Posts Tagged ‘Anger’

My son, Brian, bow fishing at Lake Moultrie, SC

My son, Brian, bow fishing at Lake Moultrie, SC

My two sons have been out on their own for many years.  The oldest, Brian, lives in Folly Beach, South Carolina where he loves his life and work.  The youngest, Jason, lives in Louisville with his wife and two-year-old daughter.  He and I work for the same company.  I have many reasons to be thankful as a dad for each of my boys.  I am grateful for the life lessons they taught me as we experienced this father-son thing by trial and error over many years.  I hope there are some important lifelong lessons they have learned from me, either from my good example or from their resolve not to follow my bad example.

It isn’t possible to go back and redo one’s life as a parent, and I don’t sit around beating myself up for what I didn’t do well.  That would be pointless.  Every parent does some things well and other things poorly.  However, I can’t help but reflect on the whole experience from time to time and think of things I would change if I had the chance to do it all over again.  This post reflects on those changes.  Perhaps some of the following will resonate with new dads or dads-to-be in a way that encourages them to avoid my mistakes.  Of course, the principles apply to moms and moms-to-be as well.  Maybe there is still time for me to take my own advice in years to come as opportunities arise.

While there are things I think I did well, this post is about what I would do different, so here they are:

1. Commit to fewer things outside the home.  Kids need time with their parents, so parents need to realize that once they make the decision to bring children into this world, nurturing, raising, educating and shaping those children is now a significant priority for the next couple of decades (at least).

I’m one who likes to commit to a lot of tasks, pushing myself to accomplish much.  That is still evident in the post from earlier this year about my goals for 2013.  I’m already thinking about some significant goals for 2014.  As a result, time at home and time with my boys suffered from such commitments.  It is still really hard for me to just have down time to chill.  For example, I multitask if the TV is on by checking various websites or social media sites, jogging in place to make sure I reach 10,000 steps for the day, doing some mindless chores or plowing through emails that have piled up.  But to just sit and enjoy some show or movie?  Not likely.

The danger with such a bent toward multitasking and over-committing is that you can see your child as just one more demand on your schedule competing for limited time that is already spread too thin.  It doesn’t help that people are typically having children when they are young and also eager to climb the corporate ladder or establish themselves professionally.  Competition for attention is built in to the stage of life.  No wonder our hair turns gray.  We earn it.

There were too many times when I inwardly considered requests from my sons to play or do something else as a hindrance in me getting other things done that were on my list.  My boys should never have a reason to think that they are an interruption or not as important as other things I’m doing.  They are potentially the most significant mark I will leave on this planet when I’m gone, so why would I not invest the most time possible in them?  They deserve it because of who they are and because I love them.

Daughter-in-law Lauren, granddaughter Abby, and Jason

2. Be slow to anger.  Parenting is tough and it can be very tiring.  Heck, life can be tiring with or without kids.  It is easier to react emotionally and inappropriately when you’re tired or frustrated, and I know I did that too often raising my boys (reminder: once is too often for this behavior).  I remember times when there was fear in their eyes and body language because I lost control, yelling at them or spanking too harshly.  What made me angriest was disobedience.  I believe it’s OK to spank, but not out of anger and not excessively.

If I had little ones around again, I’d work harder to remain in control of my emotions.  I’d know to keep my mouth shut at the height of a potentially explosive moment, excusing myself while I found a way to calm down before speaking or acting in a way I would later regret.  I would never want to be the reason for fear in the eyes of my kids.  As their dad, I need to be a safe haven, a protector, a solid rock they turn to for security, not some out-of-control maniac frightening them with his anger.  They deserve better than that.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression and make anyone think such behavior was a daily or frequent occurrence in our home.  It wasn’t.  But the few times I can recall it happening were still wrong and I wish I had been slower to anger, even when they disobeyed.  Children don’t know what we know or have the same priorities and perspectives we have, nor should we expect them to.  They’re kids.  We need to remember that.

3. Love their mother more.  It’s important for children to see their parents love one another, support each other, be kind to each other, be friends with each other, maturely resolve conflicts, and model the kind of relationship you hope the children one day grow up to have with their spouses.  While I love my wife of nearly 34 years, she and I are extremely different in many significant ways.  That opens the door to us doing our own things separately with much of our time, sometimes making fun of those differences or even being irritated by them.

