I became a groupie. And it was for theatre. Me, a self professed loather of theatre. People prancing about on stage and overacting has never been my thing, I often say, only half joking, that if it doesn’t have a ball it is not worth watching. But Jodee Mundy changed that. Her show, Personal, about her life as the one hearing person in a Deaf family, enthralled me so much that I even flew to Sydney with my wife to watch it again at the Sydney Opera House. It enthralled me because it was brilliant and clever. I think it also had such a huge impact on me because it hit very close to home.
For those that do not know me, I and my wife are both deaf. We have three strapping lads aged 21, 18 and 17 who are all hearing. Jodee’s theatre performance got me thinking about their life. It got me thinking about the challenges that they have had to face growing up with deaf parents. The challenge, as I see it, is not so much the deaf parents but the attitude of others.
You see my kids are easygoing. They believe people are people and that we are, or at least should be, all equal. I mean my middle child rushed to enrol to vote so that he could vote yes to same sex marriage. My eldest wouldn’t shut up about it on Facebook insisting that he could not understand objections to it. I am very proud of them for the young men that they have become.
One of the things that Jodee’s play highlighted to me was that she became a bit of a sideshow freak to others. At six years old she was interviewed by her teacher in front of her class about how her deaf mum and dad adapted to life in a hearing world. She was asked how they used the phone, how they watched TV, how they heard people at the door and so on. She then had to explain this to everyone. She was just 6 and did a very passable job.
It made me wonder how their teachers, their peers, their soccer coaches and the like all reacted when they had to, and still have to, disclose that their parents are deaf.
The point is; how many other kids are asked questions like that about their mum and dad? It made me wonder how my kids coped having to disclose that their mum and dad were deaf. It made me wonder how their teachers, their peers, their soccer coaches and the like all reacted when they had to, and still have to, disclose that their parents are deaf. I mean, even now, when there are parent teacher interviews they will ask the school to book interpreters on our behalf. It is a lot for a kid to have to deal with.
It must be painful for them to sometimes watch us struggle in a hearing world. I mean I am a shocker. I have spent my entire life bluffing as have many of us. I’ve seen them cringe when I have misunderstood a shop assistants question or not heard it at all.
I’ll be fiddling around in my wallet and Jo Checkoutperson is asking me if I want a receipt or not. Of course I don’t answer. Tyler will be with me and probably as embarrassed as hell has said “He is Deaf”. That explains a lot of the wide eyed and weird looks I get when I finally make eye contact with Jo Checkoutperson. It must be mortifying for my kids sometimes.
It must have been hard for him to have to stand back and often watch us muck up.
The eldest, Aden, is a bit of a control freak. When he was younger he would try to save us all the time. Many a time we had to tell him not to interfere. We didn’t want him taking on responsibilities that a little kid should not have. Sometimes he would jump in and try to communicate for us. It must have hurt that instead of thanking him we would tell him to back off. That it wasn’t his responsibility. We would emphasise to him that as adults we needed to deal with things. If we made a mistake it was our problem not his. It must have been hard for him to have to stand back and often watch us muck up.
As parents Marnie and I wanted our kids to be kids. We never wanted them to interpret for us unless it was absolutely needed. This was especially so when they were young, As they got older we asked them to help a little for some things. Like those voice calls to our mobile or a call to someone just quickly to let them know we are on our way.
For example the phone rings – “Fin can you take that?” Fin does and chats away to whomever it is. Walks around the room not telling us anything while he chats away. Meanwhile Marnie and I are looking frantically on wondering what’s happening. He hangs up and we enquire what it’s about. ” Just some telemarketer.” will be his answer. It is often anti-climax and hugely disempowering if you are deaf. We try to ask for this assistance as little as we can but the lads are always willing to help if we do. (Mind you we sometimes get teenage attitude when we do ask 😀 )
And I wonder if they hear hurtful things said about us by others. You know comments like, “Deaf, parents, how sad.” I know my kids have got angry more than once playing soccer with me because someone will have said something nasty behind my back knowing I cannot hear them. I have had to admonish people for trying to pass personal messages to me through my kids rather than communicating to me themselves. I wonder how many kids have teased them about having deaf parents and they have just had to turn the other cheek. That is the kind of world that we live in. It is not always pretty and people, especially other kids, can be cruel,
Possibly I will never know. My kids are not Jodee Mundy. They don’t have the capacity, nor the desire, to lay their souls bare like she did. What my kids are is top blokes. They all men now. They have a great sense of social justice. They accept people for who they are. They abhor discrimination. They despise racism. They believe in equal rights. They take everything in their stride. In short they are well adapted and brilliant young men.
I and Marnie are immensely proud of what they have become. We are especially pround of their ability to see the funny side of life. A sense of humour is a must, especially living with me. This sense of humour is best demonstrated by this video made by Aden about dumb things people ask him about having Deaf parents .. Enjoy, especially the last part.
To Aden, Finlay and Tyler, even though the first two are unbearable slobs, thank you for who a you are. Don’t change!