My Father’s Speech
Written by
February 2011
Written by
February 2011

My father had a voice. Just like my friends’ fathers had receding hairlines, crooked noses or a bad golf swing, my father had a voice. My friends’ fathers hated having receding hairlines, crooked noses or zero talent when it came to golf.  And my father hated his voice.


My father’s voice held him hostage for most of his life.


My father was a stutterer.


A man who loved literature and lyrics by Cole Porter could rarely speak without his eyelids fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings. His mouth tried to hold unto his words, but most of the time what came out sounded like a wounded fawn begging for a merciful death.


That was my father’s voice.


At the age four, my father came down with scarlet fever. The high fever and seizures left him with a voice that was fractured. At the age of four, I didn’t know my father had a stutter. I remember playing ghosts in the backyard, riding the pink train at Lollipop Farm and my father’s stories. I don’t recall the stutter then. My father’s imagination bravely overshadowed his struggle.


Moses, who received the Ten Commandments from God, was a stutterer. Was that written in stone?


Family secrets never really stay tucked away, locked up or behind closed doors. Some little crack in the armor or a break in the ranks and the secret becomes common knowledge. I found out later on that the way my father spoke or misspoke was not the norm.


I never got used to his stutter, but it was part of what made my father, my father. One could never really get a quick answer out of my father. But you always went to him because my mother usually said “no.”


Henry James, author of A Portrait of a Lady and Washington Irving, who scared us with The Legion of Sleepy Hollow, were stutters.


My father had to put up with his mother’s ridicule until she died. I believe the abuse my father received crushed his ability to ever speak normally. All the training he went for could not fight off all the venom my grandmother threw his way. If only she would have shut up.  To this day, when someone tries to quash my spirit, I stutter, too. One of the things I learned from my father.


Singer and songwriter, Caryl Simon, who told Mick Jagger a thing or two in her song, “You’re So Vain” is a stutterer.


My father, John, possessed a wry sense of humor and could innocently flirt with a woman while her husband watched to see how it was done. He also raised seven children with my mother and I can honestly say that we are a compassionate, non-judgmental and funny people. And none of us are stutterers.


Authors Kenneth Tynan, John Updike, Peter Straub, actor James Earl Jones, scientist Steven Hawkings, Prince Albert of Monaco and Vice President Joseph Biden were or are stutterers.


I saw “The King’s Speech.” Twice. It is an absolutely brilliant movie and I am very pleased that the struggles of a stutterer are now out in the open. The future King George VI (Colin Firth) and his therapist Lionel Logue (Jeffrey Rush) brought me back to my father’s stutter and the pain and humiliation Bertie felt was so real and raw.


There on the screen was my father and every other person who was denied their freedom of speech.


My father would have loved the idea that a movie about his life would be nominated for an Academy Award. He would have pulled out the good suit and rehearsed his acceptance speech.


But my father died with all those words and more still in him. They were right on the tip of his tongue.

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