What did our children think about and what did they learn from the relationship Linda and I modeled in the home?  It is sobering to realize that the example we set is what our children are going to grow up thinking is normal.  What we say about such relationships doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as the example we set in the home day after day.  Was that example consistent with what we said?  Was I the spouse I should have modeled for my boys?  Sometimes I got it right, but I know many times I did not.

Brian, Jason and me sporting our Kentucky and Ale-8 gear

Brian, Jason and me sporting our Kentucky and Ale-8 gear

4. Be more of a spiritual leader.  There is a big difference between being active in one’s church or religious community and being a spiritual leader in the home.  As one who was in a ministerial role during some of my sons’ formative years, I know I lived out my faith in a number of ways, but did I do a good job in the home?  Did I talk about matters of faith in everyday circumstances when teachable moments arose?  Did I pray with and for my boys enough?  Did I lead my family in devotions and clearly explain the gospel to them in word and in deed (and, yes, explaining the gospel takes words, not just a good example)?

As a Christian who understands far more about matters of faith today than when my boys were young, I’d sure like a do-over in this area because I think I did a poor job.  Like many parents, I put too much emphasis on what the boys should be learning and doing in church as opposed to what I should be teaching them in the home.  I have since captured in black and white what I believe to be the heart of my faith and shared it with them in personal hand-written letters, but that isn’t the same when they are adults as what you might do over many formative years when they are under the same roof.

Ultimately, each person makes his/her own decisions in matters of faith.  What parents do or do not do is no guarantee of what their children will grow up to believe or how they will behave.  Still, the proverb to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) rings true as good advice today for parents who care about influencing their children’s spiritual life.  To abdicate that responsibility for any reason, especially the currently popular notion of not wanting to influence the child in religious/spiritual matters, is not an option for one who cares about parenting in a manner consistent with biblical principles.  I didn’t abdicate the responsibility, but I didn’t fulfill it as well as I could have, either.


When I ponder how I might sum up in one statement what I would do different as a dad if I had the chance to do it over, I think I’d summarize by saying this…

I’d take them fishing more often.

Wait!  Hear me out… My boys loved to fish just as I did as a boy.  They were fascinated by it and loved it when their Grandpa would take them on occasion.  When I look at the items listed above, this one act captures the essence of what I would do different in a practical way:

  • More fishing together would mean fewer non-family-time commitments outside the home.
  • It’s hard to get angry with your boys when you’re sitting on the side of a pond enjoying nature and experiencing the excitement of that nibble or catch.
  • Sometimes the most loving thing a dad can do for a mom is to take the kids away for some father-son time and leave Mom to rest or catch her breath, joyful that her husband and children are out having fun and bonding.  I would invite her to go fishing, too, but I don’t think she’d be much interested.
  • When waiting for the fish to bite, you have to talk about something, and what better to talk about in such a setting than our awesome Creator and His magnificent world, how He loves us and what He expects from us?

A few decades ago, I confess that I might have considered spending time fishing as a bother and a waste of time when there was so much else to be done.  I regret that.  My boys needed that experience and time with me, and I needed it with them.  My sons and I did have fun and still do.  I think I have a very good relationship with both of them, but it could have been better earlier if I had done something as simple as taking them fishing more often.

If you’re the parent of young children or you expect to be in the future, be the best parent and spouse in the present that you can be.  Learn from the mistakes and experiences of others before your kids are grown and out of the house.  You don’t get a do-over raising your children.

Serenity PrayerA few months ago, my daily lesson learned blog post was on the subject “Don’t Fret What You Can’t Control.”  It was inspired by a long traffic jam on Interstate 75 returning to Louisville from a visit with my son in South Carolina.  Mentioned in that post was the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It came to mind again tonight when my wife came home about 10:00 p.m. and announced upon her arrival “Your car has been vandalized.”  Immediately, my mind imagined the worst with windows broken, major damage, dents, scratches, etc.  I was somewhat relieved to see that it was “only” some writing in red permanent marker over about a one-square-foot area on the back of the car.  I didn’t like it, of course, but it wasn’t nearly what came to mind with the message I was first given.

