On Hiding and Anger (Part II)

A few years ago, I realized that I was generally angry on Saturday mornings. I stomped around the house, hiding away in my office, fuming at whatever perceived slight had set me off. Brooke would take the girls outside, trying to be quiet and give me space, and it wouldn’t be until that evening, once the girls were in bed, when she would wonder aloud what was wrong. By that time, I’d made enough peace with the anger to shrug and say I didn’t know, and that we should watch a movie.

Kick the anger down the road.

Over time, I began to do two things. If I felt angry on Saturday morning (I don’t know why it always came then: perhaps, after performing all week, I could finally let down and let people know how fed up I felt—it was just that Brooke and the girls were the wrong people), I would tell Brooke how I felt, and that she did nothing to cause it. And, just as I had, I would hole up in my office. Instead of surfing the internet or distracting myself, however, I sat with my anger. I wrote in my journal.

It was fun, as you can imagine.

I don’t know that I necessarily solved anything. I had the same job, the same life. I didn’t make a career change, though I felt what most middle-class Americans feel: the possibility of career change on the horizon. We have the possibility, this perceived freedom, in the 21st century. We don’t choose a career as much as we continually choose one, debating the merits of a job after a long vacation or turn of the calendar.

But I had to make peace with this reality. There are other options, and I have chosen this one. It’s important, for our anger, to realize that this is the life we have chosen, and if it gets too uncomfortable, we have the ability to choose another. Until we’ve done the latter, however, complaining about the former is a rather fruitless endeavor.

That’s not to say we can’t complain. In writing about my anger, I had to name it. Acknowledge it. I’m mad because I feel disregarded at work. Because I feel frustrated with our finances. Because, too often, I don’t get to do exactly what I want to do.

This last is the reason for most of my anger. Life does not unfold as I will and imagine it. If I am honest, I feel hurt by life, or by God if he is in charge, or whatever deity you would like for me to blame. But the problem with a God who is seemingly in control is that he also seems absent at the wheel. At least when it comes to all of my wants and wishes.

I’m not, however, incredibly interested in solving the unsolvable riddle of the good God who lets bad things happen. I’m less concerned with how to explain God’s absence with some proofs that I don’t fully believe, or with the step of denying God altogether, and more interested in the existential reality. How do I move forward?

For the present, it naming what I see. Removing myself not to escape, but to engage. And, of course, playing hide and go seek with a four year old and seven year old. Ellis has really come into her own. The other day, I was at a meeting, but Brooke told me how she perched herself on a window ledge behind the curtains and remained absolutely still.

The innocence of her hiding.

On Faucets and Anger (Part I)

My mom told me recently about how she was changing lanes on the highway, but a car was in her blindspot. The car beeped, and she swerved back into her lane. As the car came past her, she went to wave to the man. But he was yelling (fruitlessly, one supposes, through two panes of glass at 65 miles per hour) and gesticulating at her. He zoomed past, veered in front of her, and pressed on the gas (fortunately—I imagined him pressing on the brakes at the telling of the story).

I think most men are angry. We are angry about feeling disregarded at work, about the impingements on our free time at home. Middle-aged men are trapped mid-career: without the authority they crave, locked in a track without the ability to switch vocations unless they start over. Which seems impossible with a family. But this is not about how you can start over and be your best self. It is about what everyone faces, the trap of living.

The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips notes that “We can’t imagine our lives without the unlived lives they contain.”

This is the tyranny of Facebook and status updates. Everyone is happy and smiling (and also why, after spending time on Facebook, most people are more depressed), although it often isn’t real. I spoke with a friend a year ago and he confided to me how his marriage was falling apart. “How can that be?” Brooke asked. “I just saw a picture of their family at the park yesterday.”

We imagine the lives others are leading, or at least what they say they’re leading. But they don’t include the fight last night, the children arguing that morning, how they had to scoop dog poop and repair the leaky faucet before the park. And the faucet is still dripping. We only see the park.

And we imagine, too, what our lives ought to be if everyone else lives this way—going to parks and restaurants, surrounded by happiness. Because our lives are not this way. We have a limited number of choices, despite what society says, and all of them have downsides. The idea that, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” is laughable. Even in the good jobs. So we imagine our life as something it isn’t, and it makes us angry.

It simmers beneath the surface on highways. It thunders out at our wives and our children, when they are not the culprits at all: but if tooth-brushing at bedtime takes too long, we are exasperated. Our children and our wives—these are the areas where we ought to have control, right?

But people, and life itself, will not bend to our will, despite what we thought when we were 20. So we get angry. We look for ways forward. Dreaming of other jobs. Pouring ourselves into our work—perhaps that can bend to our will. Or, we drink.