Anger

This morning, I got angry.

One of my most painful memories, one about which I continue to be embarrassed even now, twenty years later, is of my behavior during a two-game little league baseball championship, in which my team, having never lost a game all year, was beaten twice by a team we had clobbered time and again during the season.

I played catcher, and consequently was involved in nearly every play–or at least close enough that my growing anger and frustration were visible to everyone with each additional run the other team scored. I slammed my mitt on the ground. I threw the bat after striking out. I kicked the dirt and argued with the umpire. I yelled and screamed at everyone–my coach, my teammates, the woman keeping score, and eventually, after my coach sat me on the bench to cool down, at myself. I was one of the best players on my team, but because of my rage, I was unable to help–not even able to participate–during the final two innings of the championship.

After the game was over, and we had lost, I refused to accept my gift certificate for a free shake at the local burger joint, opting instead to glare bitterly at the shiny cases containing the small gold medals which were being handed out to the winning team’s players. I wanted one of those medals.

My anger was slow enough subsiding that I wouldn’t even accept my mother’s attempt to give me a ride home from the ball park. Instead, I chose to sullenly walk the three mile distance, alone and ashamed. Ashamed because, even though I was only ten years old, I knew I had been behaving badly right from the outset. I knew that I was embarrassing my parents and friends and coach, in addition to myself. And yet, I didn’t stop, even with multiple opportunities to do so. It wasn’t until nearly an hour later, when my father finally picked me up on the side of the road, that I finally let truth and pain and regret wash over me. I cried the tears of a 10 year old boy who knew better and had no excuses, and was just young enough to hope it was all a nightmare from which I would soon awake, but old enough to know that what I had done was real, and couldn’t be undone.

For the rest of the day, and for days afterward, I was filled with that horrible emptiness that comes from knowing I had behaved badly, and that I had disappointed my teammates, family, and myself.

I have thought about that afternoon many times over the years. When I was in high school, the coach of that baseball team moved into my ward, and I could barely look him in the face, knowing what I had done nearly a decade earlier. For years, whenever I saw some of my other teammates in school or other activities, I wondered if they were upset at me, as they should have been. Whenever I saw the guys from the opposing team, who had watched so gleefully as I self-destructed, I wondered if they were still laughing when I walked past.

. . . .

We have had some car trouble in recent weeks. My wife was in a minor traffic accident, and we had some difficulties with our own insurance company. Then, we had some difficulties with the rental car company. After getting those wrinkles flattened out, we were left with my little two-door POS until the insurance company from the guy who hit my wife finally contacted us and set us up with another rental car.

As is her custom, just minutes before our intended departure time for church, my two-year old daughter peed her pants, soaking her dress entirely. Then, as is her other custom, she proceeded into a full-blow meltdown–the sort of tantrum which earned her the permanent nickname “Salsa” months ago. She slammed her bag the ground. She threw her necklace and shoes after we put them on. She hit and kicked at my wife and fought against me. She yelled and screamed at everyone–me, my wife, my son, and eventually, after my wife sat her down in her bedroom to cool down, at…the door.

Realizing she would not calm down, I just gathered her up and began carrying her downstairs and we all went out the door to get in the car. Except that the car wasn’t there. It, along with our child safety seats, had been towed. In the circus of four different cars rotating in and out of our garage and parking lot, my wife and I had left the wrong parking permit–one good for daytime use only–in our rental car over night.

Almost reflexively, my wife and I blame each other and make excuses for why the other should have known better. I call the homeowner’s association office, and speak with a sleepy individual who couldn’t understand much of what I was saying because my daughter had increased the intensity of her screaming. I walk to the backroom, away from the additional noise. The groggy voice on the phone instructs me to call a different number. My daughter wanders into the room, tears rolling down her cheeks, drool falling from mouth, her entire face is a violent expression of fury. I call the new number, and march back to the kitchen, losing more and more patience with each step. My dear wife, trying to be helpful makes the mistake of asking what to do, and gets an undeserved icy glare from me. My daughter, still screaming, follows me into the kitchen, where I am now on the phone, becoming incredulous as another man tells me he can’t help me, and gives me a different number.

