Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love [NOOK Book]

Overview

By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg’s memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents—and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.

“Does sound have rhythm?” my father asked. “Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does it come and go like the wind?”

Such were the kinds of questions that...
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Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love

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Overview

By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg’s memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents—and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.

“Does sound have rhythm?” my father asked. “Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does it come and go like the wind?”

Such were the kinds of questions that Myron Uhlberg’s deaf father asked him from earliest childhood, in his eternal quest to decipher, and to understand, the elusive nature of sound. Quite a challenge for a young boy, and one of many he would face.

Uhlberg’s first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: “I love you.” But his second language was spoken English—and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his father’s ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.

Resentful as he sometimes was of the heavy burdens heaped on his small shoulders, he nonetheless adored his parents, who passed on to him their own passionate engagement with life. These two remarkable people married and had children at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression—an expression of extraordinary optimism, and typical of the joy and resilience they were able to summon at even the darkest of times.

From the beaches of Coney Island to Ebbets Field, where he watches his father’s hero Jackie Robinson play ball, from the branch library above the local Chinese restaurant where the odor of chow mein rose from the pages of the books he devoured to the hospital ward where he visits his polio-afflicted friend, this is a memoir filled with stories about growing up not just as the child of two deaf people but as a book-loving, mischief-making, tree-climbing kid during the remarkably eventful period that spanned the Depression, the War, and the early fifties.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Septuagenarian Uhlberg recounts his unusual childhood in this lovely memoir. Taking readers back to Depression-era Brooklyn and the beach at Coney Island, Uhlberg describes how his father, a handsome printer, fell in love with his mother, a fun-loving beauty. But these beachgoers were far from normal -- they were both deaf. Ultimately they married, and despite their families' fear that their children would likely suffer their own affliction, they decided to start a family. In this way, their hearing son, Myron, enters the world.

With candor and humor, Uhlberg recounts a childhood spent largely as a bridge between his parents and the hearing world. Translating from sign language to spoken language and back again, he enables his father to communicate with local shopkeepers, awakens his parents when his baby brother cries, and even interprets at a less-than-glowing parent-teacher conference. At times, he's embarrassed by his parents, and hurt that his father is called "dummy." But in the end, his overwhelming love and compassion leaves a lasting effect.

Uhlberg notes that his father asked him to describe sounds -- that of thunder or of waves crashing onto the shore. Perhaps it was in searching for words to such impossible questions that Uhlberg became the gifted writer he is today. (Spring 2009 Selection)
Publishers Weekly

In this memoir about growing up the son of deaf parents in 1940s Brooklyn, Uhlberg recalls the time his uncle told him he saw his nephew as "cleaved into two parts, half hearing, half deaf, forever joined together." These worlds come together in this work, his first for adults, as Uhlberg, who has written several children's books (including Dad, Jackie, and Me, which won a 2006 Patterson Prize) effortlessly weaves his way through a childhood of trying to interpret the speaking world for his parents while trying to learn the lessons of life from the richly executed "Technicolor language" of his father's hands. With the interconnection of two different worlds, there is bound to be humor, and Uhlberg is able to laugh at himself and his family's situation. He recounts unsuccessfully trying to reinterpret his teacher's constructive criticism for his parents and finding himself pressed into duty interpreting the Joe Louis prize fights for his dad. There are, of course, more poignant moments, as Uhlberg tries to explain the sound of waves for his curious father or when he finds himself in charge of caring for his epileptic baby brother because his parents can't hear the seizures. As Uhlberg grows up through the polio epidemic, WWII and Jackie Robinson's arrival in Brooklyn, he also grows out of his insecurities about his family and the way they are viewed as outsiders. Instead, looking back, he gives readers a well-crafted, heartwarming tale of family love and understanding. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School

Uhlberg fondly recounts stories of Brooklyn during the Great Depression and World War II in this memoir of his childhood. He grew up with the beautiful, expressive signs of his father and the equally beautiful spoken language of the hearing world. At a young age, the active, mischievous boy gained the responsibility of acting as translator for his father and sometimes as shield from the often-cruel hearing adults in a less politically correct time. In addition, his younger brother was diagnosed with epilepsy, a misunderstood disease at that time. Uhlberg's emotions toward his family, and especially his father, run the gamut from embarrassment to anger to a deep and abiding love. Sections titled "Memorabilia" pepper the narrative, and many black-and-white photographs are scattered throughout this rich, textured portrait of the deaf community on Coney Island at a turbulent time in U.S. history. Teens who enjoy history, historical fiction, memoirs, or books about people who are differently abled should all enjoy this.-Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI

From the Publisher
"In his moving memoir, Hands of my Father, Myron Uhlberg captures the essence of one exceptional family’s life in Brooklyn in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Uhlberg is a compassionate writer of truths. His book is full of surprises, written with a generous, loving spirit. In vivid scenes–sometimes wrenching, sometimes mischievous and sometimes hilarious–he takes us inside the singular world of his childhood. And there the reader discovers the profound, everyday courage exemplified by each member of the Uhlberg family."—Lou Ann Walker, author of A Loss for Words

“In telling the story of his very unique childhood, Myron Uhlberg has created a book that is universal.  His feelings of love and responsibility, of shame and enormous pride, can teach us all something about being a member of a family.  I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love this book.”–Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Run

“Fascinating.... [Uhlberg’s] circumstance made his childhood exceptional and well worth recalling, which he does in an unpretentious but vividly evocative style.”—Wall Street Journal

