Episode 274 Transcript (David Hirsch)

Episode 274 (David Hirsch)

Podcast Intro: [00:00:01] Being a great father takes a massive amount of courage. Instead of being an amazing leader and a decent dad, I want to be an amazing dad and a decent leader. The oldest dad in the world gave you this assignment, which means you must be ready for it. As a dad, I get on my knees and I fight for my kids. Let us be those dads who stop the generational pass down of trauma. I want encounters with God where He teaches me what to do with my kids. I know I’m going to be an awesome dad because gonna give it my all.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:00:39] Gentlemen, welcome back to dadAWESOME. Today, episode 274, I have David Hirsch joining me and he is one of those guys, once in a while you meet somebody who’s like, Wow, this guy is going after it in a lot of the same ways that dadAWESOME and Fathers for the Fatherless is going after it, except for, for him it’s like 28 years of history where he’s helping with intentional fatherhood. He’s helping resource and equip special needs dads. He leads a weekly podcast and he’s like a neck and neck as far as I think he’s been going about five and a half years, just like dadAWESOME, it’s called the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast. He spearheaded the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative and mobilizing kids to write essays, to write letters about their dads. And man, he’ll talk about it today, just the amount of work there. And then he he also leads the Dads Honor Rides. And I think they’ve done five or six of these rides now across the country, raising awareness and raising resources for organizations, doing great work to help against father absence, to help dads be connected on the home front. So David Hirsch is like the perfect guest for dadAWESOME, we cover a ton of topics. I’m so thankful you’re joining us today, though. This is my conversation, episode 274, with David Hirsch. David, we have been connected over the last year here, but it was just last week we had our first conversation over the phone and you were gracious to say, I’ll hop on and do an episode of dadAWESOME. So welcome to the show.

David Hirsch: [00:02:14] Great to be here. I love your heart and thank you for the opportunity to, you know, just to have a dad to dad conversation.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:02:21] I have over 14 pages of notes to help guide our time, and that’s good and bad. Sometimes I’m like, You’ll find I’ll be hustling to the next question, but I thought even though I have so much to ask you about, you’ve given 26 plus years to this area of intentional fatherhood and just helping dads bring their love, their presence, their intentionality on the home front and other male figures, other other folks to fill this dad void like you’ve given so much passion. But even though I have so much to ask you about your life, I want to ask about three others that have invested in you, that have been in proximity to you, you’ve had a chance to interview on your podcast. So I have three people I’m going to ask about in anything that you’ve learned from them that could be applicable to me and our dadAWESOME community. So the first one is Ken Canfield, the founder of the National Center for Fathering. What what would you say from his life, from his work? Is there any principles that you’re like, I learned this from him? That would be helpful.

David Hirsch: [00:03:17] Yeah. Well, Ken has been a dear friend for 27 years, and he was one of the two individuals that was working at the National Center for Fathering back in 1996, around the same time we had our fifth child. That inspired me to do something in Illinois to help create the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. And we copied a page out of their playbook, which they were doing an essay writing program in Kansas City and then up in Minneapolis and they partnered with the baseball teams, the Royals and the Twins and their respective cities, and they were getting a few hundred essays from each of their venues, and then they would just like pick three or four dads to recognize on Father’s Day. And what we do is we have two baseball teams in Chicago, Cubs and the Sox, somebody is going to be home on Father’s Day, happen to be the very first year in 1997, the Cubs were home. So we approached the Tribune, who owned the Cubs at the time, and we said, we’d like to do this essay contest, this is how it’s going to work, I reached out to the superintendents, the three top superintendents in the state, the State Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools, the Archdiocese of Chicago, and they were all on board with what we were doing because they know that when both parents are involved, i.e., how do you get the dads involved? You know, all the educational outcomes go up. So the very first year we had 30,000 kids write essays about their dads, step dads, current dads and father figures. And that’s really what helped put the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative on the map. So I give ken Canfield a lot of credit for the inspiration and the ideas that we had. And I think the big takeaway there is, The Heart of the Father, that’s the title of one of those books, when dads are involved in the educational lives of their kids, you know, all the other stuff seems to take care of itself. So if there’s one thing that I would suggest to any dad who might be listening is especially dads of young kids, you know, roll up your sleeves, be as actively involved in your child’s education as you possibly can be. Don’t let the mom take the lead or do all the things and just assume that, you know, everything’s going to be well. Know, the teachers names, you know, go over the report cards, do the reading, do the homework with the kids. Just let them know how important education is.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:05:26] Wow. That that principle of you took an idea from Ken Canfield and it basically was 100 X, the impact as far as the number of essays, I think if my math is correct here, a couple hundred, 2-300 and then to 30,000. And I just I wonder if that’s what God will use to actually change the trajectory of our country in the world when it comes to fatherlessness, when it comes to kind of issues On the home front is ideas that are gifts gifted forward that might have a way bigger impact through another leader. So I wonder if maybe even someone’s listening is going to start to work in the area of intentional fatherhood that’ll do 100 X more than dadAWESOME. Like, it’s that kind of like it fills me with vision and in hopes. 

