“That fucking guy,” I hear four-year-old Jack say from the hallway. I’m in the shower conditioning my beard. I try not to laugh. He’s merely parroting the guy on the podcast I’m listening to, but I’m still pretty shocked he said it.
“Hey man, don’t use that word,” I spit out instantly without thinking before adding, “because you don’t know what it means do you?” We both move on. I rinse and repeat and he goes back to sliding around the wood floors with his new roller skates on his hands.
“Fuck,” I think. Not because Jack just used the “F” word, but because I called him on it and told him not to say it. I didn’t mean to. I went against my entire theory! Everything his mother and I had been working towards was suddenly, not for lack of a better word, fucked. For the last four years, I’ve been trying out this different parenting idea in regards to words like the beloved “F-bomb” and other “bad” words that I came up with right around the time I wrote this.
It’s a pretty simple idea: I treat “swear words” like any other words and ignore them. We use them, though we have honestly tried to cut back. But either way, we never call attention to them. When we use them or hear them, we don’t react in any way that isn’t appropriate for their context. We give Jack the benefit of the doubt, I suppose. It’s rare that Jack has ever really tried to use words he doesn’t know, so I figure if we don’t call attention to them, he’ll come to use them on his own time and hopefully in the proper situations. As an added bonus, I don’t have to watch my mouth in the only place I can safely run it, and we don’t have to monitor art or stifle good conversation. I’m sure my friends are slightly confused when we berate them for calling attention to and apologizing for their swearing in front of our child, rather than the act itself. Come on over and swear away, just shut the fuck up about it.
So far so good. He’s only dropped the F-bomb twice ever, both times repeating it right after hearing it. The first time, he repeated the phrase “All a fucking board!” after hearing a recording of me uttering the phrase during a joke about him in one of my stand up comedy sets. And then came the Steve Dahl “that fucking guy” as I was listening to his daily podcast in the shower. So probably the two guys that he hears talking the most on a daily basis said it and he mimicked it only twice in over two years of talking. I consider that a success. He hears us both say various iterations of the “F” word all the time, but hearing it rarely prompts him to say it.
In our house, Jack’s no stranger to hearing the “F” word. I can’t imagine that a day has gone by without him hearing it at least once. So maybe we’re not quite the Wu Tang Clan, or Goodfellas or The Big Lebowski, but the word gets tossed around the house pretty regularly, whether by us, our friends, our podcasts, or our songs. I suppose I could blame all of my years working in radio, where handcuffed for hours a day with the inability to say certain things on the air, mere mortals became gods of dirty minds and foul mouths. Or I could let the blame fall on his mother. She swears way more than her own father’s brief service in the Navy should warrant, and she pretty much taught me everything I know about the word “fuck,” as well as a few other great ones. Jack’s first foray into these language arts were highly influenced by the woman of the house.
But there’s no one at blame here. If I cared about my son saying certain words, I wouldn’t use them. And there are words I won’t use. But there are a million worse things to worry about when raising children than words, especially when those words aren’t hurtful to anything but prudish sensibilities and antiquated notions of etiquette. I am not one to be offended by language, so I don’t feel the need to raise my son in an environment where he is afraid to express himself with fun words at the proper times. So while I won’t encourage Jack to say the dreaded “F” word in front of Grandma or anyone else for that matter, I’m not going to shield him from it. I’m going to stick with the master plan and continue to treat it and the other “dirty words” like any other words. The way they should be treated, and the way my son should be treated.