On this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast, host David Hirsch speaks with special father Mark O’Halloran. Mark and his wife, Gerlinde, have adopted six children, four from Russia and two from Mexico all who suffered severe trauma from being abandoned by their birth parents and living in orphanages. Three of the kids have very limited cognitive ability as a result. Mark is also the director of economic development at Together Chicago, a not for profit dedicated to inspiring change and hope in the Windy City. We’ll hear all about Mark and his family on this Dad to Dad podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Dad to Dad 88 – Mark O’Halloran Has Six Adopted Children: 4 from Russian & 2 from Mexican Orphanges
Mark O’Halloran: My wife called me over to the computer. I was drying dishes after a meal. And as I was walking over to her, I prayed God, would you please just make it as clear to her as you’ve made it to me that we’re not going to have kids? I honestly prayed that on the way over to her computer. I stood behind her. I looked at this screen and there was a black and white image of three pre-adolescent siblings in Russia. Who looked with vacant, they looked empty hearted and empty, empty sold, and it struck me for the very first time. Adoption is not primarily expensive, personally, invasive built on tragedy. For us and them, it’s not primarily all of those things. It’s primarily about these young persons have no hope that they will be cared for and knit into a family
Tom Couch: That’s special father MarcO’Halloran, who along with his wife Jerlinda has adopted six children, four from Russia. And two from Mexico. Mark is the director of economic development at together, Chicago, a not-for-profit dedicated to inspiring change and hope in the windy city. We’ll hear all about Mark and his family 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.
Mark O’Halloran: 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.
Mark O’Halloran: And now let’s listen in as special father Marc O’Halloran speaks to David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend Marco O’Halloran of Oak park, Illinois.
Who’s the father of six adopted children, the director of economic development at together Chicago, and also a fellow member of Chicago fellowship, a nondenominational Bible study group. Mark. Thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Mark O’Halloran: It is really great to be here. Thanks David.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Gerald Linda had been married for 32 years and other proud parents of six adopted children four from Russia and two from Mexico. Yes. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Mark O’Halloran: All right. I’m one of eight kids raised up in Cary, Illinois.
We were raised in a Roman Catholic family. Dad worked hard, was an attorney. Mom stayed at home and raised us. Very close relationship with my siblings. The, we grew up valuing education and work. Very high regard for both and very strong encouragement from my father in particular, get out there and make money and get good grades.
David Hirsch: Okay. So a good work ethic is what I heard. High value on education. All your siblings have college degrees. Yes. So that was just a given. Absolutely. It was only where you’re going to school, not if you’re going to college. Excellent. So when you think about your dad, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah, well, it was tough. He struggled with issues of anger and he had a hard time coping with difficult situations or conflict. He had outbursts of anger or rage. He was at times physically abusive. He was often verbally abusive. That said my father stayed and stuck it out with us as a family. I know that he loved us.
I know he cared for us. You could say he had odd way of showing it at times he was not terribly involved in our lives. So for example, when I played baseball and literally. I don’t know that he came to a single game in high school, but he definitely came to the concerts. If there was a final concert for the year.
When I graduated from college from UV, Illinois, I was a French and economics major. And after the commencement ceremony ended, he came walking up to me and he said, French you were a French major. So yeah, he was not terribly involved in it. Oh my gosh.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, sorry to hear that. But one of the thoughts that was going through my mind is that.
I only have five kids, which is a lot to keep track of. And if I had eight, at some point, you know, you know that you can’t stand out, but you can’t go to everybody’s games, recitals. So instead of picking favorites or picking and choosing, maybe there’s a lack of engagement. Level, I’m not giving your dad a pass.
I’m just saying that, you know, everybody deals with the challenges that they’ve been presented with or in this case help create, you know, your mom and dad had eight kids. There’s some responsibility that goes along with having children and having a large family like that. But it is a little bit of a shocker that you might get through graduation and your dad will learn then that you’re a French major and an economics major from what I remember.
But, uh, No it’s telling.
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. Right. I will say this. So, and our relationship improved radically in the last eight years of his life, he died of pancreatic cancer 12, 13 years ago. Okay. It improved. And as it improved, I think I got a better understanding of him and his behaviors and practices. I think he mostly didn’t want us to feel pressure.
Dad’s there. Oh no, no. I’ll feel nervous. And I won’t hit the ball as well.
David Hirsch: Oh wow.
Mark O’Halloran: He wanted to give us free rein as long as we lived and complied with his expectations of excellence and clean living and. Moral behavior, I guess. Okay.
David Hirsch: So I’m interpreting that your mom was the primary parent caregiver.
Mark O’Halloran: She was,
David Hirsch: and she must have had a huge influence on yours as well as your yeah,
Mark O’Halloran: she absolutely did.
Again. She encouraged us to get out of the house. We had a very, very small house security. It was, I think a, well, I guess it was a three bedroom, but, um, they were tiny little rooms and she sent us outside as often as possible. Yeah, whatever weather and we enjoyed it. We love being outside. We had lots of friends.
She is a woman of great faith and Catholic Christians. She did not do a lot of explaining her faith to us. We went to a Catholic grade school and it was clear that she loved the Lord. She’s a very conflict person, but it was more I think, to be caught and taught. But from that standpoint, we caught a lot.
She’s a great woman. Hardworking was incredibly patient. And for bearing with our dad who is difficult, let her as well. And just the daily load of raising the kids. All of the things that come up with even a bunch of good kids, which we really are a bunch of great kids.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s a great testimony of your mom.
How old is she today?
Mark O’Halloran: Uh, 86.
David Hirsch: Wow. Well God bless your mom. Raising eight kids. There’s how many grandkids are there?
Mark O’Halloran: Oh, I don’t even know. I think there’s 36 or something now.
