What if you spent the first three decades of your life building a relationship with your father, and then one day, you found out he wasn’t the only father you had?
There are two guests on this episode of Paternal - one is 33-year-old John Vanek, a husband and father of two young girls living in the suburbs of Minneapolis. And the other is his biological father, Dr. Bruce A. Olmscheid, a physician who lives nearly 2,000 miles away in Southern California. Neither man knew the other one existed for about 30 years.
But a shocking reveal from his parents and a persistent interest in science, history and genealogy led John down a path that led him to the truth about his family, his own origin story, and the man who is his father.
How far would you be willing to go to somehow preserve the memory of someone you lost? When James Vlahos found out his father was dying of lung cancer, he set out to create a chatbot fueled by a treasure trove of interviews with his dad, and artificial intelligence software. The end result is the Dadbot, a program that questions if artificial immortality might actually exist.
Listen as Vlahos describes the experience of interviewing his father during the final months of his life, and how an early interest in computers as a kid - and a New York Times Magazine article about a talking Barbie doll - helped bring the Dadbot to life. It says the kinds of things James’ father would say and even sometimes sings songs, using audio clips from the oral history interviews.
Prior to the birth of his first son, the only things Schwan Park knew about autism were gleaned from watching Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. But after he and his wife realized something was different about the development of their son Max, Park reluctantly pushed himself to learn more about the symptoms of autism, and ultimately to accept a new reality for his family.
But at the age of 10 years old, the Park family found their life line. Enter the Rubik’s Cube, the 1980s-era toy that frustrated puzzle solvers threw away years ago. Now 16 years old, Max is the sport’s reigning world champion, solving cubes in just seconds and earning fame and celebrity status among his peers. After years spent trying to solve the puzzle, it’s clear now that the cube itself is the solution.
Jason Hairston was always up for a challenge. And by the time he was 47 years old he had overcome his fair share to become a family man, successful CEO of outdoor apparel giant KUIU, and a guru to thousands of like-minded men all looking for their own personal, primal experience on the hunt.
But to the shock of many who knew and loved him, Hairston took his own life in September. In his final in-depth interview before his death and of Paternal’s most intimate episodes to date, Hairston discusses all the experiences that shaped him as a father and a son.
Veteran explorer Eric Larsen has not only reached both the geographic north and south poles, but also summited Mount Everest. And in 2009 and 2010 he became the first person in the world to reach all three in the span of 365 days, an endeavor that cemented him as one of the most successful American explorers in recent years. But he’s also used to leaving his wife and two young children behind for weeks, which always raises some questions in his mind when he’s alone on the ice. On this episode of Paternal, Larsen discusses the conflict of being a leading-edge American explorer and an engaged father at the same time, and how he and his wife have worked on the unique elements of their relationship.
Joe Andruzzi has always been surrounded by family. And he never valued family more than in 2007, when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that nearly took his life. Andruzzi - who won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots - went on to found the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which has helped more than 8,000 families and individuals affected by cancer. On this episode of Paternal he discusses his battle with cancer and how his father’s role as a New York City police officer shaped the family’s values.
Seattle author Neal Thompson has profiled a range of intriguing characters during his career as an acclaimed author, but for his fifth book he turned his eye to his sons, two boys fixated on the sport and culture of skateboarding. In the debut episode of Season 3 of Paternal, Thompson discusses his kids' all-encompassing passion for the sport and their embrace of a counter-culture lifestyle that led to drugs, alcohol, vandalism and concerns from their father that he had let his boys go too far.
Meet Frank. He’s a 62 year-old father of four grown kids, and grandfather to seven beautiful grandchildren. Back in the summer of 2017, Frank decided to leave his home in San Diego and spend a week in Denver with his son Tommy, but it was no ordinary trip.
Tommy is a homeless drug addict who lives in and around Civic Center Park in Denver, and he needs help. But can a committed father really change the course of life for his son, who’s caught in the deadliest drug crisis in American history?
