Thursday, March 01, 2007

My Father

I have spent a lot of time thinking about some things in my life lately. I don't know if it is because bringing Madeline home has had such a profound impact on my life or if being home has allowed me to have time to think without worrying about work and such. There are several things I have wanted to write about. My father is one of those things.

My father was born almost 65 years ago. He is the fourth child, third son in his family. His mother was a nurse. His father was the editor of the sports section of a major NY newspaper. By all accounts he was born into a very good family. They had a big house on the corner of a beautiful street. The house even had a ballroom! His parents and his siblings loved this new baby completely.

Not long after my father was born his mother began to realize that her baby did not react to sound the way her other children had. He did react to very loud noises only. His parents realized their baby was hearing impaired, but could hear. Before my father had his first birthday he had Scarlet Fever. This robbed him of his remaining hearing. By his first birthday my father was deaf. (For those of you who do not know there is a difference between being hearing impaired and deaf. Hearing impaired people have some residual hearing and may benefit from the use of an amplification device such as a hearing aid. People who are deaf have no hearing at all.)

My father has nerve deafness. This means his deafness is due to the failure of the auditory nerve. For him the hair like nerve cells in his cochlea do not work. He is unable to hear. The correct term is called neural hearing loss. It is permanent.

Growing up in the 40s and 50s with deafness was very different than for children today. Since my grandparents were more well off than many others, my father's ability to get therapy was much improved. My grandparents had to make some tough decisions. They had to decide whether to raise their son in a hearing or nonhearing world. There is a significant difference in the two. My grandparents chose the hearing world. This was probably the biggest decision they ever made.

From the time my father was diagnosed until he graduated from college he received Speech/Language services 6 days a week from Syracuse University. During his school years his parents drove him to SU every afternoon. The services he received were not common back then. My father learned to lip read. He learned proper pronunciation. His doctors and his family worked tirelessly. They practiced with him, corrected him, and loved him through it all. In high school he would go from football practice after school to SU and then home to do homework. Due to his hard work my father has perfect speech. Some people who meet him don't believe he is deaf.

The fact that my father speaks and is a lip reader isolated him from the Deaf Community at large. Historically, the deaf community is against all of this. They believe American Sign Language or ASL is the way deaf people should communicate. So, the decisions my father made later in life caused him to move even farther from the deaf community.

In 1964 my parents married. My mother is hearing. She does not know sign language. My father's parents sat my mother down prior to their marriage and had a long talk with her. They wanted to make sure she understood what she was in for marrying a deaf man. They explained to her that she MUST correct him when he mispronounces something. She must have patience with him when he needs to have something repeated several times and in several different ways. They explained that if she allowed him to go around making correctable mistakes she was doing a disservice to him. She understood and accepted it all.

In the late 1980's my parents moved to Kansas. This move was very unexpected and out of character for my parents. They took a leap of faith. Little did they know their lives would be forever changed by making this move. My parents moved to Olathe, Kansas. This is a little town right outside Kansas City, Kansas. Olathe is also home to a very large and distinguished school for the deaf. KC, MO is home to one of the most progressive University hospitals who was looking for candidates to receive cochlear implants.

My senior year in college a miracle happened. My father received a cochlear implant. His life changed. My mother's life changed. Even my life changed. That year my father heard ababy cry for the very first time. My father heard my voice for the first time. I talked to my father without having to look eye to eye for the first time. He heard my sister talk back to him as she left, as an angry teen, out of the kitchen for the first time. He heard the dog bark. He heard the doorbell ring. He heard a bird chirp. He finally understood why we always had the radio on in the car. He said he never realized how noisy the interstate was.

My father's decision to receive a cochlear implant is still an amazing gift we are all thankful for each and every day. Now, when he does not have his processor on he can not hear at all. When the batteries need to be changed, he is "off the air". When he works out in the yard and is hot and sweaty, he can't wear his processor. I imagine there are times when he retreats back to the silence. That is all he knew for so very long.

As my father ages, I have to tell you, his cochlear implant is even more precious. As his eyesight worsens with age his ability to read lips decreases. His deafness certainly would have been much more challenging for him as he gets older if not for this miraculous technology.

The deaf community... the staunch ASL fanatics, do not like cochlear implants. They really are adamant about this. So, the decision my grandparents made all of those years ago to raise their deaf son in the hearing world was so profound. They had no idea that one day there would be technology out there that allowed their deaf son to hear. The choices they made all of those years ago prepared him for his implant later in life.

One of the greatest gifts is the fact that my grandmother lived to know her son was able to hear. This was the single most emotional experience in her life. Her handicapped son, who she dedicated her life to helping, could hear. Not many parents of handicapped children have that gift. She saw this miracle unfold.


A little about my father....
My father graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor's Degree in Speech Pathology. He earned a Masters Degree from Ithaca College. He was the first deaf Speech Pathologist is two school districts in two different states. My father is the most intelligent human being I have ever met. He is a writer, teacher, parent and husband. He is a miracle.


Mommy Spice said...

I think of the scripture, "All the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be." God had this plan for your grandparent's and father's life. What an amazing story.

Mary said...

What a perfect quote! Thanks for sharing!

kris said...

I am crying over here... what an INCREDIBLE, moving story... and your love for him is so apparent in your writing. Reading about his first "hearing" experience was amazing. We take so much for granted. Thank you for posting such a heartfelt, personal story.
I am so glad to have stumbled upon your blog.

B-squared said...

What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing!

FunkyMonkeyJunk said...

I just happened upon your blog and was so touched by this story. What an amazing set of grandparents you have to be so forward thinking and how courageous of your father. A good friend of mine lost his hearing in college from untreated mono. He lost his hearing suddenly and was completely deaf. The mourning period for him (his senior year) was the most difficult thing he ever experienced, but his cochlear implant several years later helped him regain his life. I am always amazed at the amount of courage it took him to go through that, but today he is truly an amazing man BECAUSE of it. What so many look at as a tragedy, to him is a blessing. It helped him refocus on the important stuff in life.

Thank you for sharing such a sweet and personal story.

Pat & Michelle said...

What a beautiful, inspiring story - I have an aunt and uncle who are both deaf (married to each other). My aunt was raised like your father, my uncle in the ASL world - it has been a challenge.

Julie said...

That is an absolutly fantastic "true" story, your dad should be in reader's digest!!!!!

Kennedy's mom said...

Mary, what an amazing story! And hearing it from a daughter's perspective is so moving. I e-mailed my friend Sandra right may know her from
Her Jazzie was adopted from China and had a cochlear implant. Another amazing story. All the very best to you!

mpeffly1 said...

Amazing! I am sitting here with tears, knowing first hand what it means to receive the miracle that is the cochlear implant!