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11:16 p.m. - May 11, 2003
These aren't my stories, though I wish they were
Went to my fatherís performance tonight and sat in the audience like a stranger who didnít know every word of his stories, caught off guard by sudden movements. I sat there and listened to people Ė ASL students there to analyze prosody and non-manuals, the use of space and classifiers; familiar faces from my childhood commenting on how good a storyteller my father is; interpreters worrying about my fatherís likely plays-on-signs and puns, his complicated plots Ė and as always thought about how truly little I know this man. I donít know him as someone who bounced me on his knee or the man who taught me to fish, to hit a ball; I know him as a quiet monolith for whom nothing was good enough though he never indicated this were the case.

I found out about his performance Thursday afternoon when an acquaintance mentioned how much he was looking forward to tonight and how lucky I was to have him as my father. Like all the other times I smiled and demurred, was modest, smiled and how well the mask appears and is put to immediate use. Iíve grown up the child of well-known parents each admired for their talents and understanding the realities of the fishbowl is nothing new. A capacity crowd; 700 people; friends of my parents coming up to me How are you? So good to How is school Everybody is proud When do you go Your book Your parents How is your mom Oh I thought you were still teaching I used to babysit you, do you remember So good to see you, some former students of mine saying hi or waving, more faces I remember and names I donít colluding into a warmth, a sirocco.

And so I watched his stories that were passed on to him by my grandfather, my great-grandfather, and maybe further Ė I donít know Ė and originate in 1845 at the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut, a patrinomic corpus that my father did not pass on to me. For the longest time I thought it was because I am not Deaf though such a hypothesis fails in light of my grandfatherís hearing status and now, I suspect I did not give my father the chance to pass on the stories to me. When one is angry it isnít only dinner that is missed, right?

Gaining perspective; thatís the gist of adulthood, isnít it?

Tonight my father told a story about me and the time I had to be rescued from the capitol dome in Olympia, Washington, when I was 7 years old. The ordeal lasted for a few hours and with it came my fear of heights, Iím sure. Watching my father tell this story from multiple perspectives and using a complex narrative style, not to mention the classifiers, I felt so proud, so special. It isnít because my father was telling a story about me but it was because my father told a story about me. Understand the difference? In Deaf culture, nothing is more esteemed and sacrosanct than history, that long line of oral [that would be signed, to you] literature unbroken for generations. In a very small, short-story way, Iíve become a part of this history that is mine yet not. It meant a lot to me.

Maybe my father didnít teach me the stories for other reasons; I would like to think he was prescient and could see the end of Deaf culture and wants his stories, his culture, to rest with him, cherished, instead of coming to me and being unable to pass them on further, an aborted conclusion. People say Iím more like my mother than my father and I generally agree because for the most part it is true. Yet my shyness comes from my father, as does the do-it-well adrenaline when the time comes to stand up. Itís funny, I sat all the way at the top of the theater and I realized we have the same shy smile.

Perspective, thatís what it is.

It was a good evening.

And then to wreck it, I wonder why my father didn't invite me.

 

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