Nov. 6, 2020

44 Mark X Cronin on his son’s Down Syndrome & Spreading Happiness

44 Mark X Cronin on his son’s Down Syndrome & Spreading Happiness

“Stay humble and accept the humility that comes as a parent.” Mark Cronin, on DADicateddotcom

Mark has 3 sons, one of which has Down Syndrome.

Mark opens up about what it has been like raising a child with Down Syndrome and allows us a beautiful insight into his family; how he’s encouraged his kids to be independent and represent themselves in life. I learned a lot from him and his approach to parenting!

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“Stay humble and accept the humility that comes as a parent. There is so much we want to do for our children and there is so much we try to do, and in the end, they have their lives that they will lead and there is only so much we can do.”  Mark Cronin, on DADicated.com

Mark lives in Long Island and has been married for 38 years. He has 3 boys, Patrick (29), James (26), and John (24), who has down syndrome. Mark and John are the co-founders of John’s Crazy Socks, which was John’s idea. They sell crazy socks and employ dozens of employees with special needs. Their mission? To spread happiness!

The most powerful takeaways for me as a dad were:

  1. I truly found Mark inspiring because he is humble and real.
  2. Be positive, no matter what.
  3. I’ll think twice before I “soften” things for my kids who might struggle with something.
  4. If your children tell you they want something, be sure they understand what it takes to achieve it

“You want to set goals that people have to reach to attain. If they’re too easy, it is uninteresting, and if it is too far out there, you're going to quit, but if they make you stretch, and get outside your comfort zone and reach for something, that is the sweet spot, for all of us and for our kids.” Mark Cronin on DADicated.com

GUEST (guest):

Links:

Philipp Hartmann (host):

#dads #downsyndrome #family #crazysocks #fatherhood #specialneedsdads #specialneedsfamily

Transcript

MC

The best advice I can give myself as a dad is to stay humble and accept the humility that comes as a parent. There is so much we want to do for our children and there is so much we try to do, and in the end, they have their lives that they will lead and there is only so much we can do.

PH

Mark lives in Long Island, Married for 38 years. 3 boys, Patrick, James, and John (29, 26, 24). John has down syndrome. Co-founder of Crazy Socks. John’s idea – sell crazy socks and employee dozens of employees with special needs. Donates 5% to the Special Olympics. Mission is to spread happiness.

MC

John had the idea to sell socks. He was looking for meaningful work. We tested it and it worked so now grown this social enterprise, with a mission to spread happiness by showing what people with disabilities are capable of. They have built the business on 4 different pillars. Inspiration and Hope. Hiring people with different abilities. Giving back (5% of earning to special Olympics). We have a number of products for other charities. Socks you can love – we have over 2000 different socks, greeting cards, etc. We want a personal connection with our customers. Every package we send out has a hand-written note from John and some candy to say thank you to the customers.

MC

I got married a year out of university. We were college sweethearts. I had just turned 22. We were married for several years before having children. When I was in my late 20s, my wife said it was time for kids. That thought scared me. It was a bit of immaturity and realising that would be a sign of growing up and I was concerned I would be a terrible father. That I wouldn’t be there enough for my children. I had a lot going on in life. I was unsure if I could be there and be present enough. I had a good life with my wife – I was apprehensive of big life decisions. I had a bucket list, I walked around with a card in my wallet and said I wanted to do those things before having kids. Publish a short story, run a marathon, go to the super bowl. It was a delaying tactic. My wife got pregnant in 1989. We had been married for 8 years by that point after living together for just over 9. I was 31 at the time. As it came near, she went for lamaze class and I said I couldn’t go because I didn’t think I could be in the delivery room. Of course I was, holding her hand. It was a long delivery. They handed me my son and I held him in my arms and bent over him and the universe grew. So many things became possible and my fear of not being a good dad got wiped away immediately. There was a sense of love and gratitude. The next morning I went to a book store and bought books on how to raise kids. A user manual! It was quite wonderful. I flipped. My wife wanted to go back to work. After a year, when my son was nearly one, I left my full-time job to go home and write some short stories and take care of my son. That was in 1991. 

PH

To be a stay-at-home dad at that time was unique – not of the time. 

