One of my father’s favorite phrases was, “If they can’t take a joke, fuck ’em.”
I’d be worried about how my fifth grade class would receive my latest oral book report on the history of electricity. After a dutiful recitation, pausing at the right times and making sure to make occasional eye contact with my audience, my parents would applaud and tell me that I was brilliant. “But do you think they will get it?” I would ask. “Of course they will!” my father would shout. “And if they don’t, well– if they can’t take a joke, fuck em!” he would cackle. Often on the answering machine there would be a message from a creditor calling my parents about a late payment for something or other. “Yeah, well, if they can’t take a joke, fuck ’em!” my dad would proclaim as he pushed ‘erase’.
I thought that perhaps my father sometimes used this expression out of context. Rejected by cute boy in my class, I would sit pouting at the table. Dad would ask what was wrong with me and my mother would tell him that Bobby Finklestein didn’t ask me to the dance as I’d hoped. “Ah, forget about him! You’re too good for him! Besides, if he can’t take a joke, fuck him!” What did my rejection and pubescent doom have to do with a joke? Nothing, as far as I could tell. But it made him so happy to say it that I just kept quiet and smiled in agreement.
For many years if I made an error or said something completely inappropriate at work, in the midst of my embarrassment I’d shrug my shoulders and say to myself, “You know what? If they can’t take a a joke, fuck em.” It made me feel better as I packed up my desk and turned in my keys, my services having been deemed ‘no longer required’ yet again.