My Father Stuttered

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I’m not sure what’s happening here… my instructor said pointing to the tears welling up in his eyes. He failed to suppress the enormity of the moment. A middle aged, burly, and strong looking man was shaken to his core by my question.

I’ve been taking a class much like Toastmasters to work on my public speaking. The challenge—each presentation is video recorded and then reviewed by the class and instructor altogether afterwards

Coincidentally, the class began in the middle of a particularly difficult time with my stuttering because of just getting over COVID 19 and my son being home sick from daycare for nearly all of February. Thus, when I gave my first presentation, I was burned out and mentally and physically drained, which never results in a positive impact on my stuttering efficiency. 

The first thing we did in class was a video recorded 10-minute presentation. I took a few minutes to gather my thoughts and was the second participant to go. I chose not to disclose my stuttering, and haven’t in a while because I’ve reached a point where it isn’t really necessary anymore. 

Presentations no longer carry the same fear and anxiety as they once did. I openly stutter, have a long block here and there, but generally I’m efficient with my words and move through the allotted time. And this instance was no different. I said what I needed to say and filled the 10 minutes. 

As a class, we watched each person’s presentation and individually provided feedback to one another. First the presenter assessed their performance, then the class shared constructive positive and negative feedback, and then the instructor provided his last. 

After seeing my video, I thought, “wow, I really just did that…it wasn’t so bad.” I kept better than average eye contact, was on the right open stuttering sounds, and went through the motions of the presentation. To me, that equated to a huge success.

When I gave my self-assessment, I decided to disclose stuttering because it helped me explain why it was such a success and the specific things I was working on like thought-to-speech word processing and keeping my voicing going. My classmates were gracious with their feedback, with one woman recommending that I disclose stuttering before each presentation because that’s what her friend who also stutters does often. 

My instructor provided his feedback last, echoing most of the positive feedback the others had said, and recommended that I keep my hands above or on the table when I spoke, an old stuttering trick yet to die

I wrote a note after watching a few of the other videos, since we went out of order in reviewing them. My instructor, who served as a role-player during the presentations, had asked each presenter multiple questions throughout the 10 minutes. The questions were an attempt to make the presentations conversational and less formal, in part to ease our anxiety. 

After my instructor finished my feedback, I asked him how my stuttering made him feel because his face during my presentation had shown all the hallmarks of past non-verbal feedback. I genuinely wanted to know and wasn’t trying to put him on the spot. 

Before he could answer, I followed up with, “…because I noticed you didn’t ask me any questions like you did with the others.”

Then it happened.

My question had hit him in a tender spot. When he collected himself, he responded in a trembling voice, my father stuttered…he hated when people interrupted him.” 

He looked like he had seen a ghost. He shifted his feet and twisted and turned in his chair. I had struck a deep emotional nerve that I’m guessing he hasn’t had awakened in a long time. After this revelation, he shared that he remembered vividly many times when his father would comment that he hated when others interrupted him when he stuttered. 

The class went silent as he wiped away the tears. It was one of the deepest instant connections I have ever had with anyone before because of stuttering. My vulnerability and willingness to ask the question, while stuttering, opened up an opportunity to connect in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. 

He admitted to not asking me any questions in the fear of going against what his father would have wanted, but also claimed to not have intentionally done so. I believed him, his emotions told me enough. 

When he collected himself, we engaged in a back and forth discussion about how far I had come with public speaking. He wanted to hear what my journey to that moment had been. I shared with him that I started out using a text-to-speech audio program that spokefor me while I clicked the PowerPoint slides to giving days long presentations while open stuttering without fear or shame.

It was quite a moment, one that I will never forget. It proved to me all I needed to know about the progress I will continue to make if I continue choosing to show my stuttering.  

1 comments on “My Father Stuttered”

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