A few months back, I heard a story on NPR that has stayed with me to this day. I made a mental note to write about it for Father's Day as it showcases what it means to be a good dad. The tale begins with Ollie Cantos, who has been blind since birth. As Ollie shared, "I had a lot of trouble growing up because I didn't have any friends really. I was made fun of a lot. There would be people who would put their hands in front of my face and say, "How many fingers am I holding up?"
One day, Ollie heard about triplet boys in his neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia who were also blind since birth. The boys, Leo, Nick and Steven, lived with their single mom and were fairly sheltered from the community. They would go to school, yet come straight home after class. They had very little contact with the outside world. Ollie decided to knock on their door one day in 2010, when the boys were 10 years old. The brothers didn't believe other people could be blind too and Ollie proved it to them by revealing his cane and by reading braille. Nick, "It just made me feel like I had a person that I could trust because I couldn't trust anyone."
Ollie decided to help the boys assimilate better to the outside world. With permission from their mom, he taught them to use their canes better, to explore their neighborhood, local museums and shops, and of course, Dave & Busters, where the kids love to play games by sound and touch. One day at the local corner store, an employee asked Ollie if Leo was his son. Leo replied first, "Yeah it's my dad." When Ollie asked Leo if he knew what that meant, Leo responded, "Well, you take us places, you protect us, you help us with our homework. Sounds like a dad to me."
An accomplished civil rights attorney and former Vice President of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Vice-Chairman of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, Ollie is now Special Counsel to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Dept of Education in Washington DC. Ollie is an incredible mentor to the boys, proving by example how much potential they each have in life. They no longer have to live in an insular, sheltered world. They can do and be anything their heart desires.
Ollie is now in the process of formally adopting the brothers. He has been their friend, their mentor and their dad for the last four years and it has brought Ollie an immense amount of joy- to him, as well as to these three young brothers. It makes me think of how grateful I am for my own dad. He also has protected me, taught me valuable lessons and encouraged every hairbrained idea I've had since I can't even remember. I am a better person because of my dad. Hope you get to celebrate your pops this weekend, in whatever form he comes in...
Hear Ollie Cantos' story on NPR, here.