“A well-crafted, heartwarming tale of family love and understanding…. [Uhlberg] effortlessly weaves his way through a childhood of trying to interpret the speaking world for his parents while trying to learn the lessons of life from the richly executed “Technicolor language” of his father's hands”—Publishers Weekly

“Heartfelt...[Uhlberg] describes significant episodes of his early life with artful economy and sincere emotion.” —Booklist, starred review

Fresh and engaging.... In Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love, Myron Uhlberg ... documents a family life severed from the mainstream.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A fascinating look at an uncommon childhood.”—OK! magazine

"A warm family chronicle as instructive as it is inspiring ... opens a window into a world of isolation and “eternal silence” unimaginable to most people."—Christian Science Monitor

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553906271
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/3/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 429,123
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Myron Uhlberg is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of a number of children’s books. He lives with his wife in Santa Monica and Palm Springs.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The Sound of Silence My first language was sign.

I was born shortly after midnight, July 1, 1933, my parents’ first child. Thus I had one tiny reluctant foot in the first half of that historically fateful year, and the other firmly planted in the second half. In a way my birth date, squarely astride the calendar year, was a metaphor for my subsequent life, one foot always being dragged back to the deaf world, the silent world of my father and of my mother, from whose womb I had just emerged, and the other  trying to stride forward into the greater world of the hearing, to escape into the world destined to be my own.

Many years later I realized what a great expression of optimism it was for my father and mother, two deaf people, to decide to have a child at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression.

We lived in Brooklyn, near Coney Island, where on certain summer days, when the wind was blowing just right and our kitchen window was open and the shade drawn up on its roller, I could smell the briny odor of the ocean, layered with just the barest hint of mustard and grilled hot dogs (although that could have been my imagination).

Our apartment was four rooms on the third floor of a new red-brick building encrusted with bright orange fire escapes, which my father and mother had found by walking the neighborhood, and then negotiated for with the impatient hearing landlord all by themselves despite their respective parents’ objections that they “could not manage alone” as they were “deaf and handicapped” and “helpless” and would surely “be cheated.” They had just returned from their honeymoon, spent blissfully in Washington, D.C., planned to coincide with the silent, colorful explosion of the blossoming cherry trees, which my mother considered a propitious omen for the successful marriage of two deaf people.

Apartment 3A was the only home my father ever knew as a married man. Its four rooms were the place he lived with and loved his deaf wife, and raised his two hearing sons, and then left by ambulance one day forty-four years after arriving there, never to return.

One day my father’s hands signed in sorrow and regret the story of how he had become deaf. This was a story he had pieced  together from facts he had learned later in life from his younger sister, Rose, who in turn had heard it from their mother. (The fact that he had to learn the details of his own deafness from his younger hearing sister was a source of enduring resentment.)

My father told me he had been born in 1902, a normal hearing child, but at an early age had contracted spinal meningitis. His parents, David and Rebecca, newly arrived in America from Russia, living in an apartment in the Bronx, thought their baby would die.

My father’s fever ravaged his little body for over a week. Cold baths during the day and wet sheet-shrouded nights kept him alive. When his fever at last abated, he was deaf. My father would never again hear a sound in all the remaining years of his life. As an adult, he often questioned why it was that he had been singled out as the only member of his family to become deaf.

I, his hearing son, watched his hands sign his anguish: “Not fair!”

My father and his father could barely communicate with each other. Their entire shared vocabulary consisted of a few mimed signs: eat, be quiet, sleep. These were all command signs. They had no sign for love between them, and his father died without ever having had a single meaningful conversation with his firstborn child.

My father’s mother did have a sign for love. It was a homemade sign, and she would use it often. My father told me that his language with his mother was poor in quantity but rich in content. She communicated less through agreed-upon signs than through the luminosity that appeared in her eyes whenever she looked at him. That look was special and reserved for him alone.

Like their parents, my father’s siblings—his younger brother, Leon, and his two younger sisters, Rose and Millie—never learned a word of formal sign. They remained strangers to him his entire life. At my father’s graveside Leon screamed his name, as if, finally, his dead deaf brother had been granted the power to hear his name on his brother’s lips.

In 1910, when he was eight years old, my father’s parents sent him to live at the Fanwood School for the Deaf, a military-style school for deaf children. My father thought they had abandoned him because he was damaged. In his early days there he cried himself to sleep every night. But ever so slowly he came to realize that rather than having been abandoned, he had been rescued. For the first time in his life he was surrounded by children just like him, and he finally understood that he was not alone in this world.

However, the education he received at Fanwood was certainly a mixed blessing. There, as at most deaf schools at the time, deaf children were taught mainly by hearing teachers, whose goal was to teach them oral speech. The deaf are not mute; they have vocal cords and can speak. But since they cannot monitor the sound of their voice, teaching them intelligible speech is extraordinarily difficult. Although my father and his classmates tried to cooperate with their teachers, not one of them ever learned to speak well enough to be understood by the average hearing person.

While this futile and much-resented pedagogic exercise was being inflicted on the deaf children, sign language was strictly  forbidden. The hearing teachers considered it to be a primitive method of communication suitable only for the unintelligent. 

Not until the 1960s would linguists decree ASL (American Sign Language) to be a legitimate language all its own. But long before then the deaf, among them the children at my father’s school, had come to that conclusion themselves. Every night, in the dormitory at Fanwood, the older deaf children taught the younger ones the visual language of sign.