It only took a post on Facebook to quickly have people tell us to use nail polish remover to get rid of the markings, a suggestion seconded by the police officer who came to check out the damage and record the incident.  Minutes after the officer left, the markings were gone.  Immediate problem solved.  Of course, that doesn’t solve the potential problem of it happening again since we have no idea who did it.

In that short span of time between learning of the incident and removing the markings, I had to decide how I would respond.  Part of me wanted to sound off on my social networks and threaten this unknown vandal – someone who would not have seen any post I made, anyway.  It might have felt good getting the anger off my chest, but it would have just looked hot-tempered to others without contributing to solving the problem.

So I decided to just be practical instead and ask in a post how to remove it.  I decided to focus on solving the immediate problem rather than feeding my anger.  It was the right call.

So how does the Serenity Prayer fit in to this?  Let’s see…

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change“:  I couldn’t change the fact that the markings were already on the car.  I couldn’t change the fact after the vandalism that the car had been parked in the driveway of an empty house across the street.  I couldn’t change the fact that we had no witnesses or evidence of who might have done it.

the courage to change the things I can“:  We could crowdsource the question about how to remove the markings.  We could make a conscious choice not to get loud and angry. We could use my friends’ wisdom to find a way to remove the markings.  We could call the police and report it.  We could make the decision to stop using the absent neighbor’s house for a spare driveway and use our own instead, even if it means more switching cars in and out as we come and go.

and the wisdom to know the difference”:  It wouldn’t make sense to leave the markings on the car and not try to find a way to remove them.  Breaking out into my best Doris Day impression (young people, ask your parents) singing “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be” would not have accomplished anything.  It wouldn’t make sense to not report the vandalism and thereby keep the police in the dark about something they should be aware of as they patrol the neighborhood.  It wouldn’t make sense to think that I have to get angry and loud and make a scene just because I may have reacted that way at times in the past, especially when it comes to vandalism and the sense of being violated that comes with it.  It wouldn’t make sense to continue parking across the street if we suspect it is safer to park the car in our own driveway instead of the uninhabited house’s driveway.

I don’t always react the way I should when bad things happen.  The personal satisfaction is much greater, however, when I get the last part of that prayer right – the wisdom to know the difference.  It seems to me that spending some time looking at situations through the lens of the first two parts of the prayer – taking time to ponder what you can and can’t change about a situation – contributes greatly to the likelihood of gaining the wisdom to know the difference.

I believe in the value of sharing mistakes I’ve made in the hope that others may benefit from my experience and avoid making those same mistakes.  To that end, I thought it might be good to reflect on poor choices I’ve made in various roles across multiple companies and post about them here.  The list below isn’t an exhaustive list of everything I can imagine others might do that is detrimental to their career or work relationships.  It is merely a description of some things I wish I had not done along the way.

Failing to speak up.  I despise conflict, so I too often avoid the hard conversations that may be confrontational.  I want to get along with people.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I want to keep the peace and just do my best work in a calm environment without any drama.  As one who has always tested on the introvert side of personality inventories and who is never going to be the life of the party, being quiet comes more naturally than speaking up, but that isn’t always helpful.

The down side of this otherwise admirable quality is that issues which need to be addressed may not be dealt with in a timely manner.  Problems persist and the potential negative consequences include less than optimal team performance and dynamics, poorer business decisions due to lack of input, not to mention the inner turmoil that comes from remaining silent when something is bugging me.  It took me a while to realize that the actual negative consequences of failing to speak up are worse than the imagined consequences of speaking up.  That is, the difficulty of hard conversations is rarely (if ever) as bad as you imagine it might be, especially if you approach such conversations with genuineness and kindness.

Seeing some coworkers as enemies.  It’s no secret that in an organization of any size there will be some strained relationships.  Different personalities, values and agendas practically guarantee that people will occasionally be at odds with one another.  What must not happen, though, is reaching a point where you always think negatively of certain coworkers and, consequently, treat them in a manner that perpetuates the negative relationship.  I may not like the way some people act.  I may believe rightly that they would throw me under the bus in a heartbeat if they had the chance and if they thought it would somehow make them look good or help them climb the ladder or advance their personal agenda.  But I am first and foremost an employee of my company who is hired to help the business accomplish its objectives, and that sometimes means working cooperatively with others in order to advance the cause of the business, even when every fiber of my being would just like to tell the other person where to go.  Be the bigger person and focus on the business goals and objectives, not the interpersonal difficulties.

