The Hands & Voices Communicator – Spring 2009 – "Darth Vader Takes a Holiday"

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(appeared on front page and continued on page 6)

By Ron S. Doyle, Colorado Families for Hands & Voices

Madeleine is only 22 months old, but I’m terrified of my daughter becoming a teenager. I’m not worried about her deafness—I’m worried about her shopping.

As a toddler, her consumerism is already rampant; she grabs anything within reach, persuades and cajoles with sign language, and when all else fails, she sneaks items into the cart when I’m not looking. I’m used to it. Today, when she drops a little plastic package of blueberries on the grocery store floor, exploding sweet (and bouncy!) antioxidants across the tile, I’m not surprised. I bend down, reach around my 4 month old daughter Lila (strapped to my chest via Baby Bjorn) and start scooping before Madeleine starts eating.

Here I am—stooping, scooping—when I hear a throaty chuckle over my shoulder. “Looks like Mom left the kids with Dad today!” says a thick-nosed man with crinkly eyes, to no one in particular, while squeezing a pair of Roma tomatoes.

Every time I leave the house with my girls, something similar happens. Perhaps we escape the market without destroying merchandise, but rarely do we escape without some form of commentary. These aren’t the usual questions about my daughter’s cochlear implant (“Can she hear us?” or “Is that a Bluetooth headset?”) or questions regarding her hearing, not even the typical involuntary blurts of “how cute!” Instead, the responses are directed at me: heads shake in pity for me, some nod in confused awe, others cast emasculating smirks. It seems fathers aren’t supposed to do what I’m doing and society really wants me to know.

Pop culture often constructs fathers as irresponsible, insensitive, bumbling or just plain mean. We all know the classic lineup of paternal figures: Archie Bunker, Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Darth Vader. When we hear the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child,” why do so many assume that dad is out of town, getting drunk or slaughtering innocent Ewoks?

Fortunately, in the Deaf/deaf community, the “village” adage is a lesson well learned. Fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, therapists, teachers, and countless other professionals with confusing titles all must set aside their preconceived notions of society for the benefit of our children. The village that raises d/hh children sacrifices normal for successful, convenient for content. In the hustle to do what’s right for our kids, social roles start rolling around and box walls come down.

Involved fathers of d/hh children defy stereotypes. They pitch in, confront their emotions, take extended paternity leave, make weekly trips to speech therapy, give baths and read bedtime stories. And some even quit their jobs to care for their daughters—and cook and sew and sing along to “Signing Time” because Rachel Coleman’s voice is a wonderfully infectious disease.

Our children grow up in environments rich with diverse images of what fathers can and perhaps should be. Sons and daughters learn that sometimes boys do cry and men don’t necessarily have to be tough to be strong. Yes, sometimes I get angry, huffing and puffing like Darth Vader, but most days I’m like Darth Vader on vacation.

I can relax because I receive less pressure to “be a man” among folks who understand the challenges of raising a d/hh child. After a year of sign language classes, home visits, trips to the hospital before and after my daughter’s implant surgery, weekly visits to speech therapy, tune ups at the audiologist—not once has this community questioned me about my role as the primary caregiver to my daughter.

When I look into my daughter’s hazel eyes (filled with tears because I won’t let her buy aviator sunglasses) I realize just how soon she’ll wind up in the loony bin we call adolescence. But, when that time comes, and her love for shopping transforms into shopping for love, I am consoled to think she will already know that you don’t always have to buy what pop culture is selling. Unless, of course, you spill it on the floor.

7 responses to “The Hands & Voices Communicator – Spring 2009 – "Darth Vader Takes a Holiday"”

  1. katie

    Great article. I can identify as one who isn’t a mother or married but is expected to be. Society loves to force us into little holes, doesn’t it? I’m glad you have a group that understands….and good luck with that whole adolescence thing. I think you might need it. 😉

  2. Janene

    That was a terrific essay. My hubby is very hands-on/involved with the kids. Many of the dad friends poke fun sometimes and say he’s making them look bad, taking them to b-day parties, dance class, bowling, reading, playing, shopping, etc.

    What a wonderful dad you are–and writer 🙂

  3. Lydia Dishman

    Ron:
    This is a wonderful essay, and a beautiful expression of your love (and concern) for your daughter. My husband has often pointed out the permanent bad place dads are relegated to in books and the media, and I think that more voices like yours are necessary to turn this unfortunate tide.

    I wish I could say not to worry about the shopping thing, but as the mother of one teen girl and one tween girl, all I can say is, “hang on to that credit card, and maybe get a dgital loop of yourself signing – NO.”

  4. Rachel W.

    Late to this party Ron, but it takes a deft voice and talent to present a heavy topic with such a light voice. I was raised by a very traditional mother and gender blind father who is still perplexed that society seems determined to cram me into a pink shaped box. I’m guessing that your daughters will surprise you with some of their long term choices. That said, who wouldn’t cry if refused a pair of aviator sunglasses? I’m misting up already 🙂

  5. Ron S. Doyle

    Thank you for all the kind words!

  6. Paula Rosenthal

    The deaf and hard of hearing community recognizes that parents are essential to the upbringing and success of their children. I think this is why you feel such acceptance within that group of professionals and families. What a lovely tribute to fatherhood and the impact you can make on your child. Beautiful.

  7. James Cochran

    What a great essay! I also am amazed at what little regard society gives to fathers in the raising of their children especially when dads have as much impact on their kids as moms do whether they are present or not. I have never been afraid to take my kids for a offspring/daddy day out even when they were in diapers and all their meals came in liquid form. Seems that the snorted comments tend to come from older men; father’s from the previous generation (and older women too). I think the origin is that they had a different idea/practice on fathering. I once met a man who stated that he didn’t even touch his children until they were 10. Anyway, I don’t see myself as a Darth Vader, but more of a Han Solo, only without the dashing good looks, air of rogue mystery, super hair side kick (unless you count the cat), and hot rod space ship. Other than that, we’re practically the same person.

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