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Filling void brings new challenges and rewards

By SHARON TUBBS, City Times Editor
Published November 9, 2007


Don Murray traveled more than 5,000 miles to find his missing piece.

He hadn't known what it was until he asked his father, an Irish Catholic family man in upstate New York, what got him up in the morning.

"The grandchildren," he'd said, referring to Don's two brothers' kids.

Then it clicked, how important family had been in his upbringing, how much he missed all that as a bachelor.

So Don left his Bayshore Beautiful home in 2003 and flew to Ukraine, where single men can adopt with few hassles. He journeyed to a remote village outside Kiev and landed back in Tampa about two weeks later with a son named Mark.

But missing pieces aren't always perfect. Doctors had determined that Mark was physically healthy. Yet something was wrong. At 17 months, he still couldn't walk, couldn't play with a ball, couldn't stack building blocks.

Some doctors call it "developmental delay," a condition that worries many parents whose children don't reach milestones in motor, language, social and thinking skills at expected times.

Don, a 44-year-old computer software salesman for Oracle, wanted to do more than worry.

He heard about Early Steps, a free program at the University of South Florida for babies and toddlers like his. Through Early Steps, he learned techniques from child psychologist Kathleen Armstrong. He also drew on experience as a former mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

He networked with other parents, gathering ideas to help kids reach their potential.

Soon, Don was doing most of the talking in parenting circles; people sought his advice.

About a year ago, he had an idea. He'd create a series of 20-minute DVDs with practical tips for other struggling parents.

His new company Milestonesforlife released the first DVD, 20 Minutes to Effective Parenting: Communication Skills, earlier this year.

In it, Don gives 10 communication skills that he and Armstrong say yield positive results.

With each tip come short scenes demonstrating the point.

Mark, of course, plays the lead role, testing his father's patience around the family home on Harbor View Avenue,where Don now lives with his partner, just off Bayshore.

One tip: Tell children what to do vs. what not to do.

I watched as Mark paid little attention when Dad told him not to run alongside the family pool.

Then, in the video's positive parlance, Don calmly and simply told his son to walk. The giddy blond-haired boy immediately slowed down.

The advice works magically on DVD (available at a couple of South Tampa shops and online at, if you're interested). But I'd like to see Don try that on one of my, shall we say, "rambunctious" nephews.

I met Mark, now 5, this week after his regular tennis practice on Harbour Island.

He skipped freely and talked about what he'd learned from seeing Bee Movie - remain silent around wasps, please!

He giggled about his "excellent" report card marks from St. John's Episcopal Day School in Hyde Park.

What some parents accept as a lifelong problem hadn't turned out that way for Mark.

After a year of testing, regular doctor visits and practicing skills at home, Don says his son was right on track with other children his age.

Throughout the process, Don realizes he gained something, too.

Adoption, he said, "fulfilled my life completely."

[Last modified November 8, 2007, 06:38:11]

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