On this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast, host David Hirsch speaks with special father, Dan Morrissey. Dan and his wife Kristin have two children, one of whom, Emily, has Cerebral Palsy. We’ll hear the Morrissey family story including how they started a new business, www.Emilysbracelets.com. We’ll also hear how Emily’s younger brother PJ wrote two books about having a sister with special needs. That’s all on this Dad to Dad podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Dad to Dad 86 – Dan Morrissey Helped His Daughter with Cerebral Palsy To Start Emily’s Bracelets
Dan Morrissey: Emily from early occupational therapy- a standard Go To is stringing beads- For the year prior to that Emily had started making bracelets, had a pony beads. She enjoyed giving them to people and the joy that they received in, in giving them. So we decided that we were going to give a go of a starting a business for Emily, which is today Emily’s Bracelets and the website emilysbracelets.com.
Tom Couch: That’s special father Dan Morrissey, Dan and his wife, Kristin, have two children. One of whom Emily has cerebral palsy. We’ll hear the Morrissey family story about a new business, emilysbracelets.com. And Emily’s younger brother, PJ writing a book about his experiences of having a sister with special needs.
That’s all on this dad to dad podcast presented by the special fathers network. 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 as special father Dan Morrissey talks with David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Dan Morrissey of Chesterfield, Virginia who’s a father of two and a human resource professional with Capital One. Dan, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Dan Morrissey: My pleasure.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Kristen had been married for 25 years and of the proud parents of PJ who’s 17 and older sister, Emily 21 who has cerebral palsy.
Let’s start with some background. Tell me something about your family. Where did you grow up?
Dan Morrissey: Uh, I grew up in upstate New York, Syracuse, New York to be specific. I am one of four children. I am the youngest. My siblings are nine, 10 and 12 years older than me. So I sometimes consider myself as having had five parents, which can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the situation.
So, um, My father who is good at corny dad, jokes says I’m learning. I’m becoming good at as well. Always says that I was the best mistake they ever
David Hirsch: made. So, well, I’m glad to have you as well. And from what I remember, your dad’s still alive, right?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah. My father is 87. He and my mother, as well as my three other siblings are still in Syracuse. Syracuse New York. I am the only one that I’ve really kind of ventured out and moved around the country. Having lived in lots of different, lots of different places over the years.
David Hirsch: So what did your dad do for a living when he was working?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, my father was the vice president of sales for a industrial supply welding company during my childhood.
My parents and my older brothers and sisters really were born and raised in New York city. Bronx and Queens and my father had transferred it when I was two years old to upstate New York. And although he ended up moving on to different roles within the company, decided to keep his family rooted in upstate New York.
So through much of my childhood, my father traveled very much extensively. He would often leave. Yeah, Sunday night or Monday morning and travel the whole week and come home, you know, Friday evening, he worked very hard to support family and keep us in a, uh, environment around things that you felt were more conducive for us, despite the sacrifice that that took.
David Hirsch: Do you think he was a different dad to you than your older siblings? Just because of the age difference?
Dan Morrissey: Um, according to them, absolutely. Um, I was definitely, uh, often reminded that life was much easier for me. I think through a combination of, uh, Wow. Even with two kids, I think I’ve experienced, you kind of get a little more balanced over time about the things you worry about and the things you don’t worry about.
Also, I think, you know, financially, you know, I was kind of the only child after three kids, very close in age that I probably was afforded some other options of luxuries that they were not.
David Hirsch: Not a shocker based on a birth order. And the way I think about it is that, uh, I think the older kids. Sort of have a way of smoothing the edges or corners down.
Things are not as black and white. It’s a little smoother.
Dan Morrissey: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: So how would you characterize your relationship with your dad?
Dan Morrissey: I think a really positive relationship. I think a lot of what I saw him do as a father with some of the things we mentioned before have kind of instilled the underpinnings of.
The role of responsibility that I feel that I play today, importantly, for my kids, right? As protector provider, et cetera, in some ways, probably in an even more amplified way, you know, given the situation with Emily, right. And kind of her own inability to fully advocate and protect for herself.
David Hirsch: And is your dad nearby?
Uh, where does he live?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, no, my dad is still in upstate New York and we are here in Richmond, Virginia, so,
David Hirsch: okay. So you have a chance to go back and visit, uh, not only him, but some of your siblings and their kids as well.
Dan Morrissey: Yes. My kids are have, uh, 16 or 20, uh, Cousins from the rest of my siblings.
David Hirsch: Wow.
That’s pretty prolific.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah.
David Hirsch: I’m, I’m wondering if there’s any important takeaways that come to mind when you think about your relationship with your dad lessons, that you learned, things that he said that, you know, you’ve tried to follow through on your own.
Dan Morrissey: You know, similar to what I said before. I think having a unwavering responsibility to, you know, both my wife, Kristen, and, and my kids, and really kind of that traditional Irish Catholic, uh, instilled upbringing of working really hard.
Whether that’s for, you know, your employer or your family or whatever your do.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what I heard you say was that he had a really strong work ethic and, uh, family values we’re very important or top of the priority list for them
Dan Morrissey: well said.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So I remember you went to S U N Y. Albany got a business degree.
You moved around a bit from what I remember, you work for a Citi Group and then J&J and now Capital One, was that like a straight career path or did you feel like you sort of evolved as time went by.
Dan Morrissey: Um, there’s definitely evolution. I had met my wife, Kristen in my senior year of college at SUNY Albany, and she was a year behind me and was going on for her accelerated masters.
So she had two years of school after I graduated. So. Yeah. I went back to Syracuse and worked for them and we got married the year after she graduated and having both grown up in upstate New York and not being huge lovers of, uh, snow cold or otherwise, which is pretty much the main, uh, I guess redeeming quality in my mind of a upstate New York is very big, beautiful in my mind for like three months of the year, but the other nine months of the year, not so sure.
So never been on a set of skis in my life. Despite having grown up there, we both, we chose to move to Florida right after we got married and a couple of years into. Living in Florida, went to work for city group, um, in, in Tampa. And then that was probably the, the beginning of a career track, a defined career track, which, uh, kind of stuck in human resources in the HR business partner space, which has been the theme from Citi Group to J&J to Capital One today.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, it sounds like a. Not to paint a picture, but you might be the black sheep in the family.
Dan Morrissey: I am the black sheep in the family asked me, I went, I went from potentially being David, potentially being the favorite, um, based on me, the youngest and the spoil, the ones to the black sheep, or, uh, maybe least favorite because I have been the one that has put the greatest distance between, between myself.
David Hirsch: Well, uh, one of the ways think about it as you’ve charted a different path.
Dan Morrissey: I have
David Hirsch: it’s a warmer path.
Dan Morrissey: It is a warmer best. Yep.
David Hirsch: Blood is probably thinned out a little bit just because you’ve lived in Southern States as opposed to
Dan Morrissey: absolutely.
David Hirsch: And, uh, yeah, just a variety is the spice of life.
I’d like to switch gears and talk about special needs first on a personal level and then beyond, and I’m sort of wondering before Emily’s diagnosis, did you or Kristen have any connection to the special needs community?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, no, neither one of us had a particularly strong kind of connection to this special needs community.
Kristen has one uncle and cousin, I guess, who has a rare genetic disorder treat Collins syndrome. She had had some interaction with growing up, but not like a real day to day kind of connection or exposure.
David Hirsch: Okay, well, it was 21 years ago or maybe a little bit longer. Now, how did Emily’s diagnosis transpire?
Uh, what was going on at that
Dan Morrissey: time? Yeah, it will be 22 years in June. You know, my wife and I, I always tell people led to pretty generic kind of everything happens the way it was supposed to happen life of, you know, going to college meeting in college, getting married, you know, starting, um, we both started careers.
Yeah, probably two years before Kristen was pregnant with Emily, you know, we bought our first house and, you know, all of those kind of sequential types of things that, uh, you know, people draw in coloring books and things like that, um, uh, through their childhood. Um, and Kristen had a relatively normal pregnancy.
All of her pregnancies. She has had enormous morning sickness, but I don’t know that that’s totally outside the realms of kind of, of a normal situation. So at the point where Kristen was about 35 weeks pregnant, um, and just through normal kind of OB GYN, Karen otherwise had had some tests and. She had starting having the stiffness of preeclampsia with some elevated blood pressure and swelling and things like that.
And her doctors had said, Hey, we would like to kind of go ahead. And, you know, you’re far enough along. Some of this stuff is starting to emerge, I’m going and deliver the baby. So, um, she called me up at work and it was, I remember it was towards the end of the week. It was a Thursday or a Friday. And. It was father’s day weekend and said, you know, Hey, they want me to go to the hospital, my mom’s with me, you know, can, can you go meet me there?
And, you know, although it was a couple of weeks earlier than we had expected, we had most stuff in order and had left thinking, Hey, cool, I’m going to become a father on father’s day weekend. Pretty good, pretty good. Father’s day present. It ended up that, uh, you know, through various methods that they use to, um, induce labor.
It took several days really to kind of get things going and, you know, the doctors were pretty okay. Resistant to, you know, kind of going down to this area and route, and really wanted to stick with, with the natural delivery. So it was early the next week. It’s all kind of thing blur now, but it was past father’s day, missed the father’s day window.
It was like Monday, Tuesday up the next week that, you know, things kind of kicked in and got going. And, um, Emily was, um, eventually, um, delivered and. Within a few, probably five or 10 minutes of being delivered in there. Yeah. Not seeming to be any too much of an issue, I guess, because she was technically premature.
She was just under 36 weeks. They had some extra folks in the room for delivery and so on. Um, because of that and, um, Uh, Emily crashed, um, she’s turned blue, stop breathing and some other things. So a bunch of people kind of like rushed back into the room, um, who were starting to depart and, you know, revived her.
And yeah, and at that point, you know, she was in the little carts and they quickly whisked her away to, um, you know, the, the NICU where she ended up spending about the next week. You know, that was where from the normal, like I said before, vanilla life of, uh, you know, go to college, get married, buy a house, have a kid.
Um, our path started down a different journey. I think when Kristen and I ended up in one room on one floor of the hospital, um, and Emily, um, was, was up in the NICU. Out of the blue, right? Like without a whole lot of, you know, kind of pre-warning work or preparation for that. So they really weren’t sure what was the matter with her.
They knew that obviously she, she went to some distress and ran lots of tasky or lots of antibiotics thinking she might have had, you know, an infection or meningitis or something like that. And, um, over the period of. Again, it was a very blurry time, not a lot of sleep over that time. So it felt like days and days and days, it may have been just hours, but lots of, lots of tests and doctors and new types of doctors that we had never had experience with before.