MC

It made sense to me. I was very close with my son. I was home as a dad off and on for several years. I did that full time for a year or 2 and then I went back and did some consulting work. I was still working out of my home though. I created a software company that I ran from home. One of the things I only hear jokingly said is the worse a parent you are, the better off your kids are. It forces them to be independent. The important objective of parenting is we want to promote our children’s independence. We want them to stand on their own feet, find their own path. We need to give them the confidence to do that, we need to give them the tools to be able to go out on their own, and hopefully instil in them values that will keep them both grounded and help guide them. We have to constantly be pushing them to be independent. 

PH

Have you written those values down as a family? What is your experience on how to push a child with special needs when you want them to be more independent? 

MC

We don’t have a family mission statement. But we’re a very verbal and engaged family. Values are instilled and we have brought our children along and shared many of our experiences with them. How did we do it? Simple things, when they are young and you are in a store and they want to get something, let them go get it. Give them the experience to do those things for themselves. Playing youth sport and telling my boys I won’t speak to the coach for them. If they have a question or a problem, they need to speak to the coach. You have to go and represent yourself. Or you do something together. Buying furniture from IKEA. So you do some of that and say they must put it together. I’ll be here but I’m not going to do it for you. I’ll stop you from going off the rails. It is a small thing that shows them they can do it. One of the things that is hard as a parent is you have to let your kids fail. That is how you learn. An example with my middle son – he had gone off to a prep school before going to college. He was an athlete and played football. A school recruited him to go and play football for a year and I got a call saying that my son hadn’t been coming to training sessions because of a problem with his knee. I knew he didn’t have a problem with his knee so he was faking. I called him and said James, tell me about the knee. He denied it. I said you going to get off this phone and go to the first responsible adult at that school and confess and tell them what you did. He had forged the doctor’s note. I said go find someone and confess right now. He said dad I can’t do that because they will throw me out of the school. I said son, they will throw you out anyway. He asked me to do it and I said no. They set up a session with the head football coach and the dean and I drove up and saw him and we walked over together and spoke and the dean said come on in, and I said no, why would I go in, I have done nothing wrong. James had to go and deal with it himself. Then they called me in and said this is what we going to do. The dean said you not going to argue? He said he was used to parents telling him they going to get their lawyers, etc. And I said no, my son needs to learn the consequences of his actions. That is the approach you need to take. They did not kick him out, they censored him and put him on probation and gave him a punishment which I think was reasonable and James learned from that. 

PH 

He knows how to take responsibility now

MC

It is tougher now. Things are less forgiving.

PH

Do you think James and Patrick’s (3 years apart) approach to life has been heavily influenced by their brother John?

MC

All of us have been made better people by John. He has taught us gratitude, helped us to be more empathetic. All of us are better. When john was born, we did not know he was going to have down syndrome. 

PH

Would you mind telling us what down syndrome is?

MC

We all have 23 chromosomes. Down syndrome occurs when you have an extra 21st chromosome. And you wind up getting a menu of impacts from the extra chromosome. There are certain things that everyone gets – mentally challenged, low muscle tone, their tongues tend to be too big for their mouths, their ear canals too small. In addition, there is a whole list of items they are more prone to get but there is no guarantee. John was born with a malformed intestine. He had intestinal bypass surgery. He was born with heart defects. John had 2 holes in his heart. He needed open heart surgery before he was 3 months old. Genetic mutation. It can lead to a number of physical or medical challenges. They say now the life span of a person with down syndrome is about 60 years of age. Medical treatment keeps getting better. Alzheimer’s is also a risk. Down syndrome’s who do not have dementia is rare. Many of them in their 40s will develop an advanced form of Alzheimer’s. 

PH


How did it change the family members?

 

MC

Right away it was a matter of learning and protecting John, but we took the same approach and pushed his independence. My other boys learned to accept other people and be gentle with John. I prepared my sons for John to be bullied. In keeping with their personalities, Patrick said that is not a problem, if they do we will sit them down and talk to them. Jamie said he would knock them out. 

Patrick went away to college at a time where my family was under stress. My wife suffers from chronic depression. Down syndrome is easy, depression is hard. Patrick went away to school and wanted to make sure John was ok, so he called John every day to speak to him. Today, he calls John everyday still. They that close. When I look at Patrick and what he is doing, he just got married, he just left his full time good job, he was running IT for a Non-profit that provides training programmes. He is taking a boot camp to improve his technical skills and wants to start a web development company and he wants to make sure that he emphasises serving social justice. I think that is wonderful. He rights comedy skits that he performs in theatre. I love that Patrick wants to do improv as there is no money in it. To just do it for love. 

PH

Is there a big community around parents with children with Down Syndrome and if so , how does it work? 

