Yet another watershed moment yesterday, watching my son play soccer. (These days I seem to be hitting watersheds every time I turn around -- middle age is mighty unsettled topography.) You can remember the first time you heard a swear word, right? I mean a real swear word, not the hells and damns that dot the landscape like confetti at a wedding. (For me, it was fourth grade: my first day at my new downtown elementary school, where there was no grass on the playground and the f-bomb was suddenly everywhere, a part of casual conversation. I walked around all day with my mouth open and face aflame. It was the linguistic equivalent of transferring from a convent for a nude beach.)
That was a long-ago watershed. My watershed moment yesterday was hearing my son swear, in public, at a grown-up. It was an intense closely-fought game between talented fourteen-year-old boys. Lot of shoving, close calls, frustration. Ed played a magnificent game, running tirelessly up and down the field, but at one point the pressure got to be too much for him. A particularly hard effort culminated in a pretty good shot on net, which the ref could not avoid. He stopped the shot, and play went on. And Ed, as he put it later in the car, lost it. "What the &*$%@ was that?" he shrieked, in a voice loud enough to be heard all over.
I stood still, waiting for the sky to fall, wondering what I could do to put it back when it did. Other parents gasped or giggled, depending on personality. The ref did nothing, and Ed shook his head and charged after the play.
I was somewhere between impressed and appalled. It wasn't the use of the word. Hey, I use it a lot myself (ended up in real trouble in BC a couple years ago -- remind me to tell you sometime). No, what got me was Ed's angry use of the word in conversation with a grown up in a uniform. There is no way would I have done that at his age. I don't know that I could do it now. When the equivalent of the referee in my life soccer game -- Revenue Canada, say, or the dealership where I take my car, or a traffic cop who thinks I may have been speeding -- gets in the way of my shot, I tend to sigh, and write a cheque. I'm more mature than Ed, and more polite, but am I acting more correctly? I wonder.
Anger can be liberating. It can be therapeutic. And it can be effective. Ed intimidated the ref, who did not give him a card, or indeed make a call against us for the rest of the game (which we lost, alas. Captain Anger did not actually save the day). He was in firm possession of the moral advantage, and he was angry enough to use it. Part of me is upset with him, because he yelled at a guy who was doing his best. But another part of me is pleased for him, and wonders how I can use this power. Maybe I should let him loose on my car dealership next time they charge me hundreds of dollars for running a series of tests that do not locate the source of the mysterious clicking noise.