Dear Dad, Thanks for My Hearing Loss

I think I’ve always considered myself a little bit of a “daddy’s girl.” Not the credit-card holding stereotype often seen in the movies, but still, a “daddy’s girl.”

More than likely, our father-daughter relationship was formed when I was a toddler — my father loved to sneak my brother and I Oreo cookies behind our nanny’s back. Our bond was cemented as we worked together throughout high school and college to focus on track, cross-country and competing on the southwest equestrian circuit.

My father has provided love, opportunity, security and hope. He was my coach at competitions, my shoulder to cry on when my horse died, and my best friend on movie nights when I just wanted to hang out at home.

Thanks for being my biggest hearing loss advocate

But my father was also something else. He was my biggest advocate for getting hearing loss help. At times, one I didn’t want. He snuck pamphlets in my books, took me to his hearing professional during his appointments, all the while trying to get me to understand and acknowledge my hearing loss. And while I often pushed his efforts away, sometimes ignoring phone calls and texts, he was the one I turned to when I finally admitted to wanting help.

Why? Because in addition to the red and auburn highlights in my hair, I also get my hearing loss from my father. And over the last year, I’ve learned from him how to be proud of my hearing loss, how to help others with hearing loss, and how to have confidence in and love for my hearing aids.

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Thanks for being open about your hearing loss

In our family, hearing loss is commonplace. We are used to talking about hearing aids at the dinner table and are used to nobody understanding or hearing each other half the time. I grew up watching my father and his two brothers struggle with hearing loss, and as it began to affect me more, I joined the end of the table where we felt safe in silence. We all have sensorineural hearing loss, resulting from something in our genetic makeup that causes progressive damage to the nerve cells of the cochlea.

I grew up embarrassed, trying to hide any hearing issues I had for a very long time. My father, on the other hand, has never hidden his hearing loss. I’ve never once seen him be ashamed of it. Frustrated by it? Yes. Annoyed by it? Yes. But never once has the blush of embarrassment crossed his cheeks.

His hearing loss is profound. He has only 12 percent speech discrimination in his right ear and 44 percent in his left. A single gunshot some years ago accounts for the poorer hearing and tinnitus in his right ear. Today, at 56 and 25 respectively, my father and I have nearly the same hearing loss. (Author’s note: It’s kind of scary.)

Thomas Bricker Friends

Thanks for showing me that hearing loss can be normal

My dad has had hearing loss for as long as I can remember, and to this day he’s worn almost every brand of hearing aid. Never once has he been embarrassed about hearing aids either. He’s worn Receiver-In-the-Canal (RIC) devices, fashionable Bluetooth headsets and large Behind-The-Ear (BTE) hearing aids with chunky packaging and thick tubing. It’s never been about the looks with him. Instead, it’s about the performance.

It’s not about hiding the hearing aid, but about hearing me as we share dinner at our favorite café. It’s not about using a hearing aid to avoid telling people about his hearing loss; he’s the first to speak up and let strangers know he has trouble hearing. It’s not about having the latest technology or sleekest device. It’s about hearing the speech in a new movie, being able to communicate with a friend over lunch in a noisy restaurant, enjoying music in the car or at home, and ultimately, feeling like a part of the world instead of isolated from it.

Thanks for supporting me every step of my hearing loss journey

My father has never failed to support me in my own struggle with hearing loss, even when I didn’t want the help. He smiled understandingly when I shed tears in the booth during my hearing test over a year ago on Christmas Eve. He cried with my mother as I heard the crinkling of a plastic water bottle and the harsh shuffling of paper falling from the printer across the room. He has let me yell and scream at him when I needed to blame someone for my hearing loss. He has also listened and hugged me countless times when sometimes the frustration is simply too much and I want to give up.

It’s hard to thank someone for such priceless things. It’s hard to truly give back what you have been given, but when the opportunity presented itself to fit my father with brand-new hearing aids in March, it seemed fate had spoken.

Thanks for always putting me first

He didn’t agree at first, telling me he didn’t need new hearing aids and that I should save my money. What he had were large, bulky BTE devices that, despite his protests, were simply not doing what he needed them to. I still watched him struggle to hear one-on-one conversations or sit in silence during family events because it was impossible to discern speech from noise. The Bluetooth phone connector he wore around his neck did nothing to help phone conversations and more often than not, I had to ask him to remove his hearing aids when we talked — something I felt horrible about doing, and yet, the device made the conversation harder. And music? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard him listen to a CD or the radio. 

I had spent years and years watching my father struggle, be depressed, feel isolated and alone. I had watched music and movies become frustrating instead of fun, and I had seen too many “I give up” moments happen.

A priceless gift isn’t one that costs a lot, it’s one that provides something for the receiver that no monetary value can be attributed to and one that changes someone’s life.

Thanks for being my dad

My father has been wearing his new Halo 2 hearing aids for over a month now. I can hear the renewed confidence in his voice when we talk on the phone and the music playing in the background if I call while he’s cooking dinner. I can hear the joy in his laugh when he tells me others are raving about his hearing aids, the excitement that seeps through when he tells me about the incredible birthday lunch he had with his friend.

He’s not tired anymore from trying too hard to listen. He’s not isolated at family dinners and events. Instead, he’s part of and leading the conversations. He’s happier. He’s the dad I remember as a little girl, the fearless and hero-like father I looked up to when I barely stood above his waist.

My father has given me the ability to be proud of my hearing loss and of my hearing aids. He has shown me how a disability does not define someone, but rather how one can define it. My father has given me my hearing loss, and now, it’s just one more thing we love to share. 

By Sarah Bricker

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