MC

There is an inflow of community. When John was born, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know he had down syndrome. We did reach out and connect with some other parents who had children with down syndrome, and they were able to share information with us. There are various networks out there. We met some through school – special education programmes. Met some through my business. We do a lot of work with the national down syndrome society and connected with other programmes that share information with new parents. Hopestory.org – information into the hands of parents with a new child with down syndrome. 

Hope Story.org (Rich Smith – Texas)

Brittney’s Baskets of Hope – has down syndrome

Special fathers’ network (brings together fathers with children of different disabilities) because typically fathers get left out. 

Special Olympics, school, meet people. Figure out and share experiences. 

MC

No should-ing on people. That’s part of the humbling part of parenting. You don’t know what the right answer is. We think we have raised our 3 boys the same, but they all turn out differently with their own path and personality. If you’re inside a family, you see all the differences between the children, from the outside you see all the similarities. 

Parenting is so rewarding. I have 2 brothers and a sister. One brother and sister are not married. He tells us all the time what we were doing wrong with our kids. It bothered my wife. So I sat him down and said these are our kids. We get to screw our own kids up. You go get your own kids. 

MC

I see a lot with John, people come up and say you’re a wonderful man and father. Some of what I think we need to do as parents, is that if our children tell us they want something, be sure they understand what it takes to do that. In terms of sport – all 3 are active athletically. The 2 older boys played football. My middle son had aspirations to play on a certain level and I said great, here’s what that takes. This is the level of work and effort and then you decide if that is what you want. We must expose our children to things so they know what’s possible. Patrick was in the 1st grade – I was talking to him and he had a spelling test and I said he should go study. He walked away, and I watched him, and realised he didn’t know how to study. I taught him how. Teach them ways to do things, not do it for them. But teach them ways to do things. The same child wanted to play football, I said, what do your coaches say, I said, find out the schools you might be interested in and write to the coaches. He went and did it and a week later he got letters back. 

PH

No one taught me about entrepreneurship

MC

As a parent you get to see something. My wife and I always tried to be socially engaged. There was a protest in Washington DC called the Million Mom March against gun violence, we took the whole family, because our children should see us standing up for what we believe is right. I organised political campaigns and got my kids to help. Obama campaign. Kids handing out fliers. People wanted to argue with them. I kept an eye on them but what a learning experience. It  taught them how to do things on their own. 

PH

What is the best thing that has happened to you as a dad?

MC

The best things are all related to watching my boys find their way, find themselves, and turn into really special people. For my oldest son’s wedding, they had to make changes because of COVID but my wife’s brother organised a podcast to record both families talking about Patrick and Emily. I got to hear her family talking about Patrick and it made me feel so good that other people have seen him as the man he has grown into. He has spoken at the UN, testified twice at congress. To stand at UN next to my son and look at him address the world, how awesome. On Saturday we had a little ceremony introducing new socks that their EMT tribute socks. We made them to say thank you to the EMTs and raised money.

To see those efforts, those moments of kindness and character, those are the times that make it real great. As a dad, when they get good news and they call me because they want to share it, that’s pretty special. Being a dad is the best thing in my life by far. Period. 

Down syndrome, how it impacts family, opened up the dynamics across the whole family, changes things, been through challenges, he has a different path to his brothers, and they don’t treat him differently. He has strengths and weaknesses like we all do.

You want to set goals that people have to reach to attain. If they’re too easy, it is uninteresting, and if it is too far out there, they going to quit, but if they make you stretch, and get outside your comfort zone and reach for something, that is the sweet spot, for all of us and for our kids.

Mark X Cronin

Mark X. Cronin is the co-founder, along with his son John, of John’s Crazy Socks, a social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness. His leadership has demonstrated that pursuing social goals – demonstrating what people with differing abilities can achieve and giving back – makes for good business.

Mark advocates for the rights of differently-abled people. His advocacy work has seen Mark testify before Congress twice, speak at the UN and make numerous trips to Capitol Hill. Mark is a sought-after speaker having spoken at events across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Mark is part of the U.S. State Department’s Speakers’ Bureau.

Mark served as the Chief Operating officer of multiple health care management and technology firms, founded a software company, organized political campaigns and worked as a Congressional aide. Mark began his career as a schoolteacher and has taught in graduate schools as well.

Mark has an undergraduate degree from Holy Cross and a Masters of Public Policy from the Kennedy School at Harvard University. He has been named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year and is a Board member for the Long Island Chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization.