A Profanity Lesson with Grandma and Frank Zappa
Steve Wiley is Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. He's a slightly unorthodox father of five who will weigh in weekly with his mildly-rebellious views and observations. If you'd like to see how he came to write this column, watch the intro video. This week he debates the ins-and-outs of profanity and parenthood.
About a month ago, I wrote a column about an annoying ad campaign for the new Samsung phone, in which I explained that "... anyone who gets in line to get a fuckin' phone is already either a regular hipster or a hipster-wannabe..."
The next day, I received an email from my mother that looked just like this:
I LOVE IT that you are doing this!! Can't wait to see what you will write next !!
Of course, as a former English teacher -- I am obliged to add an edit or two.......along with commentary.....
Grandma's email cont...
Should "there frequency" be their frequency? Aren't you showing ownership?* And "here I am, I'm writing about it" can be better shortened to "here I am ...... writing about it."*
And for crying out loud - LOSE THE F..........IN !! that is NOT appropriate in any column!! (friggin might be acceptable.)
*Maternal Editing Note: Before I get to the meat of the subject, let me address the other "edits": a) No, my use of 'there' was right, it wasn't an ownership thing; b) I like it my way. Mom is the all-time champion of overusing the ellipses as a literary tool (as you can see).
Back to my point (digression is one of my specialties): Grandma Susan doesn't approve of profanity.
But Mom, I Love Salty Language
My mom and I don't necessarily see this one the same. I tend to use profanity here and again ... and again (note the proper use of ellipses, just three dots, not eight). I don't use it all the time (we'll get to that in a bit), but whenever possible I tend to pepper my language with a cuss word or two. Here's my case for profanity:
It's just a part of who I am. I spent my teenage life with a posse full of slang-slingin' hoodlums. I've spent my adult life working in one of the biggest First Amendment industries on Earth (music) -- the last 15 of which were in my own indie record store. Hell, my partner and I used to ask interviewees if they had a problem with profanity in the interviews. It's just part of who I am.
So I responded with this email:
Munz [an old friend] used to have a great plaque up in his apartment:
"Profanity is the crutch of an inarticulate motherfucker."
One of my all-time faves. For better or worse, profanity is part of my vocabulary... just like 'luddite' [which she loved in an earlier column].
Click the link, and listen to my boy Frank Zappa explain it a different way.
An Interesting #!%#!! Parental Dilemma
That's how I handled it as a son. The question is, how does a hoodlum such as I handle this kind of a thing as a parent?
Like all parental issues, it's a matter of opinion and debate. My oldest son is a Freshman in High School, his brother is a seventh grader. They both assure me that the dreaded F-word is a well-established vocabulary word at both the middle school and high school levels. Despite their opinion and and my own openness to the fine art of vulgarity, we've still got a society within which we have to operate.
Admittedly, even if I was OK openly cussing in front of the boys, Teacher Beth (that's Mrs. Wiley) will have nothing of it over here in Wileysworld. I could be passive-aggressive and take the route of one of my former customers, who told me that his dad never cussed in front of his mom, but that the minute she left, he let the blue stream flow, but that's not my style. Am I more language-aware when Mom is home? I guess, but my intention is to keep it to the occasional 'shit' or 'goddamn' regardless of the situation, and I'm usually pretty good.
In the meantime, like many aspects of parenting, there's a level of hypocrisy involved. Especially in their formative, at-home years. The filters are completely off for my older daughters (22 and 29 years-old), but my wife and I agree that they are necessary in a house full of teens and tweens.
So what's a Parent Hood to do?
My ultimate job is to help the kids transition into adulthood, and part of that process is to at least give them an honest look at my true philosophies as an adult.
So the first thing I did is show the boys my response to Grandma and let them listen to Zappa's take. After all, just because I'm not saying 'fuck' around the house, I don't have to pretend that this wonderful word doesn't exist, or that I have a problem with it personally. Furthermore, Zappa is a critical thinker, and teaching critical thinking is one of my most important parenting goals.
We talked about the quote, and I explained its significant irony. I told them that if they are going to use words that society has branded profane, those words should be part of a well-rounded vocabulary, not the majority.
Finally, I explained that are certain situations where profanity is a real no-no, like when there are little kids around or you are at a funeral or it's the first time you meet your girlfriend's parents.
I'm sure there's a few more, but I'm the guy who tends to throw a 'fuck' into first-time conversations just to see how people react, so I couldn't think of too many.
I know one of them isn't in the column. After all, Parent Hood ain't for kids.
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