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  • Profanity Alert!

    I posted this sign to Facebook earlier today, in part due to exasperation over what is occurring daily in our nation's capital. Knowing how some of my friends feel about language, I understood that this might offend some people (hence the profanity alert headline).

    Here is my reasoning behind the post.

    There are times when things deserve a well placed profane word. Profanity, if not used in anger, is just a word after all. It's when it's used in anger, not exasperation, that it becomes twisted and abusive. Forms of expression should never be discouraged in our society, no matter what side you fall on.

    Back to our regularly scheduled programming...

  • Is Listening A Lost Art?

    I distinctly remember the first time I heard the “F” word. We were driving from Texas City to Longview on the dreaded U.S. 59 in my mom’s white, two-door Oldsmobile Cutlass. I was 9, maybe 10. My dad, his head on the 90-degree turn thanks to dysplasia/spasmodic tordicollis, was in the passenger seat and mom was driving. These were the days when the speed limit had just been lowered and mom, never wanting to break the law, kept the needle neatly positioned between the 5 and the 5.

    As frequently happens on long trips on divided four-lane highways, we played a slight game of tag with another car. We passed it, it passed us, and so on. I’m sure the driver in the other car had to be a little freaked out by the fact that, every time we passed, my dad was staring at him — involuntarily — through the passenger side window.

    Suddenly and without warning, I heard my dad explode with a resounding “F-U too, buddy!”

    I asked my mom what the “f” word meant, and she said it was a word that only adults use, and even then only infrequently. (Little did she know...) Giving my dad the stare down while somehow simultaneously looking at the road and in the rearview mirror, she proceeded to explain that it was a word I shouldn’t ever choose, especially in anger.

    “We’ve taught you to have a better vocabulary than that.”

    The lesson I took from this experience was that the word itself is not what’s important, but the tone of your voice is what really matters. What I didn’t understand at the time, but do today, was that my dad was hurt and lashed out. The other driver had no idea the kind of pain that he was in, no idea how embarrassed/emasculated he might have felt thanks to an insidious disease that would affect him for the rest of his life.

    Over the years, since becoming a writer/editor in my own right, I’ve learned to love and respect the power words have. But more important, I’ve tried to dissect and learned to appreciate the tone my voice has when I choose to use words in a certain way.

    Now, if I’m truly angry, I don’t use profanity. I don’t want people to get hung up on a particular word choice and use that as an excuse to not listen to what I have to say. Deep in my heart, I wish that others would choose words as carefully and listen when others with dissenting opinions are talking. My fear is that listening is becoming a lost art.

  • Pursuing the Perfect Child

    Want proof that parenting is, at best, an imprecise science that can deflate even the largest ego? Here's a true story...

    Long ago, I had a co-worker who told us at every opportunity how perfect her child was, down to the diapers that didn't smell. (Nausea.) One day the phone rang at her desk and she answered. Within 30 seconds, she turned white as a ghost and started to bolt from the room.

    Someone asked if everything was OK and she said, "He just stood on the table and said (the f-word) at day care!"

    With that, she proceeded to murmur the "s" word under her breath and continue on her pursuit of the perfect child...

    ••••••

    Writing this reminded me of one of my favorite essays involving one of my children. Read about Emma and "The Zoo Story" here. And enjoy it. Any parent will.

  • The Zoo Story

    It started over the word “but” — or “butt,” depending on how you spell it.

    When we first moved to the DC area in 2001, that was a big word around our house. For a brief period, we had to admonish our children and tell them not to use the word as it relates to the human anatomy. But (no pun intended) we soon found ourselves unable to use the word in a conjunctive sense without being told why it was a bad idea.

    “Oooh, Daddy used the word,” they said in joyous glee (glee always comes in unison). “Daddy, you’re not supposed to say that.”

    “But,” I protested, “that wasn’t the bad butt. It was, uh, the good but.”

    Thus was born the “good but” and the “bad butt,” a slight, subtle, but nonetheless important distinction for my children to draw at that nascent phase of their lives.

    If nothing else, pre-school children are literal. And when you have three kids only 11 1/2 months apart, literal comes at you with the volume and intensity of a presidential press conference.

    So my wife and I had to find some way to bring compound sentences back into our home speech.

    “The good but,” I explained, “is when you say, ‘I want to do this, but I can’t right now.’ The bad butt is when you refer to someone’s bottom.”

    That seemed to work for a time, until my youngest daughter and I went to the zoo. We were walking from site to site on a brisk January day. We saw the pandas, the giraffes, the elephants. And then we went to the beaver exhibit.

    “Daddy, where’s the beaver?”

    “He’s in his house.”

    “What do you call his house?”

    “Well, Emma,” I said, steeling myself. “It’s a dam.”

    “Oh, Daddy…” she said with a level of sincerity only petite 4-year-olds can muster. “That’s a bad word.”

    “No, no Emma. It’s not the bad ‘damn.’ It’s the good dam.”

    “Oh,” she said, her wheels turning as onlookers snickered. “So you mean there’s a good but, and a bad butt, and a good dam, and a bad damn.”

    “Yes.”

    “Well, Daddy,” Emma said with a sense of confidence. “I don’t say the bad butt, and I don’t say the bad damn. I just say shit.”

    I had no retort, just a sheepish reply.

    “Well, Emma, there’s no such thing as good shit.”

    And a man walking by said, “I beg to differ.”