From terrible tragedy comes forgiveness, which leads to incredible acts of kindness.
On this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, host David Hirsch talks to Special Father Sam Rodriguez. Sam and his wife Stacey have three children. Ben, Emma and Manny, who passed away as a baby. Sam tells his family’s story including the formation of the Manny Rodriguez fund and the 87 random acts of kindness day. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast.
Find out about the Manny Rodriguez children’s education’s fund at
The Akron Children’s hospital website: https://www.akronchildrens.org
The Courageous Parents Network: https://courageousparentsnetwork.org
And to find out more about the Special Fathers Network go to: https://21stcenturydads.org/about-the-special-fathers-network/
Sam Rodriguez: [00:00:00] And my heart was so full of love for him in the moment. And they told us that he likely had a genetic condition in which he wasn’t going to live very long. And so we should take him off of life support and just love him and hold him and so we did.
Tom Couch: From terrible tragedy comes forgiveness…
Sam Rodriguez: A settlement was reached, an agreement was reached, and we were able to take that money and put it back into the hospital and have an opportunity to sit with those doctors and tell ’em, man, we’re not mad at you. We’re not angry with you. We don’t harbor ill will towards you.
Tom Couch: …which leads to incredible acts of kindness.
Sam Rodriguez: Several years ago, my beautiful wife had this idea that every day on his birthday, which is 8/7 for August 7th, we do 87 random acts of kindness.
Tom Couch: That’s special father Sam Rodriguez. Sam and his wife, Stacey, have three children: Ben, Emma, and Manny, [00:01:00] who passed away as a baby. Sam tells us his family story, including the formation of the Manny Rodriguez Fund and the 87 Random Acts of Kindness Day. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Here’s our host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad.”
Tom Couch: And now let’s listen in to this truly compelling [00:02:00] conversation between Sam Rodriguez and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Sam Rodriguez, who’s a father of three, and executive with Voigt’s Bus Company in Savage, Minnesota. Sam, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Sam Rodriguez: My pleasure.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Stacey, have been married for 12 years and are the proud parents of three children: Ben 7, Emma 10, and Manny who sadly passed away, oh, that would’ve been a dozen years ago. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Sam Rodriguez: So I grew up in the northeast, in the New Hampshire area. Spent most of my childhood up there, just close to the New Hampshire and Massachusetts line. Grew up to a father who was a full-time minister. He spent his career building and reworking churches to help them that were struggling kind of recenter and find their mission and their purpose. And then also at the same time he was [00:03:00] a Chief of Police. So had some good rules as we grew up [both laughing] and good opportunities to… Had a good upbringing, I would say.
Grew up with two brothers, older than me. A mom who spent her life in childcare, caring for little children from babies up until they went off to school, who came from some pretty challenging backgrounds. And got to see that part of my mom and her heart for kids. And that kind of got instilled in me as I grew up, and both my brothers as well That’s where it all started.
David Hirsch: Great. It is interesting you mentioned that your dad was a Baptist preacher and the Chief of Police, [Sam chuckles] so I imagine he would see people on Sundays and then he would see them on other occasions when things weren’t so tidied up.
Sam Rodriguez: That is true.
David Hirsch: That’s an interesting dynamic. Is your dad still alive?
Sam Rodriguez: He is. He is, yes.
David Hirsch: Okay. And did you mention he is retired?
Sam Rodriguez: He is retired and he is driving a bus for fun right now. Just a little bit part-time to keep himself out of the house and busy. [00:04:00] Still plays music.
David Hirsch: Okay. What type of music does he play?
Sam Rodriguez: He plays everything. So he grew up playing guitar, acoustic, electric and bass, and actually went into some professional musician career for a number of years before he met Jesus and then became a pastor. So he actually got to play with some pretty famous artists back in the day and so then he’s just kept it up ever since.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Sam Rodriguez: I’d say it’s two-phased. It started off tumultuous. I think growing up I had a complex that both my brothers who are older and smarter and better looking than I [David laughs] and got A’s relatively effortlessly and I struggled incredibly, worked really hard to get the C, the very occasional B was probably about the highest I ever saw in my schoolwork. And so I grew up with a complex that I just wasn’t good enough. And I think I projected that towards [00:05:00] my dad and we’re a lot alike in a lot of ways. And that just led to a fairly tumultuous relationship at the beginning, mostly from my end, I’ll be honest.
And then as I got older and matured and realized my dad probably was smarter than I thought and gave him credit for, we had an opportunity to come back and we are very close. Now we have a very good relationship and he actually lives not far from me now. Moved up here a little while after we did, I think mostly to be close to the grandkids, if I’m to be very honest, but also because of our relationship.
David Hirsch: Yeah. There is something to be said for those grandkids. You love your kids like there are no others, but once the grandkids are there, it’s just a different relationship.
It’s just great that you guys have reconciled, if I can say that, from years back. And that you’re involved in one another’s lives and he’s getting to know his grandkids, your children, and they’re getting to know their grandpa for that matter. Not everybody gets to know their grandparents. It’s a blessing.
