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.
Robert 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.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: 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. And we’re coming back to this program with Bob to commemorate it. He’ll share with us about his son, Trevor, a delightful young man who is having quite an impact on the world around him. I mean, all of us physically capable people would want to have the kind of impact that Trevor is having.
Down Syndrome touches so many lives. In fact, each year here in America, approximately one in every 700 babies is born with Down Syndrome. One in every 700. The hardest statistic here is that between 67 and 85 percent of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome after prenatal testing are aborted. Isn’t that amazing? And again, that’s here in the United States. That doesn’t include places like Iceland where it’s nearly a hundred percent of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.
Here at Focus on the Family, we believe that all people are of infinite value, regardless of age, development, appearance, or ability. That’s why we’re honoring the value of life with our See Life Clearly campaign. We’ve been talking about it and we’ll continue to do so because this is important to us and I trust that it’s important to you as well. A great way to join us in this venture is to read, sign, and share our Declaration for Life. We wanna let our elected officials and others know that we care about all human life and that we’re taking a stand. And after you hear Trevor’s story, as told by his dad, Bob Hendershot, I know you’re gonna be inspired to be a champion and a voice for life.
John: Bob is married to Melissa, and they have three sons, Trevor, Taylor and Tanner. And Trevor’s story is captured in Bob’s book, Angel for Higher. And here now is how that conversation began.
Jim: Bob, um, 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. Um, 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 drinking in high school. Got worse in college and by the time I had graduated, had a few minor car wrecks, but the worst thing about it for me were the blackouts. In other words...
Bob: Yeah, 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. Or even 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.” And 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: Well, and that was a lot of how your early life was framed.
Jim: How long have you been sober now?
Bob: Twenty years now.
Bob: Over 20 years.
Jim: And uh, you’ve been married how long?
Bob: 31 years.
Jim: So, Melissa, your wife who you almost didn’t pass that test, I want to tell you...
Jim: ...but Melissa is watching in the gallery there. Um, those 10 years had to be pretty tough where...
Bob: Yes, they were.
Jim: ...you were struggling in your marriage. And the reason I - I bring this up again, people are living in that spot. People who are listening right now have uh, 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, well, I quit drinking the first time in 1983 and after that point, I met Melissa in 19 - 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 took - 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 uh, you know, family disorder...
Jim: ...was something that you feared. That was your first fear. What was your second fear?
Bob: My second fear growing up was 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, musician, 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 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 reason.
Jim: Well, and I’m glad you’ve kinda put the end cap to that, because a lot of people will say, “How - 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: That number, 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 uh, choose that option, but you didn’t. You and Melissa didn’t choose that option. When you look back on that right now, um, and you’ve alluded to it, Trevor changing your life...
Jim: ...in a positive way...
Jim: ...um, what have been some of those ways?
Bob: Well, the practical lessons God taught me through my recovery helped me to be a better father to Trevor. And the spiritual lessons I learned as Trevor’s dad have helped me to stay sober for the last 20 years.
Bob: Right, yes.
Jim: That’s pretty powerful.
Bob: When I was in rehab, I met my sponsor and he told me, “You have to make amends to everybody in your life.” Proverbs 14:9 says, “Fools mock at making amends for sins, but good will is found among the upright.” And so, he said, “You have to go make a formal apology. It’s not just sayin’, ‘I’m sorry for what I did.’ You have to go to everyone in your life and say, ‘This is what I did. I’m sorry for it. What can I do to make it right?’”
And I was very fortunate that most of the people in my life, my family, the people I knew, were - were content with that. But Trevor for some reason, he was still upset about the fact that I wasn’t always there physically, emotionally, mentally to be the father I had been the first few years of his life. So my sponsor told me, “You have to make a living amends,” which is talk is - actions that speak louder than words. And so what I did uh, every morning a little school bus came down our street and it was my job to put him on the bus. Trevor would get on the bus. I’d walk out on the sidewalk. He’d get on the bus and he’d look out the window and start clapping for me (CLAPPING), like this. And I started doin’ a little Cossack dance right on the sidewalk there.
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 uh, Melissa and I were already married that we made the commitment, received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. So after that, we were going 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 - 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 lives 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 - 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 uh, so without her involvement, I never would’ve been around here.
Jim: Now you have Taylor and Tanner, as well.
Bob: Yeah, they’ve - they’re great brothers for 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 - what does the dynamic...
Bob: No, we’ve been...
Jim: ...look like?
Bob: ...pretty - 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 - I met with some of the uh, families that had special-needs children that were pretty far along, chronologically. And if there’s any guarantee to have a - 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, so...
Jim: Well, and that’s the question when you look at a family and the heaviness that you and Melissa had uh, 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 an early Friday morning, May 4th, 1990, and it was again, the most devastating moment of my life. And fortunate, 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. Um, 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 - 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: Mmhmm. 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. You know, when Trevor was a, um, was frequently bullied while he was growing up, especially in high school and...
Jim: What did that bullying look like?
