Make Room For The Stuttering

Dance With My Father

Posted on: May 27, 2009

I remember back in 2003 when Luther Vandross released the song, “Dance With My Father”. Vandross wrote the song as a loving tribute for a love lost, as his father died when Vandross was 7 years old. It was one of Vandross’ s biggest hits, obvious from the heartfelt tone and joyous lyrics of the song. I heard that song over and over that year. It reduced me to tears every time.  It was a haunting reminder of the love I felt was lost with my own father.

My father didn’t die – he is alive, but our relationship is not. Has not been for a long time. I heard this song recently and memories came flooding back. Being afraid of my father all the time. Trying to stay out of his way, but at the same time, taking care of things so he woudn’t explode. Fixing dinner, keeping the other kids quiet, feeling tight and tense all of the time.

I remember hiding down in the cellar. We had a crawl space under the stairs. I was familiar with that space. My mother would take all of us down there whenever it stormed. My mother was afraid of storms. She was afraid of a lot of things. Including my father. We would hide there from the thunder and lightening, all of us kids and my mother. Even when the sun was shining, I would go down there and hide.

My father was a thunderous man. He was always yelling. Having six kids at such a young age took a toll on him, I think, and my mother. He tried to rule with an iron fist like his own father had. I don’t remember loving moments with my father. I don’t remember any pictures of me and my father when I was a baby. There were pictures of me and my mother, and her parents, but none of daddy with his first child. 

I remember feeling afraid when daddy was always yelling. Like I had done something wrong. Like I wasn’t good enough. I must have been  bad. That’s what he noticed. He only seemed to notice things he didn’t like. We were too loud, too messy, too many, I always thought.

And his kids had to be perfect. I wasn’t. I got out of the gate well. I was very smart. Talking well before 2, reading by 3. I remember reading out loud at that age, actually remember that. I don’t remember if anyone listened. I remember going down to the cellar and pressing up against the heater by the crawl space where we used to hide. It was warm there. I went there to get warm. It was my safe little space. ( I refer to  this in an earlier post on emotions . Funny how these emotions just keep coming!)

I don’t remember the actual stuttering when it started. I am told it didn’t start until I was 5, well after I had been talking for three years. I do remember my father yelling at me for stuttering. “Don’t talk like that. Stop that, damn it. Shut up, I said. If you can’t talk without doing that, then don’t say anything. Are you listening to me? Jesus Christ, shut up.”  He was always loud, and his face red. I remember thinking this little vein on his forehead was going to pop out one day, he was always so mad. 

I was afraid, so it didn’t take me long to stop talking. And to stay quiet most of the time. I became afraid to talk.  I became afraid to stutter. I was afraid of stuttering. I was afraid of what would happen if I stuttered. I was afraid of my father. I WAS SO AFRAID.

In 2003, when this Vandross song came out, not only did it make me cry, it made me nostalgic for that lost childhood. I remember buying the CD with the song “Dance With My Father ” on it. I recorded a copy of that song onto a blank CD, nothing else, just that one song. I bought a Father’s Day card and put the CD into the envelope with the card. I called my father’s house that day – his wife told me he wasn’t home yet, and that when he did get home, his young daughters were taking him on a picnic.

I stopped over there anyway. No one was home. I left the card on the front porch. He never acknowledged it. I don’t really know if he got it, but I think he did.

I wonder what it would have been like to dance with my father.

Copyright © 2009

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6 Responses to "Dance With My Father"

You made me cry-I had a wonderful relationship with my father (not my mother) and that song always makes me cry. I’m sorry your father is what he is-from the sound of it-not with his children from his second marriage. Life can be so sad sometimes.

A poignant description of an abused child’s experience, an experience that led to a stuttering llife. Those of us who know the author are happy that she has emerged as a productive, integrated person with healing insight that repairs past damage.

I am so sorry you had to go through this. No one should ever have to go through what you did. It’s hard to fathom that you don’t have a single happy memory with your father. It’s good that you had a “safe place” you could go to. I think we all need one.

I am so glad and so proud of you that you are no longer afraid to talk!! :o] You have a beautiful voice, and you use it well.

I hope you get to dance with your father some day Pam…

This story just came out – I had no plan to write this. It wasn’t me that wrote it anyway, this one was all heart. It just came. This one needed to be written, not for readers, but for me. I have kept so much inside, finally it is time to share.
This story made me cry as it was written, and then when I decided to link the song, I listened to it several times before hitting the “publish” button.
This is my story. It needs to be told. I hope parents of kids who stutter realize the impact on a child that does not feel supported or feels fear.

My father stuttered too and was strict also. I remember once we were upset with each other and he told me goodbye when he was going off to work and I blocked on my response. He cursed me silly and I felt so abused and frustrated.

We have good times too and I feel particularly close to him because he stutters and I am the only one out of his seven children who stutters too.

Sorry for the bad memories you have of your father.

All the best.

Pam wrote “I stopped over there anyway. No one was home. I left the card on the front porch. He never acknowledged it. I don’t really know if he got it, but I think he did.

I wonder what it would have been like to dance with my father”.

IMHO you would benefit from meeting with your father. You may or may-not get the outcome which you hope for but the fear of that need not hold you back from trying to meet with your father. Be prepared for the worse. And if the worse does happen don’t be down on yourself for having tried.

If the worse doesn’t happen then also prepare yourself for the resulting disorientating mixed experience.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2017.