Sam Rodriguez: That is true.
David Hirsch: What are some of the more important takeaways when you think about lessons that you learned from your dad or things that he said or [00:06:00] does that maybe you’ve tried to emulate yourself?
Sam Rodriguez: Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my dad that I probably didn’t even realize I was learning as a kid was first of all, the value of hard work. My dad was the opposite of a lazy man. Obviously, if you’re running churches full-time and that doesn’t take a couple hours on the weekend, and then you’re also working full-time as a Chief of Police, you have a hard work ethic. And he did that and he worked very hard to be where he was and is. And I think that’s probably the largest takeaway I took. I have built much of my career without a business degree or anything like that. And all of that came from working really hard and just learning to not give up and to do my best at everything that I’ve done. And I got that from him. I can’t take credit for that. That was just watching him do what he does every single day.
I think I learned also the value of making sure your family’s taken care of. Don’t miss out on making sure your family has everything that they need. That is the dad’s [00:07:00] job. That’s the man’s job, is to make sure your kids are cared for and they’re fed and they’re loved. And he did that as well growing up. And I think I may not have realized that quite as heavily when I was younger. I probably didn’t pay attention to that. But it’s very clear now.
And I think the other thing he used to say to us all the time was if you’re not gonna do it well, don’t do it. And I think that has spilled over into personal life, business life and really every avenue of our lives that we have always, if we’re gonna commit to something, you’re gonna do it well. And if you’re not gonna do it well, don’t commit. And something I think that might be lacking a little bit nowadays.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I agree. So if I could paraphrase: Strong work ethic. Strong family values. And not a perfectionist – I didn’t hear you say that – but if you’re gonna commit to something, commit to it. Follow through. And in a business sense, that was like a Jack Welsh mantra at former GE.
Sam Rodriguez: Okay.
David Hirsch: Which is, if we’re not number one or number two, we’re not gonna be in that line of business. And it’s that [00:08:00] commitment to, I think, excellence. And I think that’s what I heard you say when you’re talking about your dad.
Sam Rodriguez: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about other role models. I’m wondering what, if any, involvement did your grandfathers have on your dad’s side and then on your mom’s side.
Sam Rodriguez: So my dad’s father passed away when I was very young. I don’t remember him. I’ve seen pictures. I know I got to meet him when I was very small but I don’t remember him. My mom’s father worked since he was 16 at Ohio Edison in Ohio, the electric company. And he worked there, missed basically zero days, sick days. Had very few vacations and just worked nonstop at the electric company and became one of their best employees and one of their most tenured employees. And they forced him to retire early in the late two thousands just because of some recession implications there, but also he just had so much stored up benefit time that they told him, you just gotta go and we’ll pay you for it.
So he was another influential man in [00:09:00] my life. One of the things I remember, I’ll never forget about him. He passed away I believe two Marches ago now. One of the things I’ll never forget about him growing up as a kid is he would get up in the morning. He was the first one up, and if you tried to get up earlier than him, somehow, it’s almost as if he knew you were gonna do that and managed to get up before you anyway. And he never got out of his room without being dressed and showered and ready for the day. So he came out in Dockers and a polo shirt every day no matter what. Even a Saturday, Sunday, didn’t matter. He came out of his room dressed, showered, and ready to go. And when he was mowing the lawn, he was in Dockers and a polo shirt. And he just never changed. And that’s something I’ll never forget about him.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It sounds like he is an early bird. That’s what I heard you saying. And he had a standard, right? The way he presented himself as far as his appearance and being ready, as opposed to, this is what I do while I’m working or during the week, and then this is the person I really am in the evenings or on the weekend. So very consistent. That’s an important takeaway. [00:10:00] Anyone else that comes to mind beyond your dad and grandpas that had any influence on your life?
Sam Rodriguez: The other male role model in my life I specifically remember having large impact was Ken Smith. He was my fifth grade teacher. He had cerebral palsy. He walked with two crutches under arm, his legs kind of drug behind him. A man that you had thought would, I don’t know, had every reason I guess, to mail it in and to have reasons to feel sorry for himself. He did not. I think he recognized I struggled in school. I think he recognized that I had potential to be at least something and just needed some guidance and some help. And he did. He took me under his wing. He was very compassionate, he was very caring for me. I watched that man play soccer on crutches, and I’ve never seen that before in my life. He would plant the sticks and swing his legs and kick a ball farther than some of the better soccer players in the game. Amazing guy. And he really just taught me, first of all, he taught me how to care for another young man. How to do it in such a pure and such a loving and such a [00:11:00] caring way, while giving them confidence and giving them the ability to see that there’s something more inside of them that they don’t even recognize was, I think, the biggest takeaway for me with Ken.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Very few people can say that they had a Ken Smith in their lives. Somebody who believed in them and wasn’t obligated from a familial standpoint like a dad or a grandpa might be, or uncle or brother but just somebody who had a big heart and could help bring out the best in people. That’s what I heard you say. So speaking of school, I remember that you’d mentioned in a previous conversation you went to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, and you took a degree in Pastoral Studies.
