Some Good News about Some Bad News

By Keith Miller | December 31, 2009

Keith, just before Christmas this year I had my annual physical (which I’ve always passed with flying colors).  This time my Internist went over a shockingly long list of borderline results that indicated I need to watch everything I eat, get regular exercise and get some sleep. 

That evening I was stunned to realize that with no medical training at all my wife and my college football player son have been telling me—no pleading with me—for years to do virtually the same things.  The doctor’s conclusions have confirmed that they were not nagging but trying to save my life.  But I have just gotten angry with them, especially when my wife uses as her discouraged exit line, “You’re just like your father!” 

It’s true that I was very angry with my father for not taking care of himself and dying young.  Maybe I am like him!  But how can knowing that help me through this paralysis?  Help!


Horribly good question!  Look, I’m an old man and I’m realizing that a lot of “answers” and advice people give me just don’t work for me.  Even though I’m almost as old as dirt, I have noticed recently that my glasses are not as good as they used to be, I’m taking a fist full of vitamins and prescription drugs, the names of which I can’t pronounce, and in my gym suit I look to be about seven months pregnant—only I’m a man. 

On top of that, to find out what’s really going on with me I have to pay attention to the people who love me most in my family.  So I am familiar with people urging me to change.  All I can do that may or may not help you is to tell you how a memory about my father came to me in the office of a specialist my Internist sent me to because I was noticing that my family has been shouting at me.  This recent experience with the specialist reminds me of your situation because he gave me some pretty bad news about my future.

The doctor was being kind and yet direct, as good doctors often are when giving bad news to eighty-two year old patients.  “We don’t really know what happened but it’s apparent that you have lost almost a third of your hearing during the last few weeks.”

For a man who does a lot of counseling and consulting, that was not good news.

“What do you think is the cause,” I asked, “and, more important to me, what’s the prognosis?”

He wrinkled his brow and thought about that.  Then he said, “I don’t know.  There’s no tumor or the usual physical road signs that give us specific medical direction.  It may just be hereditary.  Were any of the old people in your family of origin deaf?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “They all died when I was very young.  But I do remember that neither my mother and or my father was hard of hearing.”

As I said these words, however, a scene popped into my mind as I recalled how many times when I was a little boy I tried to talk to my father quietly when he was reading the paper or listening to the radio after office hours.  I saw again how he often didn’t even look up at me, and I concluded that he obviously just wasn’t interested in talking to me.  He kept his head buried in the newspaper as I’d walk away hurt and angry.  This is a very painful memory.

Then from the mists of that world long gone, I saw and heard another often-recalled scene: my mother was pleading with my father, “Earle, you are not even listening to me!”  And I saw again my father look up with that ambiguous questioning expression—neither acknowledging or denying what my mother had said.  I was about to get back into my childhood feelings of anger at my father’s “not caring for my mother enough” to answer her question or even acknowledge her having spoken to him.  Although I could still feel my own tight-chested feelings of shame at being ignored by that stony, silent man, I had repressed my own feelings and focused on the (more acceptable) anger at him for ignoring my mother, who did so much to make his life better.

Then without warning or reason in the doctor’s office seven decades later I had a clear and life-changing insight that had never even occurred to me before:  MY FATHER COULDN’T HEAR US!  He must have been going deaf and was too proud to let anyone know!  If that were true, maybe his not responding to my quiet attempts to interrupt his newspaper reading was not rejection as I had always thought at all.  And maybe his silent unsmiling  expression when he did realize someone was talking to him was a defensive move to give him time to try to figure out what had been said to him.  AND WE HAD ALL FELT REJECTED BY HIM!  (Except my older brother who had Dad’s total attention any time his oldest son was on the premises—because they were soul mates.)

The doctor was kind as he concluded his explanation of hereditary deafness.  “Keith, if it’s hereditary, there is nothing you can do except get good hearing aids, pay close attention when people speak to you, and put up with the irritation people sometimes have when an older family member doesn’t hear them.  It’s sad, but some of them may think you just aren’t interested enough to care what they are saying.”

But I could hardly hear what the doctor was saying because I was elated, smiling from ear to ear.  The doctor looked puzzled.  When I saw the doctor’s expression at my elated reaction to the possible death sentence of my hearing (which he knew was especially valuable to me in my life and work), I shook my head to let him know I wasn’t laughing at him.  And my joy was certainly not because I’m going deaf.

I was laughing because after seventy-five years of painful childhood memories of thinking my father ignored me and didn’t want to answer my personal daddy questions when we were alone—I’d finally just realized that my father’s problem was not disdain!  He just couldn’t hear my shy little boy questions—and when he did notice I was pleading with him, he was ashamed to admit that he was going deaf.

Suddenly my wife and kids didn’t seem so “nagging.”  In fact the Lord seemed to have been giving them injections of higher I.Q.  Although I can still hear many things with my wonderful hearing aids, I have gone public to my family and people I see regularly thanking them for their patience and perseverance in urging me to get help.  Also, I’ve admitted that I still miss a lot that is being said to me, and ask for patience.

As I’m writing this I am very grateful that whatever happens to my hearing—or my sight—at the heart of Jesus’ good news about God  the Father is that he will always be listening to and reaching out to love me—even if I wind up alone with Him in a soundless world.

I don’t know if this experience will help you, but it caused me to adjust my whole life and my exercise and sleeping habits to get in shape.

Dear Lord, thank you that you have promised that you will never leave me or forsake me if I call upon you from my heart.  Help me to learn to listen more carefully, and pay close attention to the people close to me so that they will know that I am listening and that I love them deeply and really want to change, and to hear them and whatever it is they are saying to me—even if they have to say it more than once.  Amen.

When troubles come and all these awful things happen to you, in future days you will come back to God, your God, and listen obediently to what he says.  God, your God, is above all a compassionate God.  In the end he will not abandon you, he won’t bring you to ruin, he won’t forget the covenant with your ancestors which he swore to them.

Deuteronomy 4:30-31, The Message


One comment | Add One

  1. Jim Schaap - 12/31/2009 at 7:36 am


    Thanks for the story–and the optimism, something I needed this morning, after getting back a novel I had high hopes for. You’re helping me with my own setbacks, kind sir. See you soon.


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