Deaf and determined: a single father shares his story
Deaf & Determined: A Single Father Shares His Story
Q and A with Nenio Mbazima
Tell us a about Nenio Mbazima, what is your story?
When I was 10 years old, I had meningitis, which left me deaf. You will find it strange that I’m glad that I became deaf, but most people die from meningitis and I was given a second chance at life. I grabbed this with both hands.
It wasn’t always easy – I was very angry initially, but after I embraced my deafness and learned sign language, everything improved. I finished school as the only deaf child surrounded by hearing children, and this success further motivated me, so I went to university and obtained a qualification in film production.
In 2002 I married my wife, and in 2009 my wife gave birth to our daughter, Destina. Her name means “happiness” in Ethiopian. The love I have for Destina can move mountains and shake the earth.
Sadly, my wife and I separated in 2012, two weeks short of our tenth wedding anniversary. I found myself faced with the responsibility of raising Destina on my own. I’ve been a single parent for three years now and it’s my proudest achievement to date.
Tell us about your relationship with your daughter.
Destina and I have a very strong bond; we are best friends. We talk about everything. I teach her sign language and she teaches me how to better pronounce words that I mispronounce.
From the age of two, she noticed that I could not hear and she started using her hands to communicate with me. Sometimes she creatively developed her own sign language, some of which I have adopted and still use.
These days, if she notices that I’m struggling to read the lips of hearing neighbours and friends who are talking to me, she chips in to interpret what they are saying in sign language. It makes me so proud of her.
What characteristics of yours can see in your little girl?
Believe it or not, I may be deaf, but I love singing. When Destina was two years old, I believed I could sing well because she would dance to my voice. But as she got older, she started covering her ears and saying I’m a bad singer. I can see that my love of singing has rubbed off on her and I brought her a guitar so she can learn to play music.
Being a dad is tough, but being deaf must bring some additional and unique challenges to your role. What do you struggle with the most?
Yes, it has had its ups and downs. Between the age of three and four, Destina would get very angry with me and slap me, jump up and down, or kick the air in frustration because I couldn’t read her lips or understand what she was trying to tell me. It was a very difficult time for both of us. Luckily we have been able to move past this. Today, if she doesn’t know how to say something in sign language and I fail to lip read, she stays calm and we both keep on trying until I manage to catch what she is saying. She has a strong memory, so if I teach her once she never forgets.
What advice would you like to give parents about teaching their young children about deafness, and how to treat deaf people?
Some people seem to believe that “if you hear nothing, you know nothing.” This attitude creates a wall between deaf and hearing people. Parents are the best people to break down this wall by teaching their children that deaf people are normal. Yes, we are normal! We just speak a different language. Parents should encourage their young children to meet and play with deaf children. Not only will they stand a chance to make new friends, but they could also learn a new language, which opens up the way to more friendships, or even job opportunities.