Robert Hendershot discusses the amazing impact individuals with Down syndrome can have upon the world as he highlights the inspiring story of his son Trevor, a young man with Down syndrome who is a team store greeter for the Los Angeles Angels and the Anaheim Ducks.
Mr. Bob Hendershot: Raising a child with disability is one of those things I wouldn't wish on anybody, but I wouldn't trade the experiences for anything or anyone in the world.
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John Fuller: Well, that's Bob Hendershot and he joins us today on "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, today is World Down Syndrome Day. Most people probably don't even realize that is today. And I'm thrilled to have Bob Hendershot with us to help commemorate what it means, this day, because he has a Down Syndrome son. But there is so much to Bob's story and we are going to discuss his difficulties as a father, as a husband, as a man. And I think any man will connect with Bob today, so listen in.
John: And Bob's wife is Melissa. They have three sons, Trevor, Taylor and Tanner. And Trevor's story is captured in Bob's book, Angel for Higher.
Jim: Bob, welcome to "Focus on the Family."
Bob: Thank you for having us.
Jim: Now the first thing I've gotta ask you, you named your boys Trevor, Taylor and Tanner. We have Trent and Troy. You've gotta be messin' that up like I do (Laughter) whenever I'm, you know, one of them's in trouble, I'll say, "Trooy, get over here." And Troyent, get over here" (Laughter) or something.
Bob: Yeah, it is difficult.
Jim: Do you slam their names together most of the time?
Bob: Yeah, we do all the time. Melissa's (Laughter) much better at it, but myself not so [much].
Jim: Wives always are.
Bob: They're good at that thing.
Jim: What is this?
Bob: I don't know.
Bob: They have a better mind for those kind[s] of things.
Jim: I've got like scrambled eggs when it comes to which kid is doin' what he shouldn't do--
Jim: --and how do I call 'em out?
Bob: Likewise. You can't just have a generic complaint about your children. You gotta specify.
Jim: It's always fun when you're goin' after 'em on something and they say, "Dad, my name's Troy." (Laughter) And you're goin', "Oh, I'm sorry. I meant Troy."
Bob: I hate it when that happens.
Jim: "Sorry I said Trent."
Bob: Hate that.
Jim: But it is really funny. Bob, the real nugget here is being a dad to Trevor and we're gonna get to that, especially on this day where we honor Down Syndrome children. And I want to explore that, but I want to really start with your story, because you were dealing with a lot of different things as a man. You had two strong fears you talk about in the book. What were they?
Bob: Yeah, the two strong fears growing up in a family with a history of problem drinking going back generations. And the first fear was that I would develop a drinking problem and become an alcoholic, which unfortunately is exactly what did happen.
I started drinkin' in high school. Got worse in college and by the time I graduated, had a few minor car wrecks, but the worst thing about it for me were the blackouts.
Bob: In other words, it was like a temporary loss of memory a short-term memory loss. And the worst thing about that was that I never knew the next day when a friend would call, a neighbor might knock on my door. The reason it sometimes happened, a stranger on the street would stop me and say something like, "You probably don't remember me, but I know you. I recognize you. I know who you areand then proceed to elaborate on some embarrassing thing I'd done the night before that I had no recollection of whatsoever. It was a true nightmare.
And I went on for many years like that. My only solution for many years was just to start drinking first thing in the morning, which just started the whole alcoholic cycle all over again.
Jim: How long have you been sober now?
Bob: Twenty years now, over 20.
Jim: And you've been married how long?
Bob: Thirty-one years. (Laughter)
Jim: So, Melissa, your wife who you almost didn't pass that test, I want to tell you (Laughter), but Melissa is watching in the gallery there. Those 10 years had to be pretty tough where—
Bob: Yes, they were.
Jim: --you were struggling in your marriage. And the reason I bring this up again, people are livin' in that spot. People who are listening right now have a spouse who is struggling with alcoholism. And I want you to express that hope and kinda describe how God brought you through that.
