[DISCLAIMER: This is a post about offensive words. If you are easily offended, then fuck you. Just kidding. Seriously, if you're easily offended – like, if you thought John Mayer was wrong for using the n-word while making his point that he has not earned the right to say the n-word – then you might want to stop reading now. Or you can keep reading, and just pretend Dave Chappelle wrote it. Your call.]
This is my second post here on DadWagon, so I think now is a good time to re-examine my body of work and ask: What does it all mean? What’s the larger theme that runs though all of my writings, the one thing that defines me as an author, that ties all of my work together? Nietzsche had his nihilism. Machiavelli had his ruthless ambition. Dr. Phil has his baldness, and that mustache.
Now, having written this post, I believe I have found my raison d’entre: Identifying massive systemic and societal failures, complaining about them, and then offering no meaningful solutions. Think of me as the Republican in your dad-blog healthcare crisis. To wit:
This past Sunday, we did what most parents do on Easter: we attached feedbags full of Hershey’s Kisses and chocolate bunnies to our kids’ faces, so their hands could be free to tap the kegs of high-fructose corn syrup nestled deep in their Easter baskets.
Then, as the dawn of the third day approached, we fell to our knees, rending our garments, and thrust our pleading arms heavenward with the Parent’s Lament: GOD OH GOD WHY WON’T THEY SLEEEEEP?!
Somewhere in the murky haze of what may have been morning – or possibly evening – I awoke to find my son standing horror-movie close to my face. After the terror-induced arrhythmia subsided, I climbed down off the ceiling and said, “Can I help you?”
My son – a delightful three-year-old spun of fine silk and pure goodness – shrugged his little shoulders.
“I don’t like those niggers.”
Then he walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Well, I thought to myself. That’s the last time we let our kids watch American History X before bed.
I quickly pulled on some clothes, then went looking for my newly-racist little son.
“Hey, good morning,” I said to my daughter as I passed through the living room, barely noticing that, at some point during the night, she had found the energy to disassemble all of our furniture.
I followed a trail of candy wrappers to my son’s room, where he was sitting on the floor, neck deep in a pile of Easter grass.
“Um … what did you come in my room to tell me? I don’t think I heard you right.”
He looked up at me, with his chocolate-smeared cherub face. “I don’t like those niggers grandpa bought.”
Allow me to interject here by saying that we’re from New Jersey. You can trace back our family tree as far as you want, and you’ll find nary a plantation nor a white hood. He certainly didn’t hear that word from us, and unless Spongebob has suddenly exchanged his spatula for a burning cross, I’m guessing he didn’t hear on it TV either.
“Grandpa bought you … what?”
“These,” he said, opening his hands to reveal two melted chocolate squares. “These niggers.”
“Oh!” I exhaled with the kind of relief usually reserved for negative pregnancy tests. “I think you mean you don’t like those Snickers.”
“Say it with me: Those.”
I winced. I have to get him to pronounce this right, or we’re gonna have to move to Canada.
“No, no, no. Those Snickers. Those – stop – Snickers. Snick-snick-SNICKers.”
Sigh. I better go pack.
As sweet as my son is, this isn’t the first time he has tapped into his inner Klansman.
Back at Christmas time, my wife was in Target shopping for gifts, with my son in the cart. They were on the checkout line, waiting for the cashier to hook up a register that could do 8-figure transactions. Once again, my son put his adorable brand of racism on display.
“I don’t like that black guy,” he casually informed the woman standing behind him in line. “He’s mean.”
The woman laughed nervously. “Which black guy?” Her eyes darted to the checkout line’s magazine rack, where a dozen magazine covers were graced with the smiling visage of our newly elected President. “You mean Barack Obama?”
My son’s eye lit up. “Yeah! I don’t like him. He’s a bad guy.”
The woman’s looked to my wife, silently begging for clarification. My wife had left her toddler-to-English dictionary at home that day, so she was caught unawares.
“No, not Barack Obama,” my wife interjected. “We like him. Which guy are you talking about?”
“The black guy. With the ‘elmet.”
“Oh!” My wife exhaled with the kind of relief usually reserved for finding out that Johnny Depp has finally accepted your friend request on Facebook.
“I think he means Darth Vader.”