Sam Rodriguez: I did.
David Hirsch: So when you graduated, I’m wondering what was it that you were thinking about doing and where has your career taken you?
Sam Rodriguez: So I had planned to become a pastor like my dad. I had surrendered my life and my heart to ministry and to helping people and caring for people. I took Pastoral Studies with Psychology and Counseling, [00:12:00] and music. I. I planned to go into the ministry. When I left the school, I had a brief time… I was still young enough that I felt like I didn’t quite know who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do yet. I think I did. I think I just had convinced myself I didn’t. And so I decided I was going to go do my own thing. Typical prodigal son story except I did not ask for money from my dad ’cause I wouldn’t have gotten it. [laughing] And so I went my own way, did my own thing. Met a lot of good people and made a lot of dumb decisions and really just went on my own until I finally realized, hey, it’s time to grow up. It’s time to mature, it’s time to figure out what the rest of your life is going to be.
And so I did that by saying I gotta make some money. So I started driving for a bus company in the area and said I’ll just do that to make some money. This was in Ohio at the time. And I just said, I’ve never had a commercial license, but it sounds like fun. So I’ll drive bus and I’ll figure out what the rest of my life needs to be. And I started that and [00:13:00] 15 years later now I’m the Chief Operating Officer of an entirely different company in another part of the country. So my career just progressed up the chain from there and in business. And I’ve maintained a connection to the church and I help out in worship and lead in ministry that way, and lead a small group and also do some counseling on the side. So I’m still using the education that I have, just not in the way I originally intended.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It seems like you’ve been able to straddle, if I can call it that, your interest, education, passion for ministry, and having a professional career. And it’s not lost on me that you started as a bus driver. That’s what you said.
Sam Rodriguez: Yes.
David Hirsch: Now you’re the COO, Chief Operating Officer, of a bus company.
Sam Rodriguez: That’s correct.
David Hirsch: And so you’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time. That’s wonderful. So I’m curious to know how is it that you and Stacey met?
Sam Rodriguez: Stacey and I met, I was still living in the northeast. My mom and dad had moved to Ohio. That is where most of my mom’s family is [00:14:00] from, and some of my dad’s family moved there from Puerto Rico as well. They moved there to be closer to my mom’s parents who were getting up in years. And my mom worked at a daycare center and she would call me frequently and say, I know you’re still single and I know you got a lot going on, and there’s this girl I need for you to meet. She’s got a great personality. She’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet. To which it rang in my head, I guess that means I’m the pretty one. [both laughing] And so I passed over her phone calls and didn’t really acknowledge.
And then several months had gone by of her telling me this and I got tired of being the only one who was missing all the family holiday gatherings. And so I had nothing else holding me in the northeast at the time. So I sold the place I was living in. I moved to Ohio. Within a month or two of being there, I went to pick my mom up at work ’cause she needed a ride. And I went inside to pick her up. I said hi to the people in her room. I got in the car and I said, mom, who is that beautiful girl that you’re working with? And she said, [00:15:00] that’s the one I’ve been telling you about for months. And I said, why didn’t you tell me she was beautiful?! [both laughing] And so we did – I don’t know if you wanna record this – a little high jinkery and stole her number off the emergency contact list for the daycare. And I just called her and said, I met you today and I know you know my mom and I’d love to take you out to dinner. And we did. And here we are 12 years later.
David Hirsch: I love that story. Thank you for sharing. It brings to mind a story that I just have to share with you. It’s about my mom and, God rest her soul, she’s been dead for about three years now. She died at age 83. But I’ve been married for 37 years. And when I was growing up, my mom was having the same type of conversation that you were just relating about, oh, a girlfriend has a daughter, or I met someone’s so and so and they have a daughter. I think you would be a good match. That type of thing. That’s just what moms do, I think. And then roll the clock forward. I’m married. I think we even had [00:16:00] kids. And my mom slipped one time and she said, oh, I was talking to a girlfriend and she’s got this daughter. I said, mom, I don’t know where you’re going with this, but remember, I’m married and you have a grandchild.
Sam Rodriguez: [laughing]
David Hirsch: Oh my God! She caught herself lapse back into the matchmaking mode. It was so funny. Thanks for sharing. I love that story.
Let’s switch gears and talk about special needs first on a personal level and then beyond. Before Manny was born, I’m wondering did you or Stacey have much experience with special needs?
Sam Rodriguez: So Stacey did. She had firsthand experience with special needs. So she went to college and she got an early childhood ed degree. She had a special education adder on that. So she spent all of her career until we had kids in a daycare or a school setting, depending [00:17:00] on the time of life it was. She was in one of those settings dealing with regular and special ed children. So her heart has always been very bent towards and very compassionate to people who just need something extra and making sure that they got every bit of love that they needed and every bit of support and encouragement. So that’s been her heart and one of the things that drew me to her, quite frankly.
