The Words of My Father

Corin Balkovec, contributor   

Growing up, my father taught me many things: Algebra, how to drive a car, various types of home repair. But out of everything, the one skill that has been his biggest gift has been learning how to swear.

Yes, knowing how to drive a car is useful, but learning how to call someone a “dumbfuck” while driving is priceless.

It’s not like my dad sat me down at the kitchen table to go over swear exercises (“Now, what do we call someone who cuts you off in traffic and then slams on their brakes?” “Ummmm … ‘idiotic shithead’?” “That’s my girl!”), but rather I learned from observation.

Living within earshot of him for 18 years, I picked up the knack the same way someone in a foreign country starts to pick up the language; all the muttered words under his breath while fixing something at home or driving across town found their way into my brain and took root. But it wasn’t until one day when I was trying to hang a picture that I realize it: After dropping the nail for umpteenth time, the words flew out of my mouth almost on their own: “GodDAMN son of a BITCH!” Exact tone, exact pacing, with the stress on all the correct syllables like it was iambic pentameter or something – half an octave lower and it would have been my father’s voice exactly. And then I began to notice it all the time – yelling out “Who the fuck put this here?!?” after stubbing my toe on a chair (that I obviously put there, considering I live alone), or when I thoughtfully suggest that people who cross the street 4 feet away from a crosswalk possibly pull their heads out of their asses.

At first, it was disconcerting – if I picked up his cursing habits without meaning to would I pick up other habits, like his penchant for watching Fox News and agreeing with things that Rush Limbaugh says?? Or what if it was a case of nature over nurture and this ability to spit out a line of curse words without thinking was somehow embedded somewhere deep in our genetic code? (And if this was the case, and considering how my dad has been rocking a Magnum PI-style mustache for the last 30-odd years, should I start looking into find a good waxer?) But eventually, I learned to accept it because, as my father always said, the world is full of fucking morons and sometimes you have to call them out on their shit.

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