When I was growing up, back in caveman times, we had a thing called “television.” The biggest phenomenon in those days was The Cosby Show. Bill Cosby was America’s Father – or at least America’s Unthreatening Black Neighbor.
It’s incredible to think about now, but what was so fresh about the show is that it wasn’t about a black family — it was about a family who happened to be black. They were just like every other family. Well, every other family where the father is a doctor, the mother is a lawyer, and the son is Malcolm-Jamal Warner. But still.
After the success of The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby could have done anything. He could have starred in movies. He could have run for office. He could have had his face added to Mount Rushmore. But he didn’t choose any of these paths.
Instead, he decided to host a show called Kids Say The Darndest Things.
Imagine if Michaelangelo’s follow-up to the Sistine Chapel was to do hotel room paintings of sad clowns using a mixture of roadkill entrails and human feces. That’s what the show was like. It wasn’t just a step down – it was several floors down, in the sub-basement where the homeless guys go to pee.
The original title of the show was “What The Fuck Did You Just Say?”, but that was deemed too controversial for middle America’s delicate sensibilities. Basically, they found some stage moms who were willing to put their kids on stage to be publicly humiliated for 22 minutes in front of millions of people. It was the olden times equivalent of uploading a video of your kid’s drug-induced fever dreams to YouTube.
What made this show “funny” was that everyone knew that the kids had no clue what they were saying. I could have sent my kid up there to say “I want to ass-rape Ronald Reagan with Princess Diana’s strap-on,” and people would have been rolling in the aisles. President Reagan would have sent the kid an autographed bag of jelly beans, and Princess Diana would have sent … well, just a card, hopefully.
The show was a hit, so clearly everyone knows that kids do, in fact, say the darndest things. So why was I so mortified about my son suddenly talking like he’s running for governor of Alabama?
I think my reaction speaks to a larger issue that we face day-to-day when raising kids. We’re constantly playing word police, telling them “don’t say that” or “you can’t say this” or “it’s not nice to say penis in church.”
But why? Why are we so afraid of words?
Mind you, I’m not talking about speech – that’s different. Plenty of damage can be done when the right (or wrong) words are put in the right order, and are infused with anger, or fear, or stupidity. Or all of the above, if you’re Glenn Beck. That’s not what I’m referring to here.
I’m talking about individual words. Shit. Piss. Fuck. Poo-poo-head. We’re supposed to excise these words from our kids’ vocabularies. Why? I’m using them here. You probably use them at work, or at the gym, or in the whorehouse (unless you bring your kids along while whoring.) But god forbid our kids say these words.
I’m 34 years old, and I recently got a scathing email from my mother because I used “the f-word” in a Facebook status update.
My first thought was, OMGWTFLOL. That was followed by, Why am I imposing a 140-character limit on my thoughts? and then, Why am I still embarrassed to curse in front of my mother?
So, why did my mom care that I used that word? I’m guessing it’s because she was afraid of what people might think. Might think of what? I don’t know – her parenting, maybe? Maybe they’d think that we were raised poorly, and that would reflect badly on her.
That’s stupid, of course. Clearly she was an awesome parent who raised a brilliant, handsome son with a rapier wit. And yet … I can’t help myself from doing the same thing to my kids. I’m constantly reprimanding them for saying “doodie words”, while at the same time writing like a drunken sailor, who, for some reason, is writing instead of drinking. Or sailing.
Kids will say bad words. Policing it just teaches them not to say them in front of us. Instead, they’ll say them on the playground, or in the classroom, or — if things keep going this way — in detention.
The focus on words may solve the problem of us being embarrassed in front of other parents, but it also may be the first step in teaching our kids to hide things from us, to create a mental division between Things We Do In Front Of Our Parents and Things We Hide So We Don’t Get In Trouble.
Next thing you know, Junior is slipping a flask of Jack Daniels into his lunchbox, and your little princess is carrying on a torrid online affair with one of the Jonas Brothers.
Again, I’m offering no solutions. I’m still going to tell my daughter not to call a perfect stranger a “weenie face”, and I’m still going to cringe whenever my son accidentally talks like Strom Thurmond.
But at least I’ll try not to be offended when your kid does the same.
P.S. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m really sorry I used the f-word. Repeatedly.