David Hirsch: [00:06:08] That would be exciting, Yeah, you would hope so.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:06:09] But it takes the leader who says yes and deploys it, which was you in this case in the state of Illinois. So let’s go to the next one though, the next leader, Team Hoyt. I want to talk about Team Hoyt, Dick Hoyt and his son Ricky. And Dick, you had the honor of spending time in his home and with him and then also honoring him and sharing his story with so many others. I won’t ever get a chance to sit down with Dick because he’s passed away now. What did you learn from him? And just for the guys who don’t recognize that name, I think they’ll recognize it in a moment when you explain what happened. But can you just get a little bit of the back story?

David Hirsch: [00:06:43] Sure. Well, Dick Hoyt is probably one of the most iconic dads in history and reasons I say that is that most people would recognize him as being that guy who pushed his son, Ricky, in 34 Boston marathons. And it turns out that it wasn’t just Boston marathons, but he did over 100 marathons in total, 1200 races, both including running races as well as triathlons, including six Ironman triathlons. So the guy is just like Hercules, basically. And I remember when I was giving my TEDx talk in October of 2015, and I wanted to talk about the word commitment and I used some video footage as I was talking about the word commitment, which was Dick and his son, Rick, participating in these running and triathlon events. And I’ve always sort of held him up on a very high pedestal. I’ve been a marathoner, I’ve been a cycler, I’ve done a triathlete for a better part of 20 or 30 years and not a very accomplished one, I’m very quick to say, like an eighth hooper, usually in the lower half of my age group. We just want to make sure that anybody who might be listening to this understands I’m I’m athletic, but I’m not an athlete. Maybe like a wannabe, really. Anyway, I’ve always admired Dick from a distance, like for decades. Right? You’d be reading about him in Sports Illustrated, there’d be stories about him, you know, around the Boston Marathon. And I’ve never had any direct contact with him and when we started the Special Father’s Network, he was right up there at the top of the list. And it was about that same time that I’d given this TEDx talk that we were talking about him and one of the ideas once we launched our podcast, the special Father’s Network Dad to Dad podcast was to interview interview Dick Hoyt. And he said yes, and I thought, well, okay, you know, he lives in Massachusetts, I’m in Illinois, you know, we could probably get the technology to work. And this was, you know, pre-pandemic, so people aren’t using Zoom like every day of their lives. And I thought, you know, this would be maybe my once in a lifetime opportunity to meet him face to face. So I took a day off of work, I flew out to Boston, rented a car, drove an hour and a half to his house, hoping that he might spend 30 or 45 minutes with me to do this interview. Turns out it was interview number 11. So early, Early on, I barely knew what the hell I was doing, right, you know, as far as a podcast host. And and it was exciting, right. Now, the audio quality wasn’t as good because we’re just sitting in his family room, side to side, you know, but, you know, I ended up spending 3 hours with him and then he said, Hey, what do you think about meeting Rick? Rick lives about six miles down the road. I’m like, you know, count me in. So we went to where Rick is and, you know, Rick’s passed a quadriplegic, cerebral palsy, non-verbal. But, you know, he and his dad have a very effective way of communicating, you know, not verbally and, you know, and it was palpable, right. Just to be there with the two of them, one of my all time favorite dad pictures is with the three of us, the personal care attendant took a picture of the three of us, and that led to, you know, developing a more meaningful relationship with Dick. We ended up recognizing him on behalf of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative as an honorary dad. And I remember the, I forget what year it was, but I’m going to guess it was circa 2017, maybe 2018, and it was right before Father’s Day when we had the annual Fatherhood Dinner celebration. And we also hosted a group at Wrigley Field in a suite. And he was there, Joe Montegna was there, my friend Lawton Wilkerson, who was then, probably, late 92 years old, he’s a Tuskegee airman. Just, you know, my my group of pals who have been along for this journey, this fatherhood journey, and we flew the rest of his family in privately. I don’t even own a jet, but fortunately, I have some friends that do and we’re happy to, you know, chip in.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:10:48] What a gift.

