Sweary Irish Dads
To be a dad is often to struggle with, fail to comprehend, and ultimately be defeated by modernity. The mercifully dormant Dads on Vacation tumblr is a document of Dads struggling with the unfamiliar, trying to make peace. American Dads have cheesy jokes to buffer the hard edges of the world; Irish Dads tell these challenges to “fuck away off.”
More often than not, to resist the encroachments of the unfamiliar is to swear at it, so as to cut it down to size. The Irish writer Brian O’Nolan, who wrote under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien, was said to have left his job is a civil servant in “a final fanfare of fucks.” Swearing is the armor that the Irish Dad wears into battle. My own Irish Dad, upon meeting my American friend Alex, affectionately christened him “Alex the Bollix.” (This of course only rhymes when said with a Belfast accent, and roughly translates to “Alex the Shithead.”) Irish sons and daughters have discovered that the rest of the world finds this endlessly funny, and taken to YouTube accordingly.
Observe then, this brief selection of Irish Dads being victimized by, struggling with, swearing at, and ultimately succumbing to, the modern world. There is a common narrative arc: rising anger, climax, and denouement.
Here is a dad in camo shorts who has tattooed on his arm the name of the daughter that is currently melting his brain with a riddle. Dog and the daughter are both in on the joke. Listen to his rage bubble up to the surface as the thoughts dance around the inside of his head. Four times the dad asks, “How many didn’t whaa?”
After several repetitions of the riddle, the dad turns to the phone in desperation. There are no answers to be found there though. Here, then, the dad completely divests from the challenges of modernity and the swearing erupts:
“Ah you’re a fucking thick c***, I swear to Jaysus. That’s the most stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in me life.”
Only in Ireland could a Dad affectionately call his daughter a c-word and have it send her into a fit of laughter. Second, he calls forth the twin deities of Irish swearing, fuck (or perhaps fook) and Jaysus, both being equally holy, and perhaps related to the similarly Catholic Quebecois sacres swears.
In a a final grasp for the answer, the dad repeats the riddle to himself. Perhaps an inserted swear will make the truth easier to uncover. “Thirty cows and twenty-eight (ate) fucking chickens? … Who didn’t?!”
The dog growls.
“That’s enough now, fuck off,” the dad tells his daughter as he attempts to return to his dad activities.
He leaves the door open a crack. It is a door to his daughter’s room and to the answer to this kink in the universe. The reveal. “Ten didn’t eat chickens.” Father and daughter join in laughing as the Irish Dad is defeated.
For our second Irish Dad, the culprit is not a riddle, but a GPS device that can not, will not, hear him. He just wants to go to Cloughjordan. “New destination,” he tells the GPS. The GPS has an English voice: “Sorry? Please repeat your destination.” “New destination,” the Dad says with more agitation. “Cancelled,” the English accented GPS taunts. Maybe a swear will help.
“The greatest fuck up of a yoke,” he christens the GPS. The giggles elsewhere in the car warn that there are Irish Dad swears approaching on the horizon.
“Hello? New destination. Cloughjordan.” (Cloughjordan is a difficult name for a non-Irish person, with the gh of clough forming in the back of the mouth.) “Sorry?” the insultingly English GPS replies. The GPS has denied him three times. It was foretold. The time has come to swear at the GPS. There is no choice. Here we go.
“I’ll give you fuckin’ sorry. NEW destination. Clough FUCKING jordan.”
The GPS is still stubbornly English.
“You’re a thick c***.”
His anger then turns to his companion. Lord Jaysus is summoned.
“You’re looking into them books. And BOLLIX [unintelligible swearing].”
Here the Irish Dadrage breaks the bonds of language, ascending into tongues unknowable to those not from Tipperary. The Dad rejects the instruction manual, rejects the possibility that his passenger’s voice may work better with the GPS. The Tipperary accent deepens. He is alone.
“Gracious heap of shite.”
It is finished.
Intermezzo. Our third Irish Dad has attempted to turn the camera outwards towards modernity, to document his encounters with Las Vegas with a GoPro curiously mounted on a selfie stick. The abyss, however, stares back. The Irish Dad has turned the GoPro inward, towards himself. Even from the beginning of this Dad’s contest with modernity, he was defeated by it. What we have then is not the same narrative arc or the same swearing, but rather a sort of mise en abyme, in which the conventions of the form of the Irish Dad are placed on a brief hiatus. We are invited to gaze into the eyes of an Irish Dad, who is not aware he is struggling with modernity, even as he is swept under its current.
First, we are in the hotel. There are the mountain, Arizona, the Trump Tower, the dad tells us. A little Dad joke about the color of Trump’s hair. There is the view looking west, he says. No, there is not. There is only the Dad.
We are on the Vegas Strip. We are in the Bellagio. The MGM Grand. Some excitement about the filming location of Ocean’s 11. Several iterations of a Dad joke about shrimp boats and large boats. Several times the Dad imitates an American accent, a favorite pastime of Irish Dads. But we are really in none of these places. We are just looking at the Dad, joining him in his wonder.
Here we have an Irish Dad being victimized not by a riddle or a piece of technology, but by a prank. The Dad is reading his paper, angrily listening to his U2 song, and is not happy about how long the driving test has taken. We know that immediately we are in for something special. This video is the paragon of the swearing Irish Dad.
“How did it go? Jaysus I’m a fucking good while waiting.”
As the son begins his waffling about the difficulties of the three-point turn and the hill start, the Irish Dad slices through to the truth.
“Did ye fail the fucker?”
As in the two previous videos, there is a turning point, a crossroads where the Dad realizes his inability to exist in the world. After the son’s reply in the affirmative, the swearing takes off, lifted to flight by a gust of rage.
The swearing that follows is of ornate and extravagant quality—it’s acrobatic and dazzling, worthy of high-wire trapeze artists, or daredevil stunt pilots. The Dad’s swearing travels in the realms of theology, taxonomy, economics:
“Ah for FUCK’s sake. Jaysus Christ of Almighty, for fuck’s sake. What kind of a c*** was he, anyway?”
The fact that the driving instructor was a c*** is obvious for the Dad, by virtue of having failed his son, but what this Dad would like to know is what kind of a c***, what species of c***, what genus. These are important pieces of information to attain for the Dad, if he is to exist in this new reality. The son flashes a knowing look, as he knows what’s coming.
“A fucking bitch of a woman, why didn’t you sweeten her up some way?”
Sweetness is in a different universe for this Dad. Blame must be assigned for this disaster.
“Them’s the two tings I told you last night, lad. The fucking three-point turn and the hill start, but you were lookin’ into the fuckin’ computer. Jaysus Christ.”
In the final denouement, — as the son reveals the prank, and the Dad rage subsides — Jaysus reverts back to Jesus. But alas, there is more modernity to confront. The son twists the knife, telling the Dad he has been recorded.
“Turn off that FUCK of a thing.”
Irish sons and Irish daughters, please don’t. Keep recording.
Michael Lee-Murphy is an Irish-born, New England raised reporter and writer. He blogs at A Furious Return to Basics.