I saw Scott at an auction recently, also a father with three young adult children, and I unfortunately put my foot in my mouth – a not uncommon occurrence for me. He was relating that they were gathering furniture in the garage for their youngest’s move to a new apartment with his college friend and his wife commented that they’d have to probably "move that s*** for him as well." When he asked if I could believe that she would say that something like, my response was that I really could believe that.
He was visibly annoyed, especially since his wife is a quiet and capable woman who never uses profanity.
Kids will act -or not act – in a way that’s guaranteed to irritate you and one of the ways that this will show is your language. My late father was a former Korean War-era army drill instructor and I grew up in a household that wasn’t obscene but certainly profane at times. If I had to characterize him as a television father, he was closest to Red Forman of That 70s Show. He was capable of stringing together expletives and phrases that alternated between colorful, vulgar, scatological and physically impossible – which made them especially hilarious to a boy in his middle-teens. That’s carried over to my own household although I do try to monitor what comes out of my mouth and can honestly say that much of what I heard as a kid and teen has never made it to my own kids. Tell my kids that however, and they simply won’t believe it.
The upshot is that I can’t just haul off and yell when they in turn use a poor choice of words. I can say that I’m an adult and they’re not, but that will only carry over to behavior within the presence of adults and not to language used around their peers. I have to set an example and try to actively monitor what I say. There are certain guidelines that I’ve adopted over the years and to which I try to adhere.
- Don’t use expletives or racial/gender epitaphs to describe other people. I’ll use terms such as cretin, moron, idiot or the family favorite, bonehead. As they’ve grown, we’ve had conversations about judging people based upon their behavior instead of their gender and race – even religion – and I’m adamant that you have to make value judgments but they have to be based on the actions of a person. It’s not an easy conversation with a young child but it’s easier after they hit elementary school.
- Certain words have simply vanished from my vocabulary, including the F-bomb.
- Don’t chastise a child who’s used an expletive immediately after a physical injury. When Youngest took a baseball in the mouth and bled from a gashed lip, I let the immediate expletive sonuvabitch pass. We’ll worry about the lip and blood first and if the language continues, then we’ll deal with it. Besides, when he beaned me in the kidney with a pitch last week, I said the exact same thing. Like son, like father.
- Never use a derogatory term to refer to your child, even when they’ve done something that qualifies as certifiably stupid. I grew up with dumbass and never liked the term. It’s better to condemn the behavior and I’ll try to say something akin to you’re smarter than that, so why’d you do something so idiotic/stupid/dumb? Full disclosure: Even I’ve been appalled enough in the moment to refer to more than one child as idiots. But I try hard to avoid those instances and have apologized in the follow-up conversation. Except once and I’ll never apologize for that one since they were old enough to know better.
- There is such a thing as guy talk and I’ve used it in small amounts around the elder son after he reached middle school. I adhere to the rules as listed above and am clear with the boy that this conversation is strictly between father and son and has no place amongst the remainder of the family or outside. And when I’ve heard him violate those rules – and you’ll know when you hear it – then the result has been that the guy talk has gone away for a period of time.
- The flip side of guy talk is that I refuse to comment on another woman’s appearance. He’s the one with addled testosterone and I expect to hear some comments about being hot, but I refuse to comment. Frankly, it would be wildly inappropriate and borderline perverse to comment on a child his age and I don’t want him thinking that I’m looking at anyone other than his mother. Kids need stability and the thought that Dad is looking outside the house is destabilizing.
The language is an ongoing work in progress and I really am much better than I was as a young adult, not that they’ll believe it. And now I have to figure out what I’ll say to Scott when I next see him.