As I heard the stomping footsteps hit the floor above me, I realized that my foul-mouthed tirade had been overheard.
It was late. My wife had gone to bed and I was downstairs on my ancient eMac (hey, it was free) trying to accomplish something of moderate importance. As the computer did its best to keep up with me, I let off a foul-mouthed verbal tirade that would have made Denis Leary blush. I was confident that no one could hear me – that it was just unemotional circuitry and overemotional me.
“Cut it out!” my wife shouted down the stairs. I blushed. I knew I’d been caught.
With our child growing smarter by the day, I’ve known for a while that I would have to give up swearing. My wife and I started a swear jar as a New Year’s resolution, and so far, I’ve racked up a tremendous debt while contributing nothing. I’ve quit smoking, and quitting smoking is easy compared to quitting swearing. It’s one thing to go through withdrawal for a week. It’s another to quit what has been a lifetime habit.
My first experience with the power of vulgarity came when I was 5 years old, and started swearing at uncooperative Legos. My mother asked me where I’d learned those words. I told her. I’d learned them from my father. Four warnings later, she washed my mouth out with soap, which she still feels bad about. I remember grinning as I looked into the mirror and saw the foam around my lips and on my chin. I resembled a rabid dog from a cartoon. Besides, it was hotel soap, and didn’t taste that bad.
I was fascinated with the power these words had. A few years later, I decided that I wanted to swear on a regular basis. I got off the school bus and ran upstairs without dropping my book bag. Staring into a sun hanging low in the afternoon sky, I smiled, and, with all of the dramatic emphasis I could muster from my eight-year-old body, cultivated and unleashed my first deliberate post-soap obscenity.
It felt good. It felt powerful. I liked swearing. I decided to do it more often.
I managed to keep my habit a suppressed secret into the teenaged years, when swearing was as common as the cans of Mountain Dew we had permanently glued to our hands. We had some good times, swearing and I – reciting the dirty bits from Adam Sandler comedy albums, and quoting Dr. Dre on the way home from the video store. There was something about it that made me feel edgy and alive.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. I face the prospect of letting this part of myself fade into the past. I like swearing. I don’t like obscenity, per say, but I find a properly applied swear word to be artful at times, as a more earthy and earnest way to express one’s frustrations.
Still, my wife is right. I can’t keep doing it – not in front of ears and eyes that hear and see my every move and seek to mimic it. I don’t want my daughter’s idea of “Daddy” to be synonymous with a cantankerous, foul-mouthed ogre. It may be hard in the short term, but in the long run, the best thing to do is to set a good example – even if it means using “fiddlesticks!” as a much-less-than-satisfying substitute for it’s unprintable swear word counterpart.
I’m going to be prepared. I’m keeping a small stock of hotel soap, just in case. It’s not for my daughter, you see – it’s for me. If I know anything about myself, I quit things the hard way. I quit smoking by eating cigarettes. Now, I have to eat words, and it makes me want to choke.