y Dad became an Administrator the other day, that dirty word of the Deaf community. He got a new job in charge of Special Education for his district, including several children currently attending the local Deaf School. It’s been a little odd for me, because our experiences with Deaf people have been so different. Sometimes I feel like we’re on opposing sides, because all of my experiences have been so positive and all of his have been so negative.
“Hey, do Deaf people shake hands? Or is it some sort of a Culture thing that they don’t?” He asked me one day at lunch.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Why?”
“I had a meeting at the Deaf school today, and when I was done speaking, everyone came up to shake my hand except the Deaf people who were there. I just wondered if it was some sort of a thing.” He told me.
I knew instantly what had happened. My Dad was just another in a long line of Administrators knowing nothing about Deaf Culture to them. In their eyes he was the enemy, of the same breed that tried to take Sign Language away from them 100 years ago. It wouldn’t have mattered what he said. They would already have made their minds up about him.
“That’s funny.” I said to him non-commitally. I didn’t want to tell him that they hated his guts on sight. I didn’t want my Dad to hate them too. I thought if he didn’t know how much they automatically disliked him, then he could be nice without strain… and then maybe the cycle of “them” vs. “us” could be broken.
I needn’t have tried. The Deaf at the school had no problems at all in showing my Dad just how much they disliked him. They made it abundantly clear several times how they really felt, and they were not tactful about it at all. The dislike for everything the other group stands for now flows in both directions.
I haven’t really known what to do about this. My Dad and I don’t fight about it or anything, but at the same time I feel as though my love affair with ASL has placed us on the opposite side of each other. I consider the behavior of the Deaf school further proof that Deaf people are just like hearing people: they have their jackasses and their hard heads just like they have their friendly welcomers and their comedians… just like hearing people do. My Dad’s only experiences with Deaf people have been with the jackasses and hard heads, and that’s sadly all he can see. It’s impossible to blame him for hating to have to deal with that. At the same time, I wish with all my heart that he had better experiences.
My experinces have been so amazing. Deaf people have been incredibly welcoming to me and so patient with my limited ability to sign. They’ve been inclusive, and hanging out with them makes me feel vibrant and full of life. I love the jokes and the games and the festival atmosphere that surrounds even the simplest Deaf Event. The culture is amazing, too, and I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life without knowing who Laurent Clerc or Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet were. Learning American Sign Language has been such a life changing experience for me.
I don’t know what to tell my Dad. In some ways, I’d like to tell him how neat Deaf Culture really is. I’d like to talk with him about the issues in Deaf education that I’ve been reading about and show him that, in the whole picture, most of it is really great. I wish I could do that without taking a side, without standing against my Dad on the side of Deafness. Because in truth, I’m on his side too.