Some odd synchronicities:
Last night, on the daily Simpsons rerun, was the episode where the TV anchor Kent Brockman used an obscenity on-air when Homer dumped hot coffee in his lap. We never heard the word, only saw the shocked expressions of the TV audience. I thought it was an interesting coincidence, given my oldest son's use of a word my father found so offensive.
Later I was glancing through this week's programing on The Diane Rehm show--one of my favorite sources of news analysis. This holiday week is all rebroadcasts, and yesterday's was an interview with the author of "Charlatan":
The bizarre story of "the goat gland man," John Brinkley, a marketing genius and medical fraud who amassed a fabulous fortune in the early twentieth century implanting thousands with goat testicles to restore sexual virility.
Pope Brock, journalist and author
The "goat gland man"??? GOAT BALLS????? When "balls" was the word from my son's mouth that upset my father so much?
Oh, that's too funny. I called Connor over to show him and we both howled.
My dad replied to the message I sent him. He persists in his belief that the word is so inherently bad that its use in his presence constitutes egregious disrespect. It is such a bad word that everyone should know it's bad, and therefore its use doesn't constitute an innocent mistake. That language is used in the locker room or with prostitutes not with people who love you and deserve your respect....Should you use that language when interviewing for a job? It is gutter talk and belongs in the gutter...Perhaps we agree to disagree, but I will continue to object to language like that when used in my presence. As bad as I am, I think I deserve more respect just because I am old if for no other reason.
My guess is that the nature of my reply dissatisfied him, where I explained it was probably my fault; I don't think it's such a bad word and don't really object to him using it, but Connor has learned something about being sensitive about his audience when he chooses a word.* The implication is that the word is not inherently evil, but is in the 'ear' of the receiver. That smacks of a kind of relativism, and I think that's where the real fight was.
I did try again, though. I said that all he would have had to do is say simply, "Connor, I really don't like that word and would rather you not use it around me." Connor would have most likely said, "OK, Grandpa. I'm sorry." And that would have been the end of it.
Truly, isn't what would warrant agonizing over all night and finally, reluctantly, a bit embarrassedly, approaching a child's parent be a scenario where the child knew the word was offensive, and used it anyway? To me, that's what would be worth losing sleep over--that would constitute disrespect, and downright meanness. And that would ignite my concern.
It's curious my dad couldn't seem to tell the difference.
He said he'd not heard the incident when my FIL yelled at Scott, but he said my mother told him about it and he was surprised. Dad said he received a message from my FIL apologizing and saying he regretted his behavior. Dad wanted to know if I'd heard from him.
Well, I had. FIL said he hadn't meant offense. He denied yelling, said Scott had been close to him, said he'd used the same level of loudness as Scott, and agreed with me that Scott hadn't heard him. He added he wouldn't be bringing the dog any more. I suppose this amounted to an apology in his world.
That constituted such an inaccurate minimization that I'd responded to say that Scott had been at the far end of the living room while FIL had been in the kitchen, so they were not in proximity, 'yelling' as a term was debatable, but his voice was certainly raised, and if Scott had not heard it the adults at the table had. I said I didn't mind the dog coming, but if we were going to treat her kindly than he'd have to do the same with my kids...that I have nothing against setting limits, but it has to be done respectfully: yelling at someone in the presence of others doesn't qualify as respect.
Interesting that he would make a much more detailed apology to my father than to Gary or myself; he's not responded to that last message of mine and I don't expect him to.
I wasn't asking for an apology anyway. I'd respect him more if he was to acknowledge the inconsistency between the level of indulgence he expects toward the noise his dog makes and snapping at my kid for having a loud voice, but an apology is beside the point.
Also interesting is the peculiar juxtaposition of dynamics. In the one case my older son meant no disrespect yet my father persisted in being offended...in the other my FIL did mean disrespect, but it fortunately didn't reach it's intended recipient. In the case where no harm was intended, my dad pushed beyond his usual reticence to say something, and in the case where harm was intended the implication was that since it fell short of it's target I should say nothing.
I ponder these things.
*I forgot to attribute the remark I made in my message to my dad yesterday about audience/generational sensitivity to a comment Palemother made in response to my Balls post. Thanks, Palemother--it really was helpful!