David Hirsch: Okay. And I think you mentioned earlier that your mom had a daycare center…
Sam Rodriguez: Yes.
David Hirsch: …and that you were exposed to a lot of kids.
Sam Rodriguez: Yeah. So she held a daycare center in the home. Had it all certified and all the stuff she was supposed to do. Although not at the beginning ’cause the regulations weren’t quite what they are today. But anyway, she had a lot of different kids and they came from all different backgrounds. And so I got to have an opportunity to have my mom walk me through… In the guise of helping her, I got the opportunity to walk through how do we care for people who in some ways can’t care for themselves or who don’t understand how to care for themselves.
And by doing that, it [00:18:00] seeped into my school life where I was known as the Robinhood of the Outcasts was what I was deemed when I was a kid. There were cliques all throughout the school and groups of friends that were always together. And then there was kind of me who would… All the people who couldn’t fit into any other specific group would come to me and I became their leader. And we became friends and it was a ragtag group at best, but I think they just saw that I didn’t really care about who they were. I just wanted to love on ’em. I wanted to be friends with ’em, and I wanted them to know they were valued and cared for. So that came from my mom.
David Hirsch: Yeah that’s impressive. So kudos to your mom for helping shape your heart and open your eyes to things at an earlier age than I think most men, people for that matter, get exposed to.
What was Manny’s situation and how did it transpire?
Sam Rodriguez: So Manny was born August 7th, 2008, and he was born premature. Several ultrasounds before he was born, they had told us that he had club [00:19:00] feet, a pelvic kidney and could potentially have other things. At that point, they were telling us that he would likely have potentially Down syndrome or some other form of disability or disorder. And so we knew from the beginning without really talking to each other, Stacey and I did, that it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter what was gonna be the case. He was our son. We were gonna love him. God would help us get through, would give us resources that we needed. We were gonna have him and take care of him and love him. And it was just really no question in our mind on that despite being asked several times. There was no doubt in our mind we were gonna have him and love him. And so we were looking forward to it regardless.
We were nervous, naturally, young parents, first child. We were unsure what the future was gonna hold, but we knew that we would get through it together, so we were preparing for that. When he was born prematurely, Stacey had to go to the hospital for… She was having some significant back pain. I was on the road working as a driver and had to [00:20:00] come back kind of emergency style, very quickly back to the hospital. Made it just in time for… What they ended up telling us was she needed to go for an emergency c-section so that he could be delivered because he needed to come out immediately.
They took Stacey off to the operating room. They did the emergency c-section. They left me sitting just in the room waiting for any information, any update whatsoever. All happened very fast. Didn’t feel real to me in the moment, if I can be honest. And shortly after he was born, doctors came in and told us that he had been born, he was on life support and a ventilator system in the intensive care and I could go see him and visit with him, and they had some things to tell me.
I went in to look at him. A vision I’ll never get outta my mind. He was beautiful. And my heart was so full of of love for [00:21:00] him in the moment. And they told us that he likely had a genetic condition in which he wasn’t going to live very long. And so we should take him off of life support and just love him and hold him. And so we did. And I made that decision by myself because Stacey was still under anesthesia and was not able to be revived quite yet. And they told us that it couldn’t wait. So we did. We took him off of life support. We held him, we loved him. We cared for him every single minute until he passed away. And that is a nutshell of his story so far.
David Hirsch: How premature was he? Weeks? Or what was his weight when he was born?
Sam Rodriguez: He was 31 weeks and he was four pounds, seven ounces.
David Hirsch: Okay, so pretty small. I can relate a little bit, and I don’t mean to compare my situation to yours, but our second child was a part of a set of twins. The one twin was not [00:22:00] viable about 15, 18 weeks into the pregnancy and it became a high risk pregnancy. And we got about I guess it was 30, 32 weeks into the pregnancy. And my wife was in the hospital and they told her that she had to stay in the hospital. Bedrest for the last eight weeks. And it was like, oh my gosh. We’ve got a one and a half year old at home already. How are we gonna do this? I said, calm down. Everything’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna spend the night with you. I’ve got grandma to help watch young Dave. And in the middle of the night, my wife’s like, something’s not right. I’m like, Peggy, calm down. Everything’s gonna be all right. We could be here for not just a couple weeks, but maybe a month or two. And we just need to get through this day by day. And she insisted that I go get somebody. Somebody comes in, they take a quick look, they’re like, oh my gosh. Pushes a button. Lights go on. Things come out of the wall. Baby’s there in 15 minutes. Oh my gosh! Amanda, our oldest daughter, was born at three pounds, nine ounces. Very premature. [00:23:00] Was in the NICU, ventilator, all these wires and everything hooked up to her, which is what I thought I heard you say. When Manny was born, they whisked him off to the NICU. They put him on all this life support and life as you know it is, it’s like a surreal experience. And this turned out to be more of a straightforward, hey, the body’s just discharging the other fetus. That’s why she was ready to come out as quickly as she did. And in your situation, it’s dissimilar. Again I can only say that I can relate to that sort of initial experience when you have a preemie and there’s all this uncertainty going on. They’re on life support. But what was it that you were thinking at that point, that you’re just gonna follow the doctor’s orders or what seemed so threatening, and how did that situation further transpire?