David Hirsch: So the challenge becomes even greater to keep track of all their birthdays and all the things that are going on in their lives as well.
Well, thanks for sharing. That’s very insightful. And just to ask one more question about your dad. If you had to look back on your relationship with your dad. Is there a one or two takeaways, they’d say, this is the impact that my dad’s had.
Mark O’Halloran: So again, as a younger person, the takeaways would have been negative.
Don’t be like that. Don’t blow up at somebody when they tell you news that you were not expecting. But now as the 55 year old man, almost key takeaways would absolutely include persevere. As crazy as the situation is as unhappy as you are in it, persevere it, make it better. I may not get better, but we’re men.
So persevere, lead. It’s going to be hard. That was absolutely one. The second one would be, I think I was in third grade. He must’ve had a bad day at the corporate office and he came home winter time. I met him by the back door. His overcoat was freezing cold. His, his glasses frosted over as he came in the kitchen.
And, and I just happened to be the guy who ran into him and he said something like this, Mark, there are two kinds of people in the world. So those who worked for the man and those who are the band. And if you want to get ahead, you gotta be the man.
David Hirsch: And you’re what nine years old
Mark O’Halloran: in the world is he talking about?
But in effect, he was talking about leadership and entrepreneurship. Even though he didn’t articulate that so well at the time, but as I got older, it was really clear. Wow. Uh, from a financial standpoint, you take massive risks. If you are pursuing enterprise. They can have very big upsides. They can also have very big downsides as I’ve personally experienced.
But those were two things that I, I absolutely caught from my dad. Keep going. You’re a man. It is hard deal with it, figure it out and don’t quit critters, or that’s not who we are.
David Hirsch: Right.
Mark O’Halloran: And, um, strive to become a leader. Yeah, well
David Hirsch: that those are fabulous takeaways. And, uh, it sounds like a, it was a challenging situation as a young person.
And it’s great that you got to know your dad as an adult and could put his philosophy or perspective and a light and sad that he passed at such a young age.
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So from what I remember in prior conversations, your grandpas, weren’t very influential because they died at a relatively early age. But I remember you telling me that there were a number of other father figures, and I’m wondering if you want to identify a few of those.
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Just to help understand who else played an important
Mark O’Halloran: yeah. Thanks David. The first ones would have been fixed Schneider. The Schneiders were next door neighbors and, uh, Bobby Schneider was a classmate and a childhood friend of mine for her, uh, eight years of my life of his dad. And Bobby recruited me to the little league team.
I’d never played baseball ever in my life and addiction either put the team together. Bobby was a phenomenal shortstop and Bobby encouraged me to join the team because they were short a guy. They put you in right field. They did initially
David Hirsch: just like a guest
Mark O’Halloran: scan unless you’re old. And then I was catcher for most of the season.
Oh, wonderful plate and diction eider with incredible. Methodological steadiness took me from not knowing how to hold a mat or how to hold a ball or hold a bat to being one of our best hitters in that the TV with the season. Wow. Loved baseball. And he just, he was gentle. He was direct. Yeah. It was a clear communicator.
He understood pedagogy of baseball and. It was a different interactive experience than I’d ever. I had never had before. The second person I’m a Clinton Gomez was my first host father in Mexico, but he caught up in the desert and he was a Heister fork, truck, mechanical engineer. They hosted me for eight weeks when I was a freshman in high school.
And again, I had. All day, every day that he was home interacting with a gentle, smart, persevering, loving, but firm father was a phenomenal experience of seeing him respond to his three crazy, uh, adolescent boys and me without being volatile or dangerous, ended up being very firm. He’s the man who taught me really is the beginnings of Spanish.
We’ve worked through texts hour by hour line by line. And he was, he was amazing. He was an amazing teacher. And mentor that summer, the following summer, I was in Mexico city, again, as an exchange Mexico again, but this time Mexico city. So when your mom encouraged
David Hirsch: you to leave,
Mark O’Halloran: it wasn’t just like
David Hirsch: in the neighborhood, it sounds like you like really left
Mark O’Halloran: my father who encouraged me to become exchanged too.
Oh really? Okay. He was concerned about my future prospects as the youngest of the boys in the family. And I think he was concerned. I wouldn’t amount to much. And so he forced me, he required me to fill out an application for this exchange program and I was accepted. But the second summer I went on my own steam and I was with Kwon Pablo Dell in NACADA button, Mexico.
He unfortunately passed a few years ago of a brain tumor Homer, but because she was. He was a remarkably brilliant trauma surgeon, pediatric trauma surgeon, and a trombonist, which I also am as it turned out and Chantal and wise and thoughtful and Oh, my word, he was astounding how he would tenderly. Take his daughter in his arms and even his sons, uh, how he cared for me.
We had so many long conversations about life and girls and marriage and family, and being a dad working in an organization. We had hundreds of hours of conversations. And in retrospect, his poor wife on my word, talk about hijacking their private time. Right. But, um, he was absolutely amazing. Very, very exponential animal.
Sounds like a Renaissance
David Hirsch: man.
Mark O’Halloran: He was
David Hirsch: right. Very high intellect. You mentioned as a trauma surgeon. Gifted musician and, uh, you know, very committed to his family. So it wasn’t like a lot of guys you think, well, he’s good at this. Right. It sounds like, uh, he was a very well rounded. What an amazing, uh, mentor.
Mark O’Halloran: Yes. He really was a mentor. Yeah. Anybody else? Oh my goodness. There are a bunch of others to smaller degrees. There were friends, dads, and high school teachers. And so on mr. Errands Berger, certainly for my four years in high school. But for the last 32 years, Gary Ginter has been. Leading and connecting and challenging and informing my life on a very regular basis at Joanna, his wife and I, she taught a Sunday school in Oak park and I was, uh, hilariously.
