How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.
– Marcus Aurelius
Anger is hard for me to write about. It is probably hard for most people to write or talk about. I most certainly would rather write about children, art, or cupcakes. However, the whole point of beginning again in writing this blog is to take risks. I have always encouraged the people in my life to take risks: my husband, my friends, and my students. I have been very brave having others put themselves out in front, diving into the deep water, taking a chance. All the while, I remain in the shadows not talking about anger. And so… I begin.
Talking about anger means talking about my family. I grew up in a very angry household. Not everyone was angry. Just one. It only takes one. One can cloud everything. That one for me was my father. My father could be a very generous and amicable man, and then for no apparent reason, he would become intensely angry. I was a witness to his anger countless times, and it made me into a reticent child. It has taken my whole adult life to come to terms with this and to heal. I am still healing. And my father, at the age of 94, is still changing and growing. Now, when he gets angry, he catches himself and gains self-control.
My father is a World War II veteran. He was 18 years old when he enlisted into the Marines, served in Guam, and took part in the bloodiest of fighting – the Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill. My father survived the war, but most certainly had PTSD that went untreated for decades. His trauma was carried from the battlefield and into our little, suburban Cape Cod. From the outside, our home was distinctly neat and quiet. Inside, there was always a storm brewing.
I became very adept at detecting storms, as did my sister and mother. They would run for cover. I, on the other hand, would run straight for the storm, trying to tame it. Not a good idea when you are four and six and ten and fifteen. Not a good idea at any age. I was tenacious and resilient, but I was left in a wake of anger that it took me years to understand and overcome. When my father was in his eighties, he self-published a book about his war experiences called The Timid Marine. It was while reading his book that I began to fully understand where his anger had originated.
As I grew, though shy and reticent, I also had a great deal of hidden anger. I kept it locked tightly in a box. I was determined NOT to be my father. And I wasn’t, but that didn’t mean I had a handle on my anger. It was only when I started to write a novel-in- verse a number of years ago that I began to delve into my relationship to anger and how deeply my father’s behavior affected me.
In the morning before setting out
We go to Falls Park,
Watching the water cascade
I think about my father and me.
We are two rocks,
Rock against rock,
Striking and striking back,
Sparks fly – air ignites –
Chips of stone – pieces of each of us
Lay broken on the ground.
Aunt Connie tells me –
Water is stronger than stone.
I need to learn to be the water:
Blue, cold, crystal clear,
Flowing past the stone,
Carving an open space,
Leaving the stone smooth
Rounded – ready to listen –
Washing up the pieces
And carrying them away with me
Out to the ocean’s edge.
Recently, I heard Dr. Marc Brackett talk about his new book, Permission to Feel at the Bright & Quirky Summit. Dr. Brackett is the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. He developed a system called RULER, which helps children and. young adults manage and regulate their moods and emotions. This type of work has always intrigued me, because I feel that in order to create a productive and happy life, one needs to develop social/emotional skills, but that has not always been a well-understood science. As Dr. Brackett writes, “First, emotion skills must be acquired. Nobody is born with them all in place and ready to work. Emotion skills amplify our strengths and help us through challenges.” Last week, a former colleague of mine, Deborah Kris, wrote about Dr. Brackett’s work in her article, “When a Child’s Emotions Spike, How Can a Parent Find Their Best Self?” These studies on Emotional Intelligence are so important and give me hope that families may be able to better understand, manage, and build relationships, even if it takes decades.