The Profane Dad, Part 2 / by Dan Mayer

As my wife and I continue this project, other words are coming into question. Is hell profanity? Ass? I say no, but my wife seems to want them on the verboten list. I don't know where this comes from. My wife might create a certain impression if you meet her in a professional context, or at a dinner party where we don't know anyone, but she's no Pollyanna. She's married to me, after all. She can be crude and clever, uninhibited, and a little raunchy. She's perfect. So why is hell on the list? Hell is a place. In its most common usage it’s just a shitty place or condition of being, often separated from the religious traditions that generated the initial concept. A lousy job is hell. A crumbling marriage. Why should it be a bad word? Why shouldn't my daughter say it? And ass? I can't even begin to understand why ass would be frowned upon. We are not Christian fundamentalists at the turn of the century. Social mores have changed. These words utterly lack the potency of the big three. I'm not going to cross the street to bash someone's mouth in for calling my daughter an ass.

I will, however, throw a brick at them if one should happen to be handy. I love to throw a nice brick.

There was a swear-jar in the house where my wife grew up. Her father filled it. My own mother lost her fucking mind the first (and only) time she heard me call my sister a cunt, but she (my mother) introduced me to the word prickeater while she was driving with us in the Plymouth. I don't remember what the other motorist did to receive that descriptor, but I'll be damned if I didn't hear the same word flying out of my own mouth while I was driving with my daughter in the VW some 38 years later. I'm sure my wife has repeated some of her father's favorite epithets for almost as long. I believe dipshit was one of his oft-turned phrases. She has, on occasion, applied that one to me.

My point is that our parents swore like frustrated pirates on a regular basis, but their kids are all morally centered, reasonable people who tend to shy away from linguistic orthodoxies. At least we were until we had children of our own. Now I must unlearn what I've learned, or at least pretend to, to keep our daughter from learning the same. Which sounds like a bad thing.

Except that there's one solid reason why it's not, a reason I cling to while I smother the glorious profanity that yearns to spring from my tongue when someone does something idiotic on the road while I'm driving my daughter somewhere. The thing about profanity is that it doesn't work right if it isn't bad. Bad as in, well... naughty. So, if we don't teach our children that these words are somehow more powerful than other words, they will lose their potency. That would suck. What kind of world would it be if you could say cunt and have it be no different than saying orange? A bleak, flavorless landscape. If we do not apply value judgments and create clearly defined boundaries, the mild ways in which we step over them will cease to be fun. Which is the real point of profanity. It's fun. But it won't be fun for my kid unless I spend a lot of time teaching her that it's bad.

God fucking dammit.