The other day in the car my kids asked me very seriously if I had Tourette’s. “Just a mild case.” For those not familiar with this syndrome, it is a neurological disorder characterised by repetitive stereotyped involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. It can be distressing and debilitating. It is however most often associated with the exclamation of obscene words or socially inappropriate remarks. I was explaining this to the children when a car swung in front missing us by a centimetre.
“You fucking maggot brain” I yelled. “You trying to kill us arse wipe?”
“See mum? There you go again. Its like you have to swear. You’ve definitely got it.”
“Come on, anyone would have sworn under those circumstances and who is this dick head on the radio?
When the kids were young I was on my best behaviour every day from the time they woke until their bedtime. Not a single cuss word would pass my lips. After lights out, it was like I was a beach ball that had been held under water all day. When I finally got to break through the surface it was on like fucking Donkey Kong. I’d swear at the people on the telly (motherfuckers), in the newspaper (cocksuckers), at the dog (gorgeous bitch), the chair (you toe fucker you fucked my toe you fucker, fuck you).
‘Sigh.’ That’s the sigh of my girlfriend. She was the first person to suggest that perhaps I might have Tourette’s. “Just a mild case.”
I’ve always sworn. Everyone in my family has a dirty mouth. Certainly in varying degrees and sometimes only in particular circumstances or company, but they all swear. Even in greeting. G’day John ya bastard’, ‘Borgo you old prick how they hangin’?’ It should be noted that mostly it was the blokes who bantered like this. I never heard the women greet each other with ‘How’s it flappin’ you old cunt’. They mostly only got their tongues revved up when discussing their spouses and after a few cask wines.
‘He’s as useless as tits on a fucking bull’, ‘Lazy prick thinks he’s Lord Muck from Turd Island.’ ‘Cums quicker than the fucking debt collector on pay day, the dead shit.’.
As a child my swearing was very mild, a ‘bloody’ here, a ‘bugger’ there, an occasional ‘poo’ or ‘wee’. Family folklore does have my first words as “ some dirty bastard farted” so I was clearly advanced for my age.
With my parents, most petty crimes of childhood like not coming home on time, breaking a cup, getting food on the rug or setting fire to a sibling, were dealt with by hand, belt or whatever was close enough to grab and throw. Swearing was different. As long as it was an appropriate use of the word and confined to home and never practised at school or mass or in front of anyone who might contact the authorities, swearing was fine. I suppose I’ve kept that particular family of origin belief even if my own children rely on less saucy vocabularies.
Last year my kids set up a swear jar that was ostensibly for the whole family but in reality was for me. I took the family to The Gold Coast for a week, accommodation, meals and fun parks included, on the contents of that jar.
Now that the kids are older we don’t hassle them too much about swearing. Although we have always had the proviso that you must know what a word means and be able to use it in a sentence. Just calling someone a fuck is not acceptable. What kind of fuck are they? Use your adjectives. Verbs are the doing words. Description is everything. Imagination is vital. For example, ‘you smelly, badly dressed old bloke’, while a perfectly adequate insult, could be enhanced immeasurably with the use of a little creativity.
“Jesus Christ did you just steal the pants off someone who shat themselves before they died because not only do you smell like shit and death you look like it too you demented old fuck.”
See what I did there? All it takes is a little effort.
That day in the car my infinitely curious children asked, “what was the worst thing your Tourette’s (and clearly I had been diagnosed in the affirmative), ever made you say to somebody?” My girlfriend and I have tried to foster an open and honest relationship with our children. Like the time they asked me how two women have sex together. They had never really thought of their mums as sexual beings. Until this moment they had only had to deal with heterosexual sex for reasons of necessary, though boring, sex education, weird things that other kid’s straight parents did to make babies not the bedroom frolics of their own parents. I began by explaining that in a loving consensual adult sexual experience straight or gay there is holding and touching and kissing and fondling….. “Fondling? Fondling? What the hell is that? That’s just disgusting. Don’t say anything more. We’re too young to know about fondling. Fondling is just gross”.
Oddly the question they now posed about “the worst thing I’ve ever said” was much harder to answer than what do lesbians do in bed? Honestly I had no idea about the worst thing I said an hour ago let alone over a lifetime. I’m fifty-one years old and I started talking when I was one. That’s half a century of verbal filth to trawl through. And swear words in themselves don’t offend me. It’s what we do with all words, how we use them to hurt, manipulate, diminish and control each other that I believe is the true obscenity.
So in the end I told my kids the absolute truth.
“The worst thing I ever said to anyone was “I hate you”.”
They looked at me in disgust and disbelief. “That’s a crap answer mum. Total rubbish. You just made that up. You would at least have used the F word for sure.” Damn those kids. They were so fucking right.