Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Whisper

"I have a job." He is whispering. The tips of his fingers are on my presenation table and he's leaning over to give me this information. I'm doing a workshop aimed primarily at staff but there are a lot of those with disabilities present. He's enjoying himself. He finds me funny. I can tell by his reaction to the material that I'm teaching. At the beginning of the first break, he tells me about his work. On his way back into the room he stops again. Balances on the tips of his fingers and whispers, "I have two girlfriends." I make a joke about him being a player. He smiles.

Several times during lunch he comes back, balances on his finger tips and whispers to me about his life. I don't know why he's whispering, he's not telling me anything particularly private. But he manages to make, "I go swimming," feel like intimate information. He never stays long, just delivers his information and then leaves. It's almost like he figured that I've told so much of myself in my stories that the should return the favour.

At the beginning of the last break in the afternoon, he changes and instead makes a statement about me. "You are in a wheelchair." I wasn't sure what he wanted from me so I simply said, "Yes, I am." He smiled, letting me know that it was OK for me to be in the chair, and left. Just before starting up the last quarter of the day he stops, balances and leans in closer, "Is your mother ashamed of you like mine is of me?" But he doesn't give me time to answer, he senses that it's time for me to start and he takes his seat.

An emotional bombshell has dropped into my lap and I've got to get going with the material I'd planned. I shoved all the churning emotion aside and went on with the workshop. When it was over he was getting up to leave and wasn't heading towards my desk. I called him back. He asked the question, he deserved an answer.

"Yes," I said, "my mother is ashamed of me. But it's not because I have a disability, there are other reasons."

"Oh," he said and nodded. Then turned and left.

I had wanted to pursue this conversation. I wanted to let him know that he was a pretty cool guy and that, though parental pride is a wonderful thing - it is possible to live without. I wanted, somehow to talk about what it felt like to live with pride while receiving constant messages of shame.

And on the way back to the hotel ...

I grieved.

I wonder how many people reading this blog would remember their childhoods as having been a nicer place if their parents said, just one more time, "I'm proud of you." I wonder how many people live with accomplishment but not acknowledgement. I wonder how that big, gentle guy who has a job, a couple of girlfriends and who likes to swim, is gonna do at being his own source of affirmation. I wonder if his mother will ever see him like I do.

I wonder if mine will ever see me at all.


yatseq said...

I was on th eworkshop in London yesterday. I said it was "eyes opening experience" - not beacause it changes my view on my work. There is so much happening around and often only because we want to be professional we "go over it" - now I know I should consciously learn from every experience, even the smallest one as the greates things happen in there. Thank you

BenefitScroungingScum said...

My parents are ashamed of me too. They'll never admit it, but their refusal to believe me, and then to accept my condition said it all. They wanted what they wanted, not what they got. I'm sorry you, and so many of us have to experience parental shame just for being who we are when we're such wonderful people. BG x

Belinda said...

Parents who miss the gift are the losers and to be prayed for, that they have eyes to see before it's too late. If you are that parent who sees "what they got" with disappointment, it's not too late, if you're breathing, to ask for a different set of eyes.

I had one parent who made up for the other in affirmation. I am so blessed. The one who always looked with a critical eye had his own wounds that I cannot begin to imagine.

Anonymous said...

It's inconceivable to me that any parent could be ashamed of their child yet I know there are some that are. If people could only relize how very precious our children are and what a gift they are there would never be an ounce of shame. I'm sorry for any parent who has any shame for their child. They don't know what they're missing. Unconditional love is unconditional love!

Kei said...

This is a powerful post, and I am filled with tears. No parent should ever let their child feel that way. I may not always be pleased by my children's actions, but I love them and am very proud of them and tell them so. It usually makes them blush, for sometimes they don't feel they've done anything extraordinary to warrant the compliment.

I'm so sorry that you and others experience the pain of parental shame. If only they could see you as others do. If only they would take the time.

Juliep said...

God works in wonderful and unexpected ways. Although nothing can really replace the pain of a parent's failure, God gave you a wonderful gift. Because of your passion, COMpassion, spirit, dedication, and masterful use of the English language; there are thousands of people who admire, respect, and love you. For many of us who work in social services, you are who we strive to be.

Suelle said...

I have to comment. Every morning, as I'm drinking my coffee, I look thru my email & then head for your blog. Reading it every day has helped me more than anything else to be a better mother to my son. Your writing ability, but more so your willingness to share your thoughts & feelings with an unknown group of people, is to me a precious gift. I wish my appreciation & thankfulness could erase the pains of your past, but suffice it to say you are loved by myself & many others for who you are right now. Thank you.

Casdok said...

Yes i wonder!

Bev said...

I am proud of you, Dave.

Lianna said...

Well, I didn't see that coming. It brought tears to my eyes. It also makes me want to try harder for my son because I hope that he would never, ever feel that I was ashamed of him, of who he is. My God, I'd never want him to be ashamed of me.