Hearing in a Deaf World
Hearing in a Deaf World
Neither of my parents was born deaf but they were born before significant advances in modern medicine. My dad lost his hearing when he was five years old - a side effect of a bad case of the mumps. My mom lost her hearing to spinal meningitis as an infant. Since neither parent was born deaf, it was genetically impossible for them to have deaf children, which answers another question I hear quite often - how can you hear when your parents are deaf?
My grandmother – Dad’s mother- told stories about my father losing his hearing in “the old days.” One story that stands out in my mind is a story about a family friend that told my Grandma that it was her fault my father lost his hearing because she made him “too smart” – tears welling up in her eyes as she added that my dad spoke five languages by the time he contracted those mumps. She told me that she tried everything people told her to do to try to get my father’s hearing back – including taking him on a plane ride to try to “pop” his ears. She always said, “I tried everything, but nothing worked.” I’m sure she felt burdened by this for her entire life, even though she raised an amazing human being. Dad really was a brilliant man – hearing loss aside. He read everything he could get his hands on to learn and grow. When he felt that we would benefit from something he read in a book, magazine, or newspaper, he would leave the article for us with a note to read it. He never had an enemy and was loved by everyone he met. My friends loved talking to him and they thought he was fun because he was quick witted and because he taught them curse words in sign language. Unfortunately, I believe that his deafness in a time when deafness was misunderstood and discriminated against limited his true potential. He always made the best of it though and did what he could, whenever he could.
My dad was an advocate for deaf rights. I recall him traveling to Washington D.C. when Regulation 504, which provided for educational protections for handicapped students (including the deaf), was being discussed. He came home with a lapel pin adorned with a picture of hands signing the word “more” and the number 504 underneath. He was proud to tell me about the protests and meetings he attended at Gallaudet University – the country’s only college for the deaf. Dad also taught a deaf culture adult education class for a semester or two. He would relate stories from that class - always beaming because he loved being able to enlighten others about deaf culture. I was so proud of him and I loved his passion for championing on behalf of his people.
My mom was a little different. She never finished high school and she never had many aspirations outside of being the best mom she could in a world which made it difficult for her to do so. She worked outside the home for a time as a Keypunch Operator, but it was only a job to her. I don’t believe that she was interested in deaf activism like my father was, perhaps because she was cynical given her own experiences. She battled breast and ovarian cancer for upwards of 30 years and she fought like a champ. She rarely complained and provided me with inspiration and advice as I navigated my way through my own breast cancer battle, even though she was no longer physically with me. I would hear her voice saying, “You have to try to be strong and you have to fight.” She was the strongest woman I ever knew and she fought like no other. I was always proud of her for her strength throughout the years in the face of adversity, but never more than when I was able to stand in her shoes and understand how difficult it must have been for her, particularly without her husband by her side for much of it. I had no idea how strong she really was, until I realized how fragile I was.
Hearing in a Deaf World. The Series.
More to follow.