David Hirsch: [00:10:48] You know, Rick can’t fly commercially because for it can’t fly commercially because of his wheelchair and his condition. And it was really cool having the whole family there. And, you know, sadly, like you said, Dick passed away in March of 2021. So it’s been two years now and I think he’ll just always have to focus on, you know, the experiences you’ve had as opposed to ones you might not have or be able to have anymore in this life time. And to say, you know, I love his heart, he was a great role model and he was the one that sort of busted down the door for individual disability to participate in sporting events, like he did pushing Rick. And then he passed the baton to a guy by the name of Rooster Rossiter, sorry. And Rooster created something called Ainsley’s Angels and Team Hoyt still exists, there’s a number of chapters, but Rooster took that idea that Dick had and put it on steroids, right. And there’s Ainsley’s Angels in I think 35 different states, 70 different cities, and they’ve purchased over 3,000 chairs, these bright pink chairs that they use to push individuals that wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in these are running events. And I’ve got one of those chairs in my garage, I’ve done marathons, I’ve done half marathons with Ainsley’s Angels, it’s it’s a beautiful thing.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:12:13] So another example of a spark that now the fire is bigger than they could ever imagine that was handed forward. And I mean, any of us dads who just feel like we’re in a valley moment, you’re like, man, I don’t know if I’m going to make it, I don’t know if I’m going to be a stay in this family, in this marriage, in this, like pursuing the hearts of my kids and staying helpful and active and engage. Just watch a two minute clip, you know, Tim Hoyt’s just search on YouTube or I’ll link a couple examples of some documentaries they did. Like, all you have to do is see what this dad did, see what Dick did, and then, oh the quote that his son, after the first five mile, the very first run, do you recall the quote, what his son said?

David Hirsch: [00:12:53] Oh, yeah. My recollection, I’m probably paraphrasing it, but it was along the lines of, you know, when we’re out there running together, Dad, it’s as if I don’t have a disability.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:13:04] It disappeared. The disability disappeared. Yes. I mean that we and we can do that, all of us, it does not matter what our kids are all struggling with something and we can by being a dad who says, yes you can. That’s their phrase, yes you can. Persistent dads who stay active and stay, I mean, what a gift to our kids to set them free. And I mean, it changed his world. It changed his son’s world by being a dad who said, I can do something. He was he wasn’t even a runner at the time at all.

David Hirsch: [00:13:32] So, yeah, it’s an amazing story. I would read the book. There’s books that are both written, and if you’re going to put a clip in the show notes, get the one that is out to the song by Mercy Me.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:13:42] Yeah, I Could Only Imagine. Oh, my goodness. Okay. The third individual who I know just changed your life in the trajectory of your entire life is your grandfather, Sam Solomon. Would you talk about him for a few moments?

