On this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast, host David Hirsch speaks with Don Garner. Don and his wife Alisa have three girls, one of whom, Francesca, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 8 years old. We’ll hear Don’s story and how the Make a Wish Foundation granted a very special wish to Frannie and the entire Garner family. That’s all on this Dad to Dad podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Dad to Dad 85 – Don Garner’s Daughter Frannie Was Diagnosed With a Brain Tumor at Age 8
Don Garner: I said, well, if we can’t get Flutie back, maybe where would you like to go? And she said, I’d like to go to the Eiffel tower. And at the time she really loved croissants. So I kind of embellished the wish when I called Make-A-Wish back and said she would like to have a croissant on the top of the Eiffel tower. And they granted the wish they sent us to Paris for a week.
Tom Couch: That’s special father, Don garner, Don and his wife, Alyssa have three girls. One of whom Francesca was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was eight years old. We’ll hear John’s story and how the Make-A-Wish foundation granted a very special wish to Franny and the entire garner family.
That’s all on this dad to dad podcast presented by the special fathers network. Here’s your host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with 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. We’d like to offer help. We’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups, and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s listen in as special father Don Garner talks with our host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend, Don Gardner of Chicago, Illinois, who is a father of three girls and immigration attorney and a fellow member of rotary club of Chicago.
Don, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for this special father’s day.
Don Garner: Thank you for having me.
David Hirsch: Your wife, Alyssa, who was a teacher with Chicago public schools has been married for 21 years and are the proud parents of three daughters,
Don Garner: Eliana
David Hirsch: 15 and twin daughters, Catarina and Francesco.
Who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age eight. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Don Garner: I was born in Texas Austin and grew up in Southern Illinois, where my parents taught law at SIU Carbondale. I subsequently went to school in champagne at the university of Illinois.
Following that yeah. At a rotary scholarship to Southern France, which piqued my interest in travel ended up spending several years abroad, building a bar in Berlin, picking grapes in Spain and ultimately teaching English in Korea, where I met my wife, Elisa, who was teaching at a different school in Korea.
Luckily, because there were very few Americans, I was able to marry them.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It wasn’t as much competition. That’s what you’re saying.
Don Garner: That’s exactly what I did.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, let’s go backwards a little bit. Um, I remember you telling me that you’re. Dad taught law, but you said your parents taught law.
Don Garner: That’s right.
David Hirsch: So they’re both law professors.
Don Garner: Well, my mother unfortunately passed about 10, 10 years ago. Uh, she taught legal research and report writing. Okay. At SIU and had been a library. And before that we both loved reading. I still love to read, but my father actually still teaches law. He taught at SIU in Carbondale.
Southern Illinois for 35 years and then went to go help a small law school in Alabama, get their accreditation. And that is where he still teaches torts today.
David Hirsch: And where is that? An Alabama.
Don Garner: Montgomery. Okay.
David Hirsch: So your dad’s still alive. Sounds like he’s still staying active. Very. And I’m wondering how would you describe or characterize your relationship with your dad?
Don Garner: Well, he’s probably my best friend. I was his best man at his second wedding
David Hirsch: after one passed
Don Garner: that’s right. When he married a Bulgarian national, who was a diplomat and her father was the vice president of Bulgaria.
David Hirsch: So you’ve traveled a fair amount abroad. Yes. Your dad married somebody from Bulgaria.
Don Garner: Who we met in a yoga class in Southern Illinois.
He asked, asked her on a date when he was doing the headstand in yoga class with all the blood rushing. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. The, the, the smart head, right? Yes.
David Hirsch: Too funny. So where is it though? That you. Develops your interest wasn’t from your dad
Don Garner: or somewhere else to
David Hirsch: have this significant outspoken than trust.
And what’s going on outside the
Don Garner: US as a young boy, I was lucky enough to play in backgammon tournaments around the United States. I’d beat the world champion out of a dollar when I was 11 years old and also played in several tennis tournaments. But it wasn’t until I was 13. That I got my first taste of travel abroad.