Sam Rodriguez: The only thing I could think of in the moment is I really want my wife around. I want to talk to her. I want her to be a part of this process. And there just wasn’t time[00:24:00] to have her be awake and alert. And so I just tried to do my best to take the doctor’s advice, do everything they told us to do. I reaffirmed them that there was no doubt in our mind we were gonna do whatever we needed to do to keep him and support life. Then when we took him off of life support, that was the final decision that we had to make, that he wasn’t going to make it very long. Ultimately he passed away and quickly enough, my wife was not much awake for it. She was not able to… She doesn’t have great memories of him being alive. They faded very quickly. And so her only memories are of holding Manny after he had passed, which is something that I still find challenging to think about and I can’t imagine what that’s like for her.
At the end ultimately a little bit before Christmas, we found out that he did not necessarily have the genetic condition through an autopsy that was done. And we don’t know what might have happened, but we have to [00:25:00] have faith that what happened was what was meant to be. And so now we spend our lives honoring his name and his legacy, and finding ways to keep his memory alive so that he could have the most impact that he could possibly have had if he can’t do it himself.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s a very powerful story. Thank you Sam, for sharing. It really tugs at my heart to hear you relate the story because he was here for such a brief period of time. Just a day, or not even a day?
Sam Rodriguez: It was just about… I think it was in total, it was about eight hours, I believe. Yes.
David Hirsch: Wow. Looking at that situation with the benefit of a dozen years of hindsight, now it looks a little bit different than what you were just describing. But you realize now, and maybe not just recently, but years ago, that he has had an impact in a positive way on a lot of people’s lives, and maybe in a way that he wouldn’t have otherwise if he was just a typical kid. Just a 12 year old, [00:26:00] somebody in middle school today.
Sam Rodriguez: That’s true.
David Hirsch: And I’m wondering what was it that allowed you to get through all this, navigate this sort of choppy waters that no doubt you were in, Stacey was in the first days, weeks, months, perhaps years. I don’t wanna focus on the negative, but what were some of the bigger challenges that the two of you encountered early on?
Sam Rodriguez: There’s no doubt every time something like this happens, everybody has a different way of processing and dealing with it. There’s no doubt that it’s never easy and it took its toll on Stacey and I’s relationship for a while. It took its toll on my relationship with others. One of the biggest things I had to work through was just an accidental anger at people who had kids and how jealous I was of them having kids. And if I especially saw anybody yell at their kid, or God forbid, make a mistake as a parent, which I think we all do, it [00:27:00] made me angry and I had to get through that. And that was tough to do.
It had an impact on my faith as well. I struggled believing in a good God if if he would take our son from us. So those were a good six months, probably a year before we were ever really in any kind of a… You don’t get past it. That’s not a good term. But till we were at a point where we could truly move forward with our lives. And I think it was a large part my faith, a large part my family, a large part my beautiful wife who I think part of the reason it took so long is I spent so much time making sure she was okay and not really processing it on my own.
I went right back to work as fast as I could which was probably good for me. It was probably therapeutic, but on the same token didn’t allow me to really process the emotions and the feelings that were going on. So it took us about a year before we were at a point where we felt like we could be, I dunno, semi-normal for the lack [00:28:00] of a better term.
Then since then, it’s been special occasions. His first birthday was challenging. Once we had our first daughter after Manny passed away, that whole experience was stress. Stressful from start to finish. Even though she was fine, everything was healthy. There was no problems throughout the entire pregnancy. You just kept waiting for the phone call, the bad diagnosis, the strange look in the eye of the doctor during an ultrasound. And so that whole experience, every time your daughter first started walking or talking or any of those sort of milestones, you start remembering this should have been the second time that we’re doing this. And so aside from those moments going on, it took about a year and then we were able to just have those moments all along the way.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thank God you’re able to have a child or more children because you can celebrate what you have as opposed to what isn’t. And [00:29:00] I wanna go back just a step. You mentioned there was an autopsy. I don’t know if that’s common. But knowing everything you know today, because I know that’s optional, would you have done the same thing, had the autopsy, or would you just as soon not know?
Sam Rodriguez: That’s a very good question. I think If I’m honest, I don’t know if it mattered that we had the autopsy ultimately. And only because I can’t experience both sets of emotions because I only went through one situation. So I don’t know if not having the results of the autopsy would have felt better somehow than having them. Simply because I think there’s a part of me that says, knowing that he might have been okay that was harder for me personally from an aspect of it made me feel like I made the wrong decision. It made me feel like my whole job in life is to make good decisions, to protect my family and my kids. And I went through a very long period of time where I felt like I [00:30:00] did not, because it turned out he may have been okay. Again, we still don’t know that just because of the results of the autopsy doesn’t necessarily mean he would’ve been okay. It’s possible he might not have been. So if I didn’t know that, I think I would still have had the same set of questions. They just might have been different questions. I wish I could give you a really good answer on that, but I think that’s about as good as I can give you.
