Do you remember the first time you heard a little kid blurt out a swear word? I’ve heard a lot of these stories from other parents over the years, and without fail they are always super cute, very innocent and incredibly funny. That’s because these “big bad words” are coming out of the innocent mouths of babes, barely out of toddlerhood and dammit… that’s just funny stuff! Trust me, the older they get, the less humorous it gets. But, for a few precocious years, the novelty of hearing a potty mouth emanating from a potty practitioner usually means the perpetrator gets a complete pass from parental prosecution.
I remember my Mom telling me a story about babysitting my son Daniel and my niece Erika – both of them were around four-years-old at the time. They were all in the kitchen, when my mother suddenly dropped a Tupperware container on the floor, spilling baby carrots every which way imaginable. The sudden vegetable explosion startled the kids and both had an immediate, but rather inappropriate reaction.
Daniel: “What the HELL???”
Erika: “Oh SHIT!”
My Mom: (speechless and holding back laughter as she scrambles to pick up said carrots.)
What can you even say to that? You just have to giggle because of how ridiculous it sounds! Now, as I said earlier, I expect most parents would laugh it off, give their kids a pass and perhaps explain that those words are not part of an appropriate vocabulary for little kids. But, there comes an age where it stops being fodder for funny YouTube videos, and shit gets real! (Sorry folks, but I can’t help but swear in a blog post about swearing.) When kids are truly mature enough to know that swearing is considered inappropriate behavior, that’s when it starts becoming a punishable offense. Fortunately, this hasn’t become a major issue in our household, and it certainly wasn’t one when I was a kid.
Looking back on my own childhood, I grew up in a household that could be described as a 99.9% swear-free zone. I’m not kidding. In all of my years of living at home, I never heard my Mom swear even once. As for my Dad, I only heard him spout off coarse language only twice… and both times it was because I caused our home significant physical damage!
The first time, I was only fourteen-years-old, and I was sitting alone in our truck on the driveway. It was the dead of winter, it was crazy cold outside, and I was impatiently waiting for my Dad to drive me to hockey practice. I decided that I better start the truck, crank up the heat and warm up my frigid feet. I turned the key in the ignition while reaching over from the passenger seat and… BOOM!!! The truck lunged violently forward, totally crumpling the garage door and damaging the rear of the van that was parked inside the garage! My Dad heard the crash and ran outside to see what was the matter.
Dad: “Oh, shit!… Shit!… SHIIIIIIIIIIIT!!!!”
Each successive “shit!” seemed to get exponentially louder and higher in pitch. There may have been more than three “shits” uttered, but they were probably squealed at far too high of a frequency for humans to hear. I felt terrible, as I didn’t know that the truck was in gear, or that you needed to step on the clutch and take it our of gear before starting it. Hell, at age fourteen, I didn’t even know how a clutch worked! All I knew was my Dad was beyond angry… because he swore.
The other time I heard my Pops lose his linguistic cool was when I was nineteen-years-old and helping him re-shingle the roof of our house. The first step was to rip off the old shingles, which I was doing at a furious pace. I had a shovel, and I was ramming it under the flimsy old asphalt strips, pulling them up and popping up the nails with them. When I got to a corner of the roof, I just kept on ripping. I didn’t really take notice of the metal flashing that channels the water downwards. I thought maybe Dad was going to replace that too? Maybe I was just clueless? So, just kept ripping… until he finally noticed what I was doing. I was popping the flashing up, leaving the nails behind and leaving gaping holes, basically wrecking the metal strips.
Dad: “Greg! What are you doing! Stop! Geez, there are… there are… FUCKING HOLES EVERYWHERE!”
Oh my god! Did my Dad just drop an F-bomb? The first one I had EVER heard come from a parent? He most certainly did. I had also enlisted my buddy James to help re-shingle the roof, and when we heard it… we both just froze and stared at each other, with jaws dropped and minds blown. Wow, my father must have been beyond furious to bring out the “big gun!”
It was such an iconic moment that it became a catch phrase with my brothers, our buddies and me. “There are fucking holes everywhere!” was thus uttered in a variety of situations, especially those that didn’t have anything to do with actual holes. My Dad confided in me years later that he really regretted swearing at me, but I assured him that his profanity-laced outburst was the inspiration for us adding another silly saying into our “buddies lexicon”. So in the end, I say it was well worth it.