And that was the summer of 85 when I spent four and a half months in China. Where you
David Hirsch: being you and
Don Garner: my father. Okay. Where he was teaching law in China and we returned to Southern Illinois and I stayed for two weeks and then went. By myself to stay with a friend family for six weeks the summer before.
So when I was 12, we had hosted a French boy who was the best friend of my French piano teacher’s nephew. And so that really got me excited about international travel and meeting different people, experiencing different cultures. Tasting different food. I mean, my first meal in China was dog. Um, I wasn’t sure if I really knew it, it was dark, but, uh,
David Hirsch: it was just like chicken, like everything else,
Don Garner: but it was really the junior year in high school.
I got involved with this. I think it was American Swedish student exchange ASC. Basically my dad paid a. An Oregon association to send me abroad for a year. And I ended up with a family in a town of 1200 people in central France, very small town. The mom had heard on the French radio host a kid from the U S.
So I arrived. They took me in, it was a very modest house. They owned a , which is where they make, like that day. Uh, the, at those types of things, very traditional French types of food. I ended up going to high school there for a year. Oh, was the first American. In this high school
David Hirsch: they’d ever met or seen before.
Don Garner: That’s right. That’s right. And, uh, I think it was more of a shock to them. It was to me and only having 12 hours of classes a week. They do it kind of like a university system, at least the high school. So the majority of time I really spent in, in the French bar next to the high school, uh, learning all the cuss words and how to speak, uh, like a real French person played on a French soccer team.
I was the worst one there. They would send me in to knock out the best player of the other team. Um, but beyond that ended up, uh, really falling in love with France. And so. I got accepted for a rotary scholarship to Southern France. It was a wonderful year. I mean, anytime that a junior in high school gets $25,000 to go study at Southern France is going to be a pretty good year.
So I blew through that money in about half a year and ended up having to be hired at a, in a French nightclub, bartending the largest. Student nightclub and all of Southern France, needless to say is that I I’ve spent some time in bars. So my, my final project actually was to do a guide of all of the bars and, and on the square, which is the largest square in Europe.
So there’s a considerable number of bars, needless to say is that I enjoy being. Around folks that are, uh, real. Uh, I lived above a French sex club for the year. I had a lot of parties and enjoyed myself immensely and then came back to finish school, uh, in champagne and decided that I wasn’t done traveling yet.
So I chose Korea and. Was one of the few Americans in a very small town in Korea. I did not work in a bar. I taught English time. That’s right. I taught English to kids ages three to 18, uh, but got very involved with the culture. I spoke Korean and yeah, six months later, that’s when there was an explosion of English schools and then in Korea and my wife ended up coming over.
We hosted a foreigner party, us being the foreigners Elisa was there at that time. It was kind of like a ladies man. And I walked in with two Korean women on my arms and saw this young lady on the sitting down on the ground. We got to talking and she told me she was from Montreal. So I showed off my French and basically immediately was drawn to her.
And as I said, because there were very slim pickings over there for, for men. I think that, and the fact that. Her shower consisted of a pipe coming in an open window that would kind of leak water over the toilet. I think she wanted a real shower, a lunch. Our apartment had a very nice shower. Uh, we had like a working TV, those types of big upgrades.
So, so I think she, she sacrificed probably some of her integrity to come over and, uh, date me for awhile. Uh, I ended up leaving a few months because my contract was up, uh, But we met over in France, uh, several months later to visit with my French quote on quote families. So we, we went around Europe quite a while and then ultimately decided, look, uh, I need to go to law school.
So my first year of law school, she was up in Montreal and I’ll never forget about the third month in of law school. I watched this movie. I know it’s a silly story, but devil’s advocate with can or Reeves stupid stupid movie with Al Pachino playing the devil. But I had somewhat of an epiphany that if I didn’t change my life around somehow is that I was going to be seduced into being a bad lawyer.
So I got in my car, I left the theater and I got in my car and drove 17 hours to Montreal and surprised her. I think she really realized that at that point it was a serious relationship. Her parents mean Italian. They, they, of course never really approved of me because I’m not Italian. But, um, I asked her eventually to, to marry me.
We got married here in the United States for the green card. In the sense of, we had a ceremony with a judge, uh, to get her papers. And then a year later, uh, we went up to Montreal for a big ceremony with, with all the Italians, Sicilians and all of that and been together ever since she’s now Chicago public school teacher actually made history.
For Chicago public schools getting a hundred percent for all of our kids on the ISAT exam. Okay. So president George W. Bush Arnie Duncan, mayor Daley, Rahm Emanuel, when he was in Congress, they all came to visit her classroom too acknowledged the fact that she had done this and it had gotten Navy blue ribbon award from the us department of education, uh, for this effort.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing. Very fascinating. A road less traveled. Right? So I want to go back a little bit.
Don Garner: Um,
David Hirsch: we were talking about your dad, you characterize your relationship as best friends, and I’m wondering if there’s an important takeaway or two that come to mind. When you think about your dad, a lesson that you learned that you tried to carry on yourself as a dad.
Don Garner: Well, He was born in Arkansas and grew up in Texas. One of the most important lessons I learned, which I hope to teach my girls is that, you know, when they get taller than me, they, they got to start working on their own. He always installed a very good sense of work ethic and he spent a lot of time around me.
He would always let us sleep the first day of summer after school sleep in. But the second day of summer we would. Always hear this whistle
or something that meant get your work clothes on. So you wake up at five and we work on our little farm and weighed about 35 acres down in Southern Illinois. And then in the afternoon, we could then go swimming at the pool in our pool or, or go play tennis or these types of things. He was always very concerned about our wellbeing and our education.
Having been a law professor and having had very little formal schooling down in Texas, he was, he grew up very poor. So tried to teach us the value of money, but more, more importantly, I guess if there was a lesson to be learned was the value of education.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it sounds like a very impactful relationship,
Don Garner: right?
Yes. And you’ve taken
David Hirsch: a lot away from your relationship with them in addition to the work ethic and the importance of spending time with your kids. And that’s a, I guess, a family value that we share, uh, the importance of education. It came about a little bit differently with my family, my grandfather, along with my grandmother and my dad was an only child and September of 1938, immigrated from Nazi Germany to the U S.
My grandfather was naturally very bitter about the situation having to leave everything behind. Sure. And a number of family members who didn’t pick it for that matter. And later in life, I remember him
Don Garner: espousing,
David Hirsch: you know, his anxiety about the situation by saying, you know, education is the one thing that you can’t take away from somebody how important that is.
So, um, Any
Don Garner: contact with your
David Hirsch: grandpa’s, your dad’s dad or your mom’s dad?
Don Garner: Uh, well, my father’s father died before I was born. Okay. He ran a construction company in Texas and Oklahoma died of a heart attack stroke, age of 50, but my mother’s father, Charles acquaintance actually was, uh, a very well educated man himself and had one of the first Fulbright scholarships.
Hmm, uh, to Iraq, he lived in Portland, Oregon. Like I still have some Ash from Mount st. Helens that he sent to me when I was a kid spoke several languages, all with a terrible American accent. He was very interested in people and was constantly learning. I
David Hirsch: think in a prior conversation you use the term and I don’t remember what it stands for.
Which was donkey Fulbright.
Don Garner: That’s right. Well, yeah, he had a donkey in any rock that called Fulbright. Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, exactly.
David Hirsch: so let’s switch gears. Let’s talk about special needs a person on a personal level. And then, um, Perhaps beyond. Um, so before,
Don Garner: um,
David Hirsch: Franny’s diagnosis, did you or Elisa have any connections to the special needs community? No. Okay. What was the diagnosis? How did it transpire?
Don Garner: The diagnosis is called cranio Farron.
Joma it basically means a benign tumor that affects the pituitary gland. So she was not growing at the same rate. As her twin and was starting to creep into her optic nerve to make her go blind. She suffered and actually still suffers today from very bad headaches.
