When I lost my hearing at age six and got cochlear implants, my parents often wondered what my future would be like, who I would become, and what achievements I would reach. They were told many things from professionals about how I might not reach certain milestones in the academic world, and about what type of relationships I might have. However, they were persistent in trying their best, and had faith in my future.
I am now a parent myself. My wife and I have two boys and a girl, ages three, two, and one. They are all at the age when they notice my cochlear implants on my head and ask questions. Our one-year-old likes to grab them any chance she gets. These moments are something I cherish because they often remind me of the journey I took to become who I am today as a husband, a father, an artist, and a business owner. This journey was not a quick road trip but rather a journey long traveled.
From an early age, I was taught about hope, hope that I can reach for my dreams, hope that I will make the right friends, hope that I will enjoy life to the fullest despite the challenges I might often face. With that hope, I learned that my identity is not defined by what community I am most part of or who I am friends with. I am a unique individual with the potential to reach my own goals and dreams.
My parents helped teach me to face challenges and conquer them in my own way, rather than run away from them. During my teenage years, I was part of the Boy Scouts of America, where we did campouts throughout the year. These campouts were a huge challenge for me as I had to figure out how to charge my sound processors, and I wasn’t able to hear at night. I learned that I can do hard things and to let others help me. I had a good group of friends who would help be my ears.
As I got older, I began to date and learned that I don’t need to plan dates at the loudest restaurants as it would just be miserable for both of us, that it is was okay to step out of the norm and create environments that best helped me hear. Cafes, small dinners, and picnics are my go-tos for quiet dates. Today, I use the Roger Select to help hear in those noisy places with my wife. I would have loved this technology growing up!
Another fear or challenge I had growing up was wondering when my cochlear implant might fail on me. I lost my hearing overnight at age six and did not want to lose it all again in my later years. In fact, my parents often asked, “How many more years does he have until it gives out?” It was not until I was about 20 when I realized that I needed to let go of that fear and live life to the fullest. I have since stopped asking that question.
Technology is constantly changing and improving our ability to hear. Last fall I was able to upgrade to the new Chorus sound processor which gives me all-day battery life. This felt like I climbed one my biggest mountains as for years I was changing my battery every three to four hours, and was constantly having to ask family, team members, and others to “pause” so I could change my battery. Overcoming this challenge required help from many professionals at Advanced Bionics and I am grateful for that help! Challenges have a way of showing us our imperfections but also our potential. Embrace them.
The first job I had was as a sweeper boy for a construction company. My job was to help clean up the job site at the end of each day. Even though the job seemed insignificant, my parents emphasized to me the importance of doing my best no matter the task on hand. They also repeatedly reminded me to not compare myself to anyone else.
During my later high school years and into my early 20s, I continued to work with the construction company as an office assistant and purchasing coordinator. Those jobs required a lot of phone calls and I was daunted by the use of the phone. I was worried I would not hear something right. But each day I kept working on it and giving it my best. At the end of each workday, I would call my mother and continue to get used to talking on the phone.
Since then, I have discovered a passion for photography, and now I work as a 3D artist helping consumers visualize products in a computer-generated image (CGI). Those phone calls in my earlier days helped give me confidence to join conference meetings and voice my opinions and communicate with teams.
I have shared parts of my story with team members to help create an environment where it is okay for me to say, “Can you say that again?” or ask to clarify something that was said. To most, it may not seem like a big deal. But creating an environment like that not only helps me perform at my best, it helps to promote a generally more inclusive and understanding workplace.
Most parents can probably hear their kids running down the stairs and opening the bedroom door before they jump in their bed on those lazy Saturday mornings. Not me. Those mornings always come as a total surprise to me. Nevertheless, I try to find the fun in it all.
When I met my wife, we knew that our marriage would be different from most as I would be hearing during the day and deaf at night. We communicate orally and sign at night and that is okay. We had only been married for a few months when one morning, while I was at work, I got a text message from her saying that I was going to be a father in the coming fall.
I was thrilled beyond belief, but when the night came and I took my sound processors off to charge them, every worry began to fill my mind. How will I know to wake up to help with the baby? Will I be able to hear everything that I need to? How will I teach my kids about the “things” on my head? Will they want to learn sign language to help communicate when I can’t always hear?
My parents reminded me of the many questions they had when I lost my hearing, but took everything one day at a time and held onto that hope that everything would work out.
It was an early November morning when we introduced our firstborn son to the world. When I looked into his eyes, all my worries melted away and all I wanted to do was love him and be the best dad I could be. In those early days, Heather and I talked about how our night routines would be during those times when I wouldn’t be able to hear. On some nights, my wife used to wake me up with a little Nerf gun while she was in the rocking chair holding our sleeping child.
We have since welcomed another boy and girl. And each day, my kids grow with the wonder of how I hear. My children love to learn about my cochlear implants and have learned some of my favorite signs, such as, “I love you.” We have learned to take things one day at a time and embrace every learning moment.
Having hope, embracing life, and trying my best are the tools I use each day. My parents often worried about my future, and they could not have imagined the life I have today. I am grateful for my parents, teachers, audiologists, doctors, and countless other professionals who have helped me along my journey. I am amazed at the many resources available to continue to help me along my journey. I am sure my parents wished they had a fraction of what is now available for me when I was little. I hope we can all continue to learn from each other, hope, embrace, and continue to do our best.
And to pay it forward, I serve as a mentor on Hearing Journey, the largest online community for individuals and families to learn and share stories about cochlear implants and hearing loss. I often talk to parents about my journey from hearing loss to hearing again with a cochlear implant. I hope that when other parents talk to me, they see the potential future their child has through this amazing technology. Let me know how I and other HJ mentors can help you and your family better understand the daily experiences we all have.