What if every teenage boy could tell you what he’s thinking, and what he fears when he leaves the house to walk to go to school? Oakland educator and youth advocate Ashanti Branch has spent more than a decade trying to provide young men with a place to do just that. In 2004 he founded the Ever Forward Club, gathering a small group of young men together in his classroom to offer them a safe space to share their concerns about life and establish a brotherhood with other teenagers from all over the San Francisco Bay Area.
Alexi Lalas knows all about opportunity. As a professional soccer player and member of the United States national team during the 1990s, Lalas used the global platform of the 1994 FIFA World Cup to introduce the world to his carefully cultivated image of a rebellious red-headed rockstar with a love for the world’s game, and life’s never been the same since. On this episode of Paternal, Lalas discusses how he tries to shield his two young kids from the vitriol he receives on social media and why he teaches his kids to constantly be aware of their surroundings, always open to the next great opportunity in life.
I want you to know I’m the lucky one. I’m fortunate enough that I have a career that allowed me to spend more time with you than many dads in your first few formative years, something I hope to do with your sister too. And the best way to honor my father’s memory, I think, is to keep doing that for as long as I can. That’s because I’ve learned the best memories aren’t always formed on those big trips to the zoo or theme parks (those are fun too!) but sometimes in the car when you’re trying to make up riddles or at the dinner table when you’re creating your own “podcast” on my phone’s voice recorder.
Ten years ago, Jason Smith found himself in a hospital waiting room in Boston, waiting to see is his wife would live through the night after a dangerous allergic reaction to chemotherapy. Smith, a psychotherapist and father of two, endured that agonizing night in the emergency room and then an exhausting year of parenting while his wife recovered. The lessons learned from the experience reaffirmed his love for his wife and his responsibilities as a father, but also helped him make sense of his own father’s trouble dealing with tragedy.
Don’t buy your 18-year-old son a fake ID. Please, please resist the temptation to share those fruity details about when you showered with two hot Swedish women. And when you get throat cancer and they cut you open from ear to Adam’s apple, remove part of your tongue, and then fire radiation at you every day for six weeks, stripping you of your sense of taste and your ability to swallow and making it intolerable to eat, which for a foodie is the most wretched torture anyone could administer, do try to be the same old dad you always were, warts and all, haters be damned.
Long before he became one of the nation’s leading voices on the emotional lives of adolescent boys, psychologist and New York Timesbestselling author Dr. Michael G. Thompson actually focused his studies on the psychological issues of young women. “I got into schools as a consultant,” Thompson says, “and all of a sudden, all of my work was little boys.” On this episode of Paternal, Thompson discusses his acclaimed book Raising Cain, how to protect the emotional complexities of young boys, and why fathers struggle to connect with their sons.
When I became a father myself I didn’t have a blueprint to work from, since none of my fathers had fulfilled the exact same role that I would. There is no precedent of case law to refer to when I make adjudications. I suspect most fathers concoct their own brew of a fathering style and approach from some combination of what their own fathers did, and didn’t, do. Whether wittingly or not, you adopt what you appreciated in your own father and you ditch whatever you didn’t. Or so I imagine.
Alex Bogusky spent years atop the advertising world while running one of the hottest ad agencies in the country, Crispin Porter + Bogusky. But he left the business while at the top of his game in 2010, switching his focus to spending more time with his two young children and working with social entrepreneurs. Bogusky discusses his decision to leave the ad industry, the problems with advertising to young children and how he dealt with his father’s depression while running the family ad business.
Ryan Harris spent nine years as an offensive lineman in the National Football League, earning a reputation as one of the brightest and most thoughtful players in any locker room in the league. He also won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos before retiring from the game in 2017. Harris discusses a range of topics on this episode of Paternal, including honoring his Muslim faith while playing at Notre Dame, getting cut and finding his way with another team, raising African-American kids in Denver and if he’ll let his son play football.
Despite being born and raised in an iconic beach town just north of San Diego, Taylor Steele didn’t exactly enjoy his first ride on a surfboard. Or his second. In fact, it took nearly 10 years for Steele to find his footing on a board, but after he embraced the sport - and his keen eye for making surf documentaries - his life changed forever. On this episode of Paternal, Steele discusses how he and his wife refused to let go of their dreams of travel and perfect careers after having kids, and how surfing just might be the perfect metaphor for the unpredictability of life.