Um, it’s became. Clear that she had suffered some sort of normal trickle issue. And over a period of, of days kind of the initial diagnosis was that she had. Suffered brain damage likely during labor and delivery, although they have never really a hundred percent been able to confirm that for sure. But as you know, as the time progressed and she had more MRIs and tests and things that was diagnosed, ultimately with cerebral palsy, which is really just.
You know, brain damage to somebody’s brain that impairs, you know, they’re, um, you know, cognitive or physical abilities or both. So that was a yeah, a big, uh, a big turn of the corner, um, in our lives at that point.
David Hirsch: Well, it sounds like a frightening experience to have your newborn, your first child for that matter whisked away, right minutes after she was delivered.
And then like you had recounted spending the better part of a week in the NICU. And when I think of NICU, I think of these super premature babies. Yeah. They’re a pound, a couple, three pounds. Then you had mentioned that she was almost full term, like a few weeks, maybe a couple of weeks premature, but you know, it didn’t sort of look like all the other babies.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, she was, she was the, she was the bruiser of the NICU. Um, I, she was, I think plus, or minus eight pounds, you know, in the incubators next to her where, you know, I remember on one side, uh, like twins, they were. Probably just over a pound each and, you know, lots of other, very small babies and compared to them, she was, she was enormous.
She was like a 12 year old compared to them.
David Hirsch: She was a giant among premiums, right?
Dan Morrissey: Yes, absolutely.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know, um, was there any meaningful advice you got early on, whether you were still in the hospital or perhaps shortly after able to bring Emily home that, you know, you look back on it and say, wow, that was really.
He, or that was really important, you know, to our new journey.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah. I think it was probably. You know, six or so months in before I can recollect having conversations with people that, that turned out to be advice that either in that moment or, you know, over time we look back on and say, okay, that was the right person at the right time.
I’m giving advice. I would say that for those. You know, first six or eight months, it was almost information overload, you know, lots of appointments, lots of people providing their own thoughts, opinions, input, et cetera. One of the things that I remember back that was kind of funny is Emily had a Hemi angioma on, on her arm when she was born and almost every specialist that we went to.
Struggled to give us really kind of concrete outline, look, sign, you know, what might happen to her, what happened or what was going on, but almost every single one of them pointed to her elbow and said, Hey, that’s a humane Genova. It’ll go away in a few years. And they think that that was their, their attempt to give us something searching in a very uncertain time, because whether it was an eye doctor or neurologist or whatever, they would all kind of look at that and, you know, tell us that.
And we’re like, okay, that’s great. You know, what about all the other stuff, stuff that we had going on. At about, I think it was six months or so. Um, we ended up with a neurologist, um, into, in Tampa. You know, we had just probably started connecting through some of the early intervention things. And as, as we met with him, one, he encouraged us, I think, to, you know, get as much therapy for her as possible.
And to help connect us with United cerebral palsy and Tampa. Um, knowing that we probably have lots of therapy ahead of us and Kristen and I, as well as Emily would need a lot more around us for those several years, you know, than just a PT or a speech therapist or an OT and guided us towards a UCP where he happened to be on the board and knew that, you know, we would get each of those three things, but also kind of.
That continuity of kind of wraparound of people that were used to one dealing with, what was it, baby, at that point to dealing with families who are probably figuring stuff out and, you know, kind of skilled at not just. Providing the therapy, but kind of helping, you know, parents and families along through, you know, what’s the beginning of a very long,
David Hirsch: it sounds like he was one of those people that was the right person at the right time.
Dan Morrissey: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: Were there some important decisions that you made early on that you can look back on and say, yeah, we’re glad we did that. Or maybe looking back, you’d say, Oh, maybe we would have done something differently for that matter.
Dan Morrissey: Um, the early decisions that I think. That we made correctly that know we’re part of Kristin and I’s own personality or kind of wiring where first.
Before we got to dr. Gunderman in Tampa, we had, Emily was actually delivered in Orlando and the neurologist that saw her initially in the hospital. And then for some followup after that was very bright and very helpful as well and little fuzzy on timey. But our first appointment with him after she had kind of gone through probably a battery of tests, again, after some time after delivery.
You know, both Kristen and I approached the conversation of, we were learning that doctors kind of. Sugar-coated information or try right. Information in a way that was as I think, meaningfully compassionate as possible, given the situation, but not always clear on exactly, you know, what the impact might be.
I think Kristen and I are both wired to be fairly informed and kind of, even if that means bluntly or otherwise, kind of like, know what the cards are on the table. Um, and we shared that. With him. Um, and you know, he very appropriately and kind of walked us through what he thought could be best case and worst case scenarios with, you know, some of the worst case being, I may never walk, feed her, sit up, talk, et cetera.
Do you know with therapy, she may be able to, you know, do some of those things, et cetera. And from, you know, kind of a cognitive standpoint, what he thought her eventual abilities might be as well. The term he used was, you know, she may make it to the point of trainable from a cognitive standpoint and. We although very hard to hear because it made it very, very real.
I think we both, you know, went home and cried, but at the same time, we then knew what we were dealing with. Um, and they think that we are both kind of bias for action type of people. So it gave us kind of that concrete foundation to say, okay, this is what we’ve got. This is what we’re told. Um, we can control and where we can influence things and what we can do, which was really helpful.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it sounds like. You want the facts when it boils down to it. So, you know what you’re dealing with and not everybody is prepared to deal cold, hard truth.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah. And I get that too. I mean, I am understanding and compassionate for folks. You know, everybody kind of handles things differently and has different.
