This subject was triggered by a friend who visited recently. Somehow the topic turned to the dynamics within family structures for Deaf people and their hearing relatives. Bear in mind that the majority of Deaf are born to people in hearing families and normally never meet any other Deaf people within their family structure. Our friend told us all sorts of upsetting stories about the treatment that was meted out to her by her siblings. She had been kept in the dark about family events like parties and not invited until the last moment to important milestones such as a baptism. Because of the different communication needs of Deaf people, it is really easy to cut them off from what is going on. Just make a few phone calls rather than using text based communication or social media and you’ve just exercised your power to exclude your sibling from a family event. This is exactly what happened to our friend, who only found out about one social event as it was mentioned on Face Book.
From a Deaf person’s perspective, the jealousy over the extra attention is really unfair. We didn’t choose to be Deaf. The extra support was absolutely essential, in order to compensate for all the barriers that are thrown our way by a hearing world. And what our parents were doing was absolutely right and we are grateful for their support.
Many years ago, I worked with a wonderful CODA, who was brought up by Deaf parents in Wales during the 1940’s. He would regale me with these wonderfully textured stories of his upbringing that embraced his parents’ Deafness. One story he told me was about how he would greet his hearing uncle with a cheery “hello” on the street, only to be completely ignored. Being a stubborn person, he persisted in acknowledging his uncle, despite the lack of response. When he was much older, another uncle explained to him that the lack of response was because the hearing uncle resented the extra attention that the CODA’s father had received as a child because he was Deaf.
We have a similar experience, in that there is a sibling who talks really quickly on purpose at family gatherings, even though it is really obvious that we can’t follow what is being said. That is just one small example for us personally, but I think I’ve spent sufficient time making the point.
So what has this got to do with being a Deaf Dad? Well, this toxic soup of resentment and envy from siblings has a direct impact on young Harry’s relationship with his wider family. He fortunately doesn’t understand that his cousin wasn’t able to attend his second birthday because of a “dispute” that was directly motivated by the green eyed monster. He also missed his cousin’s party, because apparently he was “too young” to attend the function that was organised. His cousin doesn’t seem to have been told of our hearing disability and becomes confused when we make any reference to it. It saddens me that the resentment by some adult siblings towards us within the family networks spills over and affects Harry’s relationship with his cousins and also wider family. And in the future, I am not sure how I will explain the situation to Harry if he becomes aware that the conduct of family members towards him and us is somehow not quite right and starts asking some difficult questions.