A daughter’s perspective

masker The Ediinburgh Masker

This article first appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of CSA Voices.

Theresa's father, Mike Hughes, published the Speak Easy newsletter out of his home in New Brunswick for many years. He died in September of 2010.

When Dad started Speak Easy in 1984 I was 20, my brother Scot was 14 and the baby of the family, Brian, was 13. We were introduced to readers in his Speak Easy Newsletter articles: “Daddy’s Girl”, “Watching Scottie Grow” and “Brian’s World,” and he wrote about mom in “Marriage Vows”.

You may not know this, but Dad was involved in helping others challenged with speech long before the inception of Speak Easy.

Do you recall the TV show That’s Incredible? It was while watching this show that Dad found out about “The Edinburgh Masker”, a device that was used to reduce stuttering. When the wearer spoke it caused a loud buzzing noise in the wearer’s ears. The idea was that if the wearer could not hear his own voice when speaking he would not stutter. It was not the best idea, but in the late 1970s it was one of the few devices available. Dad tried it and for the first time in his life it lessened his stutter!

Once Dad experienced this he could not keep it from others, so he became the one and only Canadian distributor (at cost prices, of course) while still working full-time with NB Power. As a family we witnessed many moving moments as people who were afflicted with stuttering, and often their families too, came from all over to our little kitchen to meet with Dad. He would tape record them reading a small paragraph with and without the masker.  I will never forget the looks, tears and amazed smiles of those who heard their own voice (or the voice of a loved one) for the fist time with a markedly reduced stutter! Nor will I ever forget the look in my Dad’s eyes when he watched them.

Many people heard of Dad and his aim to help others. They began to contact him, seeking advice from a stuttering soul mate. These were the days long before e-mail. Dad was filled with compassion for the people who reached out to him, but at a loss without enough time to do what needed to be done.

One night we were working on a jigsaw puzzle and Dad picked up a piece of the puzzle looking to put it in its place. One of us noticed that it was in the shape of an outline of the map of Canada. Dad said, “If only I could cover all of Canada and reach out to others as easily as I can hold this puzzle piece in my hand.” Then the conversations between my parents began.

Speak Easy was born at our kitchen table. Dad only had an office outside of the home for one year, when he had received a federal grant. Thousands and thousands of Speaking Out newsletters were placed in envelopes addressed and stamped by each of us – especially my mom who was always at Dad’s side.

I don’t mind telling you there was many a lean time during the last 26 years, as Dad took only a survival salary – just enough to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. From time to time the need arose for Dad to take “a real job”. But  Speak Easy, and its members from coast to coast, never came second.

Speak Easy  was never a project– or a job – to any of our family. It was a sort of calling, especially for Dad. Those who knew him experienced his passion. I, his proud daughter, thank you for the article you are featuring in CSAVoices. Dad would have hated it. Because he wanted no recognition for “just doing what needed to be done”.  But I think it’s great!