I was the muscle, I guess, to help keep the young boys in line. And Gary has been in my life consistently for over three decades. He’s been the most important. Shaper of who I’ve become,
David Hirsch: maybe one of the more influential male role models. That’s what I hear you saying.
Mark O’Halloran: That’s right.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s wonderful that you have a relationship, something like that.
I know that, um, most men could not name somebody like that outside of a family member. But they’ve had a meaningful relationship. And when I say meaningful, I’m not just talking about it physically present, but emotionally present somebody who’s spiritually present
Mark O’Halloran: in your life.
David Hirsch: Thank you for sharing. So I think you mentioned that you went to university of Illinois.
Um, you took a degree in French and economics, and then, um, when you started your career, What were you thinking and how has that transpired?
Mark O’Halloran: Awesome. So having been an exchange student to Mexico twice and discovered an aptitude is a very strong aptitude for learning at least Spanish. I was thinking, well, either medicine like my own father or international business, whatever that would mean.
Okay. And my father connected me up with a fellow from the Quaker roads where he worked, his name was shocked a volunteer of the year, or if you translate that Jack Friday, ms. was the, uh, like a director of international business of Quaker at the time he was in Chicago. He’s from Paris. And, uh, my dad connected me with shark for lunch, Zika shark met with yeah.
He said, well, I mean, you can just go sort of go from Paris is going to say, if you really wanted to get into international business, you must be down there, the French with the support of economics. And so, yeah, that’s what I did. Honestly, I went to you by and I became a French major with economics. Uh, junior year studied at Dijon, France.
How to extraordinary experience there. My French became excellent. Uh, after graduation, I worked in Paris as an interpreter for a us software development team. And I met my wife because of French. She was interested in going to France, having mastered English as an Austrian. Exchange student at U of Illinois also.
So she’d come from Austria to Illinois, learned English and was thinking of going to France next and was interested how I fared in France and. I was extremely interested in pursuing a marital relationship with her from almost the very first minutes of our conversation. I could just see, this is a woman of great integrity.
She evaluates things carefully. She’s not easily impressed. She, I was a Christian. Uh, I become a born again, Christian, by that. Yeah. She was also a Christian and she challenged me in my faith. What do you believe? Yeah. Oh my goodness. So a week after we had our first real conversation, I brought her home to meet my parents so that they would freak out.
When I tell them I’m about to marry this woman, which we did, we were engaged, uh, just six weeks later. So.
David Hirsch: Six weeks from the time you met her, you were engaged
Mark O’Halloran: from the time we had our first conversation, we were engaged. Yeah. We’ve met briefly at an event, but we didn’t really talk much. And a month later we connected again and it got together and talked.
Wow. Yeah. Cause he went fast.
David Hirsch: That is a. A little bit speedier than average.
Mark O’Halloran: I would not as a parent, but as a parent,
David Hirsch: you know, meeting her and like learning about all of this transpiring as quickly as it was, I’d be a little skeptical. In fact, I don’t know what her parents were thinking about her, you know, having this relationship with an American.
Right. You had mentioned she’s
David Hirsch: So she’s studying in the U S
Mark O’Halloran: yes.
David Hirsch: She is not an American citizen, correct? Right. She is an Austrian citizen and she meets this guy, you and a couple months later, boom, you’re engaged to be married.
Mark O’Halloran: Her mother refigure, her mother assumed that she was pregnant based on the conversation that we had.
Uh, her father had, um, served in world war II. And I think he was. Concerned, if not mortified, that she was marrying an American. My dad had huge reservations over our engagement in marriage and my mom. Um, she definitely had reservations as well, but having said that from the time that we married onwards, both sides of parents were 100% supporters.
They backed us in everything. And we’re huge encouragers.
David Hirsch: Well, I might be stepping on a landmine. But, um, my mother-in-law who became the woman that became my mother in law. I was not a big believer in me. I was very skeptical and wasn’t supportive of our relationship, but until years afterwards, once we started to produce children and grandchildren to her, I’m going to guess that you’ve been married longer than some of your older siblings.
Mark O’Halloran: Oh, that’s true
David Hirsch: that, uh, this relationship, the one that you have with Karen Linda has lasted longer than some of the others that, you know, might’ve looked a little bit more typical or appealing from the get go. Is there any truth to that
Mark O’Halloran: statement? Um, so all of my, so no, that is absolutely true. That is true.
Yeah. Most of my, all of my siblings married. One of them is separated. So yeah, there’s no question for me. It was just so obvious. I had had so many female friends. I’m a fairly good judge of persons. And when I met her, she was an absolute standout. In fact, when I was in France, my mom and dad and my younger sister, Carol came to Dijon to pick me up in a sense at the end of the day, at the end of the year.
And we toured around for a couple of weeks and saw Europe together. And I was their guide, an interpreter. And my father asked me this question, which really took me off guard at a picnic that we held to say goodbye to my friends, which included a whole bunch of super lovely to life, full of great women.
And my dad said, wow, how in the world will you ever pick. Well, there were that kind of friends. They were just really good friends, but I remember thinking, wow, that’s true. That could be a difficult decision. And then I met Kara Lambda and she was so far beyond any woman I had ever met. It was an issue in my mind, grab her and marry her.
Immediately before she gets away. She is that amazing. I don’t want her to escape. Uh, I don’t want to lose out on this opportunity. This is, there are almost no situations in life that are, do or die or now, or never. There’s always some other second chance to do, to buy a house or go to a school, whatever it is.
If there was no way I was going to let this woman spent the entire rest of my life, married to somebody else. So, yeah.
David Hirsch: I love that story. Thank you so much
Mark O’Halloran: for sharing.
David Hirsch: Switch gears and talk about family now. Um, I understand that you and Garrett, Linda were not able to have it. Right. And that led you down a different path and you didn’t become parents overnight to six, but you did make two really important decisions. Um, and I’m wondering if you can share with our listeners.