Personal situations and experiences and otherwise, and I don’t know that you can avoid the facts and the truth forever, but I certainly understand that how that is digested processed and turned into something productive for people that is different as
David Hirsch: well. Just a matter of trying to wrap your mind around it and accept it.
Yeah. We all go through different stages. I think it’s referred to as stages of grief. Sort of the denial phase where, you know, you you’re hearing what the message is, but you’re not accepting of it. Right. And then you. You know, go through the next phase, which is some level of acceptance. And then hopefully you get to the point where you’re like, okay, let’s move forward.
Let’s take action. Like you were saying, and you were airing. I think what you were saying as let’s get to that stage as quickly as we can, because you know, you can’t change what the situation is.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And the faster you can figure out what the plan is, and then start executing the plan and then interpreting as best you can, what the next best steps are, you know, the better, better for Emily, better for you as parents and everybody else involved.
So thank you for sharing.
Dan Morrissey: And I think it’s a place that both Chris and I are comfortable working from. Right. Um, and getting to that place, you know, kind of quicker and sooner, like that may be part of our own coping mechanism. Right. Is kind of being able to know what it is so that we can then. Go into kind of action mode where, as I said, I think different people, probably everybody gets there at a certain point, but probably copes in different ways.
David Hirsch: Yup. Everybody’s different. And um, you know, not all spouses are on the same page here.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah,
David Hirsch: right. That’s not good or bad. That’s just reality, which is one my, you know, be grieving while the other one is like ready to move on and vice versa. And there’s a lot of give and take. And I think that’s part of where this trust comes from when you’re dealing with, you know, challenging situations, whether it’s the one that you were talking about, or, you know, ours were not comparable, but, you know, in one case the anorexia with one of our daughters, I don’t know, uh, drug and alcohol abuse, and these are just like, You know, getting the hidden mag with a two by four and, you know, you’re sort of stunned by the diagnosis and, you know, you don’t have a lot of familiarity with it.
It wasn’t something you were doing trained for or expecting or asked for. And, you know, you just sort of grew up around for, you know, answers and information. And then, you know, as you. Figure out as the cloud clears a little bit, you know, you can see or think more clearly and hopefully it’s, you know, being action oriented, like you saw it and, uh, you know, just moving forward, right?
Because you don’t want to be in denial for an extended period of time and lose some valuable time that could have been spent with OT or PT or S T for that matter.
Dan Morrissey: Yep. That’s a good point. I would say the other, the other early decision that was, you know, a right one at the right time. And I think, you know, having listened to, um, some of the other fathers interviewed in the podcasts, they think I’ve heard some similar themes of, you know, Kristin was, you know, it was working as an LLC, the SW and had fought it out a career as, as a therapist and a psychotherapist.
And we had kind of the. The plan up until, you know, Emily’s birth was, you know, that she would go back to work. She was going to go back to work part time sheets, all set up to work three days a week, and actually did that shortly after Emily’s birth. But after two or three months into that, and, you know, as going through that learning process over that period of time of getting facts and going to doctors and understanding things.
From both a practical standpoint of knowing that like that was going to continue for quite a period of time before it in any way, as well as being able to be positioned, to take those actions that we knew we wanted to take. We made that decision that, you know, Christian would stay at home and I would go to work, you know, we would divide and conquer in many ways, certain parts of our life, right.
There are certain parts that I think we very much co handle and coherent or co take care of, but there are very discreet things. Also that Dino she is fully responsible for and I’m fully responsible for either because of our skills, abilities, bandwidth, or otherwise that I think has really taken a very complex situation to meet it.
Made it a bit more.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing and not to focus on the negative, but I’m wondering what some of the biggest challenges that you and Kristen had encountered?
Dan Morrissey: Um, I would say, um, early on, it was all of that advice that we got from people. It seemingly, I mean, it’s not seemingly impossible.
It is practically impossible to do all the things that. Lots of smart people are telling you to do because lots of times they are contradictory to each other or, you know, I guess in the worst case, they’re contradictory to each other and the best case, they just can’t happen simultaneously with any, with any sort of balance.
Having all of those inputs and data from people sometimes vary. Knowledgeable professionals, but sometimes also just friends, family, acquaintances, or random people that you meet on the street that may throw up all sorts of wisdom and advice or otherwise at you. It’s overwhelming. And it can become very challenging.
I am, you know, have this belief that everybody’s motivation is to do good and help, but sometimes on the other end of receiving that, it’s it doesn’t always, it doesn’t always come out that way. From people who had, you know, talk about their cousins, nephew, who, you know, through the Apple juice diet was cured of whatever, or, you know, just seeming sometimes seemingly bizarre and random things, but very kind to people trying to share advice or knowledge with you and processing that all at the same time was overwhelming.
The other thing that Kristen and I often look back on with humor and we have a somewhat. Blunt and unique sense of humor sometimes in our house as potentially I think how we were both raised in wired, but also as a coping mechanism, um, we both look back and think about all there’s many, many people. And I think about this just in the weeks after Emily’s birth, you know, with look at Kristen and I, and, and in the attempt to really make us feel better, the wine that we seem to get, like more and more like oddly often from people is.
God chose you for this because you know, you and Kristen are such special people and you can handle this. And that was really hard to swallow in those early days. Again, really meant to be words of encouragement and inspiration, but in the moment of were not the right words at the right time. Now you’ve gotten much more adept at kind of like, just letting things like that very quickly, passing and roll off our shoulders.