David Hirsch: Okay. Thank you for your authenticity. And related, from what I understand there was this situation, I dunno how else to describe it, months after his birth and sadly his death that this autopsy was done or the results of the autopsy were made available. And there must have been a settlement or something with the healthcare system. And I’m wondering, how did that transpire? Not granular detail, but just conceptually and what was going on then?
Sam Rodriguez: So ultimately…[00:31:00] I gotta choose to be careful what I say. Ultimately what transpired, we had good counsel and good advice that said that there was a couple of choices and decisions that were made that probably were not the best choices in the moment from the medical side of the equation, and that me making the best decisions possible with the information I had… Had I possibly had different information, I might’ve been able to make a different decision. So that was ultimately where it landed.
And so in an attempt to… You can’t ever undo what’s done. You can’t “make up” for what’s done, but in an attempt to understand and make right as best possible what may have been done wrong originally, a settlement was reached, an agreement was reached, and we were able to take that money and put it back into the hospital and have an opportunity to sit with those doctors and tell them, man, we’re not mad at you. We’re not angry with you. We don’t harbor ill will towards you. We care about [00:32:00] you. We understand that in those moments there is no perfect answer, and people are people and are gonna do their best.
And so we put the money back into the hospital combined with some money of our own and some loved ones around us to be able to start a fund in his name. It’s the Manny Rodriguez Patient Safety Education Fund at Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation, as you mentioned earlier. And then that fund now allows us to be able to fund education for doctors, for nurses, for med students and families, but primarily in the medical community. And so I get the opportunity every once in a while to talk to that exact demographic, the medical community, and share with them our story and be able to help them understand.
My main point that we give them is, I don’t expect you to understand what I’m going through in those moments. You’re not the dad, you’re not the mom, you’re not the family. And if you try to get that far invested in every patient, in every situation, you’re gonna have a really hard job on your hands. And so we [00:33:00] get that. We don’t expect that you’re going to understand what we’re going through. And likewise, you have to understand and not expect that we understand your diagnosis and all of your medical terms and all the stuff you’re trying to tell us really fast and try to get it out to get us to understand. We cannot process the heavy emotions and the medical lingo at the same time. It’s just not possible unless we’re medical professionals on the end of it, and most of us are not. And so we advocate for programs like the palliative care divisions at most hospitals that are full of resources far beyond what people think it is. And they are there as medical professionals with training and understanding what people like myself and many other of us are going through that allow us to bridge that gap of communication. So that’s one of the many things that’s come out of this whole thing.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It’s pretty powerful. If I can paraphrase what you’ve shared, which is that there was a settlement. You didn’t want to have the money. Money’s not gonna bring your son back. It’s not [00:34:00] gonna change your life. And the fact that you and Stacey were able to redirect that energy as opposed to through anger or being vindictive or holding that burden, if you will, and to try to do something positive with it. And it really speaks to your character and the positive impact that Manny’s life has had and will continue to have on other people.
I did go to the website for what’s known as the Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center at the Akron Children’s Hospital. And there’s a little message there that says that this fund supports the efforts to reduce or eliminate medical errors and improve patient safety, which is basically what you just said. And that there will be opportunities large and small for years and years, decades forward to make a positive impact on families and then, like you said, with healthcare professionals. Are there [00:35:00] any fundraising events or is there anything that you and Stacey or family do periodically or annually to commemorate Manny’s life?
Sam Rodriguez: Yes. So we are working now to our establish our 501c3 for the fund specifically to directly bring additional funds into the fund. Aside from that, several years ago my beautiful wife had this idea that every year on his birthday, instead of us being sad and sitting around and lamenting what we don’t have, we should be grateful for the joy and the happiness and the beauty that he brought into our lives and share that with other people. So she, I don’t wanna take any credit for whatsoever. She came up with this idea to every day on his birthday, which is 8/7 for August 7th, we do 87 random acts of kindness. And we just go out in the community and we find ways to bless people. She made these little cards that don’t ask for money. They don’t ask for anything. [00:36:00] They simply say, our son brought joy and kindness into our lives, and we wanna share that with you. So for a bunch of years it was just us saving money all throughout the year trying to put a dollar here, $5 there, $10 there till we stored up money so that on that day we could just… I took off work and we just spend the day from six o’clock in the morning until as late as it takes, which at the beginning when it’s just two of you it takes all day to get 87 individual acts in.
And now we do a Facebook event page on Manny’s Fund’s Facebook page and people join in from actually all over the world right now. We have a few countries where people that we’ve met and had an opportunity to connect with, believe in what we’re doing, and they join on and then they do X on their own as well and tag us in it so we can count ’em up.
And it’s turned that day from something so sad and so somber into something so full of joy and hope and just to watch people respond in a way that you just can’t imagine. And you get to connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise get to connect with. It gives you [00:37:00] courage to go talk to somebody and go do something for somebody you would otherwise have avoided doing.