Bob: Well, when he was in high school we found out he was being bullied by some of the students. And so we called the vice principal and said, “Hey, you - you’ve 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 - 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, so...”
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 made a banner for him saying, “We love you, Trevor. You’re the bomb.” And - and uh, so that was good. And then I - later on um, I told Trevor, “That was a pretty cool. The cheerleaders made you a banner.” And he said, “Yeah, I marry them.” I go, “No.”
Jim: He’s connectin’ the dots real quick.
Bob: “Which - which one?” “All of them.” “No, no, no, you can’t marry all of them and we’re praying that the exact right girl would be brought into your life.” And - and so, we’re grateful that’s how it turned out. And then when he was a - a senior, every student in the school, the parents got an email saying, “If you want your son or daughter to be on the homecoming court to - 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 - 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. There’s nothing - 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 if things don’t go his way, he’s not happy.
But - 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 um, that night we were - for the homecoming dance I was - we got a - had a tuxedo for Trevor and I was buttoning up his tuxedo and he says, “I kiss the bride?”
Bob: Which 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, 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, we 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 tok - 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 uh, here’s the good news. You can meet Trevor. He works there in Anaheim at the Los Angeles Angels uh, 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...
Bob: Yeah, the Angel hockey Ducks, right.
Jim: ...Ducks 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, they - 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 or” - 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 email. Finally, got hold of him again and then he said, “Well, it’s out of my hands. It’s up in corporate HR, so...”
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 email.” 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, “Do you - 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 wh - I see you have had training at Walgreens 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 um, 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.”
Jim: I love that.
Bob: “I’m pleased to hire you to be a greeter for the Angels,” and 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.”
John: How’d that go over with management?
Jim: Hope they...
Bob: But they...
Jim: ...hopefully got a bonus for that.
Bob: Yeah, right?
Bob: So um - no, they told him, “You gotta let everybody come in.”
Bob: And so, he said, “Come in; buy a hat.” So they came in.
Jim: That’s perfect.
Bob: Yeah and so, um, couple - few weeks later the president of the Angels, John Carpino came in and gave him a - a $500 bonus.
Bob: And then a few weeks later, the chairman of the Angels, Dennis Kuhl, was speaking at the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and he asked us to come down to share our story. And so, we did.
Jim: That is so good. Um, 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.
John: What a powerful story from Bob Hendershot today on Focus on the Family. And Jim, I loved hearing about the impact Trevor has had, and is having, on everyone around him.
Jim: It’s truly remarkable how God is using this young man. In fact, we recently heard from Bob, who told us Trevor is now greeting people in the fan stores for the NFL’s L.A. Rams and the UFC Trojans.
Jim: And he just about has all the major sports teams covered there in L.A. 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, especially those of children with special needs. And this is why we at Focus on the Family stand for life - why we give a voice to the preborn, the orphan, the elderly, and the mentally disabled, the physically challenged, too. We are all created in God’s image, and therefore have great worth and significance.
We mentioned the Declaration for Life at the beginning of the program. I hope you’ll read it, sign it, and share it with all of your friends. We want as many signatures as possible so we can take this document to Washington, D.C. and let our voices be heard when it comes to protecting life.
We’re also in the midst of planning a major event in Times Square on May 4th. We’re calling it “Alive from New York,” and we want you to be part of it if you can make it. We’ll have music, a handful of speakers, and of course, the key moment - the keynote - will be the live 4D ultrasound on the big jumbotrons right there in Times Square. And we’re excited to show the world God’s handiwork right in the womb. And these are incredible images - 4D, third trimester ultrasounds. Usually kids are sucking their thumbs, waving their arms, I mean, it will be lively. And I think it will benefit the culture to see these babies in the womb.
John: Well, sign the Declaration for Life and make plans now to join us in Times Square on May 4th. You can learn more about “Alive from New York” when you call 800-232-6459 - 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY - or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Well join us tomorrow as Teri Lynne Underwood reflects on the importance of praying for our daughters.
Teri Lynne Underwood: I realized how much I had allowed my identity to be shaped by what I had done instead of who God says I am. And I looked around at all the students that we had ministered to over the years and their moms and my friends, and I thought, “This is real.”
End of Teaser
Be a voice for the pre-born and the sanctity of all human life. Add your signature to the Declaration for Life now.Read more
Angel for Higher chronicles the joyfully inspirational journey of Robert Hendershot, a recovering alcoholic, and his son Trevor, who has Down syndrome.Buy Now
Trevor Hendershot has Down syndrome, along with a ready smile and boundless energy. Devoted sports fans go out of their way to say hello to him at games, and Trevor greets many stadium regulars by name. Even the team players know him, and his enthusiasm is contagious.Read more
Join us on May 4th for a live event in Times Square featuring live music, special guest speakers, and live 4D ultrasounds broadcast on a massive jumbotron. Register now! Event capacity is limited to 10,000 attendees.Read more
Amid these stories from other parents, you'll find tips and tools in the areas of schooling, church, balancing the needs of your disabled child and the needs of your other children, coping when your circumstances have become too hard and encouragement in developing friendships.Read more