David Hirsch: So what age was it diagnosed? Seven
Don Garner: or eight, basically.
Luckily my wife Alisa is the one who insisted on it. I thought that she was just growing up short, like, like I did as a kid. Kind of dismissed any concerns that I had, but looking back now, at pictures of that time, it was obvious that she was very, very sick. Uh, but of course, when you live with somebody, you don’t, you don’t see that a lot with them day to day changes experimentally.
David Hirsch: Right. And if you didn’t have a twin,
Don Garner: exactly. We wouldn’t have known. Right. I mean, Catarina is, you know, now a head taller than, than for him. Even more than that, I hold on
David Hirsch: the verge of masculinity.
Don Garner: It’s a very dramatic difference and they’re fraternal twins. They’re not identical. So
David Hirsch: my wife
Don Garner: kept insisting to our pediatrician at this one hospital, which I will leave nameless that something was wrong, something was wrong.
And the pediatrician said, no, no, she’s just, she’s on the short side. Kind of like what I was doing was dismissing it, but then
David Hirsch: almost like being in denial. I
Don Garner: don’t know. I mean, it’s, it’s malpractice was what it was and that’s been analyzed and verified as being malpractice. So we finally got this pediatrician to agree to send her to the endocrinologist, which the endocrinologist took one, look at her instead of immediately put, give her or MRI.
That’s when we saw there’s tumor, which is size of a fist in her brain. And so I switched her over to Lurie’s children’s hospital at Northwestern and through a referral, actually from Oregon Terry and Peter Schmitz. He referred me to a person there at Lurie’s who was then able to get me my choice of position, which was the head of the neurology.
Department territory to meta. So they did, what’s called a craniotomy where they basically make an incision in your head and pull back the skin and remove the tumor. After that, we took her to proton therapy center, run by Northwestern for every day, for six weeks. And you know, it was difficult. The, the amount of pain that Francesco had to go through.
I can’t even imagine. I mean, I I’ve been cut by a chain saw on my knee. I had my head through a window and neck cut, but for an eight year old to go through that kind of pain, it was, it was hard to go through.
David Hirsch: Wow. It sounds like a overwhelming situation. I want to go back though. Once the diagnosis was made, once the MRI.
Uh, concluded that there was a tumor, what was the immediate reaction was like, Oh, finally we know what’s going on. Or was it something different?
Don Garner: Well, I think there was that, but there was also a lot of
David Hirsch: anger with the delay in getting to that point.
Don Garner: Correct. Because my wife had been assisting for a couple of years.
Wow. Yeah. But no, I, I immediately focused, dropped everything and learned everything. I became a scholar of brain tumors and within a month she was on the operating room table. As I say, Lori’s did a great job by her. Well, it’s
David Hirsch: good that it was finally diagnosed and that it sounds like the surgery has been very successful with the correct bit of hindsight
Don Garner: with a couple of years
David Hirsch: behind you now.
Right. Is there any advice that you would give to. A parent, a mom or a dad who, you know, feels like there’s something that’s just not right. Something that you’re looking back on and saying coulda, woulda, shoulda. And your situation, what would you have done differently? Or what could you have done differently in this situation?
Not another thing you don’t know.
Don Garner: Well, of course I hold myself a lot at fault that I didn’t insist because you know, as a lawyer, I tend to maybe get more results than a teacher that is calling. A doctor, but that being said, I guess I would say, I mean, they’re coulda, woulda, shoulda. I always tease my wife about that, that she, she says that a lot.
I always say, look, there’s not much that you could do with hindsight, except looking back coulda, woulda, shoulda is only gonna make you feel bad for reasons that you have no reason to feeling bad. We all could have done something better. We all could have, should have seen something earlier. We all, you know, would have done something earlier.
But what I would say to any of those parents that are feeling that they’re right, and the doctor’s wrong is, you know, get second and third opinions quickly. But to shoulda, woulda, coulda I think serves nothing.
David Hirsch: You know, why I’d agree. I think that the way I would, uh, paraphrase it as that. You can’t change the past.
