Early on in their marriage, Scott and Lori Featherstone describe themselves as being "dirt poor" — it took years before they fully furnished their home. The reason for this, Scott Featherstone explained, was because every spare dime they had went toward buying new hearing aids.
Three of the Featherstone’s six sons were born deaf.
But Joseph, Zach and Ben Featherstone want to set the record straight: They are just like everybody else.
"We want you to feel like you can treat us as your equal. Because we are your equal," Ben Featherstone told the Church News.
"I've been in settings when everyone accepted my deafness and didn't treat me as a deaf person, but as an ordinary person and it's wonderful," Zach Featherstone agreed. “But when I'm in a setting when someone sees me as 'deaf' person … that becomes hard because they allow my outer challenges to define who I am, when I would rather have them judge me on my inner person.”
"I don't think we are any different from other families besides the fact that we sign," Joseph Featherstone said.
Ben Featherstone added, "Talk to us like regular people! And we'll talk to you like regular people, too!"
Faith and Featherstones go together
Still, there have been a lot of ups and downs in the 38 years since Scott and Lori Featherstone were married and shortly afterwards learned that their second son, Joseph, was deaf. For the first few months of his life, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But when her son was 9 months old, Lori suspected something wasn't quite right.
"He pulled himself up on the crib and wasn't looking at me and I went up to him and said, 'Boo!' and he didn't react," Lori Featherstone said. "So I called Scott up on the phone and said, 'I don't think Josey hears.'"
When Scott Featherstone returned home from work, he decided to do what he terms, "the pots and pans test."
"I snuck up behind him and was banging pots … and he didn’t respond until I got just to the side of him when he could feel the air movement," Scott Featherstone recalled.
After taking Joseph to the hospital for a hearing test (which involves placing large headphones on a child's ears and playing a loud clicking track), the doctor told the Featherstones that their son wasn’t responding to anything.
"We went home heartbroken," Lori Featherstone said.
"We just held each other and cried," Scott Featherstone agreed. "It was a tough day."
From that point on, all of the following four sons had a hearing test after birth. Their third son Zach had the same result as his older brother: deaf. The next two sons, Sam and Nate, both had their hearing, and their youngest son, Ben was deaf as well.
Six sons under 10 years old — three sons who could hear, three sons who could not.
Finding comfort in the scriptures
With six children — whom their parents affectionately called the "six musketeers"— the Featherstones knew that faith had to be the foundation of their family culture.
"It's going to sound a little crazy," Scott said. "But we literally went in and read all of the blessings the prophets had promised with regards to prayer, scripture study, family home evening, and we said, 'We need these blessings … we are going to claim all the blessings of obedience.'"
Faithful scripture study was one of the many things the Featherstones prioritized. In order to have family scripture study, they ensured that all their sons, especially their sons who are deaf, became voracious readers so they could develop a love for the scriptures.
Reading became a sort of safe haven for the boys. Since being deaf was lonely at times, Lori recalled that her youngest son Ben would spend many of his early years locked in his bathroom for hours — but he wasn’t crying. He was reading the Book of Mormon.
"My parents taught me how to read the Book of Mormon at a very young age and showed me through example what a gospel-centered family looked like," Ben Featherstone said.
"One of the things I know brought them great comfort … was the scriptures," said Lori Featherstone. "That was the first thing they could understand and read (at a young age)."
The Featherstones also hired a speech therapist who did hundreds of hours of speech therapy with the boys as well as having them learn sign language and use interpreters at school.
Despite these resources, some teachers still underestimated the Featherstone brothers' abilities. Zach Featherstone recalled how one teacher thought he was incompetent due to his pronunciation. He was sent to a special education class for reading, even though he had the necessary skills.
The oldest Featherstone brother, Jake, who hears, noted that there were definitely times when kids were mean to his brothers.
"Most kids are cool … but occasionally we’d run into some real jerks," he said. "And there are a lot of things I can tolerate, but kids making fun of my brothers was not one of them."
Lori Featherstone acknowledged that being deaf could be isolating for her boys — but one of the oft-repeated phrases ringing through their home was "brothers before others," and this helped the boys remain close. Plus, they were quick to find humor in certain situations.
On one occasion, Zach Featherstone came home from school and told his parents that he was the only one of his friends who didn’t have a girlfriend.
"I don't have a girlfriend, do you think it's because I'm deaf and have red hair and glasses?" Lori and Scott Featherstone recalled their son asking.
Scott Featherstone had a quick response.
