(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.