But in that time where we’re trying to process all of that and garner all these inputs, that was a frequent, tough pill to swallow that people offered.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I suspect it falls under the banner of people wanting to. Be friendly, be encouraging like you were saying, and, you know, offer some thoughts.
And if you hadn’t been through that, you wouldn’t know any better,
Dan Morrissey: not in any way.
David Hirsch: It wasn’t a thought that comes to mind is that you can’t control what people or say or do.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know what impact Emily’s situations had on PJ, her younger brother, and then the extended family for that matter.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah. Um, Chris and I spent, you know, after we kinda got our arms seemingly wrapped around what Emily’s situation and kind of having a plan together, reassessing what our plan was for a further family, even before introducing PJ into the equation. And went through genetic counseling and high risk pregnancy counseling and input from doctors before we started down the path that even choose to have another child, you know, from a medical standpoint.
And then also spent a lot of time going through with Emily being a first child versus the second child. Um, we spent a lot of time discussing, like, is it fair to bring another child into the family, knowing that they would involve terribly be going on this journey with us. And after talking to some other people who had specialty, you need siblings as adults and otherwise as got some affirmation that.
Many of them view that as a bit of a gift versus a burden. And that kind of helped us make that decision to go ahead and, and have, have some additional children. We were faced with another challenge when Kristen’s initial pregnancy, after Emily ended in miscarriage after nine or 10 weeks, which was just, you know yeah.
Tough after making that hard decision. Yeah. Um, but we stayed the course and within a few months after that, Kristen became pregnant with PJ and he was born three and a half, almost four years after Emily. Yeah. You know, there’s no way it could not have an impact on, on his life. You know, in the early years he just didn’t know any better.
Right. It was another sibling like anybody else, you know, she was bigger than him. He played together so on, so forth and I think. He subconsciously knew that, you know, we would, we saw him become more of the older sibling versus a younger sibling, right. In ability, cognitive ability, physical ability, et cetera, you know, leading the pack of collusion, you know, amongst the children.
Um, and otherwise, uh, but you know, it was normal to him because it was his life in a lot of ways. And I think it was. Kind of, as he was a little bit past it or where he kind of looked back and realized, wow, things transpired differently for me than, than some of my siblings and probably realized some of it in the moment, but kind of, you know, in retrospect, be kind of saw, you know, saw that in totality and he.
Really has embraced that as a gift, which is really amazing. Right? You talked a little bit before about, you know, different things happen in different ways for each of your children and so on, and you certainly couldn’t fault him or. Viewing it as a burden of how come, you know, we always have to worry about this for Emily.
And it seems like less for me and so on and so forth. And while we had some moments of that, they were not, they certainly were not kind of like the theme of the view of his childhood or the equality or trade offs between them. And, um, in retrospect, you know, I think as he hit kind of the middle school years, he.
Realized all of that in totality and kind of came to very much appreciate how his life was different in many positive ways because of Emily’s.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing. We’ll talk about PJ in a little bit, but I know that it’s had a profound, positive impact on his life and the young man that he’s become.
So I’m curious to know. Were there any supporting organizations in addition to she United cerebral palsy that have played an important role in Emily’s life or your family’s life for that matter?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, I would say the other organization specifically in this space that has really become a big part of our lives.
And ironically, we didn’t really become involved until we moved to Richmond about six years ago in the special Olympics. And quite honestly, It probably wasn’t the right thing or the right place or the right time for Emily previously is certainly something we were aware of when we moved here to Richmond and she started to get involved in the special Olympics through school and went to her first kind of area competition from that.
The first time she went and, uh, she did the, uh, softball throw and, you know, like a modified like 50 meter dash or something like that. She got a ribbon at the end of that. And you know, the special Olympics is just awesome about celebrating the success and having the kids stand on the podium and get whatever they get.
I had oftentimes in her life, very shy from the public spotlight or, you know, crowd full interactions or whatever. Emily was thrilled to be pin hidden that first ribbon and kind of like stand on the podium and have her name announced and subsequently wore that ribbon every single day for many, many months after that.
And in many of her other, in all of her other. Special Olympics endeavors. She did went on to some other things where she actually got a medal and, um, has several metals, but, uh, whenever she received a medal, she would also wear, or that for many, many months as a part of her word, or as you know, I think a source of pride accomplishment.
Um, and otherwise that, uh, again, She probably wouldn’t have enjoyed or embraced at prior points in her life, but it was the right thing at the right time. And it was something that offered the opportunity for Kristin PJ and then like to get involved and get to know lots of other cool, special friends
David Hirsch: of Emily.
That’s fabulous. We love special Olympics. It’s been around for like 51 years now. Yeah, I remember it was a year, year and a half ago that we are celebrating the 50 year anniversary here in Chicago. And we had like 30,000 people come in from, I don’t know, 120 countries. And it was actually held at soldiers field and it was a really big celebration.
And, uh, it, it just has a profound impact on not only the athletes, but their siblings, their family members.
Dan Morrissey: Oh yeah.
David Hirsch: I think what comes to mind and you were emphasizing this, Dan was that the small victories, right. You know, the little things that, you know, we all need in our lives. Right. And we’ve not.
Maybe we’re not going to wear the ribbon or the metal, you know, for an extended period of time, but it’s like finishing a five K or TennCare marathon. Yeah. They put that metal around your neck and you’re sort of like part of that crowd, right? You’re you’ve got the sense of accomplishment and that you might’ve been working toward for weeks or months or longer.
And, uh, you know, every human being. You know, is wired that way. So I think it’s fabulous that Emily’s been able to benefit from the good work that a special Olympics does as well.
So I’d like to switch gears and talk a little bit about the experience beyond your own family and Emily’s experience with special needs and talk a little bit about this business called Emily’s bracelet. Okay. So what is that? How did that start? Who involved?
Dan Morrissey: Um, Emily has been in high school since we moved here to Richmond and through the different phases of, of education for kids like Emily, there’s different areas of focus.
Right. So, um, early on, there’s a lot on. Being functional in the school environment, be that from a physical therapy, occupational therapy standpoint, and otherwise, and the routines and things like that. And then moving into more of, you know, the appropriate educational focus and trying to figure out a vocation or a way for her to, um, have a purpose in life.
Post high school has been a challenge. 80% of adults with disabilities are unemployed. The reality of it is there are both limits opportunities and limited flexibility, you know, to really provide, you know, meaningful purpose, employment, and otherwise special needs. And maybe going back to the theme of Emily’s birth, right?
Like. We are kind of action oriented people and, you know, willing to be creative problem solvers of, of our own that, um, three summers ago, this coming summer, we are on our annual kind of like one week at the beach, Kristen, Emily, PJ, and myself, and thinking about what could be a business for Emily. I know that, uh, one of your podcasts was, uh, the folks from John’s crazy socks.
Right? So using that as probably a little bit of indirect inspiration or, or kind of fuel for creativity, we were thinking like, okay, we can, you know, we’ve chartered our course in lots of other places we could chart our course, um, here as well. Emily, you know, from early occupational therapy, I have a standard GoTo is stringing beads.
They were really big beads when she was little and smaller beads as she gained more skills. So stringing beads was something that you is familiar with. And, um, over the year prior to that, Emily had, you know, started making these bracelets, had a pony beads, um, really just for. Us and, you know, some family members and other people who had interest in, um, she enjoyed the, giving them to people and kind of the, the joy that they received in, in giving them.
So we decided that we were going to give a go of, uh, starting a business for Emily. What is today? Emily’s bracelets and the website. Emily’s bracelets.com.
David Hirsch: So are they purchased mostly by individuals? Are people buying them like in quantity?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah. So they certainly started out by start a Facebook page and other things, right.
So obviously that begins with the friends and family clean network after about a month or so we landed one local news story, which kind of helped. Bring some visibility and awareness and kind of a spike in orders that made us have to kind of figure out how to scale a little bit. This is Julie brag from CBS six news in Richmond, interviewing Kristen and Dan Morrissey.
Molly’s bracelets is a family affair. All of us work together to find something that utilized her skills and her passion and the things that she loves to turn it into something that. She can do to feel productive and to be a part of society, to have a purpose, right. For kids like Emily, that’s really hard to come up with that.
And, um, you know, it seems simple, but bracelets. Our purpose it, as she said earlier, makes her happy. So Emily plans to keep making and selling bracelets. When she finishes high school, she also donates a portion of her proceeds. Do her other passion, the special Olympics?
Well, we had a couple of folks reach out to us for bracelets in more quantity, either for their business, for their employees or for team building. Uh, within the past few weeks, the sheriff of Chesterfield County asked Emily to make bracelets in the colors of opioid awareness for a fundraiser that they were doing.
Oh, wow. But we’ve done many, many of those across different types of either causes or events and so on
David Hirsch: which, which is pretty cool. How many bracelets have been sold?
Dan Morrissey: Today, I’m the financial guy. So I closed the books every month, close the books for January. Um, and as of that, we had sold just shy of 6,000 bracelets.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh. That’s amazing,
Dan Morrissey: Jen. Well, yeah,
David Hirsch: that’s fabulous. Well, uh, this might be an appropriate time to give a special shout out to our mutual friend, Jeff Katz of w VRA radio, because I know he is one of your most outspoken advocates.
Dan Morrissey: Uh, that is the truth. So, um, after we had the initial news story on TV, PJ who’s in charge of all things, media related.
And otherwise I suggested that, uh, Jeff Katz listener for the time that I’ve been in Richmond. And, uh, interestingly, uh, we both arrived in Richmond around the same time. I suggested that, um, he sent an email to Jeff and Kristen was out and Emily was already embedded. It was like eight or nine o’clock at night.
And he sent an email to Jeff Katz every once in a while I get a notes, like I got from PJ Morrissey and a PJ sent it to me at 9:51 PM. The other nights. I read it and responded to him. Less than 10 minutes later going, Oh my gosh. I still want to tell your story. Well, let me rephrase it. I want your story to be told, went upstairs to his room for a little bit and came down, ran downstairs like 15 minutes later.
And he was just like, he already wrote back. Um, and he’s really interested in this. Producer’s gonna call me tomorrow so that we can have an interview. And that was the beginning of. A very longstanding and, uh, awesome relationship with Jeff and here’s PJ’s interview with Jeff Katz on news radio 1140 wr VA.
So I am happy to say that PJ Morrissey is joining us. PJ. Thanks for being here. No problem, Jess. Thanks for having me. I want everybody to know the story. First of all, tell everybody you’re 16 years old. You’re a student at Monica high, right? Yep. Um, I’m, uh, currently a junior and, uh, uh, at the beginning of October, my family and I started this bracelet business for my sister who has cerebral palsy.
