Sometimes children reveal experiences which then help encourage revitalization. Even simple, trivial remarks influence choices to improve our normal state. Each day contains invitations to do and be better – to better show love.
There is a story that I often have opportunity to share which I think illustrates this point. At that stage of our family life it was my more common practice to attend monthly recollections – reflections offered to men that helped us in our lives as husbands, fathers, and professionals. My wife herself enjoyed similar gatherings for women (and has done a better job of making these a priority in the ensuing years). While the content was always worthwhile, I don’t happen now to remember the particular topic of that evening. In the midst of it however, the priest mentioned his experience in the Confessional of commonly hearing wives and children speak of their fear in the face of husbands’ anger. And he thereafter continued with the rest of the meditation.
When I returned home that night my wife asked how the recollection had gone and I explained the topic, which I then remembered. I also shared Father’s comment about fear in the face of husbands’ anger. And I added, “Is that funny?” By this I meant, isn’t it strange that some families have that experience. My wife replied, “Not really.” Having not experienced abuse in her childhood, and more importantly to me, my having never been violent, I asked her what she meant. She commented further, “Sometimes your anger seems so big.”
That whole exchange has remained with me since then. And I began paying attention. I noticed my own response to being around other men when they exhibit ‘big anger’ and how their families did as well – my work as a marriage & family therapist sometimes places me in the midst of such experiences. I won’t argue that anger is never appropriate, or that being loud isn’t sometimes useful for drawing attention where needed. Neither will I deny that some women struggle with expressions of their own anger; please remember that I have lived with nine daughters. But I echo Aristotle who wisely commented that when, to whom, about what, and with what intensity we express our anger are also important considerations.
The fact that it is common for wives and children to be fearful in the presence of their husbands and fathers should make us pause. Communication, of which anger is a subtype, is meant to share and benefit relationships. Non-destructive argument is meant to advance better ways by which to relate. And relationships are expressions of love, whether conjugal, paternal, platonic, or simply human. Is our anger in the loving service of justice, or is it prideful self-assertion?
One of the readings at our wedding was from 1 John. There the beloved apostle writes that we love because God first loved us (verse 19); we chose this as a motto for our family. But in the verse right before it, the Holy Spirit communicates through John: “In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love: because to fear is to expect punishment.” That this Fathers’ Day would see a renewal of and recommitment to love in all families.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers