My dad and I have never had the best or closest relationship. He left my mom with 3 kids when I was 4 years old and moved into a dingy little mobile home on the edge of town. I would learn later that he’d had a affair, but I also know he and my mom weren’t very compatible. 2 years later my mom moved us a few states away and while he had visitation rights, I didn’t see him all that often. We used to spend a month in the summers with him though, and I have great memories of those times.
The times we were with him were always about doing stuff: camping, boating, skiing; never about real communication. Even though we both stuttered, He never talked to me about it. As a child I was happy for this. My mom, stepdad and speech therapists made me feel like I wasn’t even trying to work on it. It was my personal weakness that would suddenly not be an issue when I was with my dad.
Years later I moved to Chicago which was only a short train ride to my hometown and we saw a lot more of each other. Our relationship strengthened quite a bit and we really started to talk about things. We often sipped wine and talked for hours about politics, books, history and philosophy. At this point I was completely covert about my stutter but much more aware of his. It made me feel uncomfortable. It was the last thing I wanted to talk about.
Fast forward even more years and we find ourselves in the same town again. About 5 years ago he received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and it became evident that he was losing the ability to care for himself. When we moved him here he could still do some cooking and didn’t need us around every day. Even though I read everything I could find, I had no idea what caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s would really entail.
Over the past few years, the intersection of stuttering and Alzheimer’s has made communication increasingly difficult for him. He has lost his huge vocabulary, and struggles to come up with the names of people and everyday objects. When he does have an idea of what he wants to say, he often loses it if he gets stuck in a stutter. I know he is frustrated and depressed about it.
I regret not pushing him to talk about stuttering while he was able. There was a small window after I accepted my own stutter and before Alzheimer’s stole his ability to comprehend where we might have had a real conversation. It’s hard to say how it would have gone, but perhaps it would have opened a door to more frank discussions now. Stuttering is threaded through our whole lives and experiences together but it has left us in very different places. I can mire in my own regrets, but that isn’t very productive so I will just have to accept that it is what it is.
I don’t have a good way to end this and I will most likely write more as time goes on.