HOMETOWN / WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW? Canton, Ohio. Born and raised.
ON THE WEB Lost and Tired.com
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Three
DAY JOB Writer, small business owner, stay-at-home Dad and #Autism advocate
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married to my best friend since September 3, 2003
FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK My favorite book as a child would likely be Treasure Island. My Dad used to read this to us, a chapter at a time, every night before bed. My kids don’t really have a favorite book because they are constantly falling in love with new books. We try to read to them every night but there really isn’t a book that has been passed down from generation to generation. Truthfully, that kind of makes me sad. I think I’ll start that tradition with Treasure Island.
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
This is a tough question to answer because our lives are extremely complicated. All three of our boys and also my wife, are on the #Autism spectrum. Our oldest son has a huge list of very serious comorbidities and an even longer list of very serious health problems. Our youngest, at three years of age, has a rare fever disorder and my wife is chronically ill as well as disabled.
Honestly, work always falls a distant second to my family’s day to day needs. However, I have become a rather accomplished blogger and have been able to draw a small income from advertising and paid writing jobs. I blog in real time about my family’s daily struggles in an attempt to educate the public as to the many challenges facing families touched by #Autism.
I do most of my blogging from my smartphone so I can usually sneak away and throw a post together about something that has happened. I make an effort to be as transparent and honest as possible, so that my readers can basically use my blog as a window into our lives.
By blending my family and my writing together, I have managed to strike a very fine balance between work and family. I have also created a very popular blog, received several awards, and have been interviewed and later published by CNN.
This has led to paying writing jobs that further help my family.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
Parenting has changed me, all the way to my core. While I loved Gavin and raised him as my own since he was about 15 months old, I didn’t understand what it felt like to be a parent until the moment my first child was born into this world.
Seeing that and watching him subsequently fight for his life in the NICU for a few weeks changed everything.
I had been a paramedic/firefighter for a long time before my Elliott was born, so I already had an appreciation for life. However, in the moment I saw him for the first time, I learned things about life that I would have never learned anywhere else. The same goes for my youngest, Emmett.
After they were born, I couldn’t bring myself to go into a burning house. Eventually, I gave up the career that had been my life for so long. I did so, because my family needed me to physically be present every day.
My wife and kids come before everything else, period.
When we realized, one by one, that our kids would have special needs, I changed once again. I became a special needs parent that had to think 10 steps ahead and keep my guard up, for the world has been a cruel place to kids that are perceived as different.
My mission in life has become one of educating the world, person by person, and helping them to see the amazing beauty, gifts and challenges children like mine can present to society. My dreams have shifted from my career and financial stability to helping to guide my kids on their personal journeys through life, and at the same time introduce them to the world and the world to them.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
There are people out there that claim that #Autism doesn’t affect a marriage or lead to divorce.
While I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I have to call BS on that. Special needs parenting is an enormous strain on our marriage. Anyone that says otherwise is either in denial, not a special needs parent or has the strongest relationship in the world.
When you live every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year, under a constant strain that most people could never imagine, it affects everything in your life, including your relationships.
My wife and I have been together since 2001 and been married since 2003. Our marriage isn’t perfect and we have our challenges. Having said that, Lizze and I are best friends, partners in life and parents to three very special boys that will needs us for a very long time. I could not even begin to imagine taking on these challenges with any other person.
We almost never have time to ourselves and do suffer from communication issues sometimes. Lizze has Aspergers and so she sees the world in a way that I simply can’t. We often struggle with communication because she is very literal and me, not so much. Despite this, we have never given up and work every day to keep our marriage moving forward.
As far as intimacy goes, out of respect for my wife, I never talk about it. However, I have no complaints. ☺
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
This is another difficult question to answer. I suppose one could say the fact that I keep going despite the challenges is a strength. I literally do everything I physically can, to make sure my family has what it needs. I’m told that I have an endless supply of patience. However, I’m one of those people that are very critical of myself. I tend to see the things I don’t do right or completely fail at, more often than the things I do right.
One of the things I still do is try to reason with my children. That’s not always a good thing. At times, I act based on the guilt I feel for what my kids struggle with every day, instead of doing what I probably should be doing (think discipline).
I could list my shortcomings forever. Things like my inability to better provide for my family or get them out of our unsafe neighborhood. The fact that I can’t stop my oldest from regressing feels like a weakness.
The thing about special needs parenting is that no matter how much I manage to do, it’s never enough. I’m forced to face my weaknesses every day. It’s quite humbling.
