I talk to myself when I drive and routinely carry on improvised conversations with other drivers. Angry conversations. Obscenity-laced exchanges, in which I curse the driver and his or her family, and end up sending a one-finger salute to the unfortunate soul who cut me off. And what’s worse, I didn’t even realize I was doing it until recently.
My son and I drive together everyday. He’s 2.5 years old and that means, among other things, he’s become a damn parrot. Never was that more clear than a few days ago.
While riding in a car with my parents, we had to go over a bridge that is down to one lane in each direction due to construction. When the lanes converged, traffic came to a halt and we stopped in a long line of cars. As is customary, I let out a sigh and some grumblings. But I was not ready for the little voice that chirped from the backseat.
“Move it fucking car!”
The pause that followed was one of the longest I’ve ever heard. Everyone in the car was trying to figure out if my son had just said what they thought he said. I didn’t doubt it for an instant. He said it exactly like I do. Same level of exasperation. Same tone of voice. It might as well have been DNA evidence lifted from a crime scene.
My wife and my parents realized it too, and all eyes turned to me, looking for an explanation of why I was raising a miniature George Carlin. I tried to explain it away by coming up with another phrase he might have said by mistake. Unfortunately, “fucking car” was clear as a bell and didn’t leave me many options. The kid has excellent diction and pronunciation for his age.
Then I thought about going into “Angry Dad” mode, in which I would scold him and morph into the disciplinarian. But it’s not like he picked it up from foul-mouthed toddlers playing in the sandbox, so that just wasn’t gonna fly.
So I did what any good father would do. I blamed it on my wife.
Needless to say, that just compounded the problem. I went from just being a bad father to being a bad husband, too. And just to make it that much more of a gut punch, Will did what all kids do when you make a big deal out of something: he repeated the word over and over again.
I learned what I already should have known—little ears are always listening and what we say as fathers is often learned and repeated by our kids. These New York and Florida drivers who vacation on my peninsula (Cape Cod) don’t make it easy, but I am trying to curb my swearing and watch what I say.
Oh, and I’ll remember to never blame my wife.