How that transpired.
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. Thanks, David. I grieved and mourned and, and was completely devastated for months when it became clear that, um, Carolyn did, and I would not ever have a chance of conceiving children that came to the total shock. It felt like death. It eliminated all of my enthusiasm and motivation to get out of bed and take on new challenges.
It really felt like the end of life. What’s the point of living anymore. And we’ll say this is early as kindergarten. And it was absolutely confirmed that summer that I was in Mexico city with one public Dell’s rail. My singular desire in life as a man was to be, he comes down. That was Michael. And now to learn with my beloved wife, that it would not be able to father children was just crushing.
My wife was also devastated, but she’s just a much more even killed person than I am and much more practical. And before too long, she had signed up for adoption conferences and information sessions and whatnot. There was this new thing in the world called America online. She was spent time for free hours looking on the internet about adoption.
And I was frankly, very irritated with her because by then I had come to the conclusion. God has childlessness in store for us and without the blessing and burden and responsibility of children, we are free. To spell other parents when they need a five day getaway. Cause they’re going crazy or to, um, do things like missions trips or what have you.
But in her mind, it was clear. No, we should pursue adoption. So we went to all these conferences and clinics and seminars, and I recall praying at one point in fact, the day that God opened my eyes and to use your words. Put in me, something of a call to adopt our first sibling set from Russia. My wife called me over to the computer.
I was drying dishes after, after a meal. And as I was walking over to her, I prayed God, would you please just make it as clear to her as you’ve made it to me? That we’re not going to have kids. I honestly prayed that on the way over to her
David Hirsch: computer.
Mark O’Halloran: I stood behind her. I looked at the screen and there was a black and white image of three pre-adolescent siblings in Russia who looked vacant.
They looked empty hearted and empty, empty, sold, and it struck me for the very first time. Adoption is not primarily expensive, personally invasive thinking about the home study unnatural. A traumatic shift of gears for us and them built on tragedy for us and them. It’s not primarily all of those things.
It’s primarily about these young persons have no hope that they will be cared for and knit into a family. And we want to parent, what do we need to do to find our children? God gave me that epiphany. In those seconds of looking at that image, we started the process. We had a home study conducted. It went very well.
We connected with an agency that seemed reputable and trustworthy. We were given information on four siblings, two girls, and two boys in Russia. And we. Through a careful prayerful evaluation with our church, the winters, some of my siblings, we said, we know about these four. Who else does, we’ve been approved to receive up to five kids on our home study.
We’ve been praying, God, show us our children. Okay. Here they are. So we took them and we flew to Russia. And on Sunday, June 15th father’s day. Of all days of the year, I became a father to my first four children.
David Hirsch: Wow. That is an amazing story. I just want to go back a little bit. How old were you at the time?
Mark O’Halloran: Um, so that was in 97. I was 32.
David Hirsch: So he went from,
Mark O’Halloran: we’re
David Hirsch: not going to have kids. The depression, the devastation of that, and maybe getting around to the acceptance of it, to doing a one 80, which is what I heard you say in those seconds, when you saw these vacant eyes of other children, not the ones that you ended up.
Mark O’Halloran: Those three that we first saw, they got adopted, I think, by an Italian company.
David Hirsch: Okay. And. What timeframe that all this take place from the time you learned about these four siblings to the time you got on a plane and the time you brought him
Mark O’Halloran: home, it was a four and a half months.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Mark O’Halloran: So it was a very busy four and a half months.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s amazing.
Mark O’Halloran: Home study was done in about a month. Peer Linda. She, she went full, full steam on everything, tore apart. Our kitchen built a new bedroom. We were doing home remodeling and home preparation. We literally this passage in John’s gospel when Jesus says I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, you may be also, that’s what we did.
Uh, Karen Linda led the charge of preparing a place physically and preparing a place emotionally and spiritually for our first children.
David Hirsch: So if I recall right. The two girls are the older ones,
Mark O’Halloran: six and
David Hirsch: four at the time of the adoption and the boys were three and two.
Mark O’Halloran: Yes.
David Hirsch: Do you know the circumstances of why their parents were not able to care for them?
Mark O’Halloran: Yes. Your parents were not married. They struggled with substance abuse and with cognitive disorders themselves. So the state took the children away and placed them in an
David Hirsch: orphanage. Okay. Well, those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Right. You know, going from not being parents to all of a sudden coming up to speed on being parents to two girls and two boys.
How did you, how did they overcome the language barrier?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. So again, people like to say, Oh, kids just pick up language. It’s not a big deal. Kids with a trauma background, struggle to learn anything. And our children were no different one way or the other. There’s also cognitive disability among three of our four children.
And between trauma and cognitive disability, it was a very slow process. The oldest, she certainly picked it up the fastest, my wife and I. As language learners, we’ve learned some Russia before he went. And that certainly helped initially, but again, the kids needed to learn English to function in the United States.
So yeah, refocused on that, you know, their needs were so basic. They were, we’re all very much under developed at the time relative to their ages relative to their ages. And so it was just, it was a very physical, caring, Um, medical, caring, emotional, caring context. There wasn’t a lot of conversation and stuff is pretty self apparent.
You need to use the bathroom, we need a baby. We need to be safe. So that, those language part really wasn’t that big of a deal.
David Hirsch: So they assimilated. If I can use that word about as quickly as anybody based on their background.
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah, it was hard. It was very hard. I mean, it was not until years later that we came to understand.
One of our daughters. She’s struggled with nightmares and really terrors on a regular basis for most of her childhood in our home, the effects of trauma, um, our youngest son, he had such a hard time. Calming himself down. He would scream and cry at bedtime and just out of annoyance or willful rebellion out of fear, he was afraid.
