I was 23 years old the first time I heard my dad say the word “shit.”
We were standing on a beach by the Colorado River as it wound through the sandstone spires and impossible black rock of Eastern Utah. Sunset had finally brought the temperature under 100 degrees as I showed my father how to set up a fifteen year old roll-a-table. It was the second evening of a three-night white-water rafting trip which was organized and guided by myself and my then-fiancee (now husband of ten years).
The trip was our dirtbag answer to an engagement party. At the time, we naively felt that three nights in the Utah desert, running class IV rapids would be a fun excursion for all involved- a great way for our siblings and parents to figure out just what we had been doing out here for the last five years. And three nights out was nothing! We had collected a total of seven family members from both sides who would be meeting each other for the first time, and shanghaied one pleasantly buzzed roommate to guide the third boat.
For all of the reasons above, my dad had earned a free pass to use profanity. Not even the most saintly of grandmothers could have denied him a well-earned expletive or twenty.
Yet, this first-born of naughty words did not escape his lips in response to the frustrations of the screw-in legs of the roll-a-table. Nor was it his reaction to the discovery that the chicken was not yet thawed and dinner would be delayed by an hour. It wasn’t even generated from our genetically shared struggles with extremely low blood sugar.
The first time I heard my dad swear was, in fact, in the punchline to a dad joke.
“…If if the foo shits, wear it.” It was one of those torturously long narratives with a terrible pun at the end. He actually whispered this part.
“Hah hah. Dad, that’s the first time I’ve heard you say the word shit!”
I was raised with a dearth of dirty words. A paucity of profanity. Sorry, one more- a vacuum of vulgarity.
In fact, I can clearly remember when Dad once said ‘crud’ after realizing he’d lose a lazy afternoon to helping someone from church move out of their apartment. I was eight at that time and immediately ran inside to narc on him to my mother, feigning innocence, “Mom, what does ‘crud’ mean? Dad just said it.”
And, just like any deprived child, when I moved out to the mountains on my own at age nineteen, I was happy to over-indulge in what had been denied me in my youth.
In fact, working for a few years in the outdoor and food service industries of Colorado gave me plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time. So by the time I said ‘yes’ to this guy I knew, precipitating our ambitious family celebration, I was fluent in over six million forms of offensive communication.
And I still enjoy every single fuck, shit, cock and balls I find a flimsy excuse to say to this day.
Back on the river, once I knew that the verbal chastity gloves were officially off, the rest of the trip became a bit more comfortable. This was a good thing considering that Casey and I had given away every scrap of our bedding to a few slightly underprepared relatives, and were spending each night together under a child-sized ninja turtle fleece blanket. Comfort was a precious commodity on that trip.
It is hard not to swear on the river. And it just isn’t as much fun.
The last morning of the trip we ran Westwater Canyon, which is the class IV section of the trip. Casey and I were rowing this stretch of water for the first time after years of paddle-guiding it, and both of us made the conscious decision to keep our mothers in our own boats respectively. It is hard to forgive someone for making your mom swim a big rapid, even with true love on the line, so we decided to play it safe. Over the course of a few hours, I stretched my new native tongue to its limit.
“Look at the size of that fucking hole!” as we slid (smoothly) by Skull Rapid.
“Are you shitting me?” When my dad said he had just flicked an actual scorpion off of my life jacket.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuckfuckfuck.” Multiple occasions.
Yet despite the colorful nature of my commentary, everything went smoothly. Neither Casey nor myself made our mothers swim, and our good-natured room mate, Chase, won the day by entertaining all of our siblings in the paddle boat.
(For any readers considering a similar family gathering, let me offer a simple mathematical hindsight: ⅓ the nights, and 3x the booze.)
The memory of that time with our families will always be a powerful one, the experience pivotal in the early stages of our relationship. The ambition, adventure and faith in a positive outcome which sparked the trip have always been foundational in our relationship. The casual irreverence for established and arbitrary social norms must be equally factored in our success so far.
In fact, with three kids now, we rely on those traits even more heavily. It is what keeps us together and always moving forward. Sure, this all looks like a terrible idea from the outside, and definitely doesn’t line up with how we are ‘supposed to do it’ but I’m sure it’ll work out, right?
This blog is titled Four Letter Words for so many reasons. I love every single word I have ever met, the bad ones included, because they give us the chance to tell stories. And the right words, used at exactly the right time, tell really good fucking stories.
If you chose to come back over the next few months, you will be exposed to a great deal more profanity, and maybe a few good stories about life as a dirtbag who is groping through real life like she forgot to bring backup batteries for her headlamp.