How Using the “F” Word Changed My Life
by Hank Mattimore
Part of my responsibilities as a volunteer grandpa at a home for abused and neglected children was to drive the kids to doctor’s appointments or to after school activities. As a surrogate grandparent I tried very hard to set a good example for the kids in our charge. The had already heard enough cuss words and been exposed to enough violence in their young lives.
On this particular day, I had 11 year old “Tony” with me in the car. An Afro-American and new to the home, he was quite shy and I wasn’t having a lot of success getting him to open up to this old white guy. This was hardly unusual. Kids sent to our group home had reason not to trust the adults in their lives.
After a few awkward tries at conversation, I turned on the radio to listen to the 49’er football game. I’m one of these over-the-top football fans so when I hear the announcer saying that the niners were on the one yard line with only 30 seconds left to play in a tie game, I am excited. “Go Niners,” I yell. Then disaster strikes. The Niners fumble and Arizona recovers.
I don’t normally swear. I’ve never used bad language in front of the kids but at this moment I was to break all of the rules. The “F” word erupts from my mouth. Omigosh! I didn’t say that did I? No, not in front of a little kid.
There was this moment of shocked silence. Sheepishly, I looked down at Tony. His big brown eyes looked at me astonished. “Grandpa Hank ! !” Was all he said. Of course I apologised. “Sorry Tony. That just slipped out.”
I turned the game off and we rode in silence for a few minutes, me inwardly ashamed at losing my composure. Then I turned again to the boy. The little bugger had a smile on his face. “Damn it,” I thought to myself. “What are you laughing at?” “Nuthin,” he answered but the grin never left his face.
I had to smile, too. “Dude, I screwed up didn’t I?” The boy put his hand on my shoulder for a brief second. “Hey, it’s ok grandpa Hank. we all make mistakes.”
What I recall the most about that experience was that the relationship between this old white grandpa and an 11 year old kid named Tony was never the same after that, We connected.
Maybe in seeing my own humanity it gave him permission to be more relaxed around me. Whatever it was, we became buddies. He used to drop in on me to watch TV together. Our favorite show was “Everybody Hates Chris”, that sitcom about a junior high black kid and his experiences growing up going to an all white school.
We bonded, Tony and I. I like to think I was able to help him grow up through those pre-adolescent years. He helped me to grow, too. Made me realize that the good Lord uses even our goofs to teach us life lessons. I’m even grateful for the niners for NOT winning that game.