And that took, that took many, many weeks of, uh, then coming to believe, at least sufficiently to function. They’re safe. They’re safe enough. But again, that trauma has carried with, um, a couple of them more than others. Am I still safe? They, they still, I think there’s, they’re working through that today in their twenties.
David Hirsch: So did you have the children evaluated again diagnosed so that you had a fall. Comprehensive understanding about what the challenges were. You mentioned trauma and cognitive delays. Um, and if you’re comfortable with it by child oldest to youngest, two girls, two boys, what were their diagnosis? Just, yeah.
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. So Anya is the oldest and she presented fine. All she had to deal with was emotional trauma and, and a lot of emotional trauma at bat. The oldest being the oldest, seeing the challenges of the household of her origin. The extreme and severe abuses that are documented, that they experienced as very young children, which she, that the uncertainty and the craziness that she observed happening to her younger siblings, she absorbed a tremendous amount of pain and fear on behalf of them and the security that the near adulthood.
Christina suffers from cognitive disability in terms of academics, splinter skills. So people who have children with cognitive disabilities, no, it’s not across the board. Or my child is like a first grader. They might be like a sixth grader in blending area and like a kindergarten or in another, those splinter skills were certainly true with our, with our children.
But Christina on average, got up to about third grade level or so Alex also got up to about third grade level of roughly Kevin. My wife got him to the point where he could sight read new texts, even out of the Bible, but numerically, he has no sense really of money at numbers at all. No math skills, no math skills whatsoever.
You can count to 10, but beyond that, no, these are just kind of a blur.
David Hirsch: Was there some meaningful advice that you got early on shouldering the responsibility for not one, not two but four children. All with various challenges?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. So we felt like pioneers, there was, there was not a lot of literature that seemed.
Um, pertinent to our situation. Again, there was not a lot of community on the internet at that time. There’s vastly more today. The counselors, the professional counselors, they were still, this is a fairly new thing. This wave of Russian and Ukrainian adopted children who came from severely, uh, challenging backgrounds and orphanages, severe neglect.
That was a new wave and the professional community. As much as we love them and they have grown and improved in the meantime at that time, they really didn’t know what they were looking at. And so, no, we did not get any good counsel from that community, from the neighbors across the alley who had raised five great kids, uh, from my parents, from others, the encouragement and the counsel that we received was every child is different.
Keep loving them and accepting them and doing what you can to help them prepare for adulthood. It’s coming like a freight train. You don’t have much time, even though at the time they seemed like little kids, right?
David Hirsch: Oh yeah. Well, they were what, a six, four, three and two. Right. And they’re young adults
Mark O’Halloran: now they’re in there.
They’re in their twenties. The youngest is 25.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It’s uh, it’s amazing. Um, when you look back on it, is it easier now to say these are some of the more important decisions we made?
Mark O’Halloran: Well, yeah, I mean the most important decision that we made as a very couple was adopting our children. I mean, that was the day.
That was the biggest one in terms of parenting decisions, along the way, there are things that I would absolutely do. Again, we chose to homeschool. That was very important for them. My wife, isn’t a professional educator and it allowed us the ability to address their very specific challenges. The challenge was frankly, our oldest daughter, Anya.
She didn’t present that she needed a lot of help, so she didn’t get a lot of help. We had to, we spent so much time focusing on the ones who are more obviously needing. And in retrospect, she absolutely got the short end of the stick. Like a lot of kids do and a bigger family. So that would be, that’d be one thing I look back on and say, wow, I wish we had figured out some way to allocate just a little bit more time for her, but I don’t know how we could have the other’s needs were so severe.
And it’s daily. You’d never get a break from it.
David Hirsch: You know, it sounds like a very challenging situation. And I think in your own words, she presented herself well, like I’m okay. You know, my siblings need more help and as they get to be teenagers, they pushed back just because they’re teenagers. Right. And you know, you want to give them the latitude to develop.
Their own personality instrument, much like you experienced, right. Which is, Hey, you know, more of a hands off type of experience. And maybe with the benefit of hindsight, always being 2020, you don’t torture yourself. So I kind of would’ve shut up. So where are the kids today?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. The we are in the really, still very, very difficult season where our relationship with those four is not great.
When our oldest went off to college that began a very abrupt and to this day heartbreaking season where she distanced herself from us and from. All of the extended family and, uh, we have not had interaction with her mostly. And three and a half years, she, she has a strange herself from us. So that’s very, very painful from what we understand.
She lives very close to us within a couple of driving minutes and she’s working and she’s paying rent and she’s probably doing fine, but we don’t know that directly. Christina, the next one is, uh, also is completely estranged from us. And Liz even closer to us probably, but again, from what we understand, she’s still working the job.
We helped her open the door for her to get she’s due to full she’s responsible. She’s careful with money. She’s a very all, I mean, all of them are incredibly lovely, precious people, but. For whatever reasons are still working in their own hearts. Um, they’ve distanced themselves from us to this day, Alex, we have an ongoing open relationship with, and he has.
Last us with our first grandchild. And we see him as much as, as he’s able with his work at family schedule. And again, that our youngest, we have not seen for three and a half years. He’s more, I think, at the mercy of his sisters for transportation and relational guidance and whatnot. But again, it has been incredibly.
Difficult for us to invest two decades of our lives, it to them and love them completely. And to now be kept out of their lives. But again, they’re wrestling through what they have to rustle through and we’re praying that God will help them with that. We’ll see reconciliation and be able to worship together and laugh together and eat together.
At some point we hope. Well,
David Hirsch: thank you for sharing. Very sobering. Like you said, putting in decades of your heart and soul into these four young adults now and not being where you would have anticipated to be being way short of where you anticipated to be. And I think the analogy about seasons. May apply that this is a difficult or dark season yes.
