At a fast and testimony meeting, a father leads the way to the pulpit with a cane in his hand. His three sons follow, their hands on each other’s shoulders and canes in hand, too. They each stand and bear a heartfelt testimony of the divinity of the Savior and the promise of eternal families. But, just eight years ago, these four men were not members of the same family.
In 2010, blind lawyer and former White House staffer Ollie Cantos never thought he would be the father of triplets—until he met Steven, Nick, and Leo. The initial visit became the beginning of a family.
Before the boys met Ollie, they were bullied, teased, and friendless. Because of their blindness, their biological mother mostly kept them at home, which significantly limited their interaction with others to the point where they hardly ever went outside except to go to school. Born in Colombia but raised in the United States since 2002 by their biological mother and grandmother, life at home for the triplets was challenging in many respects.
However, things started to change after they met Ollie, who was also born blind. Ollie introduced the boys to a whole new world of possibility. He passed down his parents' philosophy that they could accomplish anything they set their minds to, showing the boys how to shatter limits just as he was able to do with the loving guidance of his family. Little could any of them know the bond that Ollie shared with the three would lead to history being made in unanticipated ways.
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As the boys gained new skills, learned about their potential, and grew closer to Ollie, their original struggles gave way to moments they will all cherish. In fact, the boys recently made scouting history by becoming the first blind triplets to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. In 2016, Ollie became the proud legal guardian of Steven, Nick, and Leo, and the family of four now looks forward to becoming sealed in the Washington D.C. Temple once it reopens in two years. Their story of resilience and love has inspired millions throughout the world.
“This Is My Dad”
Though now at the U.S. Department of Education, Ollie was a lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. when he first met the triplets. He had been mentoring both kids and adults with and without disabilities for many years. In 2010, a man in his ward, who worked for a social services agency, introduced Ollie to 10-year-old triplet brothers, who were bullied at school and had never met another blind person like them. From the very first meeting, Ollie felt something different about these boys.
“It’s really hard to describe. I just felt more protective of them,” Ollie says. Before he met the boys, Ollie was given some tips to prepare him. “They said Leo was a friendly guy and he smiles all the time. Steven was very serious, the analytical type. Nick was the toughest one, who actually harbored the greatest bitterness about everything,” Ollie remembers.
When Ollie came to their apartment, Nick was the only one of the three who was still awake. At first, Nick did not believe that Ollie was also blind. He put Ollie’s hand on the Bible, Genesis chapter one, to have him prove he could read Braille. After reading from the scriptures, Ollie also wrote a note to Nick, using the slate and stylus that he typically carried in his pocket to write Braille, saying, “Dear Nick, You are awesome! Your Buddy, Mr. Ollie.” This initial visit was intended to last 15 minutes but instead lasted three-and-a-half hours.
When he first met the triplets altogether the very next day, Ollie broke the ice by showing the boys how to use a computer to watch movies that were accompanied by verbal descriptions of visual elements and introduced them to a childhood experience many take for granted, the fun of shoulder rides. “Pretty scary at first, but I did trust him a little bit after that,” Steven says.
Leo even showed Ollie his musical keyboard and guitar. “He liked it, but he later taught me something better," Leo says. "That was the best day I will remember for the rest of my life."
Ollie started visiting regularly and taught the boys how to do their school work, use their canes more confidently, get their own laundry done, etc. “The shared experiences that we had and the experiences relating to blindness that we had in common really enabled me to feel close to them from the beginning,” Ollie says.
One day when Ollie took Leo to get soda at the store, the woman behind the counter asked if Leo was his son. Before Ollie got a chance to explain, Leo put his arm around Ollie’s shoulder and said, “Yeah, that’s my dad.”
“Just when he said that it felt like something I had always known somehow,” Ollie says. After they left the store, Ollie bent down to Leo’s level, faced him, and put both of his hands on Leo’s shoulders. “Leo, do you know what that means?” Ollie asked. Then Leo said something that Ollie will never forget. “You take us places, you protect us, and you do homework with us," he said, adding with a shoulder shrug, "sounds like a dad to me.”
Ollie said every time when they were together, the idea of adopting them just felt right. “We know by testimony we were foreordained to be a family. There is nothing that will change our minds with that. Ever. Had I not come into the Church I would never have been in their lives, and they would not have been in mine. I just can’t imagine my life without them. It is impossible,” Ollie says.