I retreat again to the bedroom in an attempt to avoid the shrieking banshee of a daughter who seems determined to break my nerves, and am met by my son, bouncing up and down, waving an obnoxiously loud toy mobile phone in the air. Losing my grip on myself, I grip the phone in his hand, and without warning, harshly shove it up onto a bookshelf where he can’t reach it anymore. Finally speaking with the person at the end of the third phone number, I am told that I could pick up my car for a couple hundred bucks. If I want to challenge the ticket, I should call a different number. Which number? The number of the first person I had talked to, who claimed to know nothing about the towing. My daughter is still screaming and my son is now crying, my wife is reeling from my cruel look, and the whole house is a box of negative energy.

Livid, I call the man back, and try to calmly explain the car problems we’ve had recently, and how we were simply confused about which permit was in which car. He calls me a liar.

This morning, I got really angry.

If I had been on a baseball diamond, I would have slammed my mitt on the ground, thrown the bat, kicked the dirt, and argued with the umpire. I’d have yelled and screamed at my coach and teammates and the scorekeeper. I’d have yelled at myself, eventually. But I wasn’t on a baseball diamond. So I glared, and fumed, and ignored my children and wife while I “explained a few things” to this man who had called me a liar. And he yelled back, feeding off of my own anger.

Our home teacher came over and picked up my wife, and drove her to the car impound. Since she had signed the rental agreement, she had to pick it up from the holding center. I sat quietly in the bedroom, staring unflinchingly at the computer screen in front of me. My children, finally calm, sat on the sofa in the living room watching Totoro.

In place of the sacrament–in place of holy emblems of Christ’s mercy and longsuffering–I had the bland taste of reheated pizza–the emblems of a cooling temper and bitter realization. My Sabbath morning, instead of being filled with worship and service with my fellowman, was filled with that horrible emptiness which comes from knowing I behaved badly, that I disappointed my wife, children, and myself.

Comments

  1. Wow.

  2. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    Sometimes mortality seems like %#$# and we were in charge of the %#$%^#. You were so open about loosing it. Makes most of us feel “normal” and “join the club” !!
    Wasn’t it a full moon anyhow???????
    ;0}

  3. Yeah, but I kind of understand why you did it!

  4. Bless your heart Scott. You described the most perfect storm of frustration I have ever heard of. Please don’t feel bad, most of us (especially me) would have totally gone postal waaayy before you finally did.

  5. God bless. I hate people who tow cars against the will of the car owner. Not as people, I guess, but as personae.

  6. Aw, Scott. What a lousy day–I’m sorry. Good to know you’re human like the rest of us, though. I hope tomorrow’s better.

    (ps–there are 10-year-olds in the world fully capable of acting as you did, and worse, and without the moral sensitivity to recognize their bad behavior.)

  7. Latter-day Guy says:

    Oh wow. What an awful morning. I have to ditto JA Benson––had I been in your shoes, there would have been bloodshed.

    I hate people who tow cars against the will of the car owner. Not as people, I guess, but as personae.

    I have to disagree, smb. I hate them as people. (“People” in the loosest sense, because they are really more like parasites than people.) I still want to try the plan I devised when a friend had his car booted. I said, “Here’s what we do: we find out where his kids go to school, we take pictures of them on the playground, then we mail them to him anonymously, one picture a week for the next several months.” Yes, we’d have been arrested, but it would have been totally worth it.

  8. That’s one crappy day.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Sorry for the total suckage, Scott. Hang in there.

    I remember once when I was totally calm I had a discussion with my young son, who at the time was a cross between Calvin and Dennis the Menace. I explained to him that I’m human and I can get frustrated and lose my temper, and that those things would probably happen from time to time. But I wanted him to understand that I loved him absolutely and unconditionally, and to remember that if in the future I should let my own frustrations and lack of self-control of my emotions get the better of me and yell at him or something, that it was only a very temporary failing on my part, and to know that I loved him and would regain control of myself as soon as I could. He seemed to take this conversation very well and very maturely.

    And an odd thing happened. After that earnest conversation, I don’t recall ever becoming so frustrated with him that I yelled angrily or was tempted to pick him up with bad intent. And I don’t recall him doing anything to get under my skin as had been his previous wont. That frank discussion seemed to create a detente between us that lasted. That was many years ago when he was quite young, and our relationship has been terrific since.

