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The Father Who Didn’t Talk
March 30, 2012 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on The Father Who Didn’t Talk

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.

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