David Hirsch: [00:13:58] Oh, yeah. Well, the short story is that my parents split when I was six, my younger brother was five. My mom raised me and my younger brother as a Chicago school, Chicago public school teacher, which is to say there weren’t a lot of resources. And if it wasn’t for my maternal grandfather, Sam Solomon, you know, I don’t know where I’d be today. So he was my role model growing up, I was the oldest of the three grandchildren, I was actually born on his birthday. So we shared a special relationship and I knew him not just as a young guy growing up, but he lived to age 93, died when I was 39 in 2021 or 2001 and I think about him every day. He wasn’t a perfect person, he had his flaws and a little bit of a dirty sense of humor. Super frugal guy, which I sort of resented a little bit along the way, but, you know, I think as a Depression era person, he was first generation American, he was the first person in his family born in America. I was the first person in my dad’s side of the family born in America, so we had that in common as well. And it gave me some insights about the work that we’re doing, the work that you’re doing is that, you know, sometimes the biological dad can’t be there. Either by choice, because of divorce or maybe dies, or he’s incarcerated, for that matter. And there are other individuals that can play an important role in our children’s lives and, you know, instead of saying, oh, too bad, you know, so and so is not involved, you know, maybe we think, what can we do to pick up some of the slack? And I hope that’s not the situation with any of my children or grandchildren, that their dad wouldn’t be involved, but, you know, I have made an effort as a result of my experience and the role model that it was to me to look out for the other kids that are growing up without their dads. And maybe it’s just doing things with them, being a mentor to them, including them in an activity. One of the things I really enjoyed doing as a young dad myself was coaching baseball and particularly travel baseball. And, you know, a lot of the kids dads weren’t involved, they wouldn’t be coming to the games, not necessarily because the parents were divorced, but in some cases, it was the situation. And, you know, they look up to you, right, you know, as a role mode, right. As what I think of as a positive adult male role model, I tried to be a positive adult male role model, I did lose my temper a couple of times. But, you know, none of us is perfect. And, you know, you know, sports plays an important role in society and I know a lot of guys can relate to that. And really what we’re teaching is not the sport, in baseball is, you know, something I knew a little something about, but, you know, you’re trying to teach them about life through the game of baseball, right? About the importance of teamwork, about the importance of practice, attention to detail and, you know, just having respect, respect for yourself, respect for your teammates, respect for the other team. And, you know, how do you accept loss, right? You know, because that’s part of sports is winners and losers. And, you know, there’s a way to be a good loser and there’s a way to be a good winner. And there’s ways to be a bad winner and a bad loser for that matter. So anyway, I could go on and on about my grandfather, but I’m just so grateful that he stepped into that void. And when I was growing up and for the first, I don’t know, 36 years of my life, whenever anybody would ask me about father figures, I would just jump to my grandfather and, you know, maybe I was covering up for the loss and the anxiety that I experienced not growing up with my own dad, and I’m not proud of this. But, you know, I didn’t have a close relationship with my dad even into adulthood, right. And sadly, he passed away about about five years ago. I guess I’m proud of the fact that my kids all knew their grandfather, my dad, about as well as they could. You know, we always invited them over for birthdays and holidays and, you know, we’d go over to his house periodically and, you know, I thought it was important that they know who he was. We took a trip to Germany after my grandfather passed away, his dad, and, you know, traced the family’s roots. This is where my dad was born. He came to the U.S. as a seven year old immigrant, they didn’t speak the language, they were persecuted, they were German Jews. This is a year before Nazi Germany invaded Poland at the beginning of World War Two. So, you know, looking back on it, my dad, did I think, the best job you could and it was unfortunate that we didn’t enjoy a more traditional father son relationship, but I think the pendulum swung one way. Not having him in my life or present, and maybe I’m overcompensating a little bit, at least my wife thinks I’m overcompensating for it, you know, with doing all the advocacy for fathers. And occasionally she would get frustrated with me as Michelle might get frustrated with you and say, Hey, Mr. Fatherhood, maybe you just need to spend some more time with your own kids as opposed to trying to solve everybody else’s problems.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:19:09] This is a real, I mean, I haven’t been called out for that very often on this dadAWESOME, but it’s so true because actually it takes less of my heart, of my hard work, it takes less to help other dads than it does to actually do the day in, day out, like we talk about dad awful, dad average, dadAWESOME. And like, I don’t want to, I don’t want to be dad average swinging once in a while too dad awful for my own girls but yet lead a ministry called dadAWESOME. So it’s a real it’s a real tension and something we need our wives to to keep bringing us back to, hey, how about the home front. So I do want to call out about your grandfather, I think when you honored him at his at his funeral, the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. Can I read that? Is that is that true? That that’s the one that you read to him?

David Hirsch: [00:20:01] You know, your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying. Oh, yeah. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:20:05] And I’ll read it one more time to make sure our guys hear it. Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you’re saying. I mean, to me, when I heard you talk about that and now to even re say it who you are, it’s not what we say it’s like and that’s actually the, the thread of all of the essays that I read and you’ve read. I mean, I think 425,000. You haven’t read all of them, I don’t think. 425,000 essays which were going to go back into now talking about that essay contest and in the little things, what the kids describe are little things, not world changing things, little things that make their dad their hero. Before, I’m going to read one example to help give our listeners an example, but to take from your dad of five kids and all under the age of seven, you go, you’ve learned about this essay contest, you come back, you gather community leaders, you deploy 30,000 essays come in. Just one more time, though, what was the purpose and what was the question these essays are, are answering? 

