Mrs. Weber's Reviews > Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love

Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg
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Jul 01, 11

Read from June 22 to 23, 2011

The Hardest Task: Compassion

Sydney J. Harris wrote: “The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say ‘I was wrong’.” There is so much truth in this quote, but how hard would it be to be ask to do these three tasks as a child? To have to face intolerance in a world that views you as different every day? To be asked everyday to face the hatred and intolerance of others? And at the same time, just desire to be a child who wants to be the same and fit in with those around them?

One such child who is faced with these seemingly insurmountable tasks mentioned above, is Myron Uhlberg who discusses his challenging childhood in his memoir. His memoir Hands of My Father, talks about how a young boy is asked to face hatred with love, to include those who are excluded and finally to realize his own weakness and flaws. This book takes place during the nineteen fifties and sixties when Myron was a child growing up in Brooklyn. He struggles came from that fact that he had two deaf parents and a brother with Epilepsy. Since both of Myron’s parents are deaf (due to childhood illnesses) his first language is American Sign Language. He, however, can hear and is trapped in between two worlds: the world of the hearing (who are intolerant and even cruel to his parents) and the world of his parents. He has had to be the bridge between the two often acting as a translator in very difficult situations and facing the ignorance of the “hearing world” every day.

This is such a heavy task of ask of a young boy and his burdens cause him a great deal of anguish throughout the book. Myron greatly struggles throughout the book because his parents rely so heavily on him to be their connection to the hearing world. He describes his feelings like playing the game “It” when he says, “As a child playing with my friends on my Brooklyn block, I loved this game. When my turn came, I didn’t mind at all the brief period during which I played a role of It. But as the same child living upstairs in apartment 3A, I deeply resented that I was always and eternally It. My father’s use of me in certain situations was akin to his use of a tool selected with care from his carpenter’s box. In 3A, there would never be anyone else I could transfer that role to by the simple expedient of a tag” (199). Myron's role as caretaker and the responsibility that entails is a continuous theme about which he focuses. It is so challenging for any child to feel excluded and different from their peers. However, it is distinctly even more challenging when your difference is due to your family and not to any fault of your own.

In my opinion, what is most powerful about this book is to watch Myron come to peace with his being different and even start to take pride in his father. The relationship with his father is a large focus on this book and reminds me or the book The Space Between Us by Thrity Umbigar. Both texts focus on the relationship between the older family member (in this book Myron and his dad) and the child. However, what makes Hands of My Father poignant and beautiful to read is to see the unconditional and deep love Mryon’s father holds for his children. His dad doesn’t conform to the normal conventions of the time which required dads to be emotionally distant and pretty much just play the role of the disciplinarian. In contrast his dad is adoring of his two sons, and in every ways shows them through his actions how he loves them. Their father’s love is beautifully shown in the following quote where Myron describes the comparison between his father’s and other fathers of the neighborhood,

"At precisely one hour before supper, the fathers of our block would return, shoulders turned downward, heads bent, the New York Daily News under their arms. The women would proceed to greet their husbands, often launching into a well documented list of their child’s misbehavior. This litany might result in a swat…this was often the only connection a father would make with his son. But that was not the case with my father. At the end of the day he would drop to his knees when he saw me, and hold me close, as if I have been lost, then found"(38).

His father was loving and affectionate in a way most other fathers of this time period did not even try to be. In my mind, one of the more powerful purposes of this book is for Myron to truly give an testament of the unconditional and deep love of a father for his sons. This book definitely inspired me to want to be a similar mother to my future children. I never want my children to feel like a burden. I want to embrace them at the end of the day like Myron’s dad and make them feel special and cherished as Myron did growing up.

Anyone who has ever in some way felt different than others would find this book to be incredibly touching and powerful. I think we have all felt this way at some point in our lives. However, those of us who have been blessed to always feel included may find this book brings about an increased level of compassion. What was inspiring to see is how because of the fact that Myron’s parents are targeted by others, this teaches them greater compassion towards others who are in some way victims. One of my favorite parts of this book is when Myron’s father talks about why he is such a fan of Jackie Robinson.

"On the subway ride home my father said, ‘I am a deaf man in a hearing world. All the time I must show hearing people that I am a man as well. A man as good as them. Maybe even better’…As usual people in the car stared at my father with mixed looks of curiosity, shock, and even revulsion. I paid no attention to them as I watched his hands. ‘Jackie Robinson is a black man in the white man’s baseball world. All the time he must show white people that he is a man. A man as good as them. Maybe even better. No matter that his skin is a black colored. The color of his skin is not important. Only what Jackie does on the ball field is important.’…His hands spoke to me sorrowfully. ‘Very hard for a deaf man. Very hard for a black man. Must fight all the time. No rest. Never. Sad.’" (203).

This quote speaks to the empathy that Myron’s father feels for anyone who has ever struggled to prove to others that they are “a man as good as [others].” This book opened my eyes and heart with compassion to the struggles that anyone on the margins of society feels each day. Their empathy and compassion for others is increased as a result and I am sure your heart will be touched by reading this book.

I would highly recommend this book as a must-read. It will teach you compassion for others and show you a strong testament of love between a father and a son that overcomes all struggles it may encounter. You will find yourself growing with Myron as he matures from a young boy, bitter about his “responsibilities” and differences from others, to a man who feels pride in how those experiences have shaped them. This is a book for all people to read and watch themselves grow as well.

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