The Lives Of Blind Brothers Changed When 'Dad' Came Knocking

Originally published on February 21, 2014 9:29 am

Leo, Nick and Steven Argel are 14-year-old triplets, and they've all been blind since birth.

Growing up in Arlington, Va., their single mother had a hard time caring for them.

"Every day was like: Wake up, go to school, come back home, and then you stay there for the rest of the day," Leo recalls in a visit to StoryCorps. "There were certain things that I wish I could do, like I wish I could go out and play in the snow like everyone else. 'Cause I've heard kids through the window — we could hear that they were having fun. The only thing I remember, when I was 7, we went to McDonald's and we went to the park. We rarely went outside."

Nick says it got so bad he wanted to die. "But it was one of the decisions I'm glad I did not make because I would have missed out on everything."

That all changed when they were 10. Ollie Cantos, a blind man in their community, got word of their situation and knocked on their door. He's now in the process of formally adopting the brothers.

At first, the brothers didn't believe Cantos was blind, so he demonstrated that he could read braille.

"It just made me feel like I had a person that I could trust," Nick says. "Because I didn't trust anyone."

Cantos, like the brothers, had a hard time growing up. He says he didn't have any friends, and people made fun of him.

He taught the brothers how to use their canes better by taking them to the corner store. One day, the store clerk asked Cantos if Leo was his son. Before Cantos could answer, Leo put his arm around him and said, "Yeah, that's my dad."

As Cantos remembers it, Leo said, "Well, you take us places, you protect us, you help us with our homework and make us happy. Sounds like a dad to me."

"Whenever I hear you call me 'Dad,' " Cantos tells the three brothers, "it's the highest compliment to me. You three used to be in the same situation that I was, and to see you come out of that and to be the way you guys are now, it's impossible to describe how grateful I am that I get to be your dad."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's Friday, and it's time now for StoryCorps, the project recording conversations between loved ones. Today, we hear from three brothers in Arlington, Va. Leo, Nick and Steven are 14-year-old triplets. They've all been blind since birth. Growing up, their single mother had a hard time caring for them. She rarely allowed them outside their home.

But when they were 10 years old, Ollie Cantos, another blind man who lived nearby, got word of their situation and knocked on their door. Ollie begins the conversation.

OLLIE CANTOS: I had a lot of trouble growing up because I didn't have any friends, really. I was made fun of a lot. There'd be people who would put their hands in front of my face and say, how many fingers am I holding up?

NICK: Same thing.

CANTOS: Same thing with you guys, right?

LEO: Yes.

STEVEN: Yes.

CANTOS: So what were things like growing up?

LEO: Well, every day was like: Wake up, go to school, come back home, and you stay there for the rest of the day. There were certain things that I wish I could do, like go out and play in the snow like everyone else. 'Cause I heard kids through the window, we could hear that they were having fun. The only thing I remember, when I was seven, we went to McDonald's and we went to the park. We rarely went outside.

NICK: It was getting so bad that I wanted to die. But it was one of the decisions that I'm glad I did not make because then I would have missed out on everything.

CANTOS: Do you remember that night when I first arrived?

NICK: Oh, yeah. I do. 'Cause I certainly didn't know that there were other blind people except me and my brothers.

CANTOS: You didn't believe me that I'm really blind so I'm like, well, yeah, here's my cane. And then you left and came back with a book, and you put my hand on it and it was the Bible. You couldn't believe that I actually read Braille.

NICK: It just made me feel like I had a person that I could trust - because I didn't trust anyone.

CANTOS: I took you guys individually to learn how to use your canes better, and we'd just go to the corner store. And I remember Leo, one day the store clerk, she said, is that your son? And you know, before I could answer you put your arm around me and you said, yeah, that's my dad. And I said, do you know that that means?

You said, well, you take us places, you protect us, you help us with our homework. Sounds like a dad to me. Whenever I hear you call me dad, it's the highest compliment to me. You three used to be in the same situation that I was, and to see you come out of that and to be the way you guys are now, it's impossible to describe how grateful I am that I get to be your dad.

GREENE: That's Ollie Cantos with 14-year-old triplets Leo, Nick and Steven at StoryCorps in Arlington, Va. Ollie is in the process now of formerly adopting the brothers. All StoryCorps interviews are archived at the Library of Congress. Subscribe to the StoryCorps podcast at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.