We were all amazed and impressed the first time that we saw Barry Abernathy pick the banjo. Born with only a thumb and stub of an index finger on his left hand, he reached over the top of the banjo neck and played expertly. If you closed your eyes and listened, you would have never known he was born with what some might call a disability.
Growing up singing in church from shape note hymnals, Abernathy developed a deep affection for music. “I first fell in love with the banjo after hearing Doyle Lawson’s Rock My Soul album. After that, I became enthralled with Earl Scruggs, and the list goes on and on from there. I have had to adapt what I hear other players doing.I definitely don’t have the physical abilities that others have, but I have learned that a melody can be found on an instrument without getting too awful complicated and that has been enough for me.”
And he has made his way into a career as a professional musician, working with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver before helping form Mountain Heart in 1998.
Well, again this remarkable man has forged ahead with another leap of faith. This time, the 50 year old and his wife, Beverly, (who already raised two teenage daughters), have adopted siblings, five-year-old Tyler and six-year-old Zoey. What makes it even more incredible is the fact that little Tyler has the same birth defect as Abernathy.
The Appalachian Road Show banjoist explained. “My daughter, Chassady, worked in a local daycare facility her last couple of years in high school. She met these children (Tyler and Zoey) in June 2019 when the state placed them in a foster home here in our county.”
“She said, ‘The little boy, his hand is just like yours,’” the two-time Grammy nominee shared.
“I am 50 years old, and my wife and I have never even thought about fostering or adopting. However, when these children came into our lives, we both felt God’s calling to try and take them into our family. Tyler has a left hand exactly like mine. I’ve never seen anyone else’s exactly like mine. Also, neither child had even known a dad. We were their ninth placement in 10 months.”
A week later, the professional musician drove from his home in Georgia to Nashville for a performance. On his way out of town, he felt a strong urge to stop by the day care and visit these special kids. The moment he walked in the door, he spotted Tyler.
“He pats his little buddy on the head and said, ‘Hey look, that’s my dad!’ He literally thought because our hands were alike, that I was his dad,” Abernathy recalled with a chuckle.
Tyler, then 4, ran to Abernathy, jumped into his arms, and hugged him.
“You’re my dad!” he happily proclaimed.
“Do you need me to be?” Abernathy pondered.
“You’re my dad,” Tyler affirmed confidently.
As Abernathy drove to his gig, he argued with God over such a life altering decision.
“I said, ‘I’m 50 years old,’” he said. “I was like, I can’t raise another two kids.”
He called his wife and was surprised to learn she had also visited the children that same afternoon.
“She said, ‘We’re gonna have to take these kids,’” and by the time he reached Nashville, the couple had decided that they should add two more to their Elijay, GA, home.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you want us to do this, you need to make a way.”
Two days later, they learned that the children’s foster family could no longer care for them. The brother and sister were to become wards of the state.
“We thought we were done,” Banjo Ab explained. “But in a matter of days, we had two more kids.”
Tyler and Zoey have been living with the Abernathys ever since. Their adoption was finalized on April 20 through a video conference.
“We just tried to follow what we thought was right. It was really all God.”
The family celebrated with specially made t-shirts that read: “Abernathys Completed. Matthew 18:5, 4.20.2020. The scripture verse says it all, “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. KJV”
The parenting has begun. “They both came from a home without a lot of teaching. So even though Tyler is interested big time in music, the basics are what seem needful early on. He does sit and beat on his guitar in time with me.”
Zoey has transformed her attitude. “She knows that she’s secure now,’ her new dad explained. “It’s like when she got adopted, she changed.”
Abernathy expects some difficulties for the siblings after experiencing such trauma in their young lives, but he hopes his family can give them the kind of warm and loving home they deserve.
“I don’t see how anything like that could be a coincidence,” he stated. “We just followed our heart on that, we felt like it was God and it was fate that put us together with these children…
“There’s no doubt it was meant to be. We are so happy they are part of the Abernathy family now.”
His advice to others with disabilities, “I would tell anyone that has a dream or a goal, to trust God, and abide in the calling that he has given you. Even if you have the cards stacked against you, it’s amazing what can be done when you stay focused and determined. Be the best you that you can be. That will always be sufficient. Be an inspiration to someone else’s life. What greater reward could there be on this earth.”
And that is just what Barry Abernathy is, an inspiration to us all.