David Hirsch: [00:21:10] Yeah. The theme for the essay contest, this is what my father means to me. And when we had the very first year, 1st through 12th graders respond to that writing assignment, and we broke them up into categories, a dad’s category, a grandfather’s category, stepfather’s category, and then a fourth category, sort of the father figure category to catch all the others that, you know, might not have had one of the three above. And then we, we collected a lot of essays that first year and then 42,000 the second year, 72,000 the third year. And, you know, we just like lit a fire, right. And, you know, it was a little bit of a grab the tiger by the tail and just hold on in.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:21:53] The the, what you do, though, is you take these essays and you actually taken principles shared not from people with PhDs, but from first graders and second and third, and use that to teach a fatherhood curriculum, which is fascinating. I did not catch this our last call last week, David. I just didn’t didn’t catch that that’s how you’ve created a resource, so we get to learn from our kids and this is fascinating. Let me read one of them, and their handwriting is typically better than my handwriting, which is pretty impressive as well. So this this Jessica first grader said, My dad takes me to the zoo with my sister and brother, my dad has three jobs, one of them is a is a mailman and he’s a teacher at Parkland College and he is a pizza carrier. My dad means a lot to me. He gave me my first fish, I think it says fish might say something else, give me for something. He sings me stories. He is number one in my life. He is almost better than God. I mean, there are so, we could spend the rest of the interview talking about principles shared from this, I mean, she observed she was hard working, he took her places, he means so much. He gave gave a gift, he sings stories. So someone who sings shows shiny eyes, delight, pleasure, they’re happy to be there versus someone who just tells a story, right. He’s singing and yeah, okay, on and on. So these and you don’t have to read another one, I mean, there’s so many places we could go. But, David, what would you share like that this unlocked? These, these essays, what did they unlock to, you know, now tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dads who have read them?

David Hirsch: [00:23:37] Yeah, great question. Let me just go back to Jessica’s essay and thanks for reading an excerpt of the whole thing. You know, the only thing that Dad might not have done, at least from Jessica’s perspective, was he didn’t teach her how to fish, he gave her the fish.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:23:51] You caught it. You caught, there’s always the both sides, both sides observed. Yeah.

David Hirsch: [00:23:56] But all joking aside, the back story on the essay book, which I think might be relevant as well, is that we weren’t prepared to get the 30,000 essays the very first year. So we scrambled, recruited 400 volunteers, men and women, young and old, people of means, and in some cases sitting elbow to elbow with incarcerated dads, helping evaluate what the kids in Illinois had to say about their dads and step dads, granddads and father figures. And then after the essay reading took place, we’re like, Oh my God, It would be too bad if only those 400 people saw what the kids of Illinois had to say. So somebody said, What do you think about an essay booklet that I’m like, That seems like a reasonable idea. We scramble, we select 24 of the essays, two per grade, 1st through 12th grade, we sprinkle in some of the unsolicited artwork from the kids in kindergarten and first grade, and we put this little essay booklet together, and it printed with a little $5,000 grant. I had this idea of turning this $5,000 into $50,000, would be the seed capital for the Illinois Father Initiative and it, it did not work out that way. We did get the 5,000 essay booklets printed for $5,000, so a buck apiece, and our goal was to sell them for $10 each. And we got the local food store, Jewel-Osco, to give us end caps, right, to help us promote this. So everybody was just sort of coming together, rallying together, trying to see if we can, you know, raise awareness and some resources for this new Fatherhood Initiative. And I’m pretty confident, we didn’t even break even, I don’t know that we raised $5,000, but we ended up giving most of those 5,000 essay booklets away. One of those as a book that’s found its way to Harpo Studios and a producer at the Oprah Winfrey Show called and said, Oh, we love this as a booklet, we love what you guys are doing, we’ve picked these particular seven essays, we like them to come in for a taping, and we’d like you, David Hirsch, to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show. I’m like, Oh my God. And you could bring one guest, so naturally I brought my grandfather, Sam Solomon, and he, I’m sure, told that story at least a hundred times, right. How he went to the Oprah Winfrey Show with his grandson and I’m sure he bored to tears, as you know, Jewish pharmacist, retired friends, you know, to death with that story. But it was a surreal experience, right, just being on The Oprah Winfrey Show. And I just want to reiterate the time frame that this all happened. And we put the essay contest out there in January, we collected the essays in February, we did the essay reading in March, we did the essay booklet in April, and we were on The Oprah Winfrey Show in June, right. So it was like, boom, boom, boom. I mean, it was like a blur. 

Jeff Zaugg: [00:26:39] Through all my research and through this conversation so far, I feel like honor is a consistent theme. The way you honor people who gave the original idea, then you gather leaders instead of just deploying something as an entrepreneur businessman, you gather the leaders was the first step to share the great need. And then, and then the rocket ship took off and you became the first statewide, not, not for profit, Fatherhood, Father advocacy, I think, is the way you describe a program in the country, right? You’re the first one, not just the first one in Illinois.

