Good evening everyone. I write this blog tonight not only inspired, but for the first time hopeful that somewhere out there, a future teammate of mine may read this and realize that it is very possible to have a relationship with parents who understand what it means to stutter. I never had any kind of real relationship with my parents when it came to my speech. Many times it was just something that was avoided at the dinner table. I can remember as a young child trying to form a sentence and say what my day was about, and I'd get the sensation of a car spinning its wheels in the snow as my vocal chords locked up...which resulted in my parents rolling their eyes until the words came out of my mouth.
Tonight after work, I went with my dad to visit the grave of his father, my grandfather. Most of us feel very uncomfortable going to cemetaries for the simple reason someday we, too, will leave this earth, but with the hope we made it a much better place than it was when arrived. I never knew my grandfather as well as I would have liked to. Of course, part of that could be attributed to the fact that he lived 3,000 miles away in San Diego. Yet he came out for the Jewish holidays, and I relished those times. He never had the luxury of a college education, because of the Great Depression. He was honest and fair, and well-read to boot. In fact, from what I recall of him, he could have gone head-to-head with some great political orators-and he probably would have given them a run for the money. As I spoke to him, I talked about how much the National Stuttering Association gave to me, and how I give back to them because it's the right thing to do-and because I will make a difference. I told him how I received the shock of my life to win the Volunteer of the Year award for 2008, and how I wish he could have seen me accept it. And when I spoke to him, I stuttered several times. I didn't care at all, I had so much that I wanted to say, so much I needed to. I also told him that someday I will forgive my parents for their first impressions about the NSA. They were wondering why I wanted to go to Long Beach for my first conference. It's been the greatest ride of my life so far.
As my dad and I were driving home, I started to cry openly. I am very emotional and don't apologize for it. I cry at weddings, I cried at the end of "A Walk To Remember" (and the people who think it's uncool to show emotion needs to have their heads examined). My dad pulled the car over, and for the next two hours, we talked about my stuttering-the rough days, how far I've come, and what needs to be done next. My dad started to apologize, and I told him he didn't need to. I know my dad doesn't know what it feels like to sometimes struggle having a bad day with my speech. But he said one thing that I focused on intently. He said that when I get married (if I do), and have children, and one of them stutters, he knows that child will have the very best parent in the whole world. Maybe he really gets me after all. Some of us are lucky to have the type of relationship that we see on "Gilmore Girls," where we can talk to our parents about everything and anything. Others are estranged, and live their lives the way they want, regardless if their parents disagreed. But I want to send a message here, and this is very empowering: If you stutter, and you feel your parents do not understand you, talk to them. You'll always regret the things you didn't say. In some ways, the more I think about it, maybe it was poetic justice that my dad and I talked about my speech at the gravesite: Because I buried the negative feelings and anger I had toward my parents there, and a new relationship formed. I know there will be hard times ahead for both of us, and we may want to go at it sometimes. But hope springs eternal...sometimes in the most interesting of places.
My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.