I walked across the neighborhood with my boys in tow. We were headed to a block party of sorts involving the 40th birthday celebration for one of the other dads in the hood. Food for the event was to be provided by a taco truck parked in birthday boy’s driveway (those unfamiliar with the term will note that these mobile restaurants were known as “roach coaches” that frequented work sites back in the day, but have now transformed into amazing sources of boutique dining — see Chef).
My bride would join us later as she had another event to attend. I realized as the three of us walked the roughly 1/2 mile involved that the guy behind “Family Circle” was actually on to something with the dotted lines showing the paths of the various family members. It didn’t resonate with me when I was younger, but I had a newfound appreciation of the challenges involved in trying to get two young boys to walk from point A to point B.
With a lot of effort, and a fair amount of yelling, we drew within a few blocks of our objective. With well over 100 invited guests involved, many of the cars that slowly passed us were also going to the same party. It was a nice night, about 60 degrees, so quite a few of the SUVs and other kid-haulers had their windows down. We exchanged pleasantries with various drivers and passengers as we went.
I should also point out that our neighborhood had no sidewalks. The cars were therefore only a few feet away as we hugged the curb (more correctly: as I hugged the curb and the boys wandered out constantly into the street before I pulled them back).
We came to the last stop sign involved and made the turn to go the final couple-of-hundred-yards to our destination. As we turned, waving to friends in yet another SUV mirroring our path, my oldest son announced, “I learned the worst word you can say at school today.”
I was in a happy place at this point. It was nice outside. We were almost to our destination, which promised ample portions of beer and tacos. My radar was, therefore, down when I innocently responded, “Oh, what’s the worst word possible?”
Without missing a beat, my nine-year-old yelled out, “F*ck!”
In my head, the f-word word echoed across an epic canyon, causing a million roosting birds to take flight.
Back in reality, the SUV that had just passed us was now bogged-down again in the party-related traffic. As luck would have it, the f-word outburst came just as we had caught up to it. The driver, another father from the cub scout troop, slammed on his brakes and stared at me. Both of his youngsters were in the back of his SUV, with their respective windows down. The look of disapproval I received was palpable.
Before I could say or do anything, our youngest decided to join in by shouting out a gratuitous “F@ck!” of his own — presumably to make sure everyone was aware that he too knows the worst word in the world.
As a side note: one of the couples we count as close friends had recently revealed a new approach to curbing the cursing of their slightly older three children in the form of “F*ck-Free-Fridays.” When this concept was first explained to me I thought it was a new form of voluntary birth control but, with further explanation, realized it meant their three offspring were allowed to use the F-word to their hearts content once school was dismissed each Friday. The working theory behind this approach was that expansive, repetitive use of the f-word would de-mystify it. This was the the profanity equivalent of making your teenager smoke an entire pack of cigarettes at one setting with the idea that the ensuing sickness would remove the attraction.
I had serious concerns about the F*ck-Free-Friday approach, but I had already learned on many occasions that lofty ideals crashed all too frequently against the rocks of reality. Both of my boys were apparently already able to curse like sailors. Who was I to talk?
Cub Scout Dad responded to the outbursts by rolling up the windows of his SUV. This action was accompanied by one more glare at me, and a corresponding shake of his head.
I asked the boys where they’d heard this word, and our eldest confirmed that this knowledge had come from his friend at school, the son of the assistant cub scout leader. Huddled near the curb, I explained that I was glad he’d told me about it, but that I didn’t want to hear that word out of either of their mouths ever again. The boys initially agreed — and then the negotiations began.
“What if I say another word when I really mean the F-word?”
I stared for a second at my youngest son as I formulated my response. Everything I said at this point would have a significant impact for years to come.
“Why don’t we just agree that you guys are too young to curse. It doesn’t matter what word you use. Just don’t do it.”
I was still basking in the glow of this strong response when my eldest chimed in. “But you use bad words sometimes.”
The cars slowly began to pass us again, some too close for comfort, so I moved the meeting up into the lawn. I did this for safety, but also to buy time. I remembered calling out my own father on this front. His explanation — that it was all the fault of the “g*d-d@mned cable shows” he watched all the time — never really resonated. I wanted to improve upon my father’s response. The bar didn’t seem that high.
“Yeah, well, sometimes I do things I shouldn’t. I’m not perfect, but it’s my job to steer you guys the right way.”
They both stared at me. For a fleeting moment I thought that my feeble response had won the day. I hadn’t gone with the “…while you’re under my roof you’ll live by my rules approach” — which meant I could still play that card with no effect down the road. I’d be able to report to my wife that the f-word menace had indeed arisen, but had subsequently been dispatched by my measured, reasonable response.
My youngest dashed those thoughts when he looked up at me with his fresh, beaming face and stated, “I’m just going to say “fluff,” but you’ll know what I really mean.”