Leaving too soon.  I’m coming up on my tenth anniversary this year at my company, so this isn’t a current issue with me, but if I take a close look at my resume going back 30+ years of full-time work, I can see some times where I took the easy way out to go to a different company or organization rather than stay and overcome a difficult situation.  Maybe those were the right decisions, maybe not.  I’m sure I had no problem justifying them at the time, and once I had mentally checked out of the roles, it was just a matter of time before I officially left.  However, when I look over someone’s resume today when looking to fill a role and I see a lot of short-term gigs of two years or less, it raises a huge red flag and makes me wonder what kind of staying power the person has.  I want to be someone who loves what he does (as I do) and who cares enough to change a “flight” instinct to one of confronting issues and overcoming them.  I suppose this mistake is related to the first one above in that it can be a way to avoid conflict.

Responding in anger.  It is never a good idea to fire off an email when you’re angry.  It is rarely the wise choice to spout off with what you want to come back with in a heated meeting, phone call, or face-to-face encounter.  In situations where you have the opportunity to hit the pause button before responding, do so.  I recently had this happen when I received some unwelcome news via email at work that made me a very unhappy camper.  My every instinct was to fire off a sharp reply to some people much higher in the org chart than I am or ever expect to be.  Fortunately, I just vented my frustration with my understanding teammates sitting nearby and announced that I was taking a walk.  On that walk I stopped by the desks of some people I hadn’t seen in a while to catch up with them and to have some friendly conversation which put me in a very different mood.  By the time I was back at my desk, I was able to respond to the email in a rational, professional manner.

Another practice I have used countless times to avoid responding in anger and to avoid rash decisions of many types is to sleep on a matter overnight.  It is amazing how different some things appear in the light of day compared to how they looked at the end of a long day or evening when you were tired and not at your best.  It may seem silly, but a general rule of thumb I have lived by for decades is that I don’t make major, life-changing decisions when it’s dark outside (whether anger is involved or not).  The world won’t end and most substantive opportunities won’t pass you by if you sleep on some decisions overnight.

So there you have four big mistakes I know I’ve made more than once in my career and with which I still occasionally struggle.  Surely people I have worked with could easily think of additional mistakes I’ve made.

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear in your comments about some of the lessons you’ve learned the hard way in your career.

Coming soon in a post will be the flip side of this topic – some of the things I’ve done in various roles that proved to be good choices and very helpful for my employers and for me.  I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m rotten to the core.

Til then…

My wife and I celebrated today our 33rd wedding anniversary.  We are fortunate in a world where most couples do not stay together for life that we are well on our way.  That is nothing compared to my parents who will celebrate their 60th anniversary together in December.  Still, 33 years is an accomplishment and I am thankful for her and our years together – past, present and future.

I admit that a couple of days ago I was angry about the prospects of spending time together this weekend.  When I realized that she was going to have to work most of Saturday, all of Sunday and a major part of the Memorial Day holiday, I was mad (but not at her – it wasn’t her fault).  I wanted to say some very unkind things to those whose plans put a serious dent in our ability to spend time together on our anniversary and whose plans prevent her from having the holiday off.

Although I don’t always practice this, I knew to sleep on it before reacting emotionally and saying something I might regret in person or online to others.  By the next day, I decided to make the best of it by trying to do something for her that she would appreciate.  So I gave her the option of me either spending the time when she was working on our anniversary doing some of the items on my “honey do” list, or coming to help her with her work.  She chose the items on the honey do list. That made the most sense, of course, so that’s what I did.

It was originally tempting to sulk and have a pity party of one, but it was far better to accept the situation and then try to change the focus from what I couldn’t do to what I could do for someone else I dearly love.  As it turned out, she was able to get away from work by mid afternoon and we were still able to go out to dinner, watch a movie while eating Cherry Garcia ice cream, and still enjoy time together.  It was a good day.

Leap year lesson #137 is Turn anger into something positive.