With sign, the boundaries of my father’s silent mental universe disappeared, and in the resulting opening sign after new sign accumulated, expanding the closed space within his mind until it filled to bursting with joyous understanding.

“When I was a boy, I was sent to deaf school. I had no real signs,” my father signed to me, his hands moving, remembering. “I had only made-up home signs. These were like shadows on a wall. They had no real meaning. In deaf school I was hungry for sign. All were new for me. Sign was the food that fed me. Food for the eye. Food for the mind. I swallowed each new sign to make it mine.”

My father’s need to communicate was insatiable and would cease only when the dormitory lights were turned out at night. Even then, my father told me, he would sign himself to sleep. Once asleep, my father claimed, he would dream in sign.

My father was taught the printing trade in deaf school, an ideal trade, it was thought, for a deaf man, as printing was a painfully loud business. The unspoken message transmitted to the deaf children of that time by their hearing teachers was that they were neither as smart nor as capable as hearing children. Thus they would primarily be taught manual skills, like printing, shoe repair, and house painting.

Upon graduation in 1920, my father was able to land his first job, the job that would last his working lifetime.

“In the Great Depression,” he told me, “I was lucky to have an apprentice job with the New York Daily News. I knew it was because I was deaf and so wouldn’t be distracted by the noise of the  printing presses, and the clattering of the linotype machines, but I didn’t care. I also didn’t care that the deaf workers were paid less than the hearing workers because Captain Patterson, the big boss, knew that we wouldn’t, couldn’t, complain. He knew that we would be happy for any job, at any wage. We were deaf. He could hear. And he was right. The hearing people ran the world.

“But those were tough times for me. By the time I gave my mother money out of my small pay envelope at the end of the week, for my room and board, and then some more for the household expenses, there was not much left over. My hearing brother and sisters did not have steady work. My mother and father were the janitors of our building, so they had little ready cash. It broke my heart to see my mother on her hands and knees, shuffling up and down the hallways, washing the wooden floors with hot, soapy water she dragged along behind her in a big wooden bucket. Her hands were always red and raw. To this day I can’t get the memory of her chafed hands out of my mind. When I finally got my union card and made good union wages, I could give her enough money every month so she didn’t have to do that anymore. You can’t imagine how proud I was that I, her deaf son, could do that for her.”

As an apprentice, he explained to me, he worked the night shift. It was known as the “lobster shift,” for no reason that he was ever able to explain to me. As a boy, I reasoned that since he worked nights while everyone else was asleep, including fish in the ocean, it must be that lobsters were awake during those hours, and so the name.

Being a printer was the only job my father ever had, and he loved it. He would work for the newspaper until he retired over forty years later. In all that time he worked side by side with hearing co-workers, but he never really knew them. Like most in the hearing world, they treated him as if he were an alien—primitive, incapable of speech, and lacking human thought: a person to be avoided if possible, and if not, ignored.

After an apprenticeship of many years, my father was issued a union card. It was the proudest moment of his life. It was tangible proof that he was as good as any hearing man. Even in the dark days of the Depression, when one out of four men were out of work, he, a deaf man, could support himself.

And, he reasoned, he could also support a wife. My father was tired of being alone in this hearing world. It was time, he thought, to create his own silent world. A world that would begin with a deaf wife.

One bleak winter day, while we were sitting at the kitchen table, the rain sleeting against the windows of our Brooklyn apartment, his hands told me the rest of his story, in which began my story:

“Sarah was a young girl. She had many friends. She liked to have fun.

“I first noticed her at the beach in Coney Island. She was always laughing. “All the deaf boys were crazy about Sarah. Even the hearing boys.

“There were many handsome boys on the beach. All the young boys had muscles and chocolate tans. They could jump and leap over each other’s back. They could do handstands.

“I was older. I didn’t have muscles. I couldn’t stand on my hands if my life depended on it. I didn’t have a brown tan. I would get sunburned. My skin turned red. And then I would peel.

“It didn’t matter. The handsome young boys with their chocolate skin and big muscles only wanted to have fun with Sarah. They were not serious boys. They had no jobs. So they had plenty of time to play, and make muscles, and get brown skin from  the sun.

“I was a serious man. I had a job. A good job. The best job. I was no longer an apprentice printer. I had a union card, just like the hearing workers.

“I didn’t want Sarah just to have fun. I wanted a wife for all time. I wanted a mother for my children. I wanted a partner forever. We would be two deaf people in the hearing world. We would make our own world. A quiet world. A silent world.

“We would be strong together, and strong for our children.”

Then, just as the rain stopped and thin rays of sunlight striped the tabletop, my father smiled to himself, his hands thinking . . . “Maybe we would have a little fun before the children came.” Lost in reverie, his hands, bathed in golden light, now lay silent on the kitchen table. Time passed. I sat and watched his still hands, waiting patiently for them to continue his story. I loved the quiet time we spent together, and I loved the stories his hands  contained.

Then my father’s hands came alive again, eloquently describing a warm spring afternoon in 1932 Brooklyn.

“I knew I had to make a good impression. “I had to dress well. I wore my best suit. Actually, it was my only suit. The big Depression was still going strong, and I watched every dollar.”