  10. Mortality is wicked pain some days. Thank you for your unflinching honesty and for sharing this glimpse into more of who you are.

  11. “I hate people who tow cars against the will of the car owner.”

    Got to disagree. I paid $50 for the permit to park in the faculty lot. If you’re not faculty, you don’t get to park there even if you really want to. That goes triple for people who park in the handicapped spot without a permit.

  12. Boy can I relate. Sometimes I think Pres. Uchdorf’s talk last priesthood session (on patience) was directed specifically to me. Frustration is definitely my biggest test.

    I sympathize with you, and wish you a better day tomorrow.

  13. Better to lose your cool with the faceless, un-named guy on the phone than with your kids or wife, I say. (Then again, Ronan would tell you that the stranger on the phone was Jesus, but whatever).

  14. Except Hunter, I tried to make it somewhat clear I lost my cool with them, too.

  15. Scott,
    I really like this post. I think sometimes as parents (by which I mean sometimes I as a parent) we forget that even our ten-year-old boys feel remorse for their actions, that maybe that is what is eating at them and not just immaturity. Maybe I’ll remember that a little better now.
    I wonder too how much a two-year-old feels bad for out of control behavior in a way she can’t verbalize, kind of like her dad. Our own humanness doesn’t change, even as we age.There is something inside of us that pinches in uncomfortable ways when something is amiss in our hearts.
    Thanks for this post.

  16. Your honesty was painful to read–because I saw myself in your story. I’m glad you wrote it, though, because my thoughts turned to the Atonement. Christ’s sacrifice can fix even willful bad behavior. We just need to seek it.

    I needed to remember that right now. Thank you for sharing.

  17. I have a friend who has never yelled at her children. ever. I just wish I was a fly on the wall to see how she would deal with this kind of CRAZY situation. I would’nt want her to yell…I would just want to know how she difuses such a build up of stress and frustration. how do you do that?
    I’m afraid I’d be right there with you taking the toy phone and stuffing it somewhere.

    “Anger always has unintended consequences”city of Ember…it seems those we love most are closest to us and frequently take the flak-

  18. I am sorry for your terrible experience but I did appreciate reading about it. We’ve been going through seemingly eternal moving stress for the last four months and I have been feeling like maybe I was the only one who let circumstances get the better of me in front of my spouse and kids. Ugh. I hope your situation gets resolved soon.

  19. If the guy who called you a liar passed up an appropriate opportunity to show you and your family mercy, he may have created more problems for himself than he did for you. I’ve seen a lot of things that have led to me to conclude the familiar verses in Matthew 7 often are fulfilled in this life as well as the next.
    1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

  20. Damn, but life really sucks sometimes. Thank goodness it’s not like that every day. When you got up this morning, you were already passed the worst of it, so there’s one small triumph for you. Keep it up, Scott.

  21. Thanks for posting this. Anger is my own particular vice and I engage in it far too often. I need the reminder.

  22. Anger like this can be all the more disconcerting when it totally seems and feels like the normal, human, natural reaction to the situation at hand. I feel entitled to my anger way, way too often. I even sometimes find myself thinking “I don’t give a s*@# what Jesus would do. What would DKL do?” Though maybe “What would Angry Scott do?” has a nicer ring to it. :) The worst part is that anger is a peculiar kind of vice in that it’s only recognized as such in its absence. The anger itself makes me completely unable to see how horrible and unproductive it is. I can only see how stupid I was in hindsight, and then half the problem is the embarrassment and shame of having acted like a total ass.

  23. Thanks, all. I think most of you are showing me too much mercy here–probably evidence of me not capturing clearly enough exactly how angry I was.

  24. Brad (22),
    Yeah, I think you understand what I was writing about, based on your comment.

    The worst part is that anger is a peculiar kind of vice in that it’s only recognized as such in its absence. The anger itself makes me completely unable to see how horrible and unproductive it is.

    The only quibble I have here–and I’m not even sure it is such–is that whenever I haven gotten angry like I did yesterday (and mind you, it’s not often), I have always known–even while I was losing control of my temper–somewhere in my conscious mind, I’ve known that I was losing control of my temper, and that I had the ability to stop it if I would just do so. The problem is that I was too far convinced of your first sentence (“Anger like this can be all the more disconcerting when it totally seems and feels like the normal, human, natural reaction to the situation at hand.”) to care. I could have stopped myself from verbally squishing that man on the phone, but I didn’t want to stop myself at the time, even though the idea occurred to me.

