It’s all fun and games ’till…

I was angry. Anger was my constant companion at that stage in my life. At any given moment, my anger would manifest itself in less admirable ways. Anger is one of my challenges in life.

I remember one particular occasion vividly. I was with a group of friends in Redondo Beach playing a pick-up basketball game that meant nothing. The only advantage that winning gave me was the ability to stay on the court with the right to play another meaningless game without having to stand in line behind ten other teams waiting on the sidelines for their chance at the victors. I was guarding a guy who loved to talk smack, swing elbows and talk more smack. Off the court I’m sure he was a decent guy. But on the court he was a foul-mouthed hacker who got under my skin and became an instant irritant.

My blood was boiling after he squawked in my face a couple of times and slapped at my hands trying to dislodge the ball from my grasp. I let it slide but I could feel myself losing control. After a few well-placed elbows to my midsection and a slap to the face as I went up for a rebound I had had enough. I threw the ball at right as his head. He ducked and came straight at me. I squared my shoulders, planted my feet and threw a right cross straight to the guy’s jaw. Game over!

People outside of my family and my closest friends have a hard time believing that I’m capable of that kind of anger and violence. The honest truth is, it is a big part of me that I’ve struggled with my entire life. And when I say ‘struggle’, I mean, wrestled with it; I’m talking a streneous exercise just to grab my temper by the neck and throttle the life out of it before it ruins every remaining ounce of dignity I have left and from further embarrasing myself and my family.

I’ve had a few “come to Jesus” moments in the years that followed and in my old age, I’m finally getting to the point where I can shut my temper down or at least control the violent outbursts before it gets out of control. I don’t participate in sports as much as I used to because it’s a lot like asking a recovering alcoholic to be a judge at a wine tasting festival.

This past weekend, I was appalled as I witnessed the rebirth of my former self in one of my sons. I watched him in a basketball game get so angry that he was shaking with rage to the point that it eventually led to tears when the game was finally over. His mom was upset and I’m sure she meant well when she uttered the one phrase that may seem encouraging, but it is more like pulling a pin on a grenade: “It’s only a game.” It had the exact affect I thought it was going to have. Game over!

Sadly, his mom can never understand how that phrase can cause more ire in us because she (for the most part) is mild tempered, slow to anger and operates on an even keel. Her emotional equilibrium is rarely upset by the triviality of a “game” whereas the same has always been the opposite for me. I have a competitive nature that is sometimes driven by irrational thoughts and behavior and to see that same response in my son was, well, unfortunate and sad.

I let him stew in his juices for a bit because it’s what I’ve always wanted people to do when I was being incorrigible and immature. Give me a moment to process this and let me come to the realization on my own that my reaction to the situation was stupid. Eventually, when the situation arises again and you come to that crossroads where you have a split second decision to either implode or let it go, the choice to let it go becomes easier each time. As someone who has dealt with this issue for a lifetime, it’s knowledge and understanding that gives us power over the emotion.

Being aware that its not going to be corrected overnight is a key component in the process. I waited nearly 24-hours to address the issue with my son. By then he had had ample time to process what had happened. Our exchange was brief but I feel like it was very effective.

“Can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure dad. What’s up?”
“What happened yesterday, on the basketball court?”
“I lost my temper.”
“You really need to watch that and get it under control…now.”

[silence]

“Do you want to be like me?” I asked. “Do you want people to avoid you? Do you want to lose your friends over this? Do you want people to think you’re an idiot every time the game get’s intense?”

The questions came out in rapid-fire succession. It was not my intention.

“Nope”
“Do you understand why I’m asking you these questions? Let me ask you again. Do you want to be like me?”

[hesitating. thinking]

“No”
“Good. Because if you don’t get this under control now, you’ll spend your entire life saying sorry, feeling stupid most of the time, losing all of your friends and being angry at the world. And that is me!”
“Okay. I’m sorry dad.”
“Don’t be like me son. Be better than me. Always aim to be better than me.”
“Okay. I will.”

My son learned a valuable lesson last weekend. I was reminded of my character flaws. My son learned that an out of control temper is a burden and a curse. I learned that this parenting thing is a real-world demonstration of the circle of life. I don’t want my sons to repeat the cycle. I want them to reinvent the wheel.

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