THE SHOUTING LUSKINS
My newest sister-in-law calls my family The Shouting Luskins. It’s true, we’re a noisy bunch, all wanting to be heard, in part because none of us listens very well.
I remember a day in June, 1977, when my father and I stood outside our rented car at a crossroads in Devonshire, England, shouting at each other.
“Can’t you read the goddamned map?” he yelled.
“I told you which way to turn a mile ago, but you didn’t listen!” I screamed back, stomping my foot.
I was reminded of this episode recently, when I found myself shouting at my dad, whose listening skills have never been very good, and whose hearing loss is nearly complete.
Hearing, A Casualty of War
Dad fought in the infantry in Europe during World War II, which I suspect was the beginning of his hearing loss. It was only exacerbated by his early professional life as an oceanographic researcher in the days before workplace hearing protection became commonplace. His hearing has deteriorated, and he’s never been particularly interested in adapting his behavior to communicate with others.
He’s tried any number of hearing aids. “All they do is amplify!” he says every time he puts them in a drawer instead of his ears.
He’s just done this again, leaving me shouting at an old man, and still not being heard.
So our shouted communication has a long history, and it’s gotten worse in the past few months. But I don’t want it to continue.
It’s obviously not doing any good. When Dad doesn’t wear his hearing aids and when he doesn’t try to listen, lip-read or otherwise attend to what I have to say, I don’t just become hoarse; I become hypertensive. My blood boils.
One of my three brothers suggested, “Change the format. Take him out.”
He doesn’t want to go out.
He wants to stay in his room and fret over how he’s going to leave his worldly possessions when he dies. He has a will, which he no longer remembers, so he asks me questions to which he can’t hear or understand my answers.
Lowering the Volume
It’s a sore point with me that I feel as if my father has never listened to what I have to say; but when my brothers tell him the same information, he processes it. All my life I’ve tried to avoid the subversive methods that women have traditionally turned to in order to achieve what they want by manipulating men. I’ve had limited success. But I’m also a problem-solver with an imagination, so I’ve changed the format of our discourse.
I brought a small white board to my last visit. Instead of shouting, I printed what I had to say.
We both benefited.
Reading gave Dad more time to process my answers to his questions.
Writing the answers took enough time for me to edit them for simplicity – and to eliminate the snarky comments that slip in when I became exhausted from repetitive shouting. We’re now communicating without shouting.
Victory & Validation
But it’s also a personal victory and validation. The victory: my father has “heard” me via my voice on the page; a validation: I’m sure one of the reasons I’m a writer is to be heard in a way I never was at home. For years, I’ve had an audience moved by my essays, radio commentaries, editorials, short stories, novel and blog; now, I have a voice in my family of origin as well.