|Photo by Anderson Mancini|
I was stepping from the kitchen to the garage frustrated over something stupid enough that I can’t remember when I tripped over the threshold, stumbled and said the f-word.
My 8-year-old son, probably the source of the frustration, was in the kitchen. He was playing with a dart game that he’d gotten at the dollar store. He didn’t say anything, and as I stumbled into the garage to rotate the laundry, I assumed that he hadn’t heard me. And if he had heard me, I wasn’t sure if he knew what that word meant. I convinced myself that he either didn’t know it, or didn’t hear it, and that I had nothing to worry about. I was back to being frustrated by the time I made it back inside.
Tristan was standing in the same spot as when I left the kitchen. His blue eyes were slanted a little, one hand on the hip side of his cargo shorts. “You said a bad word,” he said.
Tristan was at the age where he likes to catch adults doing things that he’s been told not to do. He wasn’t quite at the pre-teen “everyone is a hypocrite” phase, but rather at the “I’d like to be the one enforcing the rules phase.” I suppose I should be proud of the fact that he’d never heard me drop an f-bomb until that moment. I have a strong mouth for a Mormon, which make me a contradiction. I don’t really have a good excuse for my language. I picked it up from movies as a kid, and then really drove it into my lexicon as a teen when I used the F-bomb as my noun, adjective, verb, and all other parts of the English language. I’m 32 now, and I still struggle with not using it. The problem is, as foul as the word is, it has some practical uses. It feels amazing to say it when I’m frustrated and alone in traffic. I work at a university, and it tends to get students attention and sometimes it’s good to use in the bedroom, however my wife tends to disagree with that. I could go on, but you get the idea.
As much as I like the word, I don’t want my son to say it. Or any of my three kids for that matter. I don’t want them to say it as children, or teens, or even adults, and yet I seem to want to hold onto it. I don’t want him to be that nasty mouthed little boy at soccer practice, like I was. The one that makes the coach worry about the boy’s future and his home life. I want Tristan to be better than me. I want him to be more successful, to be seen as professional and strong. Not the kind of person who shakes a work meeting by dropping an f-bomb like I have been known to do from time to time.
Long story short, I’m a bad example.
I’m a contradiction.
I’m a father.
And it is for these reasons that when my son confronted me about using the F-word, I lied.
“No I didn’t,” I said. “I said freak. That isn’t a swear word.”
Tristan stuck out his lips, and as he did, I wondered where he heard the word in the first place. Had he heard it from me? Possibly, but I didn’t like thinking that way. I liked assuming that he heard it at school or something. That takes the blame off of me, but at the same time it made me worried about the friends he was hanging out with. I didn’t want him hanging around with a bunch of 8-year-olds who used the f-word. But then again, I was an 8-year-old who swore. And I was a troublemaker, which basically meant I didn’t want him hanging out with kids that reminded me of myself at that age. But there I was, trying to kick a 20 something year old swearing habit, lying about it to my son, and fearing that he was hanging out with someone like me. And as Tristan gazed at me with slanted eyes, clearly not believing my lie, I thought about that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphy was caught using the f-word and was afraid to admit he’d learned it from his father.
I was the problem.
“Ok,” I said. “You are right. I did say a bad word. I’m sorry.”
Tristan didn’t smile, although I could tell that he wanted to. Instead he gave me a flat face of authority. One that seemed to say, “I need to teach you a lesson.” This was the same face that I must have used a million times on him.
“And you lied about it,” he said.
“Yes, you are right,” I said. “I lied about it. I am sorry for that, too. Sometimes when dads are frustrated they say and do things they shouldn’t. I’m not saying that it’s right. But what I am saying is that someday you will get it. But for now, I hope you can accept my apology.”
Tristan folded his arms. He didn’t give me a smirk. He didn’t say that I was a bad dad, or that I needed to grow up or be a better example. He looked at me, shrugged, and said, “I just thought you were better than that. I expected more from you.”
These were my words coming out of his mouth. Our roles had officially swapped. I was the child now. And you know what, it stung.
I walked over to Tristan. I crouched down, looked him in the eyes like I often do. I expected him to change his face a little, become a little softer. To turn back into the little boy I knew. But he didn’t. He clearly wanted me to learn this lesson.
“I’m going to work on it, Tristan. I don’t know if I will fix it today, but I will work on it. Will you help me?”
Tristan twisted the corner of his lip and nodded.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley