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.

18 comments:

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