David Hirsch: [00:27:12] Well, if not the very first one, certainly one of the biggest ones. The sad reality, Jeff, is there’s not a lot of competition. It’s not like, you know, all the states have this now. It’s like we’re like asleep at the switch, I think, you know, not really fully appreciating or understanding what the phrase, you know, the breakdown of the family means. That’s a very sanitized of talking about the fact that dads are not involved with their kids lives.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:27:36] But you you’ve also, I think you honor dads, regardless of where they’re at. If they’re in prison, if they’re in a spot where they can’t be present because of a divided family, like it just I feel like your heart is really one of honor. You even when you created this self-assessment tool, which I took to the 21st century father self self assessment and you even like describe it, guys don’t like to ask for directions. Guys don’t like to ask for help. They like to figure it out on their own. So you actually gave a tool that you can do on your own, which was really helpful. And I believe these are the four categories you’re you’re inspiring dads to be present physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually. I would love to sit here for a few moments, you reflecting on why you came up with these four presents, inspiring dads to be present physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually? Can you kind of just riff on a little bit of those four, four themes?

David Hirsch: [00:28:26] That became apparent early on that the most important thing a dad can do is to be present, and then when you are breaking dad up into, you know, different categories, like what does it mean to be a great dad, right? You know, these are the four that seem to sort of shake out, right? You know, what the state cares about is that we are meeting our financial responsibility. And if you ask most moms, especially single moms, hey, if he just paid his child support, I’ll take care of everything else, right. That’s sadly the low bar that society expects of fathers is to meet their financial responsibility. But in reality, what kids need and what they would benefit most from is a father being present physically right in their lives, emotionally, which is meaning, you know, don’t be the stoic dad of yesteryear, but, you know, letting your sons and daughters know that, hey, dads have emotions, too. You don’t have to be overly emotional, but you need to let them understand that, you know, you’re bothered by things, too. And how do you handle those emotions? Right? Because how else are young people supposed to learn to handle their own emotions if they’re not seeing a role model? And moms are much better at communicating emotionally than dads are on average. And this is not a strength of mine, right? So it’s not like I’m sitting up on my high horse thinking I’m Mr. Emotionality. In fact, I have prided myself, Jeff, on not being emotional, right. I’m a financial advisor that’s what I do for a living, right. Who wants an emotional financial advisor? No one, right. You know, you want a guy that would be like second in command at like an air traffic control.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:30:06] Steady, steady. Right.

David Hirsch: [00:30:07] I’m not going to, like, get wigged out by anything, right. So it’s taken me a lot of discipline to get out of that sort of unemotional role, right, then not stoic role, but, you know, to be in tight control of my emotions, right. And I pride myself on that, but I know that what might be a strength in that business environment might be the weakness at home. And I think we need to recognize that as dads is that it’s important to be emotionally present to our sons and daughters.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:30:36] Just specifics around emotional, a couple of the questions, do you talk to your kids about their fears and concerns? You know, you just get to rank yourself, hey, do you talk to your kids about their hopes and their dreams? Do you show respect to the mother of your children? So these are just examples of like you can just really accurately answer these to really, it’s not just are you an emotional dad or do you do you have emotional like you bring strength in that area, so keep going.