Don Garner: So
David Hirsch: any serious amount of time that you spend regurgitating or trying to reevaluate the situation is just time that you’re not spending in the present and you’re offering yourself right. Things. And it’s important to put it in perspective and move forward and not while on the past. And for that matter, thinking about the future, right.
You’re probably thinking, well, what about this? Or what about that? And, you know, if you dwell too much on. What’s going on in the future, it robs you from being present as well. So to the extent that you can focus on where you’re at, as opposed to where you would have hoped to be based on the past or worrying too much, you have to plan ahead, but you don’t have to worry about everything,
Don Garner: all the outcomes, but that’s easy to say not to do.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, um, I didn’t say that I wasn’t like that. I’m just making an observation, but I thank you for sharing. Other than the decision to have this craniotomy, which sounds like a very traumatic situation. Were there any other important
Don Garner: decisions that
David Hirsch: you and Alyssa made as a result of everything that transpired?
Don Garner: the proton therapy was an important decision because there were other options and it’s somewhat new, the proton therapy versus other types of traditional therapies. But I really respected. The new team that we had and felt that that was going to be the most appropriate way to go keep in mind is that Francesca is still has to take medications three times a day and take growth hormones shots every night.
And she’ll have to do that for the rest of her life.
David Hirsch: Does she do that or do you, or at least I have to do that.
Don Garner: So Elisa administers the shots. Okay. I, they pretty much keep up with the medications for her. And is
David Hirsch: the medication to deal with pain or is it something else?
Don Garner: So she does not produce cortisol, which is basically cortisone that helps you deal with pain.
So if she gets sick, she feels at three times worse than what a normal human being feels. Also, she has a couple of other medications that help her not pee at night. The desmopressin drug basically helps her. Not be up constantly at night and not constantly be thirsty. The growth medication looks to be working.
She’s been on it for about a year now. And she’s. Now no longer in the negative growth chart, but rather at the 0%. So that’s encouraging. And the idea is that in four or five years, is that she’ll be maybe back on track to be at a normal rate of growth, but a lot of it, unfortunately because of the medication she’s fat, for lack of a better term.
I mean, she has these kinds of roles of, of fat based because that’s the medication. One of the side effects. And, um, now it makes for bullying at school bad, even though her mom teaches at the school. And even though her sister, they fierce defender and just,
David Hirsch: you know, I’ll, uh, uh,
Don Garner: cruel our appearance.
David Hirsch: Right.
Whether you’re a boy, I think especially a girl is critically important and I don’t think kids are mean spirited, but you know, they’re just knuckleheads, you know, at a young age like that. Um, And, you know, they’ll say or do things that are not appropriate. I thought I’d like to think that the school environment is better today than it was like when we were their age
Don Garner: or probably worse, especially with cyber bullying.
David Hirsch: Yeah. But, uh, my heart reaches out to you because it’s, it’s real, you know, as
Don Garner: a parent, you know, you
David Hirsch: can’t be there every minute of every day for your child, my protecting them. They have to, you know, help figure out things on their own. And, uh, you just assume that they didn’t have. Some of the challenges like this, you know, with all the other things that, you know, they’re experiencing as well and their own personal and emotional development.
So I’m wondering what impact for any situation has had on Eliana, her older sister or her twin Catarina, the rest of your family. For that matter,
Don Garner: the effect on me has been somewhat dramatic because I’m. Essentially a solo practitioner. I run a small boutique immigration law firm. And any time that she gets sick, she generally stays home at least once a week.
Oh, well like this week was twice.
David Hirsch: So she’s rather fragile if I can
Don Garner: say this. Yes. I mean, she doesn’t like loud noises. She gets tired very easily. So I ended up staying home with her,
David Hirsch: which.
Don Garner: Causes me to cancel appointments, uh, miss networking events that I traditionally go to miss out on clients. So which has led to financial difficulties.