Bob: Yes, I quit drinking the first time in 1983 and after that point, we got married in 1985. And then I stayed sober for over 12 years. During that time we were married. We had our three sons. Unfortunately, I was overseas on business in March of '96 and I thought I was cured and I picked up a drink of alcohol and went off on the same tangent once again.
And so, I went out for a year and a half so to speak in the sense that I was drinking alcoholically, what have you. And Melissa finally had enough in August of 1997 and she checked me into a chemical dependency unit, chemical rehab.
Bob: And so, I've been sober ever since that day, August 24th, 1997.
Jim: So, that alcoholism and that you know, family disorder was something that you feared.
Jim: That was your first fear. What was your second fear?
Bob: My second fear growing up was as to what kind of a father I would be and more importantly, how will my children turn out? And then when Melissa was pregnant with our first child, I had all these hopes and dreams that he or she would be everything I wasn't—scholar, athlete, physician, at the very least, comfortable enough in their own skin so that they wouldn't have to resort to alcohol to feel good about themselves.
And then when it came time for our baby to be born, we rushed down to the hospital and we saw my first child being born and the doctor said, "You have a son." I was so happy, happiest moment of my life. But then when five minutes later, the doctor asked me, "Do you know what Down Syndrome is?" That was by far the saddest moment of my life, to go from utter joy to utter devastation in about five seconds was the hardest thing I've ever had to experience. It was worse than after any night of drinking. I was just so angry with God. I had some faith, but I thought, why me? Why of all people? You knew I'd have enough trouble being a father of a regular boy, let alone one with special needs. I don't deserve a son like this.
And you know, it's been 26 years since that day. The trials and triumphs, the setbacks, successes, the tears of great sadness have become tears of great joy. And while I did deserve my alcoholism, I stand by my original statement. I really did not deserve a son like Trevor, but for the complete opposite reasons.
Jim: Well, and I'm glad you've kinda put the end cap to that, because a lot of people will say, "How could you do that? I mean, how could you be so hard-hearted?" If I could be that bold.
Jim: In fact, you said you struggled even wanting to bring Trevor home. And you know, there are a number of couples who will get that diagnosis and many of them will choose not to have the child.
Jim: I think is anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of Down Syndrome babies in the womb won't make it into life.
Jim: And so, a lot of couples choose that option, but you didn't. You and Melissa didn't choose that option.
Jim: Let me ask you. I've got a couple of questions still related to what you struggled through. Where was God in this picture for you? How was He mentoring you as your heavenly Father? Where was your commitment to Him? You know, people that have a certain area handled, like I don't drink, can feel rather superior to someone who does. And we can look down our noses to somebody who can't handle it well. And I want to ask you, where was God in the picture? Where was that commitment on your part to say, okay, Lord, I'm gonna get through today and I'm not gonna touch a drink? How did that play out for you?
Bob: Oh, it's mostly just prayer and when I first started drinkin', I was not a Christian. In fact, I started drinkin' in high school. That was in 1973, so it was a long period, like another 10 years before I finally cried out to God. I didn't know who He was, but I just cried out for help. "Please, if You're out there, please get me sober I can't do this anymore." And He did answer that prayer.
And then it wasn't until 1989, Melissa and I were already married that we made the commitment, received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. So, after that, we were goin' to church and walking the good Christian walk.
But unfortunately, I kinda fell away from the Lord in March of '96, like I mentioned earlier and I was overseas on business. I thought I'm a Christian man. I can have a drink. It's all good, but I could not. So, that stayed with me.
Jim: Yeah, that had to be hard. Then the second question I had is Melissa and how she operated in this time of your marriage. How did she talk with you, deal with you, encourage you, discourage you? What was happening between the two of you?
Bob: Well, she's been the rock in our marriage all through this, through our whole life together for sure. And without her around, I definitely would not be here today. That's for sure. And so, she's been the producer. She's been the manager. She's been the nurse. She's been you name it. She's the one that brought us through this and I'm so grateful for her. And so, without her involvement, I never would've been around here.
