Monday, January 30, 2006

My Father, The Hero

This past weekend I went home to administer a language test to my sister (which took far longer than it should have, because when asked to create sentences with words that I gave her, she came up with smart-ass responses like "Let us both go to the matinee!") My ulterior motive for going home was to speak with my dad about stuttering. After speaking with Dr. Melnick, he mentioned to me that my father would be a good resource for dealing with the mental aspects of how to not let stuttering stop you, despite the fact that he had received no therapy. I had never really thought about it, I always made sure to mention "Well, my father also stutters" when I explain my stuttering to people, but I had never even thought about the fact that we never once spoke about it.

I had always viewed my father as someone who was very successful. He is a great father and provides very well for our family, is a great manager of people and the towns he works for, and has a good group of golfing buddies he spends a lot of time with. He was an unbelievable athlete in high school and college and though he was never drafted, certainly had the chance to play baseball on the professional level. If you've spent any amount of time with me, I've probably told many of his stories that he's told me: how he played with Jerry Remy in Little League, and after Remy moved they were rivals in high school, each was the best player in their respective towns (I never know if I have the pitching line right, but I think my dad threw a 3-hit shutout of Somerset, and the three hits were three triples by The RemDawg). He lost a Cape Cod League playoff game 1-0 against future major league closer Jeff Reardon, and he was still on the Wareham Gatemen's all-time ERA list until future Cy Young winner Barry Zito knocked him out of the top-ten a few years ago. He was thrown out of basketball practice by then-assistant head coach (now head coach and all-time great) Jim Boeheim while at Syracuse (he used to watch the practices at Providence College and when he went to graduate school in Syracuse, he assumed he could do the same, but when Boeheim saw him in the stands he yelled "Hey, get the fuck out of here!"). When he played high school basketball, the opposing coach at Westport High School was Jim Calhoun, now of UConn fame. There are countless stories that I tell all of my friends, just to say that my dad had done those things. I'm sure people get sick of them because I tell them so much. It sounds like I'm bragging--and I am--but I'm very proud of my father and maybe deep down I wish I had my own sports heroics, but since I don't I try to live vicariously through his memories. He's pitched in Fenway Park and played basketball in the Boston Garden, both as part of high school all-star games. Part of me feels like because I gave up on sports so quickly when I was younger that I disappointed him. I know that isn't true and he's told me that a hundred times, but I still wish I had my own sports stories to tell (at least ones that don't involve me breaking my nose at baseball camp).

What has always amazed me about my father is that despite the fact that he stutters, he has a job where he is in the public eye, at least on the local level. He is in the newspaper routinely, his job interviews are on television, and gets recognized by people he doesn't even know all over Plymouth (including police officers who let him out of speeding tickets, a luxury I don't have). If Plymouth became a city and there was an election for mayor (which has been debated), my dad would win in a landslide, and that isn't an exaggeration (though he has said he has no interest in being mayor: "Instead of golfing on Saturday mornings, I'd be cutting a ribbon at some convention center.") I had always assumed that because of his job and success in that job, he had conquered his fear of speaking, something I have yet to do.

In our 23 years as father-and-son, my dad and I never once had a conversation about the part of our lives that connects us the most. Because I have spent so much time around him, I tend not to notice it after a while, but he doesn't stutter as often or as seriously as I do when I have a bad block. After my conversation with Dr. Melnick, I decided it would be a good idea to get the ball rolling. I wrote him an email a few months ago suggesting we talk, and he responded favorably. However, during my time home over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday, I was afraid to bring it up. I wasn't afraid of his reaction, but when talking about something touchy, it's hard to throw it into a conversation about football. I made it a point to email my dad and make plans to go out to lunch to specifically talk about stuttering. We went to the 99 on Saturday afternoon, and had the best, most meaningful conversation we have ever had.

We learned more about each other in that 1-hour conversation than we had in 23 years. He told me he never once talked about stuttering with anyone other than my mother. I finally got to tell him my thoughts about therapy, why it works sometimes and other times not, and why I don't want to feel pressure to speak fluently when I'm home with my family, something that always confused him. I got to learn about his fears, he got to learn about mine, and we both learned how similar we really are. Growing up, we always butted heads about seemingly nothing, no doubt as an underlying symptom of the guilt we both shared about each other's stuttering. I know it hurt him that I gave up on things when I was younger, because he felt the same way and wanted me to have opportunities that he didn't have. He told me about the guilt he carried with him about being genetically responsible for my stuttering, and it felt good for me to relieve him of that. I told him that it hurt to feel pressured to speak at home with the people who should accept me no matter how I speak. He said that even though he was a great athlete and accomplished in his life, he still experienced the same self-esteem problems I had, proof that no matter how talented you are in different areas of your life, the pain that stuttering is pervasive enough to cancel that out. All in all, it was the best conversation I've ever had with anyone.

There always used to be something separating my father and I. We were close in one way, but very far apart in another. By having this conversation I think we made the connection that was missing. Before I left for Worcester yesterday, we had a sad goodbye, but I know we are both happier now because we finally understand each other after all these years.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I'm out of my post-Christmas lull and motivated once again. I just celebrated my 23rd birthday, classes (and therefore productivity) have started again, my sister gave me a new baby guinea pig to keep me company around the apartment, I've been hitting the gym pretty hard, and I'll start working again before I know it. All of this has brought me back to life and I'm starting to feel like I did earlier in the fall.

With all of this motivation comes the podcast I've been planning for months and I've been working pretty hard to get that completed. It will be called "Fluencycast: A Podcast for People Who Stutter." I've decided on this title due to the fact that "Pat's Stupid Mouth" is too ambiguous and would not be recognized immediately in a directory such as iTunes or iPodder. I started this blog as a way of expressing myself to my friends, but the podcast is not going to be something that friends will find that interesting, especially if you don't already listen to podcasts in the first place. My goal is that other people who stutter will enjoy it and will find it to be supportive and sympathetic. I recorded several demos and uploaded one to iTunes, but it only shows a 1-minute clip and my voice sounds terrible (I definitely need to work on my Radio Voice). If you search for it at the iTunes Music Store, you can find it, but don't bother downloading it because that version currently sucks (though it is cool to actually be listed on iTunes, and it's still better than "Laffy Taffy"). I'll ask the guy from Middlebury who set up the first feed for me to create a new one with the new name. There are so many steps to podcasting that I didn't realize, but I am learning more about it thanks to the "Podcasting for Dummies" book I bought. I am hoping to have a good version of that within two weeks. As time goes on I'll buy a better microphone and better recording software and I'll get the hang of hosting a show. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, I've decided to scrap the plans for the website for now. I purchased the domain, but I'm realizing that anything posted on the site could be posted on this blog, including links and pictures. I also don't like the name "Pat's Stupid Mouth" anymore. I think it's catchy, but overall I've gotten tired of it and it doesn't seem professional. I'm eating the $19.95 per year or whatever it cost, but the effort it would take to build the site would not be worth the content at this point. Thanks to those who offered to help.

My stuttering still has not improved lately, but I have not practiced at all and I am not as concerned with it right now. I am trying to stutter more openly with people. Practicing with a tape recorder by myself gives me some carryover, but what I need to do is become more comfortable talking to anyone whether I stutter or not, and with that comfort should come better fluency. One thing Dr. Melnick told me is that stuttering therapy should be used for when you do not want to stutter, not necessarily for everyday speech. That is something I've written about and always believed but it felt good to hear from someone else who stutters, especially someone with his Ph.D. in the subject.

I have contacted Toastmasters to see if I could attend their meeting tomorrow morning (January 19), and though they have not returned my email yet, I am going to show up and see what happens assuming I can find the place. Speaking in front of strangers will be a great way to desensitize myself to what other people think, and it could really help prepare myself when I record future podcasts.

The next NSA meeting is January 30, and now that I don't have class on Monday nights, I can finally attend that as well and I am really looking forward to it.

My old friend Brandon told me freshman year that, "the more you sit, the more life sucks." Sitting around for the last month or two has been rough, but now that I'm back in a routine and meaningful things are getting accomplished (and a baby guinea pig is running around my apartment), things are looking brighter.