David Hirsch: [00:30:59] The fourth category is to have a be a spiritual leader, right. And, you know, let me just be totally transparent, I did not grow up in a religious family. My family, you know, all my relatives are Jewish. And when my wife and I met when we were in high school, you know, one of the concerns that her parents, I’ll say her mom had about me was that I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t Christian. And, you know, that was like almost a deal breaker. But we got to meet with a Catholic priest and agree to raise our children as Catholics, if we had children, And I’m one of those guys, we’ll just cross that bridge when we get that right, let’s not pre worry our worries, I must have said that a thousand times in my life and, you know, meant it. I mean, being sincere, if I go, I’m going to do a 180 and so well, we had kids, so we’ve baptized them, they’ve gone through confirmation, they’ve gone through Catholic school, K through eight. So, I mean, we’ve been a rock solid Christian family, go to church pretty much every Sunday, anybody ever saw us where both parents are sitting shoulder to shoulder with all five kids, right. You know, wha a great Catholic family, but, you know, if you look closely, dad didn’t go up and get communion, right. Because, you know, I’m not a Christian. And sadly, one of my close friends, one of these other guys, it was Dr. Ken Canfield, partner Peter Spokes, who was the president of the National Center for Fathering, Ken was the founder. And when Peter died at age 57, about 12 years ago, I went to his funeral in Kansas City and it was like God was talking to me, one on one, as a result of his funeral, right. I witnessed how his children, he had six children, so we we have a lot in common,Peter Spokes and I did. He was the president of play before he punched out of this corporate job and said, I want to do something close to my heart. Moved his young family, some were still in high school, to Kansas City, away from his parents, away from Barbara, his wife’s parents, families. The roots were all up in Minneapolis, moved them all to Kansas City and followed his passion for dad’s. And when he was eulogized his funeral by his two older kids, Pete and Meghan, they were sad that their dad died. They were in their twenties, but they weren’t like wallowing, you know, couldn’t communicate, they they respected him for the role model that he was, the Godly figure that he was, and what dawned on me as a result of being at his funeral was I don’t have that relationship with my kids, right. And it was like a big wake up call for me, right. I remember thinking about it, came home, told Peggy about the experience, she said, well, maybe she talked to a Catholic priest. So I did want to reach out to the priest at our own parish because I didn’t want to be one of those people that stood up in front of the congregation every Sunday and got all the way to go to wherever they take those people. I was talking to a Catholic priest who was a good friend of the family, Father Britto, still a good friend of the family, he’s married our older two kids. And when I met with him, I went to lunch, he said, oh, it’s obvious, you know, God’s speaking to you, but let’s not be too hasty. It’s taking the first 49 years of your life to get to this point, let’s make sure that we push the pause button. And he said, Read these books, let’s have lunch in a few months and if you still feel the same way, maybe it’s something you should follow through on. And, you know, three months goes by, read all four or five of the book and I was like, I’m still stoked, right? I need to do something right. I feel like I need to do something about this. And I went through the RCIA program, you know, private Christian initiation for adults and, you know, I’ve been a Catholic Christian for 11 years, and, you know, my wife was the most surprised person of all the people on the planet that, you know, this happened. And the only person that, sorry, my mother in law died about 30 years ago, so she would have been actually the most surprised person. Got off on a little tangent there, sorry.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:35:28] No, David, that’s the whole point of these conversations is is tangents, so thank you. And, and to think about that moment, hearing, you know, a son and a daughter in a moment of losing their dad, that faith was a big part of like bringing peace to their family. And you desire like that that actually tipped into interest for you to be open to God speaking and to exploring a faith in Jesus. So that thank you, the special Father’s Network and the Dad to Dad, the podcast you’ve chosen out of so many different like the broad reaching, helping with this fatherlessness epidemic, helping it with intentional fatherhood, helping see fathers kind of present in these ways we’ve talked about. You’ve chosen a niche, a specific like, Hey, I can I can move the needle here. Would you first paint the picture of, I think, you share there’s four that drew your heart, but one that you’ve kind of given this next chapter, too. Can you kind of explain the the the broader and then into focusing on special needs dads?