"There are some things you could do that would help — so let's talk about your green shoes, your orange pants and your (secondhand) wardrobe and see what you can do," he said.
Angels all around
Lori Featherstone remembers how at one point, there weren't enough hours in the day to help all her sons with their homework. She said she often knelt down and talked with her Heavenly Father, telling Him how overwhelmed she felt and how much she needed Him.
One day, there was a knock on the door. A woman in her neighborhood offered to tutor and read with her sons every day after school, which she did for two years. Lori Featherstone called her a "literal angel."
But she wasn't the only angel who helped the Featherstones along the way.
Primary teachers in their ward learned sign language, setting off a domino effect and soon other Church leaders, family members and friends showed an interest in learning to sign. Oftentimes, Lori Featherstone would sign the primary program, another ward member would be sign sacrament meeting and another would sign in priesthood.
"We owe (these ward members) our lives. They completely invested in our kids," the Featherstones said.
The Featherstones even offered sign language classes in the summer in which all of their sons' friends could learn to sign, a few of whom eventually served American Sign Language missions.
But the Featherstones didn't just teach sign language — they were dubbed the neighborhood house where everyone came to play outdoors. This was especially helpful for their sons who are deaf, since they participated in all the activities without feeling left out of conversations.
The Featherstones gave their sons a variety of experiences from skiing to camping and river-rafting, which gave her boys a sense of belonging.
One Mother's day, Lori Featherstone walked into the living room thinking she was finally going to be gifted with furniture after 10 years of marriage, but instead, she was greeted by a large, blown-up raft.
"We started (river-rafting) all the time … all of our sons had a goal to be (a) guide," said Scott Featherstone. "All of these adventures became the anchor, something that made us unique."
"In all the time we were raising those six boys, I don't think there was a day when the gospel wasn't a very intrinsic part of what was going on," he said. "We were noticing the Lord's hand in their lives multiple times a day."
'We don't bite. Just come and talk to us.'
Joseph, Zach and Ben Featherstone are deaf, but they don't think of themselves as an "inspiration."
Zach Featherstone is married with children and is a recent medical school grad.
"It's not hard being deaf; but it's hard when others make it hard," he said. "I detest it when people make an inspiration of me purely because I'm deaf, and that happens often.
"I would love to hear the majestic Messiah music by Handel. I would love to hear my children laugh … But I don't mind being deaf because it's what I grew up with."
His older brother, Joseph Featherstone, is a director of sales and is married with children. He echoed his brother’s words, "(And) please don't say, 'Oh you're deaf? I'm sorry.' Just say, 'That's awesome!'"
The youngest Featherstone, Ben, is recently married and is a prospective master's student in psychology. He has curly blonde hair and a bright smile to match.
"I really appreciate people who try to make sure that I'm happy, but sometimes it's really difficult to tell if I'm actually competent with something when everyone keeps praising me instead of providing constructive feedback."
While each has a cochlear implant, Ben says it "pales in comparison" to hearing people's ability to hear. Their primary communication comes through speaking and signing with their families — something that provides advantages most people wouldn't even think about.
"Being deaf has made me … more in tune with people's body languages and their mannerisms because we don't rely on your voice or your tone, we just watch and listen to you," Joseph Featherstone said.
"I can hold a crying baby all night long and be unfazed," Zach Featherstone joked.
"I can have spiritual experiences during church because there's no distractions at all," said Ben Featherstone.
Though all six sons faithfully served missions and are members of the Church, Scott and Lori Featherstone explained that there were times when their sons who are deaf struggled to fully accept who they were and how God felt about them.
Despite these moments, the entire Featherstone family feels incredibly grateful for all the experiences they have shared together.
Jake, who can hear, said he wouldn't change his family's experience at all.
"If they hadn’t been deaf, think of all the amazing experiences, learning and growing we would have missed out on," he said. "I'm grateful for my brothers — the way they are."
Joseph Featherstone stated that being deaf has shaped his perspective — in this life and in the next.
"I know I will get my hearing back after I die, but that still won't take away my experience, my identity, my upbringing and the way I see the world from my eyes," he said.
As the Featherstones prepare for their next adventure as mission president and companion of the Washington Vancouver mission in July, Lori Featherstone said she's anticipating that just like raising six sons, the mission will be "a lot of hard work and a lot of time on our knees, (but) well worth it."
Ben Featherstone added that being deaf is everything to him.
"I love being deaf," he said. "It's my way of expressing myself. It's my culture. It's my way of life. It's my joy."