Gino Cafarelli on parenting a child with hearing loss and dating as a single father
Actor and filmmaker Gino Cafarelli sat down with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan to discuss his acting career, how he uses creativity to parent his daughter and the world of digital dating.
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A Conversation With Gino Cafarelli
Actor, filmmaker and author Gino Cafarelli sat down with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan to discuss how he uses creativity to parent his daughter with hearing loss and the ways he navigates the world of digital dating.
In this heartfelt interview, Cafarelli opens up about his daughter, Athena, who was born with hearing loss. After rounds of testing when she was born, Cafarelli was told her hearing loss was considered moderate to severe. As a result, Athena wears hearing aids, which she affectionately calls "all-betters," because they make her hear better.
Cafarelli wanted to use his creativity to empower his daughter, so he wrote a children's book, "Athena Visits the Marina." In this book, the main character—who is based on his daughter—has hearing loss, and on a trip to the marina, discovers that her "all-betters" allow her to communicate with the sea life and mermaids. This book, Cafarelli hopes, will help change the narrative from hearing loss being viewed as a disability and instead being seen as a superpower.
In addition to being a doting father, Cafarelli is a dedicated co-parent with his ex-partner. He said they work well together to raise Athena, and Cafarelli is grateful for his relationship with her. This tight-knit relationship, however, can be challenging for Cafarelli when he dates. He finds that many women are jealous of his relationship with his ex-partner, even though she would be happy if he dated. Cafarelli also runs into trouble with potential suitors when they find out he is an actor and a single father. Cafarelli, however, remains hopeful that he will find someone to share a mental and physical connection with.
Today I'm here with actor, filmmaker and writer Gino Cafarelli, who you may recognize in some big films these days. I haven't seen you in so long. How's it been?
I know, everything's great. Yeah, it's been a while. I mean, we go back...When did I meet you, in 2006, I think, [in] L.A.?
Over 10 years ago, for sure. Your roles just kept getting bigger and bigger. You had these bit parts here and there. And then, "Oh, there's Gino! Oh, there's Gino! Oh, there's Gino!" And then, all of a sudden, watching "Capone," you're acting [as] the right-hand man of Tom Hardy. You've been directed by "Bobby D" Robert DeNiro…
You've worked with Al Pacino. What is it like working with these huge guys as an up-and-coming actor? Now, I'm sure you're more nuanced in the professional world.
You know, what I say now is, I'm starting to or have earned my stripes as a "character actor."
And [with] Martin Scorcese in "The Irishman."
I was in between Al Pacino and Robert de Niro on a dais for two weeks, and a bunch of people that I admire as actors in the audience as well, so it was incredible.
I want to go into your biggest role in the last eight years—as a father.
Yes, yes, I always say that.
Can you show your daughter's name?
Sure, I mean, it's on the book.
That is her actual name. I didn't know if that was her real name. That is so awesome. So, Gino wrote a book called "Athena Visits the Marina." Let's talk about what sparked this. Your daughter was born with hearing loss.
How much hearing loss? Describe it in your own words.
I don't...technically, the percentages, I always kind of lose track of it because I don't like to use the word "disability." She has a hearing loss. I come across people that say, "Whoa, your daughter is deaf," and no, but...is it within that community of deaf and hearing loss? Yes, but she's not deaf. She was born with hearing loss. It's moderate to severe in both ears.
We found out very early on because, in the hospital, when a kid is born, they give you a hearing test, and most times it's because there's fluid, you know. And they say, "Well, usually there's fluid in the ear, and you may want to look into it, retest in a month from now. So we didn't think anything of it. She failed the hearing test. We thought, oh she probably has fluid, we'll revisit it. We booked an appointment with an audiologist, and that's when we found out.
The doctor that delivered the news wasn't...the way the news was delivered, it was kind of like, "Well, your daughter can't hear." It wasn't like, "Well, there's a certain loss in this ear, there's a certain loss in that ear"...the way it was delivered, was kinda like...
The blood kinda rushed [down] through my feet, like, "What do you mean?" It was just very shocking. But, just like anything, you educate yourself. If someone has a hard time seeing, they get glasses or contacts. If they have a hard time hearing...which I've lost some of my hearing, as well, being in nightclubs growing up.
I guess I could go out and get a hearing aid, and eventually, I'm going to need one. It'd be great to be like, "Look..." and I do say this to Athena, "Daddy's gotta get an 'all-better.'" She calls it an "all-better."
