by John Litton
Editor’s Note: After John attended the March 6 St Louis FRIENDS and Family Day with his son, he wrote the following reflection.
I want to thank you again for conducting the FRIENDS seminar yesterday. It has impacted me in such a big way. As a child, no one ever said to me that stuttering was okay. No one else I knew stuttered. No one addressed the emotional or psychological impacts that it was having on me.
Listening to some of the other parents talk yesterday, I realized that I probably minimized its impact, giving my parents the message that it didn’t bother me. I probably never told them how much I was teased, both by bullies and by my friends.
I have lived the past 30 years thinking that stuttering is shameful, that it’s something that should be hidden, and of course, something that should never ever, be talked about.
When my son, Cameron, began stuttering two years ago, I reluctantly had to tell a few speech therapists that I stuttered as a child. I thought that was difficult, just admitting that I did it and telling them how old I was when it started, that I went through several years of therapy, and about what age I was when it mostly stopped. During those consultations, no one asked me what it felt like to have gone through that experience for years, and I never thought about it. Until yesterday.
I’ve never attended a support group for people who stutter or their families, either as a child or an adult. I was hesitant to attend yesterday, probably because I’ve always thought that stuttering shouldn’t be talked about. But just being there yesterday opened up something in me that I’ve spent years trying to hide. Within the first minute of your “Stuttering 101 ” presentation, I started to feel the pain of a seven-year-old boy, being teased by his friends.
I remembered that boy being mocked by kids at school. I remembered being so ashamed when anyone would find out that I stuttered. I realized why I never made phone calls and always wanted my mother to do things for me. I spent the next six hours in the seminar trying to fight back tears as I learned about what stuttering really is, and that there were so many others whose children are going through what I went through.
The realization that my son may never be fluent has changed me profoundly. I had always wanted his stuttering to just “go away” like it did for me. But when we talked yesterday about what we really want for our children, I was frightened by what I realized: He can still be happy and successful even if he’s disfluent.
What I don’t want is for him to go through his whole childhood as I did: ashamed, reserved, scared to talk to anyone new, afraid there’s something wrong with him. Self-esteem is so important in kids, and now I think I know why it was lacking in me. I haven’t been the great father to him that I’ve wanted to be for the past couple years. Even though I’ve been in counselling to work on changing, things haven’t changed much.
But yesterday was a turning point. I cried a lot last night and today, thinking about what I went through as a child, and about what I need to face now as an adult. I know I have to deal with all these things about stuttering that I have refused to acknowledge for such a long time. And I know that it will help my relationship with my son.
The group yesterday was so supportive of me talking about my childhood and my experiences that it made a first step into a difficult experience easier. I have a long road ahead to really reach the understanding that stuttering ‘was okay for me, and it will be okay for my son. But I need to do it to support him, to make sure he has high self-esteem, and to make sure I have the best relationship possible with him. Without the FRIENDS seminar yesterday, I don’t think I’d have this opportunity to repair things when they count the most.
Thanks for not only helping me during the seminar, but also for creating an organization that will help so many kids discover ways to make their childhood better and to avoid some of the struggles I went through.
This one day truly made a difference in my life.