My four year-old son comes into the room.
‘Sorry Dad, I spilled my drink.’
‘That’s okay The Boy. What happened?’
‘I bumped into the table.’
‘Well, that can happen. Not to worry.’
‘Yeah. But I feel like a bit of a dickhead.’
‘A dickhead! I FEEL LIKE A BIT OF A DICKHEAD!’
And so, once again, I enter the parental equivalent of seeing someone start to fall in the street and feeling time stop while the urge to reach out and grab them battles the feeling that it looks like it may turn out to be a more than usually funny pratfall. Do I intervene like a hypocrite, or laugh like a monster?
My parents never swore in front of me. My high school best friend, born on the same day as me, had parents who swore constantly. His dad performed the George Carlin ‘Seven words you can’t say on TV’ routine for us when we were fourteen. So I found it shocking when my mum once yelled ‘fuck!’ after dropping a glass, and he found it shocking when his didn’t.
And here’s the point: we both now swear exactly the same amount, which is continuously and to an award-winning standard.
The Boy, it appears, is a natural. When he was eighteen months old and burbling random syllables, he once crawled over to me, looked up, clearly said ‘cuntface’, then went about his business. In my clumsiness I later inadvertently taught him to properly deploy the term he still thinks is ‘fuxake’.
So as far as swearing is concerned that horse has sailed. It only seems like yesterday he was in his crib, gurgling happily along with his favourite Derek and Clive records, but now he is four and a protocol must be agreed. I don’t want to teach him that any word is bad, but neither do I want to hear the phrase ‘effing and jeffing’ from a series of increasingly irate kinder teachers. Again.
‘Who taught you to say “dickhead”, son?’
‘Oh. Well, it’s funny, sure, bit it’s a bit rude. We wouldn’t say that in front of everyone.’
‘Okay. Is Frank Woodley a dickhead then dad?’
This seems as good a line to draw as any.
‘Yes, son. It’s definitely okay to say that Frank Woodley is a dickhead.’
So it’s possible I have a little Malcolm Tucker on my hands. And I’m fine with that. As long as I don’t end up with a Paul Anka. Or a Rex Hunt. Or a Clive Blarsehole.
Originally published in the King's Tribune, which you should definitely read even though there's hardly any effing or jeffing in it.