From your lips to God’s ears. I’m hoping that it’s as short a season as possible, and that you can get best the price that you’re in and somehow rekindle a relationship or relationships
Mark O’Halloran: with each of the kids.
David Hirsch: And what’s not lost on me that they don’t have. College degrees. They don’t have the benefit of what I’ll call a typical upbringing in your education to fend for themselves.
So they’re taking a very difficult route. I’m not being judgmental when I say that, but that’s just my observation. You know, we all need the support and care of our families and to cleave themselves and think that things are going to be somehow better. Than they would be otherwise is very shortsighted.
And, uh, I’m hoping that there’s some light that gets shown in on their situation that. Helps them understand that you and Garrett, Linda loved them. They’re your kids and that you don’t just hope the best for them, but that you’ll be involved in their lives and help them reach their full potential, continue to reach their full potential.
So again, thank you for sharing the story doesn’t end there.
Mark O’Halloran: That’s right.
David Hirsch: Because in the middle of the story we were just talking about about 12 years ago, from what I remember, um, You’re somehow going to Mexico and God’s calling you
Mark O’Halloran: again. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Part of our transplants.
Mark O’Halloran: So our church organized a missions trip to Mexico, whereas Mexico 2007.
And my wife volun told me lovingly to go, go to the information meeting as a Spanish speaker, someone who’s lived in Mexico as a project leader. So, I wonder if you weren’t available that one night,
David Hirsch: the story will be completely different.
Mark O’Halloran: So I went to the information meeting, signed up and went to Mexico on this missions trip to help out practically an orphanage outside of Juarez, just over the border from El Paso, Texas.
David Hirsch: So that was a service trip
Mark O’Halloran: as a service trip and during, and my daughter Anya, uh, came with me and that was a great, great trip. Uh, For the two of us. Yeah.
David Hirsch: So she would have been a teenager, like
Mark O’Halloran: 17 ish. She would have been 16. Okay. And while we were there, we’ve met two 17 year old girls at the orphanage, Brenda and Sonia, they are twins and we connected with them.
We were appropriately told our boys on the ship were told, stay away from my girls in the orphanage. Right. But so there’s Anya seeing these it’s peers standing there. No, but he goes on missions trips and picks up the. 17 year old girls that pushes them in a swing and throws them around and has fun with them.
Uh, so they’re just awkwardly standing there watching all of the three year old and five-year-old kids have fun with these missions, service members, get all the attention, get all the attention. And so on. You said Papa, we should go over and talk to them. So we went over and introduced ourselves. I interpreted and, uh, We’ve had some phenomenal conversations and our evening free time hours on you.
And I had great conversations with Brendan, Sonia and David. It was not until the heat later much, much later that I remembered this. I saw these notes in a journal I was taking during that trip where I said, Lord, Do you have a longterm relationship in mind for us and of the twins, how they hate it? When we say the twin spoke, and that’s what I wrote in my dream, Brenda, and Sonia two distinct individual women.
And a year later, we returned with our church for another mission strips. Right. And while we had talked about and prayed about Brenda and Sonya, after I returned from that trip, You know, life gets busy with four kids, starting a business, running a company. I had kind of forgotten about them seven or 12 months later.
So here we are now a full year later and they’re still there and they’re seniors in high school and they’re going to graduate. And then what, three, 10 years old at that point? And I began to sense a stirring in my soul that trip that God had something important to speak to me. This is not my normal spiritual experience and life.
It’s usually pretty sedate. And I dunno, not so supernatural, but this was a supernatural stirring. And one morning on this trip down there, God spoke. Audibly to me in American English
David Hirsch: while you were in Mexico
Mark O’Halloran: lives in Mexico, adopt Brenda and Sonia. And it was incredibly beautiful and terrifying moment.
And I shared, uh, Oh my goodness. I called my wife that afternoon. I told her when I get back through support, important things, we should talk about. She said, How many and what are their ages? She knows me. And I think the spirit working on her, who knows what the orphanage director, Christian orphanage, I went up to him that same day.
And I said, dude, we got to talk about something you’ve talked about with, with you regarding some kids. And he’s, um, who are there. I said, you know, Brendan, Sonya, the twins. And he said, what’s on your heart. And I said, Dean, God has put it on my heart to adopt them. And he screamed yes. And praised God in a loud voice and doubled over and clapped his hands.
And I said, Dave, is this something positive that we can talk about? And he said, My wife and I have been praying that God would put those two young women on the hearts of a family, connected with the ranch. They call it ranch, Rancho 3m. And I said, Dean, how long have you been praying this prayer? And he said, since breakfast.
We just, we just fell apart, but God sometimes answers prayers, but very quickly. So we brought Brenda and Sonia to the States on F one foreign student visa. They came to learn English. They had no knowledge of our. Desire to adopt them. They started learning English at college of Lake County. And then we told them what are, what our thoughts were and that they have no obligation to say yes, but they should take the time and consider it seek counsel.
And they did. And two years later before they turned 21, we legally adopted Brenta and Sonya as our. Also forever daughters through adoption and Delta adoption in the state of Illinois. Wow. So they’re 30 now and they have become incredibly beautiful, well adjusted, dear, dear adult daughters.
David Hirsch: And where are they now?
Mark O’Halloran: Brenda is in the process of leaving the country. With adoption, post age 16, you don’t get immigration rights. So she has to leave America. And so that is that’s a month away. That’s very, very scary. Um, there’s no home for her to go back to Mexico. Home is, is us. So we’re praying that God will clarify how that will all go.
David Hirsch: so that’s not an alternative, you cannot like just have her
Mark O’Halloran: correct stay correct? Yeah. Our S our citizenship, our immigration laws are pretty goofy. Post nine 11 ever since nine 11. It’s, it’s been a different world as an older us citizen. I cannot sponsor my own daughters to become citizens. So what
David Hirsch: if you were to relinquish your parenting?
