The Ruark Kids

Fear of anger


I have become the dad whose daughter is afraid to tell things to because I get angry.

This evening, Thalia came out of our pantry, where she had been getting the dog’s dinner ready, and asked Mama to come and help her. Mama was busy at the sink with rubber gloves on washing a few dishes, whereas I was just standing around in the kitchen (this is not always the scene after dinner, just for the record). Mama asked Thalia, “What is it?” to which Thalia replied, “Just come here, I need your help.” I said, “I can help you,” and Thalia said “No! I need Mama.” (She did more than “said,” but it didn’t quite rise to the level of “shouted,” something in between with raised voice.)

Mama told Thalia she was not able to help her right now, but that I could, and I started walking towards Thalia to head to the pantry. She got a sad look on her face.

As we opened the door to the pantry, Thalia said, “Promise you won’t get mad.”

When I hear something like that, I fear the worst. Or at least, I fear the pretty bad. Ready for something glass to be broken, or dog food to be all over the floor, I stepped into the pantry and didn’t see anything amiss.

Thalia looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “I accidentally forgot which dog I was feeding and poured some of Mazzie’s food into Barley’s bag.” And then, “Is it OK for Barley to eat some of Mazzie’s food?”

I wanted to laugh at the completely irrelevant nature of this problem, but in fact I was quite saddened. Thalia very clearly had not wanted my “help” because she was afraid I was going to get angry with her. I tried to assuage her worries and tell her I wouldn’t get mad about something like this. It would have been a lie to tell her I’d never get mad, though, and I think she knows that.

Afterwards, I thought about how I ended up at this point with Thalia, and whether Siena feels the same way. Pretty much no parent wants to be in the situation where their child is afraid to tell them things, right? And yet somewhere along the way, I got mad sufficiently often to put the fear of dad in them. I can certainly think of incidents that got me acting angry and about which I am ashamed. Plenty of times when the girls would spill their milk on the table at dinner. Times when they would ignore me again and again at bath time and bed time. When Thalia had spilled an entire bowl of salad or dog food on the kitchen floor. Upon reflection, I now recall numerous occasions in which the girls have only wanted to tell Mama something.

I worry I get mad a lot. I definitely used to when my general stress level, due to a variety of factors, was higher. I’m much more conscious about it now, and I usually either control my temper or just walk away before a situation escalates. And I’m never happy or proud of my behavior at these times.

Unfortunately I haven’t figured out the fix for this, if there is one. They know I love them, I spend quite a lot of time with them, and I do help them with many things. Thanks to my work situation (almost no travel, working from home a few days a week), I see them more often than many parents, especially fathers, are able to see their kids. I’m not sure what more I can do. But I suppose I know what I can do less.

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