Family & Friend Fridays

I wrote earlier in October about now having been in the stuttering support world for 25 years. A corollary is that November 4 will be the 25th anniversary of my father’s death. It is interesting to me that there is so clear a demarcation point between my relationship with me and my entering this world. How would it have been to bring my nascent feeling of empowerment about my speech into our difficult relationship.

I stuttered from the time I began to speak. My first memory of stuttering is from kindergarten. But my older cousin Danny remembers visiting my family home in Tulsa, Oklahoma when I was 3 years old, seeing me struggling to speak, and my father saying, “Come on Jeff, spit it out!” Which is where my documentary film, Spit It Out got its name.

My late mother had stuttered in childhood, and did so until she left home to go do college. When I began to stutter, she did not feel free to bring up her own experiences with my father.

Even then I talked fast; I remember my father telling me exaggeratedly to enunciate, that is, to “eeee – nun – cee – aaate” my words. Needless to say, is advice didn’t help. Nor did the speech therapy I had in school, which helped to only increase my feelings of shames, guilt, and isolation.

On one hand, my parents had to go it on their own. It was a different time in the world. The Internet did not yet exist. There was little support for families, nor were there groups yet like Friends or the NSA.

On the other hand, I am sorry that my mother and I didn’t or couldn’t talk more about stuttering at the time.  Decades later, I interviewed my mother for my documentary film, “Spit It Out.” That day was the most we every talked about the topic. But there was more territory to cover than was possible in one day. Among the questions I wish I had asked her was, “What was it like for you the first time you saw me stutter?”

Nowadays at Friends’ Conferences, workshops are held not only for the children and adolescents who are present, but also for their parents and other family members. I wonder what it would have been like for my parents, siblings and I to be at a conference like this?

Jeff Shames

Friday, October 7, 2016

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Family & Friend Fridays — 4 Comments

  1. Jeff –

    Liked reading your post.

    Parents…I don’t believe I ever really sat down and talked with my mom about my stuttering. I’m sure she went to her deathbed worrying about me and if I would ever be “alright”; she passed when I was 24.

    I did talk with my dad in great detail about stuttering and everything associated with it when I was about 36; I am so glad I did. We both found out a ton about each other as we shared about my stuttering. It was a most positive and profoundly impacting experience for each of us. Because of this experience, we could share deeply with each other about anything from that time on. He passed a few years ago, and do I miss him…

    Stuttering should not be a “hidden” topic of discussion by those of us who stutter. Parents need to figure out a way to talk with their CWS without it becoming an intrusion onto a child’s emotions and feelings.

    Easier said than done…

    I often think that a support group would have been so much better for my parents to listen to than the “professionals” that gave me “therapy” when I was a child. It my belief that the therapy I had as a child – fluency training, fluency shaping and stuttering modification techniques – greatly increased my severity of stuttering and drove me to the ultimate stuttering behavior…..chosen silence.

    Thanks for sharing Jeff…Hope all goes well.


  2. Thanks, Retz, for responding to my piece. How interesting that you were at last able to bring up the topics of stuttering with your father when you were in your mid-30s. And that doing so became a springboard for your being able to open up with each other about other topics as well.

    It was tough for those of us who came of age during a different time in the world of stuttering. The only goal I could imagine then to deal with my stutter was to chase the false God of “fluent” speech.

    I agree that it would have been better for my parents to listen and share their feelings and experiences about stuttering, which would have helped us all than sending me to yet another therapy program.

    Thank you for sharing.


  3. Jeff,

    Stuttering was such a hidden topic in my family. It’s one thing to stutter openly, it’s another to talk about it at home. This has been a slower process for me. It’s been a passage to show others my love myself and my stutter and model connection to others. Thank you for this rich story.


  4. Jeff,
    I am student majoring in speech language pathologist and I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with speech therapy. One of the things that my program focuses on is understanding that the client is the expert and to treat them as such. Specifically, my assessment and treatment of stuttering class focuses on the importance of various types of fluency training and helping clients become more comfortable with their speech and how communicate this acceptance in everyday life. I’m curious about your views on this approach to therapy?

    I love your transparency and acceptance. And, I enjoyed your documentary!