The Virtues of Fatherhood 3 – Anger


April 27, 2015 by Dadinator


It reached that point. I could no longer use words, or unclench my fists. I may have been shaking slightly.

I was just mad.

My son was looking grimly at me. His brow furrowed and his lips pursed as he stared at me. My daughter was just kind of shocked. Neither of them looked impressed, but I had just gotten to that point.

My son had been stung by a wasp. Or at least he’d just told me he’d been stung by a wasp. I was in adrenaline rush protective father overdrive. I had several strong urges:

  • To pummel that wasp out of the space-time continuum, then follow it into the parallel dimension and pummel it some more;
  • To find the wasps family, pets and friends and set them all on fire;
  • To grab my boy and fly away with him superman style to a place where there are no wasps, no pain and nothing bad will ever happen to him ever again;
  • To look at his thumb to assess how bad it was;
  • To make sure my daughter didn’t get stung;
  • To call 000;
  • To take control of the situation and calmly direct my children in doors;
  • To magically transfer the sting from the boy to me so I’d take on the pain for him.

What I was actually trying to do was get my son to come over to me so I could have a look at it.

And he wouldn’t bloody do it. I asked nicely. I asked extra nicely. I asked firmly. I asked assertively. I demanded, ordered and cajoled.

I got nothing back.

Pop! My brains safety release valve blew and out came that noise, as I shook my hands and probably had scary eyes.

“Why won’t you just come here?!?!” I shouted in despair/fury.

Two breaths and I was back in control.

“Lad, come inside so I can put something on your wasp sting. NO DON’T PICK IT UP!!! GOD!”.

I reached a hand into the safety net (NO SAFETY FROM WASPS! LIARS!) and yoinked The Lass from the trampoline. The Lad was following. Finally. A bit of bite gel, some ice and all was well.

Anger is like the mirror image of fear. Identical, but back to front and it looks the other way. Fear drives us to preserve ourselves by running away from danger. Anger drives us to preserve ourselves by charging towards danger. Both are ingrained and both are reactionary. They manifest in similar ways, an increase in the heart rate, pupils dilate, breathing becomes deeper – the body primes itself for physical action.

Kids make you angry. Most of the time they don’t mean it, but some of the time they do. They push your buttons – give a toddler a noisy toy and you’ll see just how good they are at pushing buttons… And given a short time they find the most irritating button and then just push it over and over and over and over…

And anger can make you do stupid things. You raise your voice, you manhandle your child to remove them from danger, you snatch things from them. You have to walk away from them because your resolution to never hit your child is weakening in the face of a seething rage.

And anger, well, anger is of the Dark Side:

But anger is also part of living, it’s part of being a parent and – like fear – it’s there to help. Once upon a time when we lived in caves, anger (and fear) kept us alive, giving us that burst of speed or that extra alertness when we faced truly dangerous situations. And now days it comes out when we get cut off in traffic, when a politician says something we don’t like, when an umpire’s decision doesn’t go in our favour or when your phone just won’t load the goddamn app you want. And yes, I know first world problems ahoy.

And that’s all okay. With kids anger extends from your desire to protect your loved ones. I have felt it coming on if I’ve seen my boy get hit by another child – even accidentally. I’ve felt it coming on if something dangerous has been left out in a back yard. I’ve felt it coming on if a driver has acted rashly around my children. I’ve felt it coming on if I’ve screwed up and caused my children some kind of discomfort or problem – when you get angry with yourself you’re still angry.

But what fatherhood has done more than anything else in my life, is make me face the consequences of my anger in a real, raw and immediate way. I’ve never had such a quick and such a profound feedback mechanism as a child. A child whose bottom lip starts to tremble as you yell at them to just put down the pepper shaker for the 15th time and gritted your teeth to do it.

In those seconds you see your own face. You see the locked jaw. You see the flared nostrils. You see the creased brow. You see the quivering. You see the gritted teeth. Sometimes your kids even reflect it back at you.

And you respond to it straight away. It is a lesson. A lesson that tiny eyes are always on you. A lesson that they see what you do more than they hear what you say. A lesson that you are human and that with exhaustion, worry and all the pressure these tiny humans exert does take its toll.

And in time you learn to deal with it. You learn to breath. You learn to pause. You learn to walk away. You learn how you cope and how you deal with it. You learn how to let it out in other ways. And in time you learn to recognise it coming on, you learn to head it off at the pass by just taking a moment to steady yourself before pressing on with being dad.

You can’t completely master it, and you certainly can’t bottle it up inside. Anger flares up, that’s its nature. You screw up, but you promise your child and yourself that you’ll do better next time. And you learn to apologise, to tell your kid that “Daddy got annoyed”, “Daddy got frustrated” or “Daddy got angry”, followed by the all important word “Sorry”.

You also learn from your children how to move on and how to forgive yourself, because they seem to do it so quickly and so easily. And hopefully they learn that anger is a part of life, that it can be dealt with and that it isn’t something to fear, and certainly not something you have to forcefully contain within you.

Thanks for reading. Part 4: Tiredness can be found here.


7 thoughts on “The Virtues of Fatherhood 3 – Anger

  1. mikecbay says:

    Very moving Seamus. One of the things i’m guilty of being; too quick to anger.

    Your description of the reflection of self is so damn true.

  2. Anger is a horrible feeling – but great to learn from it. I hadn’t really experienced anger, like real anger, until I was a parent. You’re so right though, anger coming from fear. When my son was 2 he ran out onto the middle of the road and I ran out after him without looking and just grabbed him and shouted at him while holding him. I wasn’t angry *at* him, it was just the adrenaline preparing my body to fight lions and tigers and bears to protect my child.

  3. Wow! Your anger post is just bloody wonderful! You have really captured the ins and outs and the ripples and craziness and…just wow!
    I had one of those kids who wouldn’t show me his accidents, pains and illnesses too and it just tears your heart out. Thank god he grew out of it.

  4. Laney says:

    I agree, fab post and so well put. I love it. I hate getting angry at my kids. I have a very intuitive 6 year old who watches us as we move around the house and if we even hint at being in a mood, he’ll start asking ‘are you ok?’ or ‘are you frustrated?’ (our euphemism for ‘anger’) or just straight out ‘are you angry?’ (which we always want to deny for some reason).

  5. Cas says:

    Ah-mazing! I love love love this post. It says everything I feel much more eloquently. Thank you for sharing!

  6. I’m with you Seamus, children know just how to push us too far. The danger thing is where I flip out most, when I’m trying to keep Little E from a dangerous situation and he stubbornly does the opposite of what I’m asking. Ah, kids.

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