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POLK COUNTY, Iowa — A metro family is sharing one final joke with their late father, but not everyone is laughing. Steven Paul Owens passed away in September 2021 at the age of 59 and was laid to rest at Warren-Powers Cemetery in rural Polk County.

Controversy began when his family recently had a headstone installed on his grave. One side lists his name, date of birth and death and a family saying – “If you don’t listen, you’ll have to feel.” The other side of the stone is where the controversy lies.

Carved in the stone is epitaph: “Forever in our hearts, until we meet again, cherished memories known as our son, brother, father, papa, uncle, friend & cousin”. However, due to careful spacing of the type, the phrase “F*** OFF” can be found by reading the first letter of each line vertically.

Owens’ family says its not a profanity, at least it wasn’t to their dad. “It was a term of endearment,” his daughter says, “If he said that to you, it meant he liked you. If he didn’t like you he didn’t talk to you.” The family says Steve didn’t know about the inscription before his passing, but they’re sure he would be laughing about it now.

The joke isn’t a laughing matter, though, to some in the community and the families of others laid to rest nearby. The cemetery lies in Camp Township and is overseen by their Board of Trustees. According to the board, the Owens family and the monument company that made the headstone had both been told the marker could not be placed in the cemetery. The board says it doesn’t allow profanity on monuments because “those others who have a place in the cemetery have the right of decency afforded to them”, according to an emailed statement.

The board says the monument maker placed the stone anyway, despite it being denied. The board says they were told the monument maker told the trustees they would have to seek their own legal action against the Owens family. The board says community members are reportedly organizing their own legal response. “They do not want nor do they appreciate the stone being in the cemetery,” the board’s statement reads, “This community will not stop until they have the headstone removed.”

Steve Owens’ family says they hope all sides can come to an agreement and allow the stone to remain. They say they aren’t trying to offend anyone with their tribute to their father, but “it is who he is.”