I came home one day in 1995 to see my father crouched over the coffee table. On the table he had some documents. His hands were clasped under his chin. To my concern I noticed his eyes were slightly hazy. He is not an emotional man so this was a worry for me. I stole a glance at the documents on the table. They were the deeds to the house. That morning he and my mother had paid the last instalment on the house. They now owned their house. And here lies the story.
Our family arrived in Australia from England in 1966 on an assisted passage. For a time we were based in Wollongong at the migrant hostel there. Apparently the flies drove my mother to distraction so we moved to South Australia after my father had secured work as a Welder at Holden’s in Elizabeth. We were based, for a time, at the migrant hostel on Grand Junction Road and then a small flat bordering a park in Para Hills. Being only two years old at the time my memories are vague. I recall walking to Woolworths with my mother to food shop or swinging or sliding in the park as she did the washing. She would check on me as she hung out the washing by looking over the fence. At some stage they bought a house – I have no recall of this.
My father and mother both had to work to make ends meet. My mother worked first at the TAB office and then at Wiggins Teape as a clerk. My father worked shift work at Holdens. Eventually after 12 years he tired of the shift work and set up a business as a window cleaner. He charged $3 per house. Both my parents worked in these menial jobs for over 30 years. Ironically they both ended up working at the Adelaide Casino as Environmental Officers – A fancy name for cleaners. My father retired there and my mother ended her career as a clerk with Australia Post.
They are a classic migrant story. They never earned big money but they made ends meet. My sister and I never went without. We went on holidays, once even back to England in 1975. How they managed it I do not know. But they did. In 1995 as my father crouched over the coffee table gazing over the deeds for the house that he and my mother now owned he would have been looking back to that day we all boarded the plane for Australia for a better life. He would have been remembering the good times and the bad times. Most of all he would have been proud. Proud because the papers on the table were the sum of all his and my mothers hard work, is it any wonder his eyes were hazy!
It is a truism that our parents mould us. I look back at the person that I am and I reaslise that I am who I am today mostly due to my parents. My parent’s took nor gave any crap. Life was tough, you got down to the nitty-gritty and got on with it. They gave me no sympathy for being deaf. They did not molly-coddle me or protect me, their philosophy is and was – get on with it and do what you have to do.
When I wagged school for 14 days in a row they did not use my deafness as an excuse. I was 14 at the time. I was struggling with my deafness, in denial, refusing to wear hearing aids – hell I would feed my hearing aid to the dog so he would chew up the ear moulds. Not surprisingly my school work suffered. It was tough for everyone but my parents kept me grounded. Bad behaviour was bad behaviour and that was that.
I realise now that they actually understood more than I give them credit for. Shortly after this episode I confessed to my parents that I was really struggling. I told them I thought I should go to a school for the Deaf. This was probably my first step to acceptance of my deafness, maybe even theirs too. I was so naive at the time I thought I was going to a home where I would have to live with all the other deaf kids. I had visions of the movie The Miracle Worker about Helen Keller. Old buildings full of rats. Big cast iron gates where all the kids were locked in. A place where you only went home for holidays. Looking back I was in need of a lot of help.
And my parents helped by keeping me grounded. They just dealt with the issues that arose and did what needed to be done. They enrolled me in the local school that had a unit for deaf kids and pretty much normalised my life as much as possible. They have no time for the arty farty, no time for fancy counsellors – Just get on with it and do what you need to do without fuss.
Of course they stressed and they worried about me. But they tried not to show it openly. I am sure that when I was not around they talked and shared their worries with each other and their friends. But to me they just made me get on with it. No excuses for poor school results – and there were some – not because of my deafness but because I hated being a student – I did the bare minimum. But they were cluey enough to know that when my school work wasn’t up to scratch it was because of my ATTITUDE and not because I was deaf. I am thankful that they were intuitive enough to know the difference because they have passed this intuition on to me.
I think the greatest thing they gave me was balance. They knew that my deafness was an issue but they didn’t want to make it my whole life. When my deafness needed to be addressed they addressed it. When my behaviour was bad they focused on the behaviour. They did not seek excuses, they just did what they needed to do. They either found me a school that would help or they disciplined me because my attitude sucked. They never once told me that there was anything I couldn’t do. They just told me to get on with it.
And I think that’s what I do. I think that’s my attitude. I am an advocate. I advocate for disability rights. As an advocate I don’t look for excuses. If someone needs technology to get access, well give it to them. If a person needs interpreters to access education, well do it. We need captions for the cinema – well do it. I, like many, am not interested in petty excuses. We all know, for example, the cinema industry can afford to do a lot more than they are doing now, so they should just do it. My parents could see the difference between an issue and an attitude. I like to think I can too.
As a parent I have a child with a disability. He must attend hospital weekly for an infusion of an enzyme that helps, at least in part, to correct his condition. My wife and I accept no crap from him either. He can get stiff joints from his condition. To help himself he has to do exercises. If he doesn’t because he cant be bothered we address his attitude rather than look for excuses. He has to have a needle inserted in his arm every week. It can be painful. We have encouraged him to go to the room on his own and get it done. Our reasoning is that it is something he has to do for the rest of his life so why not start accepting it now. And he does. We are proud of him. It’s hard to sit in the waiting area as he goes off on his own .. but he is just doing what he has to do. He comes back, needle in arm picks up the Wii controller and gets on with it!
I wish the world was more like my parents. Just did what needed to be done and got on with it!