The Father Who Didn’t Talk

by Translation Guy on March 30, 2012

Sometimes it falls to sons to speak for their fathers.

I trade dear dead Dad stories with my greybeard cronies, as we sip our cognac before the banked fires of middle age. A compulsion common among the newly-orphaned aged, as magpie-like we snatch at shiny memories lost in the long grass.

And on the magpie’s glinting eye, is a reflection farther still, of the father’s father, because that’s always where the story begins.

I’ve got to write them all down, all these amazing stories. I just heard this one about language, or the lack thereof, which should work here. From Patrick, who just lost his Dad.

In 1906 in Kumamoto, Japan, Patrick’s grandfather was a young man coming of age, a second son. His family, with a business at stake, advised him to get lost, because he had been born with a hare lip, so his chances of being able to wed were nil. He was handed over to labor recruiters, and shipped off to exile in California, his shame transformed to fury. Hard luck.

In California, that rage became his calling card. While he was able to find a bride eventually, and father six sons, he was a hard man who did not pull his punches.

He was hardest of all on his tongue-tied first-born, Patrick’s father. The little guy’s tongue was attached to the floor of his mouth by a congenital deformity, making speech impossible. So the father hated his son as he hated himself, forced as he was to see his genetic curse confirmed as his legacy. Shame became fury at the silent face of his beautiful boy. At age four, a simple surgery corrected the defect, giving Patrick’s father the power of speech. But the boy refused the power, and even though he could speak perfectly fine, he chose not to.

So the boy became a man, and spoke only when he needed to, and found that he didn’t need to all that much.

Sounds like a terrible fate, doesn’t it, to be silenced first by the fates and then a father’s rage?  To Patrick’s father it didn’t sound that way at all. In silence this boy found his liberation, and his family and friends found a great listener and loved him for it. Just as he had shed the abusive power of his father’s speech, he had shed his father’s rage too, and cultivated a calm mind, and accepted all around him as it was, and all the people he was with as they were.

To Patrick, his father’s silence was golden, since his Mom talked enough for two. “But, Pat,” I asked, “No advice, no encouragement? Did you miss that?”

“I knew my Dad thought I was the best, no matter what I did or how I acted. Once, when I told my Dad I had won a full scholarship to grad school, he said, ‘Gee, that’s great!´ That felt so good.”

It seems that words weigh more when dealt out a few at a time. There is something to be said for silence. A few choice words have always packed a bigger cognitive punch then the usual blather.  Sam Rayburn once said that “no one has a finer command of language than the person who keeps his mouth shut.”

OK. I can take my own hint. I’ll close here with a silent tip of the hat to Patrick’s Dad and all the others with the courage to keep their opinions to themselves.


  1. Otik Kramar says:

    If I had a choice of losing the ability of something it would be speech. There are other ways to communicate and I am sure that Patrick’s father used nonverbal cues to compensate for his lack of speech. I agree, sometimes fewer words is better.

  2. Nice post. My dad was pretty abusive, but he died when I was 14, so my task has been — like Patrick’s dad — to shed that abuse and become, as they say, the man my dog thinks I am. Like you, I still look for stories.

  3. Melissa Hess says:

    A few years back I asked for a letter of reference from my current boss and when he gave it to me (I needed it for an interview packet) I wasn’t sure if what he wrote in it was positive or not. He mentioned something to the effect that I didn’t talk much in meetings, but when I did , everyone was sure to listen. My wife tried to reassure me that it was positive, but I was never to sure. Yes, I am not the first one out of the stable, and I am choosey with my words, but I feel why talk if it’s not needed.

    • Ken says:

      You silent ones never get the credit you deserve.

  4. Growing up my dad hada a way with noverbal communication. My mom was the talker of the family and my dad simply had the stare or the grin that let me know what he was thinking. Seemed to work for him. I think I follow that to a certain degree and my wife hates the fact that I don’t speak up enough.

  5. Johnny Horn says:

    Being shipped of to exile in California doesn’t seem so bad nowadays.

    • Ken says:

      That California sun sure beats a summer in Kyushu. I’m hoping my daughter picks a school in the Golden State for just that reason.

  6. Head Pimp says:

    Yea for fewer words! Patricks dad had it going on, so to speak. I sit in meetings all to often where other’s keep talking and what they get a cross could have been done so much faster.

    • Ken says:

      You said it, Pimp. Silence is golden.

  7. Bel Nejedly says:

    Simply horrible how so many children are discarded like a broken toy in asia because of something like a hare lip. I once visited an orphenage in china and 3 out of 4 babies had a cleft palet. Very sad.

  8. I have come to realize that most of the stories of my father are lost forever. He was a quiet man most of the time, but I try to get a little out of my mom once in a while. I hope that my boys have something nice to say about me when I’m gone.

  9. Sounds like my father was a lot like Patrick’s father. I never got much advice from him or teaching in anything particular. And when I did, it was usually minimal. I don’t love him any less, but I sometimes wish we talked more, especially when he was sick.

    • Ken says:

      My Dad was a talker, and it used to drive me nuts. But now that he’s gone I wish we had talked more too. There’s never enough time.

  10. I have always been the quiet one in my family…even the workplace. But, when I feel something is important I certainly let it fly. I don’t see anything wrong with not saying much, however, I wonder sometimes if my kids would think of me any different if I spoke more.

  11. Jerome Sharp says:

    It’s probably getting easier to keep the stories alive now with all of the digital pics and video. When I think back of my youth (70’s and 80’s) I find it harder to remember details. However, the past decade is recorded and much easier to share with my kids and hopefully they can share with their kids and so on.

    • Ken says:

      Only problem with this digital documentation is that we wont be able to remember the stories the way we would like to. Thanks for your comments, Jerome!

  12. Vanessa Gamp says:

    This one brought back many memories of my own father. He wasn’t abusive nor was he silent. But he died a few years ago and this just made me stop and think of him. Thanks Ken.

  13. I thought the beginning of this post was so beautiful.

  14. I come from a whole family of quiet men. My father, his borhters, and even my brother don’t talk much. Partly genetic I think, but also partly because we were never taught how. I always wondered if it was because my grandfather was away a lot when my dad grew up and he was a very strict father when he was home. ALthough my father was always home, he was pretty quiet and I think that’s why me and my brother are the same way.

  15. Ducky says:

    Nice story Ken. Nice intro and the rest really made me stop and think.

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