    That’s partly, I think, why the regret and pain is enhance afterward–it is regret not only losing my temper in a way that was wholly inappropriate, not only for scaring my kids or hurting my wife’s feelings, or ruining some unknown guy’s day, but also for (at least semi-)consciously choosing to do those things.

  25. Scott,

    What usually gets to me the most about blowing up at or around my kids is that they are usually quick to defend me. Once, my son told my wife that I had snapped at them in the car. Then he siad, “it is okay, he is under a lot of stress.” I melted.

  26. Scott,
    It is clear that the true source of your anger was BYU’s loss on Saturday. After your Facebook posting I started praying for you, and yet, here we are on Monday morning skirting your true frustrations: Jake Heaps. Get. Over. It. Man. He’s just a freshman, this is a building year. We’ll be back next year, little fella.

    What’s interesting about anger is that it’s one of the few “sins” we are okay with the General Authorities having. Think about it, if you asked your mother in what way President Monson sins she would very likely say something along the lines of, “he might get angry sometimes?” Maybe impatience. And then there’s pride, but that’s an easy one to assign to them because President Benson already said that we all have pride, so, big deal.

  27. Scott,

    I hate being angry. Usually, mine comes with exhaustion, when I can’t concentrate anymore and #1 comes in with 1 Billion questions for me to answer. What makes it more frustrating is that I know he knows the answers to 99% of those questions, and he is just testing me. It’s something I need to work on, and your post is a good reminder that I am not alone in my weakness. Thanks for posting this.

  28. Oh, and your story doesn’t have anything on an epic meltdown by a certain economist who came to give a presentation once. After some back and forth questions about regular vs log-scaled graphs, he started dropping four-letter words. It was epic.

  29. What’s interesting about anger is that it’s one of the few “sins” we are okay with the General Authorities having. Think about it, if you asked your mother in what way President Monson sins she would very likely say something along the lines of, “he might get angry sometimes?” Maybe impatience. And then there’s pride, but that’s an easy one to assign to them because President Benson already said that we all have pride, so, big deal.

    And therein is great irony as well. I think anger, while one of the most prevalent and accepted sins, is also one of the most dangerous. During my mission working with inactives it always struck me as crazy that so many wouldn’t go back to church because of X offense that someone had committed, and due to their anger they couldn’t stand to go back as long as he was (insert calling here).
    If anger were controlled, how many wars would be avoided. How many murders not committed. How much violence and abuse would go undone?

    And I think we men share an increased burden with this sin. Maybe I’m talking out of ignorance, but as a child, I never got angry. It really, almost never happened. As a young adult with copious amounts of testosterone coursing through my veins . . . I get angry way too often.

    I noticed with my father, as he was raising a young family, and himself a younger man, he got angry far too often. And when he did, his anger was way outside of “reasonable” limits. His fury was – to a young boy – scary. Now as he has aged, it is amazing how much he has mellowed. I tell my wife of his anger when I was a child, and she almost can’t believe me – she has never seen him lose his temper in the ten years she has known him.

    I can relate Scott. It is scary what we are capable of when we let the Hulk out. And it is near impossible to cage the beast if we let it get out.

  30. Totoro is awesome. It works for me too.

  31. Brad, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble asking “What would DKL do?”

    For my part, I like to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” and then I imagine all kinds of terribly violent ways that he’d kill and maim and abusively upbraid his opponents.

  32. When I first saw the title of Scott’s post, I feared it would be another in a long line of tired Mormon monologues preaching that “anger” is always and everywhere a negative, unsavory emotion. Which would have prompted me to remind everyone of Jesus kicking ass and taking names in the Temple, and to ask how they square the behavior of their Perfect brother with their thesis. Which in turn would have led to crickets chirping or a emergency change of subject, at least if my historical experience is any guide. :)

    Great post, Scott. Sorry you had a bad day. And sorry for making fun of your travails on Facebook, though in my defense, I didn’t know the backstory.

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