Jim: Now you have Taylor and Tanner, as well.
Bob: Yeah, they're great brothers to Trevor and they've been a big help to him.
Jim: Well, I was gonna ask you about that, because how does the sibling thing work when you have, you know, a special-needs child? Have they rallied to him? Do they poke fun at him like most siblings will do? Or what do the dynamics look like?
Bob: No, we've been pretty sure that we weren't gonna allow that to happen. And there's when in high school and Trevor started, so to speak, comin' out of his shell and started getting a lot of attention at school, they really realized that it was a good thing to have a brother like Trevor, a special-needs brother. And even though when Trevor was born, I met with some of the families that had special-needs children that were pretty far along chronologically.
And if there's any guarantee to have a well-adjusted teenager or a boy or a girl, the fact that you have a special-needs sibling and that sibling is loved by the parents and in the family, that was a pretty good guarantee that they were gonna be focused on the eternal things—faith, family and friends—and not so much, you know, looking cool or you know, the new cell phone or anything like that.
Jim: Well, and that's the question when you look at a family and the heaviness that you and Melissa had, it sounded like Melissa was far more quick to embrace Trevor.
Jim: And did that speak to your heart? Did it make you feel guilty? What was the dynamic between mom and dad about Trevor, the boy you didn't want to bring home from the hospital? And Mom's saying, "Come on; this is your son."
Jim: Did you have those discussions?
Bob: We did, but Trevor was born on a[n] early Friday morning, May 4th 1990 and it was again, the most devastating moment of my life. And fortunate[ly], we were at a church that had a very solid prayer team and their prayers over the weekend really helped, because I went home Friday night and Saturday night just crying my eyes out, saying we can't bring him home. We just cannot do it.
But when I woke up Sunday morning, almost like Easter Sunday, I felt, "Oh, okay, there is a point to this, God. Thank You for talking to me." And if it wasn't for the prayers of our church body, that wouldn't have happened. But then I couldn't wait to get down to see Trevor at the hospital Sunday morning.
Jim: And when you look at it, I mean, think of which you do every day, you and Melissa, the positive impact that Trevor's been in your family, the very fact that your boys have that sensitivity. And it sounds like the Lord has used Trevor to build each one of your faiths up.
Jim: And he's been that kind of positive impact for you.
Jim: Simply speak to that. When a couple is thinking, okay, we have a Down Syndrome child in my womb, what are we gonna do? Now hopefully most Christians understand this is life; This is life created in God's image and we do everything we can. But there are women who may not make that choice to give that baby life, some in the church and I know some are listening who maybe have made that decision and they feel guilty about it. But speak to the positive benefit of how Trevor has been such a light in your family and the fear that people have when it comes to raising a child who has difficulty.
Bob: Uh-hm. Raising a child with a disability is one of those things I wouldn't wish on anybody, but I wouldn't trade the experiences for anything or anyone in the world. You know, Trevor was frequently bullied while he was growing up, especially in high school.
Jim: What did that bullying look like?
Bob: Well, when he was in high school we found out that he was being bullied by some of the students. And so, we called the vice principal and said, "Hey, you gotta put a stop to this."
And so, she called back the next day and said, "I interviewed the alleged perpetrators and they denied it and so, you know, we're not gonna do anything. We don't want a miscarriage of justice." Now we had been told, oh, get a lawyer. You know, sue people, what have you. But no, we didn't want to do that, so we just prayed.
And the next day I asked to have a meeting with her and so we went in. And I brought Trevor with me and Melissa wisely the night before had him write down what was said and done to him. And so, we came in and it was the principal, three vice principals, four teachers and a police officer. And it was kinda a scary situation and so, we had Trevor read; "Just read what you wrote down, Trevor." And he said, "I'm scared." And I said, "I'm with you; don't worry about it."
And I had told the people in that meeting that this is not a deposition. There's not gonna be any cross examination of Trevor. He's just gonna read what happened and then we will let you decide where the miscarriage of justice may lie.
And so he read haltingly. "They call me 'tarded, call me 'tupid, call me worthless. Push me down." And you could've heard a pin drop in the room. And so, I got up and said, "You know, okay, that's it. You guys decide what you want to decide."
So, we walked out and it was a pretty big deal at school. And like this large crowd of students out front and all the cheerleaders
And then later on I told Trevor that was pretty cool. The cheerleaders made you a banner." And he said, "Yeah, I marry them." I go, "No." (Laughter)
Jim: He's connectin' the dots real quick.
Bob: Which one? All of them. No, no, no (Laughter), you can't marry all of them and we're praying that the exact right girl would be brought into your life. And so, we're grateful that's how it turned out.
And then when he was a senior, every student in the school, the parents got an e-mail saying, "If you want your son or daughter to be on the homecoming court to fill out this five-part document and return it by such and such a time.
And I had hopes and dreams for Trevor and I knew he had made some friends, but you know, this wasn't for him, so I deleted the document and then Melissa got a call the next day from one of his Special Ed teachers saying, "Did you fill out the application?" And Melissa said, "Well, not really. This is not for Trevor." And he said, "Well, can I fill it out?" And she said, "Sure, go ahead."
So, I go to pick up Trevor on Tuesday after school and he comes walkin' out. He's got a rose in his hand and he says, "I'm in homecoming court, daddy." And I said, "No, Trevor, I think you misinterpreted what happened." He goes, "No, I am homecoming court." He pulls out a piece of paper and hands it to me and it says, "Congratulations, Trevor Hendershot is on the Homecoming Court of Northwood High School."
I said, "Wow, okay. How can this be?" And I tried to explain to Trevor, now don't get too upset if you don't [get] picked, 'cause he gets upset when things don't go his way. Now I don't know where he gets that, but somehow (Laughing) if things don't go his way, he's not happy.
So on Friday at noon at the pep rally, there's thousands of kids there and the teachers and everybody. And then it got to the end of the pep rally, all the cheering and the band playing and what have you. And then they got to announce, "The homecoming king and the homecoming king for 2009, Northwood High School is Trevor." And they didn't even get to the last name and the whole place, this cheerful standing ovation.
Bob: That was a wonderful thing and then that night for the homecoming dance we had a tuxedo for Trevor and I was buttoning up his tuxedo and he says, "I kiss the bride?" (Laughter) I said, "Son, you're not getting married. You're homecoming king. There's no kissing in the ceremony, believe me. Just keep your hands to yourself, (Laughter) please."
And then after the game one of the vice principals came up to me and said, "You know, when Trevor came to this school as a freshman, he knew he was being bullied for not only because of his disability, but also he has a habit of loudly singing Christian songs before, during and after school. And while we were able to, with your input, we were able to stop the bullying, our efforts to keep Trevor from singing during the school day is to no avail.
"But you know, this whole school over the last three or four years has realized that Trevor's faith is part of who he is and in addition to the singing of Christian songs, that also comes with a high-five, a fist bump and a hug, so they're truly fortunate to have been able to cross his path during the day at school. So, while we thought it would be a nice token gesture to put him on the homecoming court, little did we know that the vote wasn't even gonna be close. He got more votes than the other four candidates combined. And we heard we might have a riot on our hands if he wasn't picked homecoming king. So, it was a great honor to have him be our homecoming king."
Jim: That says so much about that school, as well.
Bob: Yes, it does.
Jim: I mean, it may have started rough, but it sounded like it ended in a good place.
Jim: Bob, I'm in tears here, because you know, the love of a father and I can, through your stories, you're telling us how much you've advocated for your son. And I just can't help by think about how our heavenly Father does that for us.
Jim: And it's such a beautiful picture that you went to that school. You fought for him. You and Melissa did just about everything you needed to do to set up the victory at the end. And I just love that. I love the fact that a dad and a mom are willing to risk reputation of your own so you can put your neck out there for your boy. And I am touched by that. That is powerful and I want to say thank you.
Bob: Thank you.
