When Chaz Druetzler first found out he and his wife would be having a child with Down syndrome, he was overwhelmed and fearful.
"It was really, really difficult for me to hear that. I never knew anybody with Down syndrome," said Druetzler, "You kinda fear what you don't know."
In a search for information, Druetzler discovered a group called Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome (D.A.D.S.), and found a meeting near his home in Indianapolis, Indiana. He gathered the nerve to attend his first meeting.
'They started clapping'
The fathers went around the room introducing themselves. When the time came for Druetzler's introduction, he told the room his second child and first boy was about to be born with Down syndrome.
"They started clapping," said Druetzler, "which was really weird and wasn't what I was expected."
Druetzler was shocked at the group's genuine excitement for him. They weren't focused on his baby's diagnosis; they knew from experience Druetzler would be OK. Instead, they celebrated that Druetzler was about to become a father to his first boy.
"These guys were actually really thriving and they really enjoyed their families and loved talking about their child with Down syndrome," said Druetzler. "I totally wasn't ready for it."
John Goodrich joined the group in 2002, shortly after it was first established and when his son, Evan, was only a few months old.
"One of the things that came to mind was wondering what kind of activities we were going to do together," said Goodrich.
Meeting fathers in the group with older children with Down syndrome gave Goodrich a peek into his own future with Evan.
"I knew it was going to be OK," said Goodrich.
Today, Evan is 17 years old and the father-son duo loves going to football games, riding their tandem bike together and playing basketball in the front yard.
Giving dads support
Ray Glowner, who has also been involved with D.A.D.S. since 2002, says that the benefits of belonging to the group of fathers have extended beyond helping him raise a child with Down syndrome.
"I can't thank D.A.D.S. enough for doing what they did for me," said Glowner, who credits the group with helping him be less shy. Now he helps welcome new members.
"It broadened me," said Glowner.
For all three fathers, this D.A.D.S. group gives them a space to learn new things, share stories about raising their kids and celebrate the unique milestones that come with parenting a child with Down syndrome.
Druetzler has recently stepped into the role of president for the D.A.D.S.
"These guys are kind of like my brothers, they're some of my best friends," said Druetzler.
Those special friendships keep the dads together even as their kids grow up.
Glowner, whose daughter is now 22, said, "We came together for our kids, we stay together for each other."