WHAT ARE YOUR SPOUSE’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
This is a bit loaded as I know my wife will end up reading this. However, if I’m being honest, I would say that my wife’s greatest strength is also her greatest weakness. My wife is extremely dedicated to our family. So much so that she is literally crippled by it. All the stress from constantly fighting for our children over the years has destroyed her health. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a sleep disorder, depression, acid reflux, arthritis and chronic migraines. Her current migraine has lasted for over 5 months. Basically, she lives her life in constant pain and stress is likely the root cause of her problems.
Despite her pain, she pushes through every day in order to make sure our kids get as much of what they need as possible. The problem is that this comes at great expense to herself and her overall health. As a result, in many ways, I have become a single parent.
My wife needs to learn to put herself first so that she can regain at least some of her quality of life. Life is a journey and if we take it too fast we’ll burn out long before we reach the end.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
My wife and I are pretty much on our own. We have never received respite and have never been on a vacation. Our parents watch the boys for appointments and sometimes for overnighters but we are rarely without children. It’s a 24/7 job, with no benefits and no pay. It’s not without its rewards but sometimes a break would be nice.
DO ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS? AND IF SO, HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOUR PARENTING?
All of my children have special needs. Gavin is 12 and has the been diagnosed with Aspergers, Asthma, OCD, Conduct Disorder, PTSD, Schizoaffective Disorder, Epilepsy, Idiopathic Degenerative Neurological Disorder and Primary Immunodeficiency.
Elliott is 6 and diagnosed with Aspergers, Asthma and Anxiety. Emmett is 3 and diagnosed with Autism and a rare fever disorder.
All 3 of the boys have various sensory processing disorder as well. To say that life is challenging is like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch. I’m beyond overwhelmed, and physically, emotionally and financially exhausted. There are no instruction books telling me how to parent my kids and honestly, we haven’t found any professionals that can offer much advice.
As a parent, I have to be 10 steps ahead at all times. Nothing ever really gets accomplished with the exception of physically surviving another day, but you’d be surprised what you can live through.
I don’t have the luxury of things that most parents take for granted. I have lost most of my friends and even some family because they just don’t understand.
ARE ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN ADOPTED? AND IF SO, HOW HAS THIS AFFECTED YOUR PARENTING?
Gavin is Lizze’s son from her previous marriage. We fought in court for almost 10 years to protect him from his abusive biological father and paternal grandmother. I finally adopted Gavin a few years ago. Having said that, we are still a blended family and that does present issues.
I love Gavin but I don’t have the same biological connection to him that I have with my other two boys.
It also doesn’t help that Gavin disconnected from us many, many years ago. He is extremely complex and in our exhaustive search for answers and help, no one has ever seen a child like Gavin. So we are left with little guidance with him.
It’s easy to perceive Gavin’s violent outbursts as a threat to my other boys because they really are. I have to always do my best to keep perspective and make sure that I’m not treating him differently from Elliott or Emmett. The truth is that he is treated differently. However, the reasons for that are behavioral and not biological. It’s not easy to blend a family to begin with but factor in all the additional challenges that Gavin presents and it’s even tougher.
I truly hate the fact that things are this way but it’s my reality and all I can do is the best I can do. I love all my kids and I always will. I would do anything for them.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
This is a tough one, too. Not because I’m the perfect parent but instead because there are so many worst parenting moments to choose from. I would have to say that my worst moment was with my oldest son, Gavin. This happened a few years ago during one of his extremely violent meltdowns.
Gavin had been holding the entire house hostage with his screaming and extremely violent outbursts. This had been going on for about an hour and the other boys were downstairs with my wife, terrified and crying. This was not an isolated incident and I had reached a breaking point.
I told Gavin, that if wanted to continue living in my house that this behavior had to stop. I explained that if he chose to continue this violent and disruptive behavior, that we would have no choice but to find another place for him to live.
While that was absolutely the truth and exactly how I said it, he understood that as me kicking him out of the house. I didn’t realize that until later on when he was putting his things together and he came to me crying and asked if I would at least help him find a new home. Talk about feeling like a monster. I felt horrible, absolutely horrible.
In the heat of the moment, I had overlooked the fact that he would never understand what I was trying to tell him. I spent the rest of the day trying to explain what I had meant and helping him understand that we wanted him to live with us because we are a family and we love him. It was the behaviors that were a problem.
Not my proudest moment….
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
I think my best parenting moment, the moment I will always remember, is the day that I was finally able to strip the parental rights away from Gavin’s drug addicted and physically/emotionally/sexually abusive biological father (my wife’s ex-husband). Lizze and I fought for 10 years to protect Gavin through a corrupt small town legal system, where the judge was her ex-husband’s uncle. After 10 years, we finally won and I officially became Gavin’s father.