Having a conversation with my dad has been somewhat difficult lately. Not so much being able to catch him at home or finding the time. No. My dad’s hearing is almost gone.
He was a printer who started more then 30 years ago in an industry that’s all but dead, thanks to the technological advances of the home computer, desktop publishing, and of course, the Internet.
My father is still in love with the printed word. A voracious reader of science fiction, he worked as a pressman for more then a quarter of a century, something else that’s all but disappeared. He didn’t like his job, and the conditions are, and were horrendous: danger from the presses themselves–large spinning drums with several tonnes of crush power; lack of air conditioning, with hot running 30+foot machines; inability to dress in anything but long pants and steel toed boots; and, above all, the crash and thrum of the machines, ever eroding my father’s ability to hear.
The concept of PPE (that’s Personal Protective Equipment) was laughable, back in the day. How would you hear an issue like a paper jam? Or that the drums were drying and needed ink reapplied?
The regulations that exist now to protect workers weren’t even in draft, back then. If you wanted to work, you went to work and did your job. At one of the plants my father worked at, there was a terrifying accident with the elevator, and the loader.
The loader, a 19 year old new to the plant was dragging a large pallet of paper from the upper floors, into the freight elevator. While my dad relayed the story to me, I envisioned it, it’s wooden gate that you had to snap together, it’s large red buttons, and it’s black handled switch that turned the power on. I played in it often.
Apparently, the new guy didn’t stop to see that the cage was there, when he opened the gate, and he plunged into the darkness. Shoved downward by the multi tonne pallet of paper. He survived, but ended up in a coma. Factory was down for long enough to get the elevator running again, and then it was back to business.
The ink that seeped into his hands every day that I remember has leeched into his system. The long afternoons I spent with my dad, I’d see him before he got cleaned up, hands black and red smeared up to the elbow as he patiently scraped down the old ink, and loaded the new.
If it were just his hearing, I wouldn’t have such an issue with it. We all get older. We all become less active, and so on.
It started with tinnitus. A low pitched ringing in his ears. Later, his balance started to become affected. It was just a matter of time until he was asked not to come back to the plant.
I make sure to speak clearly, and project my voice as much as possible, and I’m still sure that he doesn’t catch everything I say. Because of long acquaintance, and many, many conversations, though, he’s never fails to follow at least the gist.
Every time I crack open a book, I think of my dad. Because of my dad, I do so often.