“No More Fuck”
I heard this phrase almost a year ago. My wife and I were struggling through a pregnancy that was rife with tense moments, near-but-thankfully-not-severe complications, all of which was compounded by the fact that our first pregnancy had gone so smoothly that even the normal rose-colored glasses found themselves out of work half the time. Meanwhile I was struggling with my own professional and academic life, unsure where it was going and if it was even worth it to try. At the same time that I was having doubts about what I was doing, my wife struggled with the idea that maybe another child was a bad idea.
Needless to say, I didn’t really handle that stress well. As my wife became more and more frustrated with her own job and the pregnancy arguments became more common. Molehills became mountains, mountains became landslides, and landslides seemed to wash over our house every day. If you have ever had one of those moments where you thought back to an argument and thought, “that might be the stupidest thing I have ever argued over”, that was how I felt every time.
There was more than just the verbal stress. My sleep had vanished, my wife was in pain beyond the normal pregnancy discomfort, and things just seemed to pile up. My creativity plummeted, my physical fitness all but vanished, and my sleep patterns took a turn from their normal bad to worse. My wife was having trouble eating and sleeping, and even the things we knew we could handle, like bills, became topics for contention.
But that’s just life. When things start to compound, we often fail to realize that our stress behaviors only make it worse. Like all married couples, we have ups and downs and after being together for almost 14 years, we have had our share. Looking back, especially from where I stand now on the other side of the planet from my family, those problems seem so miniscule and mundane to almost be unworthy of mention.
I try as best I can to regulate my language when I argue. I try to keep from cursing, throwing insults, or raising my voice. My track record is not perfect. I knew, objectively, how these behaviors tend to make fights worse and can lead to words that sting even years after they were uttered in a fit of rage or frustration. I also know they set a bad example for conflict resolution for my children, and will harm their ability to have healthy, compassionate relationships when they grow up.
Perhaps that’s why “No more fuck” hurts so much.
I don’t remember what started the fight. It probably had to do with me not being supportive enough or my wife not taking responsibility for something. Whatever it was, it was stupid. She was 7 months pregnant so the only functional rule is “listen, love, learn” when it comes to arguments with women under that much duress. I wasn’t on my game that day, I forgot the rule.
We said a lot of things, I am sure. I honestly don’t remember. I remember that my wife had stormed off to the bedroom to cool off and I had gone back to the living room to give her space, or finish the argument in my head, or whatever I do when I get frustrated like that. I remember walking into the room and my two year daughter stood up, came over to me and looked up. I knelt down to be at her level and, with the TV blaring in the background, she looked me in the eyes and said softly, “No more fuck.”
It hurts to even write the words. I think about them every day. In her mind, that word had come from her mouth not as a curse, but as the single most powerful referent for all the pain she had witnessed in the preceding months. She didn’t understand stress, or arguments, or even that I was in the wrong and not doing my job as a husband. She didn’t care about that.
All she knew was that when we fought, the F-Bomb was dropped like our house was Dresden and that when that word floated around her parents were failing at their most important task: being good role-models. She could feel our pain, frustration, and anger and had no way to frame it. She didn’t know enough about herself and her own sense of being to know that it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t even know the word to use to describe it all. All she knew was that the centers of her universe were in conflict and that it all had something to do with “fuck.”
I remember her taking my hands as I knelt there and the pain from those words destroyed everything that had been so critical to me moments before. They reminded me that she is what was important. That she looked up to us. That she didn’t understand what was going on and that made what we had done so much worse. She wasn’t old enough to blow us off, or to ignore our petty bickering.
Perhaps what scares me the most is that someday she might be. If we continue, she will one day roll her eyes and ignore us when we act like children. She will say, “My parents fight, they are kinda messed up.” At the same time, she will deeply ingrain the messages we send into her own understanding on how to treat people and how she feels she should be treated. Every significant other, every friend, even her relationship with her brother, they will all be tainted by that moment. A moment it may take us the rest of her childhood to correct for, if we are lucky.
Eventually she will know what “fuck” means, but it horrifies me to know she already does. She knows it means hate, insults, anger, threats and frustration. That definition will blend with her understanding of this very powerful word and when it is eventually associated with failure, sex, excitement, and all the other things for which we use that word in our society, she will have an emotional memory of her parents throwing the word around and not working out their problems with compassion and patience.
It pains me to know that we don’t get any Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards with our children. We have incurred a debt to her, and that debt needs to be recovered before we send her out to negotiate her own relationships with people. I don’t want to have the same debt to our infant son, because I think our responsibilities to them are already going to be near to overwhelming.
I am not upset about the past. I am worried about the future. I am worried that I will ever have to look in my daughter’s or son’s eyes and hear a phrase like that again. The burden is too great.
I know we will get upset. I know sometimes we will fail to be understanding and rational and compassionate. Stress and conflict will happen. I am okay with that. What I am not okay with is ever hearing those words again. What I really want out of life, all the money and career and sex and writing and music and gaming and travel aside, is that we somehow figure out a way to get to the point where we can look back and say, “It was hard, but there was no more Fuck.”
P.S. Now that our son has arrived, my wife and I have found new paths together, and our daughter is recovering from the hospital stay she had around that same time, I am glad we stuck it out. Our son is amazing and with his first breath he washed away any doubt either of us had about his place in our family. My wife and I have found a hobby to share, writing, and our daughter is handling our current temporary distance with amazing patience, kindness and aplomb. Now it’s just a matter of looking forward…