Jim: That is so good. And here's the good news. You can meet Trevor. He works there in Anaheim at the Los Angeles Angels field. I know my wife's family goes to games quite frequently, so I'm gonna have them stop by and say hi to Trevor. And for the Ducks, as well, just across the freeway there, they can over to the Anaheim Ducks.
Bob: Yeah, the Angel hockey Ducks, right.
Jim: And he works in that store, as well.
Bob: Yes, when Trevor graduated from high school and took a transition training program at a local junior college, he was told that the best job he could ever hope for would be folding towels in the basement of a hotel Laundromat.
And we thought, well, he's pretty friendly. Maybe he can get a job greeting. But we heard at the end of the 2011 season that there was an opening for the position of greeter at the Angels team store. And we thought maybe Trevor can do that. So, we drove up there on the last game of the season, Trevor and I. We introduced ourselves to the store manager, a real nice guy, but he was kinda like, "Oh, I don't know. You know, give me a call." Called him in a week. Sent him an e-mail. Finally got hold of him again and then he said, "Well, it's out of my hands. It's up in corporate HR "(Laughter)
Jim: I love that line.
Bob: All right and then, so we call this guy, also a nice guy and he said, "Well, we don't know. You know, send me an e-mail." And finally, it went on for some time and finally I said, "You know, if you don't think Trevor can do this job, that's fine. We won't make a fuss we promise." A lot of times big corporations are afraid that if they don't do what you want 'em to do, you're gonna sue or claim discrimination. "I promise we won't do that." So he said, "Okay, fine. Why don't you come in for an interview next Wednesday?"
And so, we drove up to the stadium, got ushered into the manager's office and Trevor went up and shook, his hand. "I Trevor." And we gave him the resume and the manager said, "Nice to meet you, Trevor." He looked at the resume and he asked him, "So you're a sports fan." And Trevor said, "Yes." He asked him, "Do you know anything about the Angels?" And Trevor knew all the current Angels and then the Angels on the championship team. And so, the guy said, "That's pretty impressive."
And so, he said, "But I see you have had training at Walgreen's and Trader Joe's. What did you do there?" And he said, "I stock; I face; I do go-backs," which are retail terms. And then I never forget, the manager said, "You know, Trevor, Mr. Hendershot, this interview's gone on for about an hour, which frankly is about 45, 50 minutes longer than I thought it would. I can teach anybody how to stock, face and do go-backs. That's nothin'."
And so, in my head I'm thinking, thank you for your time. We did our best. We'll be on our way. "But there's a few things I cannot teach. It's an outgoing personality, a cheerful disposition and a beautiful smile. And you, Trevor have all that and more. Our first game is against the Royals on April 6th. Can you be there?"
He said, "I be there." He says, "Okay." (Laughter)
Jim: I love that. (Chuckling)
Bob: "I'm pleased to hire you to be a greeter for the Angels" and [he] just hires him on the spot.
Bob: And they did a background check and he said, "I'm good." Started our first game April 6th 2012 and some Royal fans were tryin' to come in the store and Trevor said, "Angel fans only. You cannot come in here." (Laughter)
John: How'd that go over with management?
Jim: Hope they got a bonus for that.
Bob: I know, right. (Laughter) So no, they told him, you gotta let everybody come in (Laughter) And so, he said, "Come in; buy a hat." So they came in.
Jim: (Laughing) That's perfect.
Jim: That is so good. That is so good. You know, Bob in so many ways, we've described that wonderful benefit, but in the context of high school and a vocation that he's now picked up, which I think is awesome and all the positive nature of that, but there is one story I want to make sure we capture and that is from a young pregnant woman at the time, a young mom who made a remarkable decision after meeting Trevor.
Jim: Tell us about that.
Bob: Yes, well, Trevor has been working for the Angels for maybe a sixth season comin' up and the Ducks for its fifth season. And then last, I think it was two seasons ago that a woman came through the store we heard about and she was pregnant with a Down Syndrome child, unsure of what to do. But meeting Trevor, she decided to bring her child to life.
