The other night, I’m reading Ranger’s Apprentice to Kurtzhau and decide to prop myself up against the radiator. There’s one of those wire towel rails, I slide it out of the way, it detaches, I struggle and—
–I stab myself in the eye with one of the prongs.
Well actually, I must have blinked defensively and only scratched my eyelid. But right then I’m seeing my life of writing and fencing collapse before me and I’m clutching you eye going, “Ofuckofuckofuck.”
After a moment and more swearing, I notice the absence of blood and remove my hand. “God that was close.”
Kurtzhau beams at me. “You swore Daddy. You owe me 30 pence.” (We fine each other for bad language, as much for my benefit as for his.)
“Kurtzhau you little bugger,” I shoot back. “I think if you stab yourself in the eye, then you are allowed to swear.”
He shakes his head. “No. You said, If you swear when you get hurt, you’ll get into the habit of swearing and Nobody Will Take You Seriously.”
“Oh.” I feel a bit chastened.
Four years ago when Kurtzhau was 5, he and I were playing one of those WWII computer games where you control Marines and Paras as they slog from Normandy to Berlin…
Kurtzhau yells, “Over THERE daddy. Get the big gun! Now! NOW!”
“Got it!” I spot the threat, and start to bring up the anti-tank gun. The interface is a bit much for him, so he seems happy for me to do the clicking.
Our speakers crackle and the study air fills with automatic weapon fire, shouts, cries, explosions. Ignoring the rumpus, I deploy the gun. It barks and the German halftrack goes “whoosh!” A few flaming figures escape to roll on the ground until a hail of bullets puts them out of their simulated misery.
A second half-track attacks from the other side and now I’m scrambling to bring the gun to bear, while the Marines call out for help.
Kurtzhau goes silent then says, “They can say naughty words, Daddy, because they’re being shot at.”
And for the first time, I actually listen to the patter from the little guys fighting and dying on our screen; “We’re fucking dying over here! Bring up the fucking AT gun! Bastards! Where’s that fucking gun…”
“Yes,” I say. “But the In Charge People aren’t swearing, are they?”
Kurtzhau nods sagely. “No, Daddy. They’re giving orders.” Then his eyes light up and he points. “Over there. In those trees, Daddy. GET THEM!”
And from then on that became my explanation for teaching Kurtzhau not to swear; not because it’s “naughty”, but because it can undermine your gravitas when you most need it.
And now I am hoisted on my own petard.
“That’s 40 pence now, Daddy,” says Kurtzhau. “Because you also called me a naughty word.”
“What was the word I used?” I ask innocently.
Kurtzhau’s eyes twinkle. “You tell me, Daddy.”