I call them "all-betters" in the book, but I got that term from her. Because when she puts them in, she hears better. So she calls them "all-betters."
We may have to visit implants because sometimes the hearing aids, at a certain point, can only do so much. But she's adapted so well to the hearing aids, she speaks perfect, but we may have to entertain cochlear implants down the road.
Right. So, the cochlear implants you're describing, it's gonna help a lot more, but the transition period is going to be tough for her.
Overall, it'll be the best thing for her. At first, they said she doesn't need them. She's doing really well with the hearing aids, and she doesn't need the implants. And we're like, Oh, awesome! Well, would the hearing get worse, is it going to get worse? You don't know. You can't really determine what's gonna happen in the future with hearing loss, or….Again, I don't want to use the word "disability..." you don't know what's gonna happen. So if that's the case, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. She's gonna get the same love and support. But, overall, would it be the best thing for her. Cause, you know, if the hearing aids are not doing their job currently, you're not going to want her to have the hearing aids. You're doing an injustice to her. As a parent, you know, your heart breaks, because…
Yeah, it's scary. Surgery, going under…
Surgery, going under, stuff like that. But she's going to be fine.
People can know, and other parents [can know], it'll get better, no matter how tough [it is].
I'm a member of certain groups on social media, like Facebook, like hearing loss groups.
Okay, so you [can] support each other.
It's sad because a lot of parents that find out, they [are] like, "Oh my, I just found out my daughter was just born, son just [born with] hearing loss." And then, when they see the book, they get excited that this is normal, that kids have to wear hearing aids when they have a hearing loss. In the book, it's like a daily routine.
The daily routine is, you know, she gets up, she puts her "all-betters" in, and then we get her ready for school. And then the weekend hits, there's a little detour in her routine, and she visits the marina. And she communicates with the sea animals via her hearing aids. So I kind of want to show that it's a magical power, communicating with mermaids and dolphins.
That's so sweet.
Yeah, again, when a kid reads it, if they can relate to it and they have hearing aids, hearing loss, or cochlear implants, they'll be like, "Oh, it is a superpower." I dedicate the book to the hearing loss community. I also dedicate the book to Athena's grandparents—they're very, very supportive of Athena and what I do, and her mom, Irena, who is an amazing mom. We're great co-parents.
You and your partner, Irena, you were together when this all [happened]. How did it strengthen or strain your relationship?
Definitely strengthens the co-parenting because, again, at first, you're like, "Oh. Oh, my God," like shocked. But you get to take a step back and you say to yourself, "Well, this is not about you. It's about the kid." I know it hurts and it's not about, what are we gonna do now?
It takes your ego out of it even more cause you have to try even that much harder.
Yeah. I'll tell you what's amazing about my…I don't want to call her an ex, we were never married...my ex-partner, we are like the best of friends. We communicate, and we respect each other. I respect her time, she respects my time. Eight years have gone by, going to be nine, we respect each other's time. When she needs to go away or needs to do something, just give me an FYI, and we make it work. And, of course, I really want to find someone who really understands me as an artist, understands me as a dad, understands the scenario, the situation. That I'm in as a single dad, and that, yeah, I get along with my ex-partner, we're great parents, we co-parent. You might get jealous of that, or envy it, but don't envy it. You should actually adore it.
Most of the time, they'll be like, "Oh, so you're an actor?" They judge a book by its cover. He's out there, actors are very, like...
They need attention. You know how it is [at] the industry events, it's hard to meet people.
Totally. It's like, today, how are you gonna meet someone? Cause now, if you approach someone in a supermarket or you post something you want to post, and they think you're a creep. And I was joking around, like, "I'll catch you on the app!" You know what I'm saying, it's like, you're on the app…but I get it.
When I was first in the dating scene in the '90s, there were the party lines or the phone lines, and you didn't even get to see people. So, of course, it's advanced so much. But it's still, you know, all the filters.
The filter thing, and the angles, this and that, catfishing. What are you looking for? It's simple. For me, it sounds simple. Maybe it's harder than [that]. It's being mentally connected to someone, and then physically connected to someone. When they say, "You can't have your cake and eat it, too," that's bullshit. You can.
Well, Gino, thank you so much. I'm so excited and proud of you for all your work.
Thank you, I'm so proud of you. And I'm glad we kept in touch all this time.