David Hirsch: [00:36:37] Yeah, Well, we were at a crossroads, I think it was circa 2017 and the other charities that we were raising money and awareness for really weren’t buying into the concept that we had envisioned with the 21st Century Dads Foundation. So we decided to take a step back, evaluated what we thought were the four biggest challenges in raising kids father absence, and first was raising kids in high poverty areas like urban areas like on the south and west side of Chicago and to many other parts of the country. The second was working with dads who are incarcerated, I’ve done some work with incarcerated dads. Now, these are men that have not only been removed from their families, but society at large. And then the third area is working with teen fathers, men who become fathers inadvertently, as teenagers, some as young as 12 years old, which is just insane to think about. And then the fourth area is dads who are raising kids with special needs. Just out of the sheer respect that I’ve had for friends, decade long plus friends who have kids with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, rare disease, blind, deaf, missing a limb or limbs, and just the way they, they just made the most of their situation. They’re not looking for sympathy or pity and, you know, they’re just leaning in in the best way they can to be present in their children’s lives. And most of them have a child with special needs and then other children, typical children. And, you know, some of them are thriving, the Dick Hoyt’s of the world. I mean, for God’s sakes, you know, Rick graduated from Boston University, it took him nine years, but he graduated, right. He’s got the role of a quadriplegic. I mean, that’s an extraordinary accomplishment. You know, he does public speaking. He can’t speak, but he has a voice synthesizer, he’s written a book. I mean, he’s had more accomplishments than, you know, most able bodied people. And, you know, you don’t have to be a high profile person like Dick or Rick Hoyt, but, you know, I’ve been totally impressed with the dads that I’ve known who are present in their children’s lives, both the typical and atypical kids. So we focused on the last two categories, the teen fathers and the dads raising kids with special needs. The infrastructure isn’t there for doing teen father work, although we do support a couple of programs, one in Oregon, one down in Orlando, and then we just really put almost all of our attention and resources into the Special Fathers Network, which is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising kids with special needs. We have a mastermind couple of mastermind groups that meet on a weekly basis. We have to dad meet up groups to an annual conference and to draw attention to the work that we’re doing with the Special Fathers Network. We decided to create a podcast some five years ago around the same time that you created the dadAWESOME podcast. And ours is a much more narrowly focused podcast. It really is primarily dads raising kids with special needs dads, step dads, grand dads, and some father figures. I have interviewed a few women and some health care professionals, you know, who have some really good insights about disability. And I started interviewing some adults with disability because that, after all, is what if you have a child with a disability, is going to be, they’re going to be an adult someday, right. So why not gather some insights from people like Jim Stovall, who is this extraordinary human being in Tulsa, Oklahoma or Temple Grandin in Colorado Springs, right. You know, probably one of the oldest living people with autism on the planet. And, you know, has a Ph.D in animal science and, you know, just written three or four books. I mean, there are some extraordinary people that have special needs or have experienced disability. We have so much to learn, right, from them.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:40:38] Wow. Well, and I’ve had a chance to listen to three or four of your podcast interviews already, and I’m just like, well, I’m taking away so many fatherhood principles from so, so I can’t wait to recommend and send our listeners over to listen to your podcast, to get a hold of your book, to consider the mastermind group and and beyond. I kind of want to just land here though, David, Any as you were thinking about this conversation is there and it’s let’s just say you had one or two minutes to kind of land a last bit of, of insight, wisdom and idea or challenge, what would you want to leave all of us with?

David Hirsch: [00:41:13] I would say that you’ve done an amazing job with your dadAWESOME podcast with the work that you’ve been doing to engage people around the country, and I would encourage you to continue to reach out to dads. I think part of maybe your motivation is you’re educating yourself.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:41:35] Totally.

David Hirsch: [00:41:36] Listening to extraordinary individuals and role models, so how does that not accrue back to your wife and your four girls that you’re going to be a better dad as the result of the the work that you’re doing? I would just encourage dads, you know, wherever you’re at, to be present, like we talked about earlier, not just financially, you know, being the traditional financial provider, but to really challenge yourself to be present physically, even if you don’t live with your kids. Try to be more present emotionally, even though that might take more of an effort for most guys because we’re not emotional creatures as much as women are emotional creatures. If you’re not the spiritual leader in your family, like I wasn’t the spiritual leader of my family, that doesn’t mean you just have to say, Oh, that’s just the way it is. Maybe there’s a call in your life, right, to do something in the spiritual realm and don’t don’t just assume that your wife wants to do it all herself or that it’s her responsibility. And, you know, look, look for the voice, right, that might be encouraging you to step up and take more of a leader role in your family from a spiritual perspective.

Jeff Zaugg: [00:42:48] Thank you. And you believe in your TEDx talk, you shared this quote from this anthropologist, Margaret Mead, the supreme test of any civilization is whether or not it can teach men to be good fathers. So thank you for the contribution over 26 years of helping teach men to be good fathers through the words of children and weigh in many other resources and moments of honoring dads who are have chosen to step in with their whole hearts. Thank you so much for joining us today for episode 274 with David Hirsch. All the conversation notes, the links to his podcast, the Special Father’s Networks Dad to Dad podcast, links to the 21st Century Dads and then even that that booklet, that essay booklet and so many other links that we talked about today are all going to be at dadAWESOME.org/274. Guys, thank you for being a part of this journey. Thank you for choosing to pursue the hearts of your kids. Thank you for saying no, I’m not going to just grumble my way through dad life, I’m going to, man, I’m going to come in with my full heart, I’m going to come in with my full passion, I’m going to look right in the eyes of my kids and say, Man, I love being your dad. It matters that you listened today. It matters that you’re choosing to become dadAWESOME for your family. I’m praying for you guys. I’m cheering for you guys. Have a great week.