And then sharing stories where just this past year we were at a restaurant. My little 9 year old daughter said daddy, you see that table of four ladies over there? And I said, yes. And she said, I want to go pay for their meal. Can we do that? Oh, man, absolutely. If that’s what you wanna do, then that’s what we’ll do. And so she took one of the cards and she went over and she gave them a card and she said, we just want you to know that your meal is on us. It’s already paid for. And and they said why? What do you want from us? And she just said, nothing. We don’t want anything from you. We just wanted to do this on behalf of my older brother who passed away and told the story a little bit about what it was. And man, two of the ladies just broke down in tears and started telling us about how the one had lost their own child and was trying to find meaningful ways to honor him and led to this very good discussion that we were able to help her see that, man, if you do something like this, this isn’t unique to us. [00:38:00] We don’t own it. You can have it, use it. And if you do the same thing, you can find a way to celebrate your own child on his day or do something like it. And they actually connected with us later on Facebook and told us a great story of how it affected them and what they’ve done since. So it’s really been a beautiful blessing and we want to grow that as much as possible. So each year we don’t want to stop doing it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I’m hoping just by the telling of the story here and the number of times, hundreds, thousands of times that your podcast might be listened to, that it’ll continue to expand and ripple. It’ll have a ripple effect. Occasionally I’ll learn about one of those because of the Facebook page, or you’ll meet somebody. Somebody will share an email with you. But in many cases you’ll never know.
Sam Rodriguez: That’s true.
David Hirsch: I just love the concept. 87 Random Acts of Kindness on August 7th. I’ll make a note of that. Thank you again for sharing.
Sam Rodriguez: Thank you.
David Hirsch: You’re also involved with the Courageous Parents Network. What is that and what’s your involvement?
Sam Rodriguez: So the Courageous Parents Network, to be very [00:39:00] honest, we’re brand new to that. So we got connected through Sarah Friebert. Dr. Sarah Friebert is the head of the Palliative Care Division at Akron Children’s Hospital. And just a few months ago she connected us with Blyth of Courageous Parent Network and we’ve had a chance to talk and get an idea of how we can help be a part of supporting their drive. And actually, quite honestly, we are brand new to this thing and we actually have another call scheduled pretty soon where we’re gonna get a little deeper into it. So I’m only connected with it as far as my research, but seems like a wonderful organization for people who wanna be better parents, wanna help each other, wanna do it right and need some help doing that. And so we’re gonna and then support actively families within the medical community to make sure that they get the help they’re really looking for and need.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Let’s give a special shout out to Blyth Lord at the Courageous Parents Network for helping connect us. They do amazing work and worthy of [00:40:00] everybody’s, every listener’s attention for that matter.
Sam Rodriguez: That’s true.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering what role has spirituality played in your lives, not just in and around the time of Manny’s birth, but throughout your life?
Sam Rodriguez: It has been a huge part of my life. It’s been an integral part of my life all the way through again, except for those couple of years of the prodigal son moment [laughing] where I think it still did. I just wasn’t paying attention to it at the time. But it’s been huge in a couple of ways. I think it speaks to hope that is beyond us. Something that is bigger than us. It has given direction and meaning to my life. Music is a huge part of my life, and the right kind of music will grab your soul and will get your attention and will bring peace where it isn’t. And just having a Heavenly Father who loves you, in spite of those moments where you do walk away, in spite of those moments where you make the mistakes and your life gets a little bit silly and a little bit ugly, [00:41:00] and knowing that you’ve got a place to go, a place to call home and something to connect with on a deeper level is just so powerful. I don’t judge anybody. It makes me wonder how people survive who don’t have it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering if there’s any important takeaways that come to mind that you can share with a dad or grandpa for that matter when confronted with adversity like you’ve just described.
Sam Rodriguez: The only advice that I can give that helped me, I would say, is first and foremost, understand that nobody knows really what you’re going through. There’s a lot of people who have gone through similar circumstances, and know that they don’t know what you’re going through. They don’t know what’s going on in the inside, and they’re gonna tell you they do. And they’re not gonna mean it. They’re not gonna mean it to be hurtful or patronizing or to cause angst. They’re doing it ’cause they love you and they just don’t know what else to say in the moment. And so it’s okay[00:42:00] to be upset by that. It’s okay to feel frustrated by that. Let yourself do that. Just know that they’re not doing it intentionally. I think that helped me a lot because I used to get very angry at people who would say, man, I know exactly what you’re going through right now. No you don’t, and please don’t ever say that to me again. And I had to learn that’s probably not a good response for people because you turn people off who care about you.