He tells me his suit was a fine wool serge that cost him two weeks’ salary. Its jaunty design was at odds with the feeling of dread that grew in him that day as he set off for the apartment where Sarah lived with her family, having written to her father asking if he might pay a call.

The scene unfolds with cinematic vividness as my father’s hands recount each stage of his quest.

He descends with the crowd, down the stairs from the subway platform, sweat dampening his armpits, and exits the station into the frantic gay activity of Sabbath shoppers rushing about, making their last-minute purchases for the evening meal.

The salt scent of the Atlantic Ocean hangs over every shop awning, every outdoor stall, reminding my father, as if he needed such a reminder, how far he had traveled this warm day from his familiar home in the northern leafy village reaches of the Bronx, after one trolley ride and three subway transfers, to the very end of Brooklyn, on the honky-tonk shore of Coney Island. And why has he come here on this warm spring day, sweat pooling at the base of his spine, palms moistly clutching now-wilted store-bought flowers? Today, this very afternoon, my father will meet, for the first time, the family of the girl he has chosen to be his wife.

Unfortunately for him, my future mother, waiting at home, believes he is hopelessly boring and much too old for her; besides, she feels, she’s too young to be married, there being so much fun to be had with all the good-looking boys who flutter around her like bees around a hive of honey every weekend on the hot sand of Bay 6, their hands gesturing wildly to gain her exclusive attention. And she could not banish from her mind the image of the hearing golden boy whose attentions she enjoyed so much and who said he loved her.

Glancing nervously at the written directions, my father marches down the broad bustling avenue, so unlike the uneventful Bronx street where he lives. His hands at his sides rehearse the arguments he will employ this afternoon to convince this dark-haired young girl and her father that he is the one to whom she should commit her future. He has been marshaling the arguments in his favor for the past two weeks. He has a steady job and a union card. He is mature and serious. He is a loyal and dependable fellow, calm in an emergency. He can read. He can write. He can sign fluently. And if she will have him, he will love her forever. He finds himself impressed with his qualifications as he cycles through them. He is an up-and-comer. Besides, he has a full head of hair parted perfectly down the middle and a dandy mustache, and is  altogether a fine-looking fellow.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 The Sound of Silence 3

Memorabilia: A Fox in Brooklyn 23

2 The Child as Father of the Man 26

Memorabilia: The Language of Touch 36

3 The Fights 39

Memorabilia: Sounds in the Night 47

4 Another Child 49

Memorabilia: Trains, Trains, Trains 60

5 Heaven 64

6 Clothes Make the Boy 68

7 A Day in the City 77

Memorabilia: Gone Fishing 82

8 The Smell of Reading 87

9 Falling in Love 94

10 Tales Told 103

Memorabilia: What's in a Name 107

11 The Sound of Color 110

12 The Triangle and the Chihuahua 119

13 My Father's Language 130

Memorabilia: The Palmer Method 134

14 Parent-Teacher Night 136

Memorabilia: The Spider-Man of Ninth Street 141

15 A Boy in Uniform 146

Memorabilia: A Chip Off the Old Block 156

16 Brooklyn Bully 162

17 Polio 166

Memorabilia: The End of the Presidency 173

18 A Boy Becomes a Man 175

19 Vaudeville on 86th Street 180

20 Sounds from the Heart 189

21 My Brother's Keeper 195

22 Dad, Jackie, and Me 200

23 Silent Snow 205

24 Pigskin Dreams 208

25 Exodus 214

26 The Duke of Coney Island 217

27 Death, a Stranger 222

Epilogue 231

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First Chapter

Chapter One The Sound of Silence My first language was sign. I was born shortly after midnight, July 1, 1933, my parents' first child. Thus I had one tiny reluctant foot in the first half of that historically fateful year, and the other firmly planted in the second half. In a way my birth date, squarely astride the calendar year, was a metaphor for my subsequent life, one foot always being dragged back to the deaf world, the silent world of my father and of my mother, from whose womb I had just emerged, and the other trying to stride forward into the greater world of the hearing, to escape into the world destined to be my own. Many years later I realized what a great expression of optimism it was for my father and mother, two deaf people, to decide to have a child at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression. We lived in Brooklyn, near Coney Island, where on certain summer days, when the wind was blowing just right and our kitchen window was open and the shade drawn up on its roller, I could smell the briny odor of the ocean, layered with just the barest hint of mustard and grilled hot dogs (although that could have been my imagination). Our apartment was four rooms on the third floor of a new red-brick building encrusted with bright orange fire escapes, which my father and mother had found by walking the neighborhood, and then negotiated for with the impatient hearing landlord all by themselves despite their respective parents' objections that they "could not manage alone" as they were "deaf and handicapped" and "helpless" and would surely "be cheated." They had just returned from their honeymoon, spent blissfully in Washington, D.C., planned to coincide with the silent, colorful explosion of the blossoming cherry trees, which my mother considered a propitious omen for the successful marriage of two deaf people. Apartment 3A was the only home my father ever knew as a married man. Its four rooms were the place he lived with and loved his deaf wife, and raised his two hearing sons, and then left by ambulance one day forty-four years after arriving there, never to return. One day my father's hands signed in sorrow and regret the story of how he had become deaf. This was a story he had pieced together from facts he had learned later in life from his younger sister, Rose, who in turn had heard it from their mother. (The fact that he had to learn the details of his own deafness from his younger hearing sister was a source of enduring resentment.) My father told me he had been born in 1902, a normal hearing child, but at an early age had contracted spinal meningitis. His parents, David and Rebecca, newly arrived in America from Russia, living in an apartment in the Bronx, thought their baby would die. My father's fever ravaged his little body for over a week. Cold baths during the day and wet sheet-shrouded nights kept him alive. When his fever at last abated, he was deaf. My father would never again hear a sound in all the remaining years of his life. As an adult, he often questioned why it was that he had been singled out as the only member of his family to become deaf. I, his hearing son, watched his hands sign his anguish: "Not fair!" My father and his father could barely communicate with each other. Their entire shared vocabulary consisted of a few mimed signs: eat, be quiet, sleep. These were all command signs. They had no sign for love between them, and his father died without ever having had a single meaningful conversation with his firstborn child. My father's mother did have a sign for love. It was a homemade sign, and she would use it often. My father told me that his language with his mother was poor in quantity but rich in content. She communicated less through agreed-upon signs than through the luminosity that appeared in her eyes whenever she looked at him. That look was special and reserved for him alone. Like their parents, my father's siblings -- his younger brother, Leon, and his two younger sisters, Rose and Millie -- never learned a word of formal sign. They remained strangers to him his entire life. At my father's graveside Leon screamed his name, as if, finally, his dead deaf brother had been granted the power to hear his name on his brother's lips. In 1910, when he was eight years old, my father's parents sent him to live at the Fanwood School for the Deaf, a military-style school for deaf children. My father thought they had abandoned him because he was damaged. In his early days there he cried himself to sleep every night. But ever so slowly he came to realize that rather than having been abandoned, he had been rescued. For the first time in his life he was surrounded by children just like him, and he finally understood that he was not alone in this world. However, the education he received at Fanwood was certainly a mixed blessing. There, as at most deaf schools at the time, deaf children were taught mainly by hearing teachers, whose goal was to teach them oral speech. The deaf are not mute; they have vocal cords and can speak. But since they cannot monitor the sound of their voice, teaching them intelligible speech is extraordinarily difficult. Although my father and his classmates tried to cooperate with their teachers, not one of them ever learned to speak well enough to be understood by the average hearing person. While this futile and much-resented pedagogic exercise was being inflicted on the deaf children, sign language was strictly forbidden. The hearing teachers considered it to be a primitive method of communication suitable only for the unintelligent. Not until the 1960s would linguists decree ASL (American Sign Language) to be a legitimate language all its own. But long before then the deaf, among them the children at my father's school, had come to that conclusion themselves. Every night, in the dormitory at Fanwood, the older deaf children taught the younger ones the visual language of sign. With sign, the boundaries of my father's silent mental universe disappeared, and in the resulting opening sign after new sign accumulated, expanding the closed space within his mind until it filled to bursting with joyous understanding. "When I was a boy, I was sent to deaf school. I had no real signs," my father signed to me, his hands moving, remembering. "I had only made-up home signs. These were like shadows on a wall. They had no real meaning. In deaf school I was hungry for sign. All were new for me. Sign was the food that fed me. Food for the eye. Food for the mind. I swallowed each new sign to make it mine." My father's need to communicate was insatiable and would cease only when the dormitory lights were turned out at night. Even then, my father told me, he would sign himself to sleep. Once asleep, my father claimed, he would dream in sign. My father was taught the printing trade in deaf school, an ideal trade, it was thought, for a deaf man, as printing was a painfully loud business. The unspoken message transmitted to the deaf children of that time by their hearing teachers was that they were neither as smart nor as capable as hearing children. Thus they would primarily be taught manual skills, like printing, shoe repair, and house painting. Upon graduation in 1920, my father was able to land his first job, the job that would last his working lifetime. "In the Great Depression," he told me, "I was lucky to have an apprentice job with the New York Daily News. I knew it was because I was deaf and so wouldn't be distracted by the noise of the printing presses, and the clattering of the linotype machines, but I didn't care. I also didn't care that the deaf workers were paid less than the hearing workers because Captain Patterson, the big boss, knew that we wouldn't, couldn't, complain. He knew that we would be happy for any job, at any wage. We were deaf. He could hear. And he was right. The hearing people ran the world. "But those were tough times for me. By the time I gave my mother money out of my small pay envelope at the end of the week, for my room and board, and then some more for the household expenses, there was not much left over. My hearing brother and sisters did not have steady work. My mother and father were the janitors of our building, so they had little ready cash. It broke my heart to see my mother on her hands and knees, shuffling up and down the hallways, washing the wooden floors with hot, soapy water she dragged along behind her in a big wooden bucket. Her hands were always red and raw. To this day I can't get the memory of her chafed hands out of my mind. When I finally got my union card and made good union wages, I could give her enough money every month so she didn't have to do that anymore. You can't imagine how proud I was that I, her deaf son, could do that for her." As an apprentice, he explained to me, he worked the night shift. It was known as the "lobster shift," for no reason that he was ever able to explain to me. As a boy, I reasoned that since he worked nights while everyone else was asleep, including fish in the ocean, it must be that lobsters were awake during those hours, and so the name. Being a printer was the only job my father ever had, and he loved it. He would work for the newspaper until he retired over forty years later. In all that time he worked side by side with hearing co-workers, but he never really knew them. Like most in the hearing world, they treated him as if he were an alien -- primitive, incapable of speech, and lacking human thought: a person to be avoided if possible, and if not, ignored. After an apprenticeship of many years, my father was issued a union card. It was the proudest moment of his life. It was tangible proof that he was as good as any hearing man. Even in the dark days of the Depression, when one out of four men were out of work, he, a deaf man, could support himself. And, he reasoned, he could also support a wife. My father was tired of being alone in this hearing world. It was time, he thought, to create his own silent world. A world that would begin with a deaf wife. One bleak winter day, while we were sitting at the kitchen table, the rain sleeting against the windows of our Brooklyn apartment, his hands told me the rest of his story, in which began my story: "Sarah was a young girl. She had many friends. She liked to have fun. "I first noticed her at the beach in Coney Island. She was always laughing. "All the deaf boys were crazy about Sarah. Even the hearing boys. "There were many handsome boys on the beach. All the young boys had muscles and chocolate tans. They could jump and leap over each other's back. They could do handstands. "I was older. I didn't have muscles. I couldn't stand on my hands if my life depended on it. I didn't have a brown tan. I would get sunburned. My skin turned red. And then I would peel. "It didn't matter. The handsome young boys with their chocolate skin and big muscles only wanted to have fun with Sarah. They were not serious boys. They had no jobs. So they had plenty of time to play, and make muscles, and get brown skin from the sun. "I was a serious man. I had a job. A good job. The best job. I was no longer an apprentice printer. I had a union card, just like the hearing workers. "I didn't want Sarah just to have fun. I wanted a wife for all time. I wanted a mother for my children. I wanted a partner forever. We would be two deaf people in the hearing world. We would make our own world. A quiet world. A silent world. "We would be strong together, and strong for our children." Then, just as the rain stopped and thin rays of sunlight striped the tabletop, my father smiled to himself, his hands thinking . . . "Maybe we would have a little fun before the children came." Lost in reverie, his hands, bathed in golden light, now lay silent on the kitchen table. Time passed. I sat and watched his still hands, waiting patiently for them to continue his story. I loved the quiet time we spent together, and I loved the stories his hands contained. Then my father's hands came alive again, eloquently describing a warm spring afternoon in 1932 Brooklyn. "I knew I had to make a good impression. "I had to dress well. I wore my best suit. Actually, it was my only suit. The big Depression was still going strong, and I watched every dollar." He tells me his suit was a fine wool serge that cost him two weeks' salary. Its jaunty design was at odds with the feeling of dread that grew in him that day as he set off for the apartment where Sarah lived with her family, having written to her father asking if he might pay a call. The scene unfolds with cinematic vividness as my father's hands recount each stage of his quest. He descends with the crowd, down the stairs from the subway platform, sweat dampening his armpits, and exits the station into the frantic gay activity of Sabbath shoppers rushing about, making their last-minute purchases for the evening meal. The salt scent of the Atlantic Ocean hangs over every shop awning, every outdoor stall, reminding my father, as if he needed such a reminder, how far he had traveled this warm day from his familiar home in the northern leafy village reaches of the Bronx, after one trolley ride and three subway transfers, to the very end of Brooklyn, on the honky-tonk shore of Coney Island. And why has he come here on this warm spring day, sweat pooling at the base of his spine, palms moistly clutching now-wilted store-bought flowers? Today, this very afternoon, my father will meet, for the first time, the family of the girl he has chosen to be his wife. Unfortunately for him, my future mother, waiting at home, believes he is hopelessly boring and much too old for her; besides, she feels, she's too young to be married, there being so much fun to be had with all the good-looking boys who flutter around her like bees around a hive of honey every weekend on the hot sand of Bay 6, their hands gesturing wildly to gain her exclusive attention. And she could not banish from her mind the image of the hearing golden boy whose attentions she enjoyed so much and who said he loved her. Glancing nervously at the written directions, my father marches down the broad bustling avenue, so unlike the uneventful Bronx street where he lives. His hands at his sides rehearse the arguments he will employ this afternoon to convince this dark-haired young girl and her father that he is the one to whom she should commit her future. He has been marshaling the arguments in his favor for the past two weeks. He has a steady job and a union card. He is mature and serious. He is a loyal and dependable fellow, calm in an emergency. He can read. He can write. He can sign fluently. And if she will have him, he will love her forever. He finds himself impressed with his qualifications as he cycles through them. He is an up-and-comer. Besides, he has a full head of hair parted perfectly down the middle and a dandy mustache, and is altogether a fine-looking fellow.