But that being said, I I’d still do it all the same. It’s given me a chance to get to know my daughter in ways that I wouldn’t have before least, uh, you know, and I think it’s also
David Hirsch: caused a strain
Don Garner: on Elisa and I. Just constantly dealing with it. That was the nice thing about the make a wish grant to Paris for a week was that they wanted to take care of everything and not have us have distress Iliana.
She has been, I don’t think really affected too much by the whole situation. Mainly Indiana has been. Focused on her studies and excelled at school and extracurricular activities. Catarina for twin. Yes. As I said, as a fierce defender of Francesca, I don’t think it really negatively affected her, maybe just through the fact that we expect her to help take care of her sister and like bring home homework when she misses school, those types of things.
But yeah. Overall. I think the, obviously the biggest effect has been on Francesca that’s uh, I would never wish this on any other kid.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Um, it seems like there’s lots of different levels of challenges. Yeah. You know, from the parental level, like you were saying to the sibling level and with Frannie herself and.
After all she’s only 10 years old. Exactly. Right. You know, the story is barely told, you know, if it’s a painting, you know, we’re in the early stages of what this is gonna look like and how it’s going to develop. And, you know, the fact is that you have intervened and she’s on a much better path today that you would have been otherwise.
And you have to make the most of the situation. Exactly. And, uh, you know, you could. Anticipate what life would have been like had this not occurred, but that’s not the reality. And I think that if you’re going to be an effective parent and advocate, you have to deal with real. As you
Don Garner: say, you don’t dwell on the sugar water cutter.
David Hirsch: And again, easy to talk about, but more difficult to implement because for good or bad, when you have twins, I’m not speaking from experience, but observation one is typical and one isn’t. You have an exact barometer. Of where that child might have been, had you just developed like, or in your case for sister, right.
And that’s good at one level. And maybe the stark reminder is not entirely
Don Garner: healthy either,
David Hirsch: but it’s a blessing to have kids. You have to count your blessings. And however they come. And my, my hope or my expectation is that there’s going to be some amazing things, right. That come out of all this for you as parents.
For her sisters and for Franny herself. Yeah. Right. And you just have to say,
Don Garner: stay the course.
David Hirsch: We’re gonna make the best of the situation. And, uh, you know, not,
Don Garner: not be held back by at all. I agree.
David Hirsch: So you did
Don Garner: make reference
David Hirsch: to make a wish. Right. And, uh, we were his children’s hospital and, uh, we, we know a little bit about Lurie’s and the experience that she had there, but I’m sorta curious now on this Make-A-Wish, um, experience come about.
Don Garner: I would mention as well, one other organization operation
David Hirsch: North pole.
Don Garner: So Make-A-Wish came about, because on a Lark, I called up make a wish and said, I have a kid that had a brain tumor. And he said, okay, well send us your doctor snowed. And they called back a couple of, or whatever the doctor and we’ll.
Ask them what’s really going on. And they call up a couple of weeks later and said, well, what would a wish be? And I said, I don’t know. And went up to ask Francesca. So Francesca had this talisman that she called Flutie in, which was basically lutein, Flutie, like a flute. And it basically was a post it note.
That I had written the grocery list on that. I rolled up to make like a little thin almost flute when I put a little smiley face on it. And she carried that to every single proton therapy. I became really her talisman and she lost it in the union league club. And she was very, very broke up about that.
Cried for several nights. Asked for Santa to bring our Flutie back and just horrible, heartbreaking things. And actually I was able to recreate Flutie this last Christmas. That’s all right. Flutie too. Well, I tried to create Flutie too. She’s like, that’s not it. Uh, and then, so I really worked at it to me old, like, you know, he’d been through, been through some rough times and.
And she, it was just a heartbreaking cry when she came and hugged me. But, uh, I said, well, if we can’t get Flutie back, maybe where would you like to go? And she said, I’d like to go to the Eiffel tower. And at the time she really loved croissants.
David Hirsch: So I kind of
Don Garner: embellish it the wish when I called Make-A-Wish back and said she would like to have a croissant on the top of the Eiffel tower.
