CHARLES VANRIPER REMEMBERED
Only my personal mentors, Katherine Safford Harris and Irma Stockwell Taylor exerted greater influence on my professional career than Charles VanRiper. My thinking in the field of stuttering has been primarily based on what I have learned from stutterers (a group which includes Dr. VanRiper). The writings on stuttering that influenced me most were authored by him. He is without doubt the best writer in our field. His text books are written with style, and his “voice” speaks to the reader from every page. I learned to admire, respect, and love this non-fluent man from his words.
I only met Charles VanRiper once, although we spoke by phone on other occasions. At the conclusion of that most memorable meeting, he gave me a hand-typed, notated copy of his unpublished Autobiography. For over 30 years, this manuscript has been one of my most treasured possessions. When we spoke again after I had an opportunity to read the work, he assured me that his memoir would be published after his death. He did not want it published while those whose lives touched his were still among the living. Since 1994, I have eagerly, awaited this publication. It has not been forthcoming.
Not only are the people who appear within the pages of the autobiography now dead, but those who knew Dr. VanRiper are reaching advanced ages. I fear that many of those who would most appreciate his memories (myself included) may die before it is published. I feel that in our conversations, and by his gift, he entrusted me with his desire that the memoir on which he lovingly labored be published. I intend to share short excerpts from this work in the hopes that these brief pieces will build an audience who will actively lobby for the publication of the complete autobiography.
The passage below is taken from the introduction of the hand typed copy:
Once when I was visiting my father, Dr. Paul Van Riper, who was then in his nineties, I attempted to arouse him out of his dozing by asking him if he had ever been tempted to commit euthanasia – mercy killing. That woke him up but it was a long time before he put down his pipe and answered. “Yes, Charles,” he said. “There have been times when I was tempted. When the ninth Sleeman was born looking all deformed and knowing that all eight of those that had preceded it were morons or imbeciles, I sure felt like squeezing the little bugger’s neck. It would have been so quick and easy. But I didn’t, Charles. My Hippocratic oath, no doubt.” He stopped, lit his pipe, and puffed on it for a long time. “Yes,” he said dreamily, “and there was another time I was so tempted: when you were born, Charles, when you were born, I was tempted to strangle you.”
As he dozed off, a great joy flooded me, joy and relief, and more insight than I got from two years of psychoanalysis at the University of Iowa. My father had rejected me all of my life and I had always attributed that rejection to my own deficiencies, especially my stuttering. But if he had felt the need to strangle me on that night of December first, 1905 when I was born, then the reason for that rejection lay in him not in me.