With a speed that may not surprise anyone, I have an update on last week’s column, which concerned my five-year-old son’s newfound propensity for swearing. To recap: he had taken to uttering the foul-mouthed, if charmingly incoherent, exclamation ‘forfookinsake’, when frustrated. We were worried by its regularity and vehemence, but especially by its cod-Hibernian pronunciation, which pointed to a clear provenance from his foul-mouthed, and Irish-accented parents. (Careful readers will note that this is a fancy way of saying we wouldn’t have minded so much if we thought we could blame anyone other than ourselves.)
In that column, I more-or-less made the argument that it’s best not to draw attention to such things, particularly if your child isn’t using it for shock value. Well, that was last week, when I was a merciful God King passing pearls of wisdom to the parents of the world, and this is now, where I have been once more shown to be God’s one perfect moron.
You see, the very next morning, after filing that piece, I prepped him for the school run. As I screwed on his warmest hat, he noticed his little sister wasn’t dressed yet. With nothing but innocence in his eyes, he turned on the threshold and said: ‘Are we not going to fucking nursery as well?’
One day he will swear as much as he likes, living and sleeping and cursing somewhere far away from me
I gawped for a few seconds. Gone was the charmingly naive ‘forfookinsake’, the clumsy formulation of which offered a tiny fig leaf of comedy value at least. No, here was adult contemporary Anglo-Saxon in its purest form, spread through my own misguided munificence.
Examining my reaction now, it’s hard to articulate exactly why I don’t want my five-year-old son to swear. It may sound obvious on its face, but easy moralising rankles. It’s true I don’t want it to reflect badly on me, but I realised in that instant that even if he never did it in public, and only ever to me, I’d dislike it. I certainly don’t think it suggests a lack of intelligence or vocabulary, which was the line very much pushed during my own childhood any time I got to effing and jeffing. My entire life experience since – and, I would argue, even the most a passing glance through the collected correspondence of the worlds’ most talented writers and thinkers – suggests that the correlation between vocabulary and profanity is reassuringly positive.
No, the reason it hit me right between the eyes is that it is simply the most prominent recent reminder that he’s growing up; an unwelcome, even blasphemous, reminder that one day he will swear as much as he likes, living and sleeping and cursing somewhere far away from me; will venture out of his front door each day into a cold, unfeeling world, without me there to make sure he has his winter hat on.
I close the door and bring him into the living room. ‘Right, you can’t say that word,’ I say, with the studied benevolence of a cool camp counsellor, the kind of dad you’d let be your dad forever. ‘That word you just said, that’s a bad word. An unkind word. You’re not in trouble, but you can’t say that again, especially not in school, no matter what.’
He buffered for a minute. ‘I can’t fucking say what – nursery?’
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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