And they granted the wish they sent us to Paris
David Hirsch: for a week,
Don Garner: but it’s up in a really nice hotel next to the Eiffel tower. And then we had a nice lunch in the restaurant of the Eiffel tower. They don’t have croissants actually at the Eiffel tower, but they did arrange a croissant making class. Oh my God.
Um, and you know, we got like a boat tour, a bus tour, uh, all, all kinds of stuff. Of course. I took them to go see, uh, the Mona Lisa and some of these other places, but it was just a week where we, I mean, it was the one of the first weeks and several years, I didn’t know, work. At all, I didn’t check email or anything.
David Hirsch: When you say we, the whole family, the
Don Garner: whole family. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll probably be all five of us.
David Hirsch: That sounds like a pretty big ticket. Exactly.
Don Garner: I guess it has become somewhat legendary at the Chicago office as far as a wish goes. Uh, and as you may recall, we had the head of Make-A-Wish Illinois, uh, Stephanie Springs come and speak at our rotary club, but, um, Then it didn’t stop.
Then we got back and about, let’s say maybe two months later, they actually, a week after our rotary meeting, Francesca got to go out with a few other kids that were suffering from different maladies. Shall we say to the center ice of a black Hawks game to hear the national Anthem?
David Hirsch: Do you remember the sign?
Don Garner: It was not waiting. I do not remember who was saying. Um, I remember being very loud.
David Hirsch: Uh,
Don Garner: the ring, I really don’t. It was so, uh, dramatic and everything and so loud. And I was trying to get film, but I wasn’t really paying attention to all the details, but we did get to go kind of like underneath the rink and that was a treat and they put us up in a box and all of that stuff.
And then in November they call it all and asked Francesca to light up the tree at the Chicago Macy’s they took us to the Walnut room. We had a nice lunch and then there was the head of Macy’s. So she was in the paper and on TV after that. But then similarly to the Make-A-Wish, there’s this thing called operation, North pole that is out of Rosemont.
And I had not really heard about it. I can’t really remember. Maybe it was something that I saw online. Uh, it wasn’t really anybody that notified me, but I looked it up and it’s the Rosemont police department and fire department that have been doing this for 10 years where they basically wrap up a Metro train.
David Hirsch: Oh, I’ve seen it. Yeah.
Don Garner: Okay. So I had never heard of it before and I called up, I said, Would we qualify and they sent me an application. I filled it out and we were chosen as one of the, I guess, 50 families that got to do it because now it’s grown from one Metro card to the entire train and you go up to the Rosemont convention center.
And then you’ve got the entire, I mean, you’d be a perfect day to commit a crime cause they’ve got all the police force or, you know, I mean, yes, all in the entire convention center, it’s all with flashing lights, you’ve got all the dogs, uh, the fire trucks and stuff. The kids get to play with it. Then there’s like a train, a little mini train that goes around the convention center.
Then they put us all into the metrics. So first then they, okay. Then they put us into school buses and they shut down all of the lights for a 10 minute drive to the train Metro station. So, and they have all these people, I would tear up just thinking about it, but they have all these people on this side of the road waving,
David Hirsch: Oh my, you
Don Garner: know, like the, this way with an arrow, like this way to Sanders workshop, we get in the train.
And they have Santas elves. They have actually, mrs. Santa’s, uh, they have games, you get all these gifts. They have magicians that are going through each car to entertain the kids for the hour long trip. That basically you’re going to crystal Lake and back, and then you get thrown back in the bus and they shut all the lights down again.
Presidential. VIP treatment all the way back to the convention center. Then they open up this room and this is where is really dramatic. You have hundreds of police, officers and firefighters on their bees clapping. While you walk in, be led by Santa to SANAS workshop at San has workshop consists of about 15 different stations.
You have a hockey rink that you can go play hockey. The first station that we stopped at was the candy station. They give you these enormous plastic bags and keep in mind. This is not long after Halloween. Okay. And they are encouraging you to put as much candy as you can into these. Bags. Okay. We had bore bull bags of candy.