Excerpted from Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg Copyright © 2008 by Myron Uhlberg. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Average Rating 4.5
( 29 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 2, 2009

    The Touch of Hands

    I've been fascinated with hands my whole life, in stories, in my relationships, in my own use of them to quilt, to write, to create art, to garden. So, this book caught my eye from the title alone, and I wasn't disappointed in the least to read about the hands of Myron Uhlberg's father. Here is a touching story about a son who has, through his hands, become the voice of a man who can't speak or hear and who, through his own hands, communicates trust, love, encouragement, pride, and responsibility to his son. But this is a story about so much more; it's a recollection of learning to overcome prejudice, of learning to cope with one's own sense of loss (Myron's childhood is never like those of his neighborhood peers, in that he really doesn't have much of one), of learning to be a parent to a younger brother who is challenged with his own health issues, of learning to be a voice for the deaf community and a conduit between the hearing world and the world of his parents, of learning to monitor one's words, of learning to express hope, of learning to tell a story and create language where there is none. The writing may be a bit uneven at times, but the small vignettes are wonderful and engaging, especially in "the fight of the century" where Myron must translate, with only the most basic sign knowledge, the radio commentary for the boxing championship between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. But equally as beautifully told are the experiences of shopping for a suit at Bloomingdale's and relating the sound of color--exquisite understanding a the world on deeper levels than many of us will ever think about. This is a must read and would be a delightful gift for any father.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    Book Review ¿Hands of My Father¿ by Myron Uhlberg is an excel

    Book Review

    “Hands of My Father” by Myron Uhlberg is an excellent book. Most of the parts of this book show the life of a deaf person. Deaf people difficulties and their interesting part of life. This book can easily change people’s thinking about deaf people. When I read this book most of the time I was reminded of my parents, brothers and childhood memories. Most emotional sense of the book for me was in chapter 17. When author’s friend Barry was affected by polio and he will never ride bicycle. Few days before affected by polio Barry could ride bicycle but disease took his ability to ride. Bicycle was in front of his house but missing only the person.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2009

    I loved this book - warm and heartfelt. Uhlberg is a master story teller. He makes you laugh and cry and in the end feel great about being alive. A brilliant book that everyone would benefit from reading.

    Uhlberg is a master story teller. His book is a warm tribute to a loving family. The book makes you long for the good - old days back in New York. The Jackie Robinson episode is very touching. When the young Uhlberg was signing the Schmelling-Joe Louis fight - it had me laughing out loud.

    Overall this is an excellent book - warm, funny and informative of those who are asked to deal with the deaf. It is also an excellent period piece of Brooklyn in the 40's and 50's.

    I loved the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    HANDS OF MY FATHER REVIEW Before of read the ¿Hands of my Fathe

    HANDS OF MY FATHER REVIEW

    Before of read the “Hands of my Father” book my concept about deaf people was poor, because I didn’t take the time to imaging how a deaf world is. Nowadays my opinion about deaf people is different because in this book the author Myron Ulberg describes how in difficult moments during the great depression when he born and grew up in Brooklyn. And how since he was a baby started to create a connection with his two deaf parents, and at the same time he became the bridge of communication between the deaf world of his father Loui and the hearing world. The obsession of his father Loui to know what is the sound, and his love for Myron created the connection of love between Myron and his father. At the other hand the discrimination that Louis suffered due to his deaf condition along the story make me fell the frustration that he felt. Because is not easy when a person want to express and can’t make it because a lack of voice.
    In other words this book is a reflection to the people who has voice and never take time to think how bless they are to have a voice. And is a lesson of love for the people that never have time to share with family members no matter what physical conditions or differences or responsibilities. In other words this book is a lesson of life.

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    Nadia Rahman April 29, 2013 ¿Hands of my Father¿ The review and

    Nadia Rahman
    April 29, 2013
    “Hands of my Father”
    The review and reflection:
    The book, “Hands of my Father” is talking about deaf people and the author was Myron who was deaf parents. In this book, Myron talks a lot about his deaf parents. He talks about his real personal life that gives us some true experiences. Myron loved his father so much and his mother too. He always was together with his father and he helped his father always. In this point, I like this book because Myron shows so much so much responsibility to his parents and his little brother. He named himself “a brother’s keeper” because he took care his brother too. I think, this book motivated me one way and that is responsibility for parents even they are deaf or hearing people. Consequently, Myron parents got so much from Myron and in this situation. I think, it is really difficult to deal and his parents were dependent on him. On the other hand, I don’t really like this book because the author only talks about deaf life and connection. Now days, people are very smart and they don’t want to go down and whatever they are now, they want to learn more critical things. So, as a hearing person, I think, it is not really important for me to learn about deaf people life. In addition, I don’t like to recommend this book to other people because it is only life story about deaf people. And it is one kind of boring. I think, people are human being and sign language is little difficult for hearing people. There are few deaf people around the world. And sing language cannot help us at all and it is not useful in our society because sign language is different than other countries sign language. In a relationship, a deaf person between a hearing people has so much difference to communicate each other and it is hard to deal. So, I would like to give these book 2 stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2013

    Hands Of My Father, we have read this book and we have never ima

    Hands Of My Father, we have read this book and we have never imagine in our life about deaf people. When I read this book I felt emotional
    when Myron has to explain everything to his parents. His parents were dependent on him. Myron had a big responsibility in his life. From our
    childhood we grow up as a hearing person and living with our parents(hearing) but Myron as a hearing child grow up with deaf parents.People
    can learn a lot of lesson from this, because it represents a perfect example for all the people. In my life I've read so many books but not about
    deaf people . My overall reaction was very deep with that book that I realized deaf people are more smarter than hearing people. I would
    recommend to those people who read books a lot. Specially, to those who have feelings for people .