She also goes to Monica and she’s 20 years old. Um, and she’s kind of found her passion making bracelets, um, since she’s been doing it since she was a little girl, uh, in occupational therapy, Emily has had a major impact on our life. Um, I wrote a book my freshman year about, um, Kind of what it’s been like and, um, how I feel about the whole situation, but she has just opened so many doors and gives me so many opportunities in life that have just changed me and molded me into who I am.
Um, I get to work with the other special education kids in her class and volunteer with the special Olympics, which is just amazing
David Hirsch: to see and
Dan Morrissey: promoting inclusion is. Something that is very important to me. And I try to, um, include that in my everyday life. So well, PJ, you’re a good man. And, uh, Emily is a, is fortunate to have you as a brother.
And I think you’re fortunate to have Emily as a sister. Yes, definitely. And I get the sense, your folks are pretty good as well, but, uh, yeah, I don’t wanna, I don’t want to go helping moms and dads take too much credit for stuff. In addition to supporting the business, he has done some really awesome things.
Bramley at the same time he invited her to. Um, go along with him to throw out the first pitch at a Richmond squirrels game. Oh, wow. And really let her shine in here, spotlight in his place. Um, she made a few. Yeah. Right. So let’s engage them out to all the players and other people, what she just totally loved.
And, um, she loved throwing out the first pitch. And again, As a father, seeing that for a kid that years ago, when even look or talk to a stranger to stand in front of a baseball stadium full of people and throw out a pitch was, uh, was an awesome, awesome thing. Um, invited her to ride with him in the Richmond Christmas parade.
Um, what she also loved and waved for three miles over parade with a big smile on her face was wasn’t also thinks he has been a. An awesome, awesome supporter of not only Emily’s bracelets, but just Emily as a person.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I think we’re going to promote Jeff to uncle Jeff, if it’s okay with you.
Dan Morrissey: Absolutely. I will share that over the Christmas holidays, when we were home, I was having a conversation with Emily and as I said, we have some interesting moments of humor in our family. And I said, Emily, who do you like more Jeff Katz or daddy? And she said, Hmm, I don’t want to answer that question. She very much, um, adores Jeff and he talks about her, honestly, almost every day on her show.
And, um, it happens to coincide with the time that she gets home from school and is often making bracelets. That’s kind of her work window is kind of the three to six timeframe of, of Jeff show. I will often come home and hear about how Jeff spoke about her that day. And it means a time.
David Hirsch: Jeff’s really a remarkable individual.
And part of it is his compassion, you know, which no doubt comes from and his daughter, Julia. Yeah. And everything that he’s learned. And she’s quite a bit younger than Emily. So, uh, I think that there’s probably a two way street there. It’s not all the things that Jeff’s doing for Emily and your family, but I think that, uh, what goes around comes around.
So, uh, anyway, thanks for sharing. I, I don’t want to go back though, because when I’m. PJ some that initial email to Jeff, you know, he’s 17 today that didn’t happen yesterday. That happened sometime ago. This is a really young guy, right. You
Dan Morrissey: know, high score,
David Hirsch: you know, what a mature thing for him to be doing, um, at such a young age and, uh, I understand that PJ is also a volunteer with special Olympics and most remarkably, uh, he is an author and he’s written a couple of books.
One is entitled different and the other one is entitled changed. What’s the backstory on these books?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, so, um, different was, was his first book and I think he was in. Eighth grade. I don’t, I think it was actually right before he started high school. It was, but he just showed up in Kristen and I’s bedroom one night at the foot of the bed and said, Hey, read this.
I wrote a book. And, um, that was a pretty big surprise. Um, yeah, as, as, as parents, I think 13 or 14 year old. And, um, we read it and really what it was, was a retrospective of. His kind of childhood and kind of his learnings from Emily. As being her brother and kind of like what he had that journey had come to kind of realize and appreciate what she had given to him.
And, um, yeah, so with, um, very little editing, my wife is really good at my grammar and punctuation and I have not. So, you know, she made some minor, minor edits and tweaks from that standpoint. But other than that, it is a hundred percent in the, the context and voice of. A young teenage boy of what he learned.
And I think that there a lot of, uh, level headed wisdom in that. So he self published shout on Amazon. And, uh, about a year later, he added to that second book, which was changed, which was a little more broadly about, you know, How he sees the world kind of differently and processes things differently based on some of the things that he has learned from Emily and some of her colleagues
David Hirsch: as well.
Yeah. Well, what I think is most remarkable a is that he took the initiative to put this in writing, not only to share with you as his parents, but to be shared with. Other people.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And perhaps siblings of those growing up with a sister or brother like Emily, and like you said, some people have cognitive abilities and others don’t and others have physical challenges where there’s donuts.
Some have both of the above and the level of maturity, uh, that, um, It takes at such a young age, um, is just most from, you know, it’s like the ripple effect, right? There’ll be people that might hear this podcast and take a different action as a result. There’ll be people that read one or both of the books and their life will be changed.
Yeah. And positive way. And you might never know who those people are. So I just, uh, I’m just, uh, Amazed, uh, in a positive way and what the PJ has been able to accomplish at such a young age. And, you know, he’s going to be going off to college pretty soon. Yeah,
Dan Morrissey: he is, uh, Emily and PJ will both graduate from the same high school this June and PJ has been accepted to William and Mary in Williamsburg about an hour away from here, which was his first choice.
So we were all celebrated quite heartedly in December when he was accepted there, including his sister. Who wrote a, um, a letter of recommendation for him?
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah. In Emily’s mind, hundred percent of the reason why I got accepted was her letter of recommendation though. That is a, that’s a pretty cool thing too.
David Hirsch: Let’s go with that story then.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, I like it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love it. Thanks for sharing. Um, I’m wondering under the banner of advice, if there’s any additional important, uh, takeaways, recommendations that you might have for our dads who might be listening.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, I would say, um, for dads and probably equally for, for moms, there was a point in time where I think Kristen and I together kind of both gained that confidence.
A little bit of knowledge, but really probably confidence too. We realize that we know our daughter better than anybody else in the world. And when faced with the decision. And, um, advice or recommendations be that from medical providers or schools or therapists or other ones wise to have that clear headedness and confidence to sometimes go with that advice and sometimes go against that advice or sometimes meet somewhere in the middle of that.
With a confidence that we know the big picture, like nobody else does. We, I can’t say we a hundred percent made the right decisions, but I will say that we probably 90% may have made the right, right decisions using that as, as, as our guiding
David Hirsch: force. Well, that’s an important point. You’re making Dan, which is to be confident, you know, your child better than anybody else.
And, you know, you need to be your child’s best advocate and cause they can’t advocate for themselves. And, uh, you know, a powerful message for all parents. Like you said, not just ads. Um, another question I have had to do with, um, why is it that you’ve agreed to be a father with a special father’s network?
Dan Morrissey: I think that if there is a way to help somebody in a similar situation, but earlier on in that journey, either get comfortable with having that confidence or gain that confidence. I would love to be able to, you know, support a father in, in doing that. I think. Being a support or providing any sort of wisdom in lessons learned over the year.
Um, and there have been many, many, many, many of them. I would love to be able to offer that to anybody that that might be benefit of. And I think. If none of those things, just being an ear to listen to somebody who might be processing through anything of the unique challenges that I think not necessarily having the answer, but, you know, being able to, to bounce stuff off or just kind of listen and have somebody to talk to who has been through.
Yeah. You know, again, everybody’s journey is unique, but a somewhat similar journey. When, when you and I first talked, I think I mentioned that I probably never would have signed up to be mentored in the early years of the journey that we’ve gone through either because of my own stubbornness, the stigma of that or otherwise.
But, um, you know, through the years I have become much more comfortable embracing kind of the vulnerability of that or the knowing. Being able to admit the fact that there’s a lot more that I don’t know than I do know. We’re
David Hirsch: thrilled to have you thank you for volunteering to be a mentor father as part of the special fathers network.
And it’s a common refrain virtually every dad in the network. And there’s some 300 plus dads mentor, fathers have almost said to a person. I wish there was something like this when I was a younger dad, but more confident ones, perhaps like yourself would add. I don’t know that I would have taken advantage of it.
Right. Yeah. And what we need to do is get those younger dads, the ones that are called for the beginning of their journey to get past that, whether it’s a stigma or just the, you know, rugged individual ism that we have in our society, men being able to figure it out themselves.
Dan Morrissey: Yeah
David Hirsch: and show some vulnerability, right?
It’s actually a strength when you can acknowledge that maybe you don’t have it. Maybe you need some help and who wouldn’t benefit in whatever aspect of our lives to have somebody who’s already been there and done that. Somebody who cares somebody who’s willing to share some thoughts or ideas, right?
Let you be who you are. As opposed to putting on this facade, this mask. Right. And just pretending that, you know, we’ve always got it together. So again, thank you for sharing. I’m sorta curious. No. If somebody wants to learn more about Emily’s bracelets or get a copy of PJ’s books, um, how would they go about doing that or contact you for that matter?
Dan Morrissey: Yeah, certainly. Um, so, uh, PJ’s books are both available on amazon.com, um, different and changed on and, um, his pen name, I guess, although he goes by PJ for everything in his life is his author pen name on, uh, on Amazon is P. Dot Morrissey, um, without the J um, and, um, they, they are available there. Um, Emily’s bracelets is really simple.
It’s emilysbracelets.com. Um, as well as Emily’s Bracelets on Facebook, where. There are almost daily postings of, you know, the involvement, the musings or great stories of community support that Emily has, um, has received. I mean, I think one of the unexpected, um, you know, beyond, uh, giving her a purpose, you know, some of the interactions with.
Folks who have kind of taken to her cause like Jeff, um, who he mentioned before there has, there have been several other folks who have become great champions of both Emily and PJ. And what they’re looking to do are the, um, occasional notes and emails from people who purchase, um, a bracelet. For a special reason, which is often that Emily reminds them of a special person, special needs in their life that they either know currently or have known in that the past is it’s really cool.
We’ll get often anyway, email of, Hey, I knew somebody like Emily, you know, who was a family member or a friend in high school or whatever. And when I saw her story, it made me want to buy a bracelet. I wear the bracelet that makes me think of that person is really cool. Yeah, we try and share some of that for inspiration as well.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sure. And it is very inspirational, Dan, thank you for the time and many insights. As a reminder, Dan is just one of the dads who’s agreed to it. Be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network and mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own. Please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
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, as you probably know. The 21st Century Dads Foundation is a five 501 c3, not for profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free, to all concerned.
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Dan, thanks again.
Dan Morrissey: Thank you.
Tom Couch: And 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.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups and search dad to dad.
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