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I saw them watching me. Their small eyes taking in the way I was faking it. How I laughed at the jokes I didn’t hear. The way I nodded neutrally when I could not understand what someone was saying, careful not to agree or disagree just in case they were saying something controversial. The times I avoided certain people that I had trouble hearing. Or sat by myself at a party because I was afraid my hearing loss would be discovered.
My father did all these things. That is how I learned them. And now I was teaching my children the same tactics. Avoid. Deny. Hide. This had to change.
Our hearing loss is genetic, so I may have passed it onto my children. While I hope they will not develop hearing issues — it doesn’t manifest until adulthood — I didn’t want them to feel the same embarrassment and discomfort about hearing loss that my father had and I seemed to as well. I needed to stop the cycle of shame.
When I was growing up, my father’s hearing loss was an unmentionable. I don’t recall a time when he didn’t have hearing problems, but I do remember the progression from no hearing aids to one to two. And the long sideburns he wore well past the time it was in style to conceal them. He did his best to hide it at home, at work and with friends, who slowly stopped making plans with him.
Our family was not supportive. My mother sometimes muttered things behind his back to my sister and I, telling us not to worry about what she said because he couldn’t hear us. I remember thinking this was odd, but I was a young child and content enough to play whispering games with my mother if that was what she wanted. I don’t think my father heard what we were saying, but I am sure he felt the disrespect that this behavior communicated. And we were the ones who were supposed to love him.
Maybe that is why he didn’t count on us for help. He never asked us to repeat what somebody said or rearrange the seating at the dinner table to make a place where he could better hear. He didn’t teach us to look at him when we spoke to him so he could lip-read or to speak slowly and clearly. Perhaps he did not know these tricks — the ones I use in my life today to communicate with my family.
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