What’s it like when a New York City social worker hands over a newborn baby on your doorstep at 9 pm on a Friday night? For longtime artist and journalist Graham Parker, that’s only a small part of the experience of being a father. Parker has focused most of his energy on helping his son – who is African-American – navigate the complexities of race in America. On this episode of Paternal, Parker discusses the abrupt nature of adoption and all that's come in the five years since he became a father.
Noted social commentator, actress and New York native Fran Lebowitz once said, “You’re only as good as your last haircut.” But for Chris Matthew, a fellow New Yorker and a master barber, there’s far more to walking into the barbershop than just a new look. On this episode of Paternal, Matthew discusses what the barbershop means to men, and why he began cutting hair for homeless men after his father exposed him to the diverse faces of a drug rehab clinic in New York as a kid.
Few places in the United States can match South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when it comes to challenges for a father to raise his kids. Poverty, soaring unemployment, alcoholism and isolation are all omnipresent for many of the Oglala Sioux men on Pine Ridge, but George Apple refuses to give in. On this episode of Paternal, Apple discusses his challenges as a father and grandfather, why he embraced the traditions of his ancestors, and why the future of his family is so closely connected with the past.
How would you describe the conversations at your family dinner table? When Eric Tung was a kid, there was never much room at dinner for communication with his parents, a pair of fairly conservative Chinese immigrants. So it comes as little surprise that they were shocked when he came out of the closet as an adult or that he wanted to find a way to raise a family. “That was even more outlandish,” Tung says. “They had never seen it. The notion of a gay dad was completely foreign to them.”
Martin Rogers moved to the United States a decade ago to take a job in sports writing, a transplant from England with a wife and plans to one day start a family. After his marriage soured and his ex-wife returned to England he worked tirelessly to stay in constant contact with his young son, and he rarely thought about starting over. Then he met his new wife, and he unknowingly began down a path that taught him about love, grief and the possibility of changing your life story in the face of pain.
When was the last time you asked a good friend about where he came from, or the influences that shaped his life? On this episode, Paternal host Nick Firchau welcomes longtime friend and noted New Jersey-based DJ Shawn Francis to discuss his father’s alcohol and drug abuse, which man gave him The Talk and what it meant to him, and what it’s like to raise two African-American kids in Donald Trump’s America. "If my kids knew everything that was going through my head every day," Francis says, "there's no way they'd make it out of elementary school."
What if there was a place where men could go to commiserate about fatherhood and even learn how to be a better dad? This episode of Paternal goes inside the Center on Fathering in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to examine how the center and its founder work with men looking to manage and improve their relationships with their children. Center director Ken Sanders discusses how the classes work, and what motivated him to dedicate his career to helping men better shape their experience of fatherhood.
Landon Donovan is widely recognized as the greatest male soccer player the United States has ever produced, appearing in three FIFA World Cups and winning six titles in Major League Soccer. But Donovan says he struggled to connect at times with teammates and coaches during his career because he was unlike some of the prototypical professional athletes in the locker room. On this episode of Paternal, Donovan discusses why being raised primarily by his mother changed his life and how he intends to teach the lessons he's learned to his two young sons.
Raising a transgender daughter has been no easy task for Jake and his wife, Anna. The couple has spent the past five years educating themselves on how to best deal with a set of unexpected challenges that began when their second son began showing signs of her real gender identity even before she was 18 months old. Since then Jake has dealt with his own emotions and the idea that he must have done something wrong, all the while showing unflinching support and love for his daughter. "I don't think I did anything wrong," Jake says. "I just let the kid be the kid."
John Richards is one of the most recognized radio voices in Seattle, and the host of the John in the Morning show on KEXP 90.3 FM. During his lengthy career on the air, Richards has helped uncover and promote bands like Interpol, Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes, Of Monsters and Men and others. In the debut episode of Paternal, Richards discusses how he's navigated a complicated relationship with his estranged father, dealt with his own failed marriage and a custody battle for his son, and used those experiences to shape his own approach as a dad.