 years, truly.
And I, and I, and I’m, I mean, this sincerely, I, I think Julia has touched more people than anybody. I know. I don’t know how religious other people are, but I look at Julia and, um, Uh, I see the face of God. I see somebody who is pure with absolutely no ulterior motives whatsoever, except maybe the occasional cookie.
Uh, but, but somebody who takes such great delight in. In, in a breeze or a cookie or, or, or splashing in the water or hearing one of her favorite songs and you realize, okay, there’s an education from her. That’s amazing. It’s almost a grounding. If you will, to really appreciate. Those things that so many of us just walk past.
I always look at Julia and I, and I, I think to myself, Julia Julia’s made me a much better man than I ever was because certainly when I first went into broadcasting, there, there was nobody that was a bigger Jeff cats fan than Jeff Katz. I don’t take that right now. It’s embarrassing. Think to think back on, on that sort of stuff, but it’s also true.
And as Julia came along, uh, you just realize, okay, you know what? It really isn’t all about you. It’s how maybe you can help some other people. And I am forever indebted to special ed teachers and therapists who work with Julia and kids like her. And they work in a way they’re certainly not getting wealthy, but they take as much pride and delight in Julia’s accomplishments.
I think as, as we do and I, I can’t be in the classroom with them for extended periods of time. I just have to be. Blunt because I, I kind of wind up like in a corner, almost blubbering, like a small, like a small child. I just, I can’t do that. And I am forever grateful to those that can, what I have realized is that I’m not a half bad advocate.
And so when it comes time to negotiate paperwork and the rigor, my role that goes into being the, the. The father or the mother of a special needs kiddo that I can do. And it’s not always easy. And that’s another thing that parents who have got a special needs child are gonna find out very quickly. It’s paperwork.
You, you really need to have a, like an inner flair for bureaucracy to get through it. And unfortunately, a lot of it seems to be set up in such a circular fashion. So as to discourage people from. Pursuing it as far as they should. And so again, um, I can’t go in and help one-on-one with those kids on a regular basis.
Cause I just, I, I don’t have that skill, but making the argument for other special needs parents that their son, their daughter is entitled to certain services and here’s how they get them. Yeah. I’m there for that.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Well, you’ve said a lot and it’s hard to digest it all, but there’s a lot of words of wisdom there.
Does she have a favorite? Artist or band that, uh, she listens to, you had said that she has her favorite music.
Jeff Katz: She loves a show called Jack’s big music show, which actually hasn’t been on television in years, but we, uh, bought everything that was available online. So she loves that. She loves Rafi, loves a good Rafi and she, by the way, she prefers the Broadway concert.
To the other concert that is available. That’s very clear. And one of her, one of her favorites is Zane and Dan was a real major new England based rock and roller. His band was called and they were huge. They were, uh, certainly, uh, a national sensation, but in new England, especially my gosh, it was sold out all the time.
Dan wound up making music music for kids because he had a child and he had friends who were abused, but he said, I don’t want kids music. I just want really good music that kids would listen to. And so Dan Zanes has done that. And last Christmas, we took Julia to a live show, Dan Zanes and his wife do sensory friendly shows because his wife is actually a music therapist by training.
And so they did this amazing, absolutely amazing, uh, Christmas show. They did Hanukkah tunes. It was just wonderful. And it was all designed for people with a variety of special needs. And, you know, some folks were wearing headphones and other people couldn’t be too close to the stage and other folks needed to be right at the stage.
And Julia was allowed to. Walk around with this huge smile on her face. And as every dad is, wants to do, I danced with her and embarrassed her tremendously, but that’s, that’s my right as a father.
Dan. His wife and, uh, uh, the other singer that was part of this. They were just such wonderful people. And after the show we had the chance to meet them. And Julia was Julia was in love with Dan because she, she knew Dan. She has seen him every day on her television set for years. And so when here, here he is, this is the guy that she sees every single day.
And Julia doesn’t have great motor skills. So she was just sorta pawing at Dan’s face and pulling on his earring. And he, he could not have been nicer and, and allowed her to, you know, he, he didn’t have to do that. And it just, it made her day, but it, it made our day as well. I mean, Heidi and I just, uh, We, I don’t know that we’ve been that happy with all long time, you know?
I mean, it was just, and it was wonderful. And Dan Zanes and, and everybody who was associated with that, just, they went out of their way for each and every one of those folks, but to spend time as they did with Julia, and then Dan picked up his mandolin to sing Julia special songs just to her. And it, it just.
You know, it, it was a reminder to me that there, there are really good people in the world. And every once in a while you come across somebody who, who confirms that for you. And they did that that day.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know what impact has Julia situation had on her siblings or the rest of your family for that matter?
Jeff Katz: Well, um, Harry Joe have always known her, right? They’ve never known her as a typically developing kid who all of a sudden is not developing the way they are. There are times when Julia’s behavior. I know bugs them. Julia because of some of the autistic tendencies, she may hum uh, she may waive her, her hand around and like any other sibling they’re annoyed by it and, and we think that’s okay.
I mean, she’s, you know, she’s not a porcelain doll and she’s not, uh, a brand new puppy. She’s another member of the family. So I think that they have an appreciation for her as another member of the family who. Like other members of the family is sometimes somebody they really like, and sometimes they find annoying.
You know, it’s just part of the deal for us. The rest of, of the family. Big picture. I think it’s been an evolution I know for, for my mom, uh, she certainly remembered her sister, my aunt Ethel, and had had. A lot of concerns about what will happen to Julian and how will Julia be taken care of? My dad unfortunately passed away before seeing any of his grandchildren on a Heidi side.
Uh, I think again, they’ve hurt her folks and her siblings have looked at Julia as. The other one of Heidi’s kids, you know, we know there’s certain things you can’t do. You know, you don’t want to play something close to the edge of the table and there’s certain precautions, but. Basically, like I said, Julia, she’s just one of the gang and that means she’s got to suck up whatever she can and, uh, we’ll help out wherever we have to, you know, that’s fabulous.
David Hirsch: So, um, one of the things that, uh, caught my attention was that, uh, you wrote a piece, I think it appeared in the Boston Herald in March of 2018. What was going on in your mind? What motivated you to do that?
Jeff Katz: Well, uh, yeah, the last couple of years I’ve written letters to Julia on her birthday. And I think the motivation was as I have continually.
Re-evaluated uh, who Julia is and what Julia is going to be able to achieve or absorb, uh, you know, the birth, her birthday just sort of hit me in a, in a very base sort of emotional level. And, you know, there are all sorts of things. I. I’d like to tell Julia that I wish she would understand. And I think those pieces that I wrote for, for the Herald were they, they were just me imagining that I was having some sort of a conversation with Julia.
And I tell you the first one that I wrote, I put on Facebook and I didn’t. Share it with anybody. I mean, I put it on Facebook just because we were posting a picture that Julia’s having her birthday. And what have you. And I think at hearts, I am a writer I love to write. And, um, I just wrote that and it, it was probably two or three o’clock in the morning.
By the time I finished it and I had. Tears in my eyes and I didn’t know what to do with it. And I thought, well, I can save it or do I send it to Heidi? Uh, I really had not intended to do anything other than just write it. And I. Clicked publish on, on Facebook. And I went to bed. Yeah, it wasn’t until sometime the next morning when I, I opened up Facebook and there, I don’t know, thousands of likes and shares and, and I was sure I had been hacked somehow somebody had gotten it and, um, But it, it, it, you know, it, it, it touched a few folks and resonated with a few people.
And so I followed up the next year and the next year was a tough one. Um, because at the radio station we had a daddy daughter event and I certainly don’t begrudge anybody. Who’s a father having a daughter who is developing as she should. I mean, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Uh, but it was, it was tough.
I mean, it really was, it was a tough thing to stand there and see men that I knew from work with their daughters and their daughters were dressed up in these princess gowns and, uh, had written in a horse drawn carriage. And, uh, and I knew that Julia just. She wasn’t going to do that. And I wasn’t ever going to have the, uh, the chance to do that with her.
And so then I started thinking, well, okay, I’m not sure that Julia would want to do that anyway. Uh, because, because I’m, you know, I’m, I’m a fan of social distortion and I wear doc Martins. And my wife is a, is a long time rock chick. So I could see Julia in a, you know, in a torn, in a torn t-shirt like a social distortion t-shirt and ripped jeans and docks and a leather coat.
And, and we probably be mocking all the folks who were riding the horse drawn carriage, you know, um, And so that, that, that kind of became my, my, my takeaway on that one. Well,
David Hirsch: it sounds like you’ve had a lot of fun putting these letters together and I’m trying to read between the lines. Jeff, has it been a little bit therapeutic for you to put your thoughts in writing these letters to Julia?
Jeff Katz: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: And the fact that you’re doing it on or around her birthday, I think of my kids’ birthdays. There’s five of them as father’s day. Right. The real father’s day that we celebrate the third Sunday of June is this artificial holiday. It’s sort of like a hallmark day mother’s day, father’s day, you know, fill in the blank.
And it’s, it’s rather arbitrary that we’re celebrating father’s day, uh, on the same day for everybody. And the real father’s day was when you first became a father.
Jeff Katz: Right. So that was, it would be Harry’s birthday.
David Hirsch: That’s right. Harry’s birthday would be your father’s day. And then. Your second father’s day would be Julia’s birthday, et cetera.
And I think it’s a great testimony that you’re reflecting on. What I think of is your personal father’s
Jeff Katz: day. Right? Right. And
David Hirsch: actually that you have with your daughter, Julia, so very powerful. It really strikes a chord with me.
Jeff Katz: Oh, thank you.
David Hirsch: So under the banner of advice, I’m wondering if there’s an important takeaway or two that you’d like to share about raising a child with differences.
Jeff Katz: Well, uh, Whether you’re a, you’re a mother or father. The first thing that you’re going to have to deal with is the. Why me, why him, why her, why us, uh, how difficult is this going to be? You’re going to think about every bad decision that you made in your life and think, aha. That’s why this happened. Uh, I’m somehow being punished or why are they being punished?
And that seems to be consistent with every. Parent of every special needs kid that I’ve ever spoken to you, it is part of a process. Um, Some, some moms and dads, I guess get through it easier. I know there’s a, there’s a very high divorce rates for, for mothers and fathers who have a, uh, a disabled child have a special needs child, because there’s a huge amount of pressure.
There’s, there’s just this extra added dollop of, of difficulty. So I, I think, I don’t know that I’m in a place to give advice, but I would simply say. You’ve got to take that deep breath. And you’ve got to understand that you are now going to be placed in a role, not just as a father, but you are going to take on the responsibility of advocates for your son or daughter.
You’re you’re going to through the medical process, whatever it is. And there’s some kids, you know, we see kids that at Julia’s school all the time who were so medically fragile and there’s equipment and, uh, doctor’s visits and, and nurses at home. And I don’t know, I don’t know how those moms or dads get through that.
I really don’t. I, I I’m in awe of them, but at the end of the day, we’re all here, parents. And so. I think that’s the most important takeaway. You’re you’re also, if you’re the mother or the father of a special needs kid, you’re going to have other people say to you, Oh, you’re, you’re such a, you’re a wonderful father.
You’re a wonderful mother. And Heidi and I have heard that and we have laughed hysterically and it’s like, Oh my gosh, you really, you, you have. Absolutely. No idea. No, that’s not even right. Remotely true, but where your mom and dad and we do the best we can then for each of those three children. And, um, it’s a terrible thing to say, but I’ve said to my, my sons that I love each of my children equally.
But I do love Julia the most. And so that’s, that’s only half untrue. Um, I think at the end of the day, uh, if you’re, if you are the father of public of a. Your son or daughter with those special challenges. It’s it’s day by day. Uh, it’s not easy. And, uh, there are going to be some days where you’re, you’re looking for the spot on the wall, where you can bang your head against it.
And there are gonna be other days where you’re going to take great delight in what your son or daughter did and share it with everybody. And they’re going to be other days that you, you think, wow. Just be great if they didn’t make a mess and all of those things.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Um, one thought that comes to mind and if you have more than one child, you can’t say that that’s my favorite child.
It’s politically incorrect and it’s not appropriate. But what I’ve caught up with is that since I have three daughters, I refer to them in their presence as my favorite daughter. And then I’ll add that. That’s my favorite oldest daughter.
Jeff Katz: Oh,
David Hirsch: my favorite middle and my favorite youngest daughter.
Jeff Katz: And
David Hirsch: they’re okay with that.
They know that they’re all my favorite. You can plagiarize a note, give no attribution.
Jeff Katz: Thank you.
David Hirsch: Why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Jeff Katz: Well, um, I simply think that being part of this little fraternity and I guess that’s, that’s really what it is. Uh, there are things that are time sensitive and if you have just become the father of a special needs child, you’ve got.
A B and C that you have to deal with. And there’s some of us who have already done a, B and C, and we’ve moved on now to HII and Jane. And so certainly when, when Heidi and I became parents, we began to realize there were things going on with Julia that hadn’t gone on with Harry. We didn’t have anybody else.
Uh, and we were forever reinventing the wheel. It would have been nice for somebody to say, Hey, listen, here’s some. Some insight, here’s some services. This is the web cite. You really ought to look at. The other ones are not going to be of much help. And along the way, just for somebody who had been through this to say, You know, it you’re right.
It stinks today and it’s going to stink on other days too. You’re not going to be happy every day, but you’re going to have to deal with it and you can deal with it. And there are those of us who have been through it. I’ve been through it for 16 years and there are other people who have been through it for 26 years and there, and they’re folks who are looking at a, at a son or a daughter who’s 16 days old and going, okay.
Now, what do we do? And, um, I would just like to be able to say, let me give you a little bit of a little bit of background that I’ve seen.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, we’re thrilled to have you thank you for being involved in the network. Let’s give a special shout out to our friend Lee Habib and our friends at our American stories for connecting us.
They do a wonderful job.
Jeff Katz: Yes they do.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Jeff Katz: No, I just, uh, I want to thank you for, uh, certainly for the gracious invitation. And I know that we’ve, uh, we’ve, we’ve had dates on my end that I put in the wrong calendar block and, uh, and then we’ve ended there’s this whole pesky time zone thing.
I don’t know that it wasn’t even to where you guys had a time zone in Chicago. Um, so I, I really am very grateful, uh, for your, uh, Uh, your willingness to, uh, uh, to make this work and, and, and truthfully, uh, at the very core, thank you to you for, for doing what you’re doing. I think it’s, uh, it’s inspirational.
And my, my hat goes off to you that says, good work. You’re doing. And it’s, uh, and it’s something you don’t have to do, which I think makes it, as my father would say the right thing to do for the right reasons.
David Hirsch: Know if I could be more like your dad, that would be a. That would be a good thing too. So thank you for sharing.
If somebody wants to learn more about your work or to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Jeff Katz: Uh, probably the easiest thing. They’re more than welcome to send an email. And that’s JeffKatzshow@aol.com. JeffKatzshow@aol.com. I am the one guy that still has AOL and that is because it never crashes.
It’s never gone bad. It’s always been there. And, uh, so I’ve got that and, uh, On Facebook, they can look for RadioKatz. And I post all sorts of stuff up there about the adventures of, uh, of my kids and fun stuff and things of that sort. And there you go.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Jeff, thank you for taking the time in many insights.
As a reminder, Jeff 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 of father or are seeking advice from a mentor of father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thanks for listening to the latest episode of the special fathers network data dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did, as you probably know, the 21stcenturydads foundation as a 501 c3, not for profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content tree to all concerned.
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Jeff. Thanks again.
Jeff Katz: Thank you, David.
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 with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
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The dad to dad podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.