They are giving you animals. They give you the girls like a beauty salon. Of course they feed you and I, and all of that, but it was just a very, very dramatic, right. Sounds like a very first
David Hirsch: class experience.
Don Garner: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Very family oriented.
David Hirsch: Maybe that’s a little bit of the silver lining that we were talking.
Don Garner: Exactly. I know from all the experience, those things that we wouldn’t normally get to meet other families.
David Hirsch: Right. For that matter, who true. You know, you don’t want to compare yourself to anybody, but you realize I’m going to just guess or project that some of the situations are pretty dramatic.
Don Garner: Oh God.
I’m in compared to some of these other kids, Francesca has as a great. She’s not in a wheelchair that you have to manually help the child breathe. Um,
David Hirsch: she’s verbal, not all. Cause she’s verbal.
Don Garner: She’s great in school. I mean one kid or just broke your heart, which is continuously scream nonstop. Okay, good. We stopped not stopped screaming because he was a pain.
Yeah. Um, so yeah, we, we count ourselves lucky.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing. Lurie’s children’s hospital. Make-A-Wish operation North pole. Well, it sounds like they played some really important roles along the way, and even more recently. So I’m thinking about advice and I’m wondering what some of the more important takeaways are when it comes to raising a child.
Don Garner: That’s had some challenges like Franny has patience is probably number one. Try to make them feel normal and laugh a lot.
David Hirsch: If you can make the most of the situation.
Don Garner: That’s right.
David Hirsch: Any specific advice that you’d want to share with dads or parents for that matter, who we’re helping a child with a disability or challenges?
Don Garner: I think it would be important to take some time out for yourself. I know that may sound selfish, but I had a heart attack last summer, mainly because of the stress due to my daughter’s illness and the financial pressures that, that caused.
David Hirsch: So
Don Garner: I think it’s important that people, especially dads take some time for themselves and yeah.
Take, take times for yourself. Well, there’s
David Hirsch: that sort of important sort of picture that comes to mind, you know, if you’re on an airplane and the oxygen mask,
Don Garner: do your own oxygen mask first
David Hirsch: because you can’t be there for somebody else. Right. Right. That’s sort of what I heard you saying that if you can’t.
Be there, right. You’re not healthy. Right. You’re going to be potentially more of a burden than a helper, right. To your daughter or to your wife, to your other kids for that matter. So sadly, you know, you learned from something very dramatic, having a heart attack that, Hey, I need to take a step back. Right.
I need to figure out a way to. You know, not only take care of myself, but I want to be here
Don Garner: for my
David Hirsch: family. So thanks for sharing. Thank you for being so transparent. I’m sort of curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of this possible fathers
Don Garner: network, as a favor to you, David.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re thrilled to have you thank you for being involved. I’m hoping that your story will help inspire some other dads. And I appreciate your willingness to take a call from a, of a younger dad or somebody who’s, you know, struggling with their situation. Of course. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Don Garner: I want to thank you for the opportunity. I’d be more than happy to continue to help. I don’t consider myself an inspiration for anybody, but I’m. More than happy to provide my thoughts on what my experience has been for other dads going through the same thing.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you again for sharing your story on.
There’s a lot of good lessons and takeaways, and I’m hoping others will benefit maybe one or more that you might meet or know, and then there’s that ripple effect, which you don’t know. Right. You put your story out there and maybe there’s just some guy who’s not ready, but he’s listening. Right. And it helps him move forward and maybe be more engaged or err, on the side of being more intentional, like you were recommending or suggesting earlier,
Don Garner: you’re never going to be ready ever. But the more you try to listen and learn, and the more that you surround yourself with family and other father mentors, ultimately, it’s going to be the better way it’s going to turn out.
David Hirsch: Absolutely Don, thank you for taking the time in many insights as a reminder, Don is just one of the dads who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation, your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org. Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the special fathers network, dad to dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did.
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Don, thanks again.
Don Garner: Thank you.
Tom Couch: Thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast presented by the special fathers network, the special fathers network. He’s 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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