I think the second thing is don’t forget that you need to grieve and that you need to be able to process your emotions, whether it’s a loss or whether it’s just a hard time. There’s still a certain level of emotion and grief and loss that goes on, even if it’s the loss of a job. If it’s just the loss of, I thought my life was gonna go a certain way and now it isn’t. It’s okay. It doesn’t make you weak to have emotions. It doesn’t make you not a man because you feel like things are out of control and you don’t know how to process it. There are people like me, there are people like you. There are people all over this world that have gone through things that are there for you, that get that [00:43:00] sometimes you just need somebody to sit down and just say nothing and just be there for you. And we’re out there. Go find one of us. You can’t do it alone. And I know you think you can, but you can’t do it alone. Find somebody who will just be there for you and support you.
And then the last thing I would just say is don’t forget that when you don’t do those things, when you don’t find the help that you need, when you don’t find the ability to process through your emotions, when you just shove it down and ignore it, and when you try to just man through and muscle through, that’s when you tend to take out the feelings you didn’t realize were inside on the people you really love. And I know it’s not intentional and I’m guilty of it just like the next guy, but that’s when you tend to do that. And so you’re not just processing your emotions for yourself. But you’re processing them for your family and for those people around you because they need you and you know they need you, but you can’t be there for them if you haven’t figured out what’s going on inside on your own. So as best as I can say, [00:44:00] that’s probably my advice at the moment.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Words of wisdom. Thank you again for sharing, Sam. So I’m wondering why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Sam Rodriguez: One of my greatest callings in life and probably one of the reasons I wanted to be in the ministry when I was younger is because I realized that my time on this earth is finite. However, I can have a chance to have an infinite amount of impact all for His glory and for the right purpose on this earth. So if I can take some things that have happened in my life and use them to care for someone else through a tough time, or take somebody who’s going down a path less advantageous for them and help them see what a brighter day looks like and help them see what love is all about…
One of my favorite things to do is love on people who feel unloved and feel unlovable and who feel like they don’t have any direction. [00:45:00] Because to watch the way the heart changes and the face shifts and the joy that comes to the eye is something that’s so meaningful for me. And any way that I can be helpful to guide another heart, small or big, to go from one thing to another and find peace and joy and love and happiness makes pretty much anything else in my life all worth it and less important.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well said. From your lips to God’s ears, I hope you have a chance to do that for not just years, but decades and decades to come.
Sam Rodriguez: Thank you.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Sam Rodriguez: I don’t think so. Man, I’m honored to have this opportunity. Never thought it would come my way, but sincerely, thank you very much for allowing another platform for me to share Manny’s story, for me to be able to honor his legacy and his name and and carry on the importance of who he was. He is not forgotten and he’s not lost. And thank you very much for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.
David Hirsch: You’re welcome. So if somebody wants to learn more about the Manny Michael Rodriguez [00:46:00] Patient Safety Education Fund or contact you for that matter, what’s the best way about going to do that?
Sam Rodriguez: Best way to do that is to go to Facebook.com/mannysfund. On there you will find first of all, a way to contact us. You’ll also find a link to the fund at Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation. And then also you’ll find out the information on the August 7th Acts of Kindness event that’s on there. If you want to help us participate, man we would love it, and we’d be excited to spread his name farther and farther.
David Hirsch: So just out of curiosity, if somebody signs up to be involved, do they actually each have to do 87 acts of kindness? I don’t know. That sounds like a lot of kindness.
Sam Rodriguez: There’s never too much.
David Hirsch: I dunno if I can do that in one day. [both laughing]
Sam Rodriguez: No. So basically what we’ve done now is everybody that does, so if you do one and you post it on, that just adds to the cumulative total of 87. We just want to get to 87 for the day. [laughs] But if you want to do 87, we wouldn’t turn you down.
David Hirsch: I think of myself as an endurance athlete, like marathons and triathlons. [00:47:00] But that sounds like it would be a really big challenge. Maybe I’m telling you something about my personality [Sam laughing] but it just seems like you’d have to get started early and then work at it, right? Be deliberate or intentional.
Sam Rodriguez: Yes.
David Hirsch: And I think that’s what I love about it, right? Is that it stretches you and helps you really think about other people in a different way.
Sam Rodriguez: You described it well, for what it’s worth. It was, it still is, but it was a significant marathon-like event for the first number of years when it was just the two of us doing it. And we did. We left the house at 5:00 AM to go get to Starbucks or any of the other coffee shops around to try to get people before they start their day. And there were days, years where we didn’t finish till 10:30, 11 o’clock at night somewhere, just to try to get that 86th and 87th one in. Interestingly, by the end of the day, you would think we would be exhausted and worn out and happy it was over. And no matter how late it ended, it always felt like, oh, we’re done? We could, we wanna do so much [00:48:00] more. But our body is telling us no.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. It’s very inspirational. So Sam, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Sam is just one of the dads who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation 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 501c3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep all of our content free to all those concerned. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation. I’d really appreciate your support. Please also post a review on iTunes, share the podcast with family and friends, and subscribe [00:49:00] so you’ll get a reminder when each new episode is produced. Sam, thanks again.
Sam Rodriguez: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
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.
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: If you enjoyed this podcast, please be sure to like us on Facebook and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen.
The Dad to Dad Podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.[00:50:00]