They’re not your daughters legally, and then you can sponsor them. I mean, I don’t mean to
Mark O’Halloran: be too simplistic. No, it doesn’t exist. He can’t just sponsor some strangers, all that is different postings. Well,
David Hirsch: it’s different conversation. I’m hoping there is an immigration attorney out there that can lean in or that something can be brought to bear so that she doesn’t actually have to leave.
But if that’s the situation, hopefully it’s a matter of, okay. How do we. Get her back if she wants to be back in the
Mark O’Halloran: U S which she certainly does. Yeah. Yeah. And Sonia is pursuing an MBA in Florida and, um, I think has found her, her, her niche. She also studied chemistry. She had great chemistry, but she studied business now is loving it.
So she has a couple of years before she’ll face the same challenges Brenda is right now, unless the laws change.
David Hirsch: Why is her situation
Mark O’Halloran: different? Why is she still a full time student?
David Hirsch: So if Brenda. Was still full time.
Mark O’Halloran: Right? She could stay. Is that
David Hirsch: the answer to put her back in school?
Mark O’Halloran: She’s 30. She really is.
She herself has done with school.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, sorry. I’m just one of those dads trying to
Mark O’Halloran: fix. Know my mind is
David Hirsch: working overtime thinking, Oh my gosh, what would I do in your situation? That’s not to suggest to you. Haven’t evaluated all that. Yeah. Wow. That’s amazing. I’m wondering, given all this transpired, um, how has this impacted your marriage and your extended family?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah, so massively, obviously parenting our six children has been absolutely the most sanctifying thing in our lives. We love them. Totally. And as every parent knows, Oh my goodness. Parenting is hard and it’s challenging. And it really causes us, has caused us to reevaluate over and over and over, over the last 23 years as parents, what’s important.
What are we hanging our hopes on? What’s our motivation what’s success. It has caused us to. Reevaluate and reeds of value, the things that God tells us to value. So in the face of parents, our age, telling about their children, graduating from such and such a college or grad program, or getting this great job or moving to this place
David Hirsch: or getting married, having, having
Mark O’Halloran: all these things, these are not experiences that we’ve been able to participate in.
And so this simple command, rejoice with those who rejoice mourn with those who mourn. Wow. If that takes grace, it would be easy to be reminded of our sorry situation, whenever some other parent brags about their awesome kids and, um, yeah. And at times we still do that a little bit, but God has really sanctifying us through this in so many, so many ways.
David, you know, as hard as it has been. The reality is we believe God led us through adopted these particular children, these particular persons at this point in history. And we praise God that he did. We love our children and God has shaped and reshaped us through them.
David Hirsch: Well, very impactful. Thank you for sharing.
I’m wondering, and I don’t think I need to ask the question, but I will. What role of spirituality?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. You know, I cannot imagine going through the various challenges, just the, the physical exhaustion challenges of parenting for a young traumatized kids with special needs. The emotional challenges as they get older and got older, bringing these teenage Mexican ladies into our home and adopted them all the trauma and sorting out of life and emotional healing that, that God has helped them do that they’ve come through.
I cannot imagine. Doing that without the living active presence of the creator and Redeemer of all humanity in side of us. Okay. I cannot imagine surviving the process. It’s not like, well, religion has informed our, our philosophy certainly has, or that church peer pressure has kept us honest and upright.
That certainly does some of that. But this reality of the living God living within us. I cannot imagine having survived what we’ve gone through, if that were not the case, I think it would have destroyed our marriage. And it would have destroyed us as, as a person’s Carolyn to you both. And instead God gave us the grace and the glue to stay together and love each other and love our children and persevere.
Like my dad always said persevere through it. And as my mom says, trust the Lord and cast off all your cares on him because he does care for you. And he’s with you.
David Hirsch: Amen. Thank you. I thought about adoption. There’s people that are listening. My wife and I have thought about this just fostering. If you had to share a thought, given everything, you know, today, having successfully adopted six children and all the things that have transpired, what word of advice might you give a parent out there?
Who’s thinking. I get it. It’s the right thing to do, but
Mark O’Halloran: yeah, I would say this adoption is super hard. Look at your own relationship with God. He has chosen to adopt you in Christ. Have you been an ideal child? Have you brought baggage to the relationship? Are you rebellious at times and on attentive to your father’s presence and counsel at times.
So adoption is very hard. We are all difficult children and there is no way I would adopt, except if you’re married. If you have a close relationship. And if the two of you are surrounded by a lot of support from the immediate family and your church family in that context, absolutely adopt absolutely adopt it is life transforming for everybody.
And not just your immediate family, the other members in your church, the other members in your extended family, it is transformative and sanctifying for everybody. I think that’s God’s point of it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you. What a great testimony. I’m wondering why it is that you’ve agreed to be a father.
Metro father is part of this special father’s network.
Mark O’Halloran: Oh my goodness. Full of David. Nobody does anything usually, unless they’re invited. So you’ve invited me and obviously just to say massive. Dimension of who I am as a man. And I know you have not lived a perfect life. Only save elderly may save your house.
So sharing from my experiences of bad decisions of good decisions of successes and failures, what a privilege.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re thrilled to have you. Thank you for being part of the network. Let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, Jim Helene, and our friends at Chicago fellowship for connecting us great
Mark O’Halloran: organization.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Mark O’Halloran: I I’m just so grateful that you’re doing these podcasts at times. It can feel overwhelming. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m faking it as a dad. I’m over my head. I don’t know how to respond to my teenage daughters, my teenage sons, whatever the challenge is.