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    I already read ¿Hands of my Father¿ and I can say that this book

    I already read “Hands of my Father” and I can say that this book is amazing. You can find a lot of emotions while you are reading; this book would make you laugh, be furious or cry. Hands of my Father help me to change my views and to see how society acts when they see a person with any disability. Now, I say that I can understand a little bit how deaf people or with other disabled people are. I can say that these people are completely normal and also I think these people could life more happy than another one who don’t have any disability.
    Hands of my father make me realize how sometimes I act with strangers without notice it, that’s why I feel emotionally affected because sometimes when I saw people like Louis, I dint pay attention to them or the only think I thought was poor guy or girl. Now, I realize that this people are not poor because they are completely normal and so much smarter than others. This story motivated me in the way that I appreciate more life and that any problem I could have never is going to be worse than the others problems people. 
    Finally I completely recommend anyone to read this book. This story is really good, interesting and for people who like to read true stories, I would be perfect. 
    I would give five stars to this book. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2013

    Hands of My Father I would say this book is an awesome book and

    Hands of My Father

    I would say this book is an awesome book and touching book. That was very new for me to learn about deaf world and to know that those people are the same as hearing people, and they are not disabled. That was wonderful to know about deaf people through this book.”Hands of my Father” taught me that to go in a normal conversation with deaf people, and it is also not hard to have contact with them. Also,I have learned that i have to be patient to communicate with deaf people. This book could be emotional book because most of the book talk about how the relation with the son and his parents goes.Therefore, it was very hard to take care of his parents. I like this book because the story compelling me to keep going reading this book and to know what is going next. This book was very interesting for me. I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    Hands of My Father Book Review This book is about Deaf parents a

    Hands of My Father Book Review
    This book is about Deaf parents and hearing child. While we are living it’s rarely to see deaf people and even we don’t care about deaf people.
    I think you may feel boring and you don’t want to read this book because it is about a deaf people story, but definitely this book is worth to read. This book tell us two different world that deaf world and hearing world. The story of deaf people and world is new to me and it was really interesting. It is exciting to know you never have been experienced. So, I really recommend this book if you want to have freshness.

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    I would use ¿loving¿ to describe this book, ¿Hands of M

    I would use “loving” to describe this book, “Hands of My Father” even though it is full of the discrimination of the hearing world toward deaf world. However, it is just because of the discrimination to make their love either strong or weak, which is between their family members. Different love or relationship between Myron and author’s father, Louis, Louis and his father, Louis and his wife, the first love of Myron’s mother’s, Louis and his family, Myron’s mother and her family. It is all through the struggling from hearing world to deaf world.

    To be candid, while reading this book, I found out that was not what I expected to read at beginning.
    That’s the world which I never conceive of. However, the feeling of love in a family connected to anyone. We all have the experiences which someone looked down us in our life. Whereas, I also learned that deaf people have their own culture, such Sign Language. They are a person living in deaf world, not a deaf person living in hearing world. It is like a different community in our society. They do not think that being deaf is an infirmity which people might prevent them from equal treatment. As the end of book pointed out that if we need to comprehend ourselves, we should interact with others. As a result, I recommend this book to people who want to see other’s different world and to understand more about society.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2013

    The Book ¿Hands of My Father¿ affected the way I see society and

    The Book “Hands of My Father” affected the way I see society and the world. I had no idea about deaf life before I read the book. I knowledge that deaf people just like our hearing people. They have their mentalities, and they have their attachments, their love and their abomination. I think that from reading this book people can learn some lessons. For example, you can treat deaf people naturally in the future. Compared to other books I’ve read, this book describes things in more complicated way. Yet that is not bad for English learning. From my perspective its vocabulary is high level for me, so I can’t perfectly understand some sentences in short times. If someone is learning English at high level, or he or she wants to know more about deaf people I would like to recommend this book to them. The interpreter of sign language definitely will enjoy reading it. If let me rate this book out of 5, I will give it 3.5.

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    Hands of My Father¿ the book which has changed my thoughts about

    Hands of My Father” the book which has changed my thoughts about deaf people’s world. It has left a significant impression on me while reading the book I was feeling like it is reflecting my life even it could be reflection of anyone’s life. A book which reminds us our childhood. The moments of our childhood when we were sometimes responsible for others in our family, when we were leaving our nest, and every moments we had with our beloved family members. This book is about the love, feelings and responsibility of a hearing boy whose parents were deaf. This book thought me to be patient and take the responsibility of parents no matter how are they. This book thought me how to be confident in life as like as Myron’s father was in spite of having his deafness. This book reminds me the philosophy of life that no one belongs to anyone as Myron was leaving his parents when he grew older and everyone has to lonely no matter how many beloved persons you have they may not be with you while you are leaving this world. I think this book has touched me emotionally, it made me laugh, made me think and made me cry. I would like to recommend other people to read this book because it’s a book about our life.

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  • Posted April 29, 2013

    Boy, am I glad that I happened upon this book one winter day in

    Boy, am I glad that I happened upon this book one winter day in a secondhand bookstore, casually browsing the shelves. The moment I read the back cover of this book, I was already moved. I decided to use this book as teaching material in my college-level ESL class. Not only is it an incredibly moving story of childhood, family, and human struggle, it is an introduction into a world to which most hearing people are not privy. It was a learning experience to read this book, and it was also an interesting way for my non-native English speaking students to relate to characters who struggle with language and communication.

    As I read this book for the first time, I almost found myself wanting to throw the book across the room because of how infuriatingly perfect and comprehensive each chapter was on its own.

    I have to say that I would recommend this book to most anyone, except the ignorant who will find themselves unable to identify with a fellow human-being.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2012

    Love it.

    Being a hearing child of deaf parents there was so much I could relate to. This is no doubt the true story of his life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2009

    very interesting story - not well written

    would have been better to concentrate on his father's life, rather than his own

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Very Enlightening.

    Very enjoyable reading.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 9, 2009

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    Posted September 11, 2011

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    Posted February 16, 2009

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    Posted December 18, 2009

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