Jonathan: Welcome to Kidorable Parenting’s interview with Rich Manders, co-author with his birth mother of, “The Laughing Rabbit,” a tale of family reconnection. I’m Jonathan Domsky, blogger, parenting coach, and co-founder of Kidorable. I’ve been learning how to be a better human being and entrepreneur with Rich for over a decade. I’m always inspired by his example. Let’s get started. Rich, tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what you’re passionate about.
Rich: Sure. Well, I think, if you start at the beginning, I’m most passionate about learning, and my family. That’s why I’m excited to talk to you today. And after those two things comes adventure. Those are really the three things that I live for, are family, learning, and adventure.
Jonathan: Nice. Rich, what’s something that you wish you had more courage or imagination to do when you were younger?
Rich: So my biggest challenge growing up was that they didn’t have labels for kids like me that helped you get help. So I was considered…today, I would be considered ADD or one of those types of diagnoses. And so, they just labeled me a troublemaker and a low potential person. And I didn’t see around that until I was out of high school and grown up, so I missed those years of learning and being part of something and believing that I could do a lot more with my life than I accomplished during those first early years. So that really was…I didn’t have the imagination, and therefore, I couldn’t even have the courage to do something like that.
Jonathan: So, Rich, what was it like growing up being told that you’re a problem? And how did you eventually escape that label and go on to the incredible success that you’ve had as an adult?
Rich: It’s a relatively long story. But really, what happened was, I ended up getting into a spot where I was really frustrated. And along the way, I had proven to myself a few things. One was, I knew how to sell. I took a paper route and built it into something that was the biggest one in the area. I was quite ingenious with my scheming and getting into trouble. So I used a lot of that energy and enthusiasm early on to focus in on proving people wrong or making my own way in there. And it was only later when I took the standardized testing to go into the Air Force. Because of the trouble I was in and the frustration I was feeling, I ended up deciding to look at joining the Air Force. And they give you two tests. I can’t remember the name of them, but it’s essentially an IQ test for technical ability. Like, your ability to look at something and be able to take it apart and put it together or simplify it in a different way than just raw intelligence, but technical intelligence. And then second was a pure knowledge test. I crushed it on those tests. And that was the first time in my whole life that anybody had ever told me that I was smart and that I could pick pretty much any job in the Air Force that I wanted, besides being a pilot, because you had to have a college degree for that. And that had not even crossed my mind that I would ever have a college degree.
Jonathan: Nice. Rich, what do you give children that you love the courage and imagination to see possibilities within themselves and the world?
Rich: Sure. Well, I have four children, so I have had lots of practice at this. And it’s something that’s really near and dear to my heart, is making sure that they have the chance to express themselves the way that they want to and makes them feel good. And so, really, three things come to mind. The first one is helping them figure out what their unique ability is. The possibilities, and what they’re good at and passionate about, and then helping them make progress in those fronts.
For example, early on, my son who had some learning disabilities growing up, we went and watched a karate demonstration, and he just loved it. And so we put everything into focusing in on helping him find his path to learning how to be an expert in karate. And he ended up becoming a second degree black belt after some time. The other one that’s really important is leading by example. Kids are smart, and they won’t…unless you’re living what you’re telling them to do, they’re not gonna believe it’s even possible. And so, leading by example. And then last is providing that support net underneath them, not too much, not being a helicopter pilot parent or whatever you call it but giving them the support to say, “I love you. I wanna help you. We’re gonna attach strings to the help that I give you, in terms of hitting some kind of performance milestones or feasibility. But I’m here to make whatever you dream possible.”
Jonathan: So, Rich, your children are all grown, but what’s something about your current family life that you’ve made with your adult children, fun, easy, meaningful, and joyous?
Rich: Yeah. So there is a few things. The first one is, we make some really special holidays. So every year, Thanksgiving is at our house. And we’ve had up to in the 40s, in terms of quantity of people come to Thanksgiving. So it’s really a heartbeat of our family life, is at Thanksgiving, where we get everyone there at once and we do a lot of fun things. It’s an entire weekend up at our cabin in Vermont, now that we live in an apartment, because we’re empty nesters. And along the way, also doing…every year, I rent a house somewhere in a really cool spot in the summertime and invite everybody to come. Typically, it’s around the triathlon, so the…it all started with the team Titan Triathlon, which we were all parts of, and now morphed into a family routine that we do every year. And that’s just part of our lives. And so, my mom, who co-wrote the book with me, plus her husband, most of my kids, most of the time, and lots of friends, we just rent a giant house and that’s a summer routine.
So creating these patterns all the time. And then lastly is, I schedule to spend time with each one of my kids at least once a month. Sometimes, with some of them, that’s gotten harder. I have a daughter who lives in Austin, Texas, so I’ll lump those together into like a three-day or four-day trip every quarter instead. But always knowing that we have something on the calendar, one on one together with each one.
And then last is, every single one of them hears from me every day. Could be a text message, can be a phone call, but there’s never a day goes by for the last 33 years that they have not heard from me every day, each one of them.
Jonathan: So a combination of daily, quarterly routines that you put in your calendar. And then these family traditions that, whether it’s the triathlons or Thanksgiving, that people just wanna be together.
Jonathan: Even though they’re all over the country and are forming families of their own. Very nice.
