While I’m not ready for my 2 1/2-year-old to go all Richard Pryor or George Carlin on me (though, it’d be pretty cool if Sienna started dissecting language the way the great Carlin did), I don’t want her to become like me: a person so scared of being judged that he’s unable to say the four-letter words that comfortably fill the public lexicon.
When she’s a teen, I don’t want her to be afraid of speaking the language of her classmates (yes, we’ll have the comedic swear jar). Once she reaches adulthood, I hope to be ready for her to speak such words in my presence as part of normal conversation because the reality is cursing is ordinary and sometimes acts as a release for pent up stress.
I wish I had that release but I’m terrified of what people will think of me if I curse – fear of judgment, just another aspect of suffering depression. My dad never cursed in front of me when I was growing up and seemed terribly uneasy when my mom did. I think I took that discomfort and internalized it to the point where I can’t curse in front of anyone … not even my wife. I think I feel that if I utter one, my dad will know and think less of me. To be honest I imagine everyone will think less of me. And that’s insane. It’s ludicrous. Why would anyone care?
I tried to change when I went to college. I went in there thinking that I’d start cussing like Al Swearington on Deadwood (OK, Deadwood wasn’t on yet, but you get my meaning). I wanted to create a new identity. I wanted to be normal. So I tried. Freshman year I said something about my roommate to my best friend, something like my roommate’s “getting off” on being a jerk and my best friend’s eyes widened to the point where I thought they’d burst.
“You’ve never said anything like that before!” he shouted. I know he was proud, but I took it as criticism – and I didn’t even really use a swear word! And that was it for me in college. I couldn’t curse after that. Freshman year became a pathetic war with hallmates trying to get me to utter obscenities.
When alone, profanity swirls through my head and expletives spout from my mouth. If driving alone, I’m not immune to deriding a bad driver with a “motherf–ker” or even giving someone the middle finger. When I’m alone vulgarity comes easy, but my jaws clamp in front of others. “Friggin’” I’ll say. “Morons. Jerks. Idiots.” For the longest time I wouldn’t even say “hell” or “damn.”
Eighteen years post-college and I’ve cried in front of my therapist about my inability to curse, tears streaming, face scrunched and reddened with embarrassment and anger.
“You’re safe here, she’ll say,” leaning toward me as twist myself into a pretzel. “Let go. Say f–k.”
I sputter like Fonzie trying to admit he’s wrong. “Fu…fu…fu…fu.” But that’s as far as I’ll get.
“I’ll leave the room,” she’ll say. “I won’t hear it. Just say it.”
And she’ll leave, the door clicking. I’ll sit there furious with myself, face blotchy, hands tightened into fists. The room dulled and quiet. Sometimes I’ll whisper it, sometimes not. It doesn’t matter. No one’s there to hear me so I’ve still failed. “F–k” and “s–t” and so many others remain missing from my daily speech.
I still feel so much internal pressure when it comes to swearing, like the world would stop, a collective gasp catching in everyone’s throats, fingers pointing, judging, always judging, if I dare utter the f-word in front of another person. And, I don’t want that for Sienna. I never want that for her. I want my daughter to curse.
I look forward to having a swear jar and by the time Sienna’s old enough, I hope to be adding a few coins to it myself.
A version of this post recently appeared on his blog, Raising Sienna.