Till next time.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Purple Pills

I've had a hard time thinking of topics to write about lately. I've written about many stuttering-related issues from my experiences. I'm sure friends who read this aren't exactly waiting with bated breath for every new blog I write (because seriously, how interested can a non-stutterer be?), but I enjoy this as a way to get things off my chest and help explain to people what happens to me when I talk and why I feel the way that I feel about it sometimes. I have always felt like a misunderstood person, and this is the best way for me to express my feelings. Lately, though, I haven't felt very good. I started writing this as a first step to promote stuttering awareness and eventually become a voice in the stuttering community. At first I felt really positive, but my outlook has been different.

I haven't been able to get a word out in a few weeks. I am in the middle of a stretch where my fluency is very bad and I've stopped wanting to talk because of how tiring it is and how much it hurts. I can't seem to control my breathing, I can't start anything smoothly, and when I do get words out, they are very fast and out of control. My SpeechEasy hasn't helped lately because of how severe my intial blocks are, though when I am around people I still wear it. The two weeks home for Christmas were nice at first, but again I became very bored and depressed, and I feel like my fluency went the way of my mood. I am currently dogsitting, which will be a few bucks for the week, but I'm spending it with a minature schnauzer named Watson, a Grishom novel, and omelettes seemingly at every meal. My energy levels and motivation to work on my speech are much lower than they were for the first few months of the school year, and I attribute this to the isolation. Who knows, maybe this is just downtime and I will pick myself up and get back in gear once school starts, but sometimes I worry that I will always be a tortured soul, no matter how much I say I want to change.

My landlord slipped a newspaper article under my door the other day about an experimental medication for stuttering. I called the number to see if I qualified, but the closest research site is in New York City. The medication is a failed psychiatric drug for panic attacks called Pagaclone, but the experimenters noted that several of the subjects who stuttered had drastic improvements when they were on the medication, but once taken off, went back to their pre-study stuttering severity. Obviously, I am intrigued by this. Actually, "intrigued by" doesn't really cut it here. Considering how badly I've stuttered lately and how bad I've felt, the correct phrase would be "desperate for." If this medicine gets approved by the FDA, I will be popping pills like I was...Lindsay Lohan! As much as I want to think I have improved my opinions about my own stuttering, the fact that I am praying to get this pill as another potential cure shows that I'm not where I need to be. There is a difference between working on stuttering and improving it and being free of it. I've written about this a lot, but so much time needs to be spent on maintaining fluency that a lot of the enjoyment of speaking is lost. Going for a drive is fun, but you lose some enjoyment if you don't take your eyes of the speedometer and white-knuckle the steering wheel while keeping your hands on 10 and 2 the whole time. You just want to let loose, and let loose without the bumper falling of the back if you step on the gas too hard. I imagine there is a certain freedom in just being able to speak your mind, raise your hand, tell a timely joke, interject, interupt, introduce yourself, give a speech, talk to a girl, or anything that fluent people take for granted. I know I'm lying to myself, and in my heart I am getting my hopes up, thinking that this Pagaclone pill will some day cure me and others, and that if I am in fact cured of my stuttering that I will be happy. Because of course, the only people in the world who feel depressed are those who stutter...that's completely rational thinking...

All of that being said, it still comes down to my choice of whether or not to let my stuttering hold my back. Earlier in the year, I chose not to let it, and I had some improvements. Nothing life-changing, but I was making progress. Right now, I've been an excuse machine. "I need my old practice tape!" turned into "I need my SpeechEasy!" which has now turned into "I need these pills!" Bill Parcells once said, "if you give your players an excuse to lose, they will." That's why football coaches don't talk about injuries and off-the-field distractions, because once you admit that something other than preparation and effort will have an effect on the outcome, the team will most likely lose the game. It's just what happens. That's why Belichick doesn't talk about how the team is crippled, he responds with, "Every team has injuries. Injuries are a part of football." The Patriots have had major players injured in the past and they've won three Superbowls in the last four years. If ever there was a better example of why not to give excuses for poor performance, I'd like to hear it.

I know the right path to take to accept both my stuttering and myself as a stutterer, and it isn't a quick fix. But when deep down all you want is to talk normal just like everyone else, you can't help but keep looking for the magic device or pill. Sometimes I don't think I'm strong enough to do it the right way, but if I don't I'll be a bad example and a fraud.

Why do I always feel like I'm sitting on the fence?