What’d you say?

I blame it on my poor hearing.

My son is looking at colleges and the potential of participating in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps to earn a commission in the U.S. Marines. He’s a strong, dedicated kid and will do well with whatever he chooses. I considered going the same route when I was his age. Like my son, I was hard working and committed to a larger mission, but eventually chose to go a different path.

As I try to help my son and be a good sounding board for him, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I didn’t pursue enlisting or seeking a commission. In retrospect, I think a big reason goes back to a something very small, but oh so important: my hearing.

I’ve long had problems with my left ear, all very manageable in normal everyday life and probably passable from a military physical exam standpoint, but still a hearing loss. I generally hear fine when the noise is clear and in front of me. When I’m in a crowded room or somewhere with any number of competing noises, all bets are off. In those types of situations, I need more time to process what I’ve heard . . . not exactly what the military wants to look for in its candidates in a high stress, emergency environment.

Here’s a funny sidebar: I loved the band U2 since the early 80s, but I’ve always been a step behind when it comes to their music. The haunting tone of Bono’s voice has always been hard for me to pick-up. I’ve long butchered the lyrics to their songs until I had a chance to look them up in the liner notes or on the Internet. In the same vein, my hearing made interviews interesting, asking sources to restate what they said, when I worked as a reporter. I once interviewed long-time U.S. Senator Arlen Specter after a town hall he had for constituents and asked him to restate one of his answers. Specter routinely chatted up reporters so he thought nothing of restating his answer, but, of course, a train went by when we were talking and I had to ask him to repeat himself a third time. Fortunately, he liked the sound of his voice more than anything else in this world and had no qualms retracing his path. Thank goodness for small favors.

In any event, when I was thinking about joining the service, I would see videos of boot camp or officer candidate school and watch drill sergeants yelling at new recruits and I would strain to hear what they were saying. I automatically saw myself flailing around trying to follow an instruction to some maneuver and making a complete fool of myself. Yes, I know basic training and officer candidate school are much more than that . . . but it still put a major question in my mind.

I put that dream aside, but I’ve often wondered over the years how my poor hearing has impacted me in my other ways. There have been times when I’ve felt a second or two behind in catching a joke or one liner, a boss’ instructions, or a waiter’s question, but most times I’ve been able to work myself through the situation. Besides the occasional joke, my friends have always understood.

I wore a hearing aid in my left ear for a while, but I had more problems than the aid was really worth. I suspect a more permanent hearing aid is in my future, but I certainly don’t want to rush anything. I’ve tried over the years to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact me. I’ve always asked for quiet corner seats in restaurants. When I talk with my kids, I make sure I can see their faces.

And if my son does enter one of the armed services, I’ll be sure to make sure that I’m in the front row so that when he graduates, I’ll be the first to hear his name, cheer him on, and congratulate him.

While all well and good, my poor hearing has come in handy a time or two. At least when it comes to my wife and her many honey-do lists.

“What? What did you say dear? I can’t hear you. Did you say something?”


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