Rich: Exactly. Yep.
Jonathan: What’s something that you treasure from your childhood that you’ve tried to recreate with your own children growing up?
Rich: Yeah. My fondest memories of childhood were we had a shack in the woods. It was literally a shack. There was no electricity. But it was this little cute cabin in the woods, on a lake, but was our fondest memories of growing up. And so, pretty early on, we found our shack in the woods and created routines around being there, up in Vermont in this case. And so we’d go kayaking, we’d go swimming, we’d go skiing in the winter time. There is always something going on at the house that is part of our family routine. And that was always the case with the place that we had, although it was only a summer place. So we’re lucky that we now have a four-season place, versus when I was growing up it was only during the summertime that we went there. But we pretty much spent tons of time there over the years. So that’s also a touch stone of our lives, along with this routine that we always had, and even have today, which is, whenever we’re together, there’s always an adventure as part of the day. We’re gonna go on a hike, we’re gonna go for a bike ride, we’re gonna go swimming, we’re gonna go boating, whatever, but there’s always something…snow shoeing. There’s always something that we’re gonna get out and do together as a group, just to bond and have an adventure.
Jonathan: Rich, what’s the best thing about being a parent?
Rich: Everything. Anybody who knows me…I tell people that my most favorite job my entire life is being a dad. I love being a parent. I love supporting and helping these kids grow to be their own versions of themselves that they’re really proud of and in alignment with. And it’s all a work in progress. All of my kids are in various phases of figuring out… And of course, it’s always for the moment, and then it will be something different. But I help…being there for them and enjoying time with them is definitely my favorite things to do.
Jonathan: So, Rich, tell me about your book, “The Laughing Rabbit.” And I’m especially interested in, not just how you reconnected with your birth mother, not knowing her growing up, but how you’ve become so close to actually collaborate on this project?
Rich: Yeah. So it all started when I was 20 years old, and I got a phone call, or maybe 19 at the time. And the phone call was, “Hi. I’m your mother.” And I had grown up in this home…I always knew I was adopted but never expected that phone call. And that really started us on this long journey of getting to know each other. And in the end, it turned out to be this incredible gift. Fortunately, or actually unfortunately, both of the parents who adopted me died very young. My father died when I was 10 years old. He was just 40. And then my mother died when I was 21 years old, and she was 43, I believe, that year. And so, it was kind of almost a magical thing that it was a tragic loss, but also that I knew that I still had a parent out there, or parents out there that…really, that opened the door for me to connect with them. And it’s a really long story, but I’ll save it for the book, if anybody is interested in hearing more about it. But it was a magical series of events that really connected us and bonded us. And I’ve been very fortunate for the last nearly 30 years, 36 years, that I’ve had this other person in my life. And we’ve done all kinds of amazing things together.
So, as I mentioned, we’ve been doing these summer houses and Thanksgivings at our cabin, and so on and so forth. For the last 20 years, every one of those events, they’ve been part of it with us. And then, on top of it is, just this opportunity to really get to know each other and get to find each other was really special.
And so, looking at her 80th birthday last year, she’s one of those people who already has everything she needs, and so getting gifts is always challenging. I think for the last 15 years, it’s always been a spa gift certificate. The same thing every time. And so, what could I do that’s really special and interesting and…I’ve always talked about writing a book on the business side of my life, but not so much on the personal side. And the idea just popped in my head. And so, I brought it up and said, “How about for your 80th birthday we write a book together about our journey?” She loved the idea. And we kicked it off.
And surprisingly, it was an amazing experience. One, because it was just really fun to work on it together, but moreover, how many things I did not know about her and her journey growing up. And then also for my parents who had died, I was lucky enough to speak to aunts and uncles, and you’ll see that in the book. And my birth father also, his wife, who tell the story from their perspective and give the history on that side. In all those places, I did not know most of those stories. I did not know most of the things that had happened to them along the way. And so, that was really special, to experience and learn these things that I had no idea. And so, I encourage people… One of the things that I missed out on, by having my parents that raised me die so young, was I never got a chance to really know who they were. I never really got a chance to understand their struggles and their hopes and dreams and so on. Because you don’t…most people don’t tell their kids that stuff. I certainly have done that with my kids, because always thinking that life is short or certainly can be. But it was really an amazing journey.
Jonathan: Very nice. Well, Rich, where can I find out more—more about the book, more about you, more about your business?
Rich: Sure. So my business is freescalecoaching.com. So all one word, free, then scale, then coaching.com. And I coach CEOs and leadership teams of mid-size businesses and help them. Free scale comes from helping them scale their business, while also scaling their freedom, their ability to have choice. In most cases, businesses go the other way. The bigger the business gets, the less freedom the founder and their team experience. And so, I turn that around for them. You can also find me on Twitter. It’s @rmanders. And also on LinkedIn. There’s probably an easy thing with it has my history, and what I do, and what I’m passionate about, and all that.
Jonathan: You can buy the book on Amazon?
Rich: Correct, the book is on Amazon. It’s available in Kindle and paperback. And so, check it out. I think you’ll like it. I’m very proud of it.
Jonathan: Rich, this has been such a joy. And I’m grateful for your time and your wisdom, and the example that you shared with me and our listeners.
Rich: Thank you. Have a great day.
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