And we are not alone. We’re not alone facing these challenges. I’m so grateful for what you’re doing to encourage us all together as a community of dads.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you. If somebody wants to learn more about together Chicago, about foreign adoption or just to contact you, what’s the best way about doing that?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. So together chicago.com together chicago.com. Um, They’re on our website. You can see a.bio on me and the rest of our team and the work we’re doing. And my email is, is simple. Mark dot O’Halloran together, chicago.com. Okay.
David Hirsch: We’ll put that in the show notes.
Mark O’Halloran: Sounds great.
David Hirsch: Excellent Mark. Thank you for taking the time and many insights.
As a reminder, Mark is just one of the dads. Who’s a great to be a mentor. Father is part of the special father’s network. A dad to dad 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, go to 21st century dads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the special father’s network data dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did, as you probably know. The 21st century dad’s foundation is a five Oh one C3, not for profit organization. Which means we need your help to keep our content free.
To all concerned, please consider making a tax deductible donation. I would really appreciate your support. Please also post a review on iTunes, share the podcast with family and friends and subscribe. So get a reminder when each episode is produced. Mark. Thanks again.
Mark O’Halloran: Thank you. David Marco Halloran is the director of economic development at together, Chicago, a catalyst for lasting transformation in the city of Chicago here, Mark and David Hirsch talk via computer hookup about Mark’s role at together, Chicago.
David Hirsch: So Mark, what’s the history of together, Chicago. So if you go to Chicago with boron, when one group of African American pastors from the South and West and North side of Chicago who had been convening and praying and strategizing about how they can be more effective in reducing violence and reducing poverty in their community.
Mark O’Halloran: When that group met a group of people, definitely white businessmen who meet Friday mornings for a Bible study. And the city had been convening and praying and discussing and strategizing, how can they deploy their resources, their network, their abilities to help reduce violence and poverty in the South and restaurants in the city. Those two groups. Worked introduced and connected in that almost an instantaneous heart level alignment and merged.
David Hirsch: If you will. Those two informal organizations into one that we now call together Chicago. Excellent. So what’s your role at together? Chicago?
Mark O’Halloran: I am our director of economic development. You know, it’s a, it’s a relatively small team.
There’s 17 of us. So we all wear a lot of different hats. And my primary focus is on economic development. And our overarching objective with economic development is to grow the gross domestic product of the South and West side of Chicago by encouraging the formation and growth. Of companies that are owned by African Americans or Hispanics. It was neighborhoods by, um, mentoring, existing business owners in those communities and helping to prepare them to plug into larger customers. Um, and we are very involved in and helping some very large organizations localize their supply chain and the smaller organizations. Right. They can do really well for themselves and for the communities that are sending it, get just a few more pieces in place to be able to take on a huge new client.
So we help facilitate them mentor and, uh, introduce financing partners and strategic partners and whatnot to, to achieve that.
David Hirsch: So just so I’ve got a better understanding. Give me a specific example of a business or an individual that you’re working with and where that is. How’s that working?
Mark O’Halloran: Yeah. So for an example, rush university medical center is focused strategically on localizing their supply chain. They buy an awful lot of ballers of groups and services every year from all of the world. And they have made it a personal goal to buy more locally from the West side of the city where they want to have a path to go to Chicago in turn is working with It organization, small it companies that are on the West side. Or, um, caterers or food product development companies for attorneys or CPAs or construction, rehabbers, or being sorts of different services or goods that Russia is currently buying.
So you got to Chicago is identifying and coming alongside of those companies on the West side to prepare them to achieve a contract with rush.
David Hirsch: Okay. Excellent. So what has the call it three to five year I’ll look, you’d mentioned about growing the GDP for the segment of Chicago. How do you expect to do that? What are the metrics that you would use to measure whether or not you’ve achieved your objective and what’s that going to look like? Great question, David.
Mark O’Halloran: So. A lot of the work at the beginning is casting a vision and they were being small call and large organization, an appetite for, and a belief that this guy transformative economic change is possible.
Secondly, there is a fair amount education and mentoring that is involved to help these smaller organizations on the South and West sides understand structurally and functionally what they need to do to grow and to be financially viable and more sustainable. We also are meeting with other very large organizations. Some I’m not at Liberty to share their names right now, but some better national level organizations that are involved in billions and billions of dollars of economic activity. And they’re in the process of re focusing how they deploy their own capital and are increasingly seeking to deploy it on the South and West sides. Give these kinds of Bible distances that we’re coming alongside of.
How will we know when we succeeded? Well, We feel like, uh, with our partnership with rush and others, we already are seeing the fat needle. Uh, these organizations are spending money for the first time buying goods and services from their local neighborhoods and five years from now. We’d love to see that number be in the hundreds of million dollar range. And I believe we’ve got a viable path to get there from here.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So if somebody wants to get more information or learn about together, Chicago, how would they go about doing that?
Mark O’Halloran: So on the web we are at together, chicago.com. You go the chicago.com and there you’ll find information about all of our initiatives and violence reduction, education, legal assistance, homeownership, economic development, mobilizing church partners, all of the city to do all of these things. And if you click on any one particular initiative, you’ll find the contact person here at TC that has set up 55 economic development. Go see my smiling face.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks. Um, is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Mark O’Halloran: Oh, David, what I feel is unique about together, Chicago is that it really is this unusual marriage between. Like-minded followers of Christ, both in the church and in the marketplace and bringing the marketplace dimension to solving these sorts of challenges, we believe brings a kind of a reality based and a financially self-sustainable approach to this. And it’s just, it’s been amazing. Growth of friendships on our team and, uh, through our team, into the community.
So what it’s been a privilege and they’re not required to go to Chicago and I hope your listeners will be able to check us out and personally meet me in any number of the people on the Chicago board.
David Hirsch: Great. Thanks again for sharing, Mark.
Mark O’Halloran: Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to this dad to dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad, dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process. New fathers would special needs children connect with mentors.
Father’s 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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