Jim: Wow, what a powerful story. Bob Hendershot, you are a terrific dad and let me tell you, from one father to another, you are doin' the job. I am so impressed with the way you advocate for Trevor, while also letting him stand on his own two feet and that's not easy to do.
This kind of story really hits home with us here at Focus on the Family. The positive impact Trevor's life has had on others is undeniable and it's a message of hope to all parents, particularly those of children with special needs.
And this is why we stand for life here at Focus on the Family. We give voice to the preborn, the orphan, the elderly, the mentally challenged and the physically challenged. We're all created in God image and therefore we have invaluable worth and significance. Help us continue to be that voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. When you partner with us by providing prayer and financial support, you're allowing the Lord to use this organization as a vehicle to advocate, much like Bob is advocating for Trevor and to speak truth into matters of life. Give to the ministry of Focus on the Family today and know that you're making a difference.
And no amount is too small. I know you might think, 10, 15, $20 might not be significant, but think about it. For those hopefully hundreds, if not thousands of people that could do that, it will make a significant difference. And our way of saying thank you is to send you a copy of today's conversation on CD and I hope you'll do that. Again, nothing's too small. Help us save the lives of others. Help us save marriages. Help us promote a pro-life perspective.
John: And you can donate and get a copy of Bob's book, Angel for Higher and a CD copy of this broadcast at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
We also want to share with you a bit of our time with Trevor so you can go to the website to hear that or you can get the copy of the CD or download of the program. It's all on there.
Now Bob, as we close out, you had a moment where you encountered someone who helped you feel like all those years wasted in alcoholism were redeemed. How did that come about?
Bob: You know, I've been sober now for, you know, 20 years and I made amends to everybody in my past and so everybody that I may have harmed while drinking has pretty much either forgotten or gone away from it.
But then I was at Costco a few years ago I guess it was. I was putting stuff in the back of my car and a woman was pushing her cart by and she kinda stopped and gave me a funny look and kept going. Then she turned around and came back.
John: Those are always weird moments.
Bob: Yeah and then she said something like, "You probably don't remember me, but I know who you are. And immediately all my years of sobriety vanished and I braced myself for whatever angry accusations that she was gonna bring up.
And then she said something like, asked me, "You're Trevor's dad, right?" And I said, "That's me." And she said, "I heard you share your story a few years ago at our old church and I was very touched by that. My uncle died of alcoholism and I have a nephew with autism. And I've always meant to thank you." And so, she came up and gave me a hug and took off, was gone, you know.
Bob: And you know, not that I've reached some plateau at all by any means, but if God can take a hopeless, worthless, suicidal alcoholic like myself and then lift them up out of the slimy pit and put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise for our God and then with his special-needs son, He used both of us to touch the life of that one woman on that one Sunday morning. My debt was being repaid for the years the locusts have eaten, you know.
You know, I wouldn't wish alcoholism, untreated alcoholism or a disability on anybody. But I can say that Melissa and I just love our special son with all our heart. The whole world is our witness. We wouldn't have traded him, what God has taught us through his life and what God's taught me through my alcoholism for anything or for anyone in the world.
I also say today though I wouldn't consider myself to have been the best choice to be Trevor's dad or the best example of somebody overcoming addictions, but by the grace of God, the love and support of our family and friends, the power of the Holy Spirit, we do consider ourselves as Bob's son with Down Syndrome and Trevor's dad, recovered alcoholic, most richly blessed.
Jim: That is so beautifully said, Bob and what a great way to honor World Down Syndrome Day. Bob Hendershot, thanks for bein' with us.
Bob: Thank you.
John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks so much for listening to "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and tomorrow Dr. Gary Chapman explains why forgiveness is essential to a good relationship.
Dr. Gary Chapman: We don't have to be perfect to have good marriages. We do have to deal with our failure. We do have to keep the walls torn down.
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John: Join us next time on "Focus on the Family," as we help you and your family thrive.
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