Sunday, September 26, 2010


Most people who have been around me for more than a minute or two know that I enjoy a profanely idiomatic expression from time to time.  I try not to overdo it though, especially in front of my girls.  To me profanity is kind of like salt: a little adds flavour, but too much can spoil everything.  And like salt, it can be terribly habit forming; one of the longest Lents I ever spent was when I gave up swearing.

A lot of our instruction in this regard comes from our parents.  Audrey's folks, while stricter than mine in most areas, couldn't have cared less if the kids said "shit".  When a teacher called her father to inform him that her younger brother had dared to utter this excremental exclamation in class, her dad just laughed, said they lived on a farm so what do you expect, and hung up.

In my case, while my father enjoyed and valued a broad vocabulary and was a Toastmaster for a lot of years, he was practical man who often saw profanity as simply the right tool for the job: a male of questionable character or behaviour was a son of a bitch, refutable nonsense was bullshit, and he often teased my mom by saying her side of the family "wouldn't say shit if their mouths were full of it".

Mom generally came over to my dad's way of thinking, but appreciated it if he keep his 'colourful metaphors' reined in around my sister and I.  One year, I think I was in the fifth grade, we even had a swear jar, like you might still see in gift shops and the like, where for each curse you are encouraged to put perhaps a nickel in the jar.  We made up our own from a pickle jar and it was 25 cents a cuss, with the promise that the funds would be applied to souvenirs on an upcoming trip to Disneyland.  Tara and I paid a lot more attention to adult conversation after that, especially at the supper table, where our parents would often discuss the highlights and lowlights of their day.

"...So by that point, I've got the whole mess balanced on one arm," Dad would be saying, "so then Leo comes through the door and pow! it all comes crashing down, and I go 'Dammit, Leo...'"

"Dad, that's a quarter!" I'd pipe up.

My father would look at us in mock disbelief.  "Oh, hell, are we still doing that?"

"That's another one, daddy!" Tara would exclaim, and Dad would make a big production out of either putting two quarters into the pickle jar that stood above the china cabinet, or he'd just tell us to keep counting but not to bother chiming in again until he had reached at least a dollar.

One time the two of us entered the kitchen and Dad was telling Mom about something that had happened, and I don't know what it was, but it had made him seriously angry.  He said something along the lines of, "I absolutely cannot believe the goddam nerve of that asshole to go and..."

"Excuse me Dad," I interrupted, "but that's fifty cents."

Dad didn't wheel on me or anything, because in my mind's eye, it took a long time, but what he did involved more than just a turn.  His back was to my sister and I, so the first indication he'd even heard us was when he stopped talking and his shoulders tensed up.  He slowly turned his neck until he could see us over his shoulder, verified who was talking and then his torso continued the motion, followed by his legs, until he was facing us.  Something was working in his jawline and behind his eyes, but he didn't say a single word; he simply reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his billfold.  He opened it up and silently pulled out a five dollar bill, then slowly, purposefully, walked over to the swear jar and deposited it.  Only then did Dad look at my sister and I and finally speak, saying only, "Leave the room."

My disappointment got the better of me.  "Aw, dad, you've already paid for it and I'd kind of like to hea..."


And so we did.  In haste.

We had my parents over for dinner tonight, along with my sister and her boyfriend,  for an early Thanksgiving, since Mom & Dad will be pulling up stakes with their motorhome for B.C. this week.  This topic came up, and I was quick to point out the pride I have in Dad's forebearance and discipline.

"What do you mean?"  Mom asked.

"Dad spent ten years in the armed forces, five years air force and 5 years navy," I replied.  "I heard him swear in some fashion pretty much every day, but I never, ever, heard him drop the f-bomb until I was 14."

"Hey, me neither!" said Tara.  "How did you hear yours?"

"Surprisingly, it wasn't directed at me,"I admitted.  "I came into the garage, and Dad was working on something, and I guess it was just not cooperating.  I asked him how it was going, and he looked at me with  a gimlet eye and gritted teeth, and he quietly said, 'Stephen, I am so f***ing mad right now, I could just scream.'"

"What did you do?"  Mom asked.

"What, besides almost crapping my drawers?  I was terrified.  I just nodded and backed away, slowly, like you would with a bear."

Everyone laughed, especially Dad.  Tara nodded.  "That was kind of how it went for me," she said.  "After the second or third time the basement flooded, I was about 14, I went downstairs and Dad was surveying the damage with just this awful look on his face, so I asked 'What's wrong?' and he says, "I swear to God, if I had a match right now, I'd burn this f***ing place down and walk away.'  And I said, 'No you wouldn't, it's way too wet.'  And then I went upstairs.  Quickly."

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