So, that’s the environment I grew up in. I wasn’t exposed to a whole lot of swearing, so I didn’t swear… like, AT ALL until I was probably in the ninth grade. I remember my friends being shocked when I dropped my first F-bomb. They all said it just didn’t “suit” me. But, after you break that seal, you can never go back and as I entered my late teens and adulthood, I found myself swearing as much as anyone else I hung out with. This brings me back to my own kids and my inability to pass on the lessons of my 99.9% swear-free upbringing.
As primary caregiver of our children, I certainly do NOT show the same restraint my parents did when it comes to holding my tongue, but do I constantly swear in front of my kids just for the sake of swearing? Absolutely not. Do I swear in front of my kids when someone cuts me off in traffic or when I drop a hammer on my foot? Yes sir. Did I drop a massive f-bomb in front of toddler Abby when Tampa Bay scored their second goal in game seven of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals? Absolutely. Did she repeat the offending word right back at me almost immediately? No comment.
Do I swear when my kids make me super-angry and I’m really trying to command their full attention? You bet. I find that dropping in a couple of choice curse words when giving my kids the business adds a serious exclamation point to the proceedings.
That being said, I have made it a point to tell my kids that too much swearing comes across as extremely low class. Frequent use of it in casual conversation, for no apparent reason, simply makes the person sound less intelligent. There’s a great scene in a recent Jake Gyllenhaal movie called Demolition where he totally schools a moody teenage character about his rampant overuse of the f-word. It beautifully makes my point.
Gyllenhaal: “You say fuck a lot.”
Moody teenager: “So?”
Gyllenhaal: “So, you’re just not using it properly.
Moody teenager: “What the fuck does that mean?”
Gyllenhaal: “That’s what I mean. Fuck is a great word but if you use it too much, then it just loses its value… and you sound stupid.”
Moody teenager: “Fuck you.”
Gyllenhaal: “Exactly. I feel nothing and you sound like an idiot. Have a good one!” (walks out of the room)
Moody teenager: “Who the f…” (stops himself, looking slightly confused)
My kids are now in grade six and eight, so I have obviously overheard my kids swear. It’s a pretty rare occurrence, but I do give them a very hard time about it when it does happen. I also try to “keep it real” and admit to them that most adults in modern society do use coarse language. So, when my kids are all grown up, I really have no problem with them utilizing swear words as part of their ever-expanding vocabulary. But, in the here and now, I simply don’t want to hear unseemly language coming out of their mouths… not yet… not under my roof.. not at the still “tender ages” of eleven and thirteen. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Case in point: a couple of years ago, my son Daniel, my wife Lianne and I were all going out for a nice family dinner on a Friday night. My daughter Abby was at a friend’s house so it was just the three of us. While driving there, I was slowing down to look for a parking spot on the street as I neared the restaurant. There was a very impatient driver in a BMW right behind me, totally riding my ass and constantly honking his horn. Annoyed by his rudeness, I also laid on my horn as I pulled over to park, while he drove around me. To my utter shock, this idiot took that as a challenge to stop both cars and get into some kind of road-rage street fight. The angry young man got out of his car and started yelling:
“MAKE YOUR MOVE!”
I was stunned, but now getting pretty angry myself, so I shot back:
“What are you going to do, beat me up? Then beat my wife up? And then beat up my 9-year-old son because I honked at you? Are you serious?”
The rage monster just kept yelling: “MAKE YOUR MOVE!” as we got out of the car and jaywalked across the street to enter the restaurant. At this point, all three of us were yelling back at him and fortunately, the idiot in the BMW simply drove away. As we stepped through the door and were waiting to be seated, we were all still a bit rattled by the incident and definitely a bit hot under the collar.
Then, Daniel finally broke the tension: “Wow, what a douchebag!”
It was absolutely perfect. My nine-year-old son exhibited flawless usage and timing in a textbook situation of when to use “off-colour” language. Lianne and I just looked at each other and smiled as one of us replied: “You know what? You’re absolutely right.” Now, if Daniel had called his sister a douchebag in anger, or anyone else for that matter, we would definitely NOT approve. But, in that moment, we let him have it. Neither of us could have said it better ourselves.
As parents, we always strive to raise thoughtful, respectful children who know how to behave in civilized society. But, we also want our kids to know that there actually is an appropriate time and place for salty language, for crass and crude comments and for good, old-fashioned swearing.
You just have to know when to use it.