Talk about a time when you lost your temper.
I am a pretty calm and even tempered person. I don’t lose my temper very often. I get annoyed, of course, and I occasionally get angry but I rarely fall into the white hot rage that I associate with losing your temper.
When I was a child, I had a strong sense of justice and if I felt something was unfair or that someone was being unfairly punished, I jumped right in to come to their defense – wanted or not. This behavior was not popular with my father. I would confront him if I felt he was being overly severe with my brother and sister. He did not like to be questioned in any area, but especially not when it came to his parenting skills. So, I eventually learned to swallow my pride and choke back the words and ignore things with him; for the most part. I loved my dad and I wanted to feel that I was special to him so I buried my critical thoughts. As I got older, that became more difficult. When I was in high school, we worked around the problem by not speaking to each other about matters other than the most mundane. Most conversations were routed through my mother who acted as mediator. To this day, she is the only person who can question my father’s decisions or demeanor.
After high school, I ended up going to the same university as the one where my father was a professor. I didn’t go there because he was there, it just happened to be a school that had a strong animal science program. He taught electrical engineering so, at first, our paths never crossed on campus. I was on the women’s swim team and in my second year, he became the faculty advisor to the men’s swim team. He didn’t go to workouts (both teams worked out at the same time) but he did go to some of the swim meets.
I vividly remember an “away” meet we had in San Diego. We didn’t take a bus but all drove down in a big convoy. I had some of the team members in my car and my father had some in his. When we got to San Diego, the teams gathered together before going into the pool area. My father walked up to me and, in front of the entire men and women’s swim team, rode me up one side and down the other for tailgating on the freeway – and then took away my car keys. I was embarrassed beyond belief, mortified and angry. But I knew better than to say anything in response. I swallowed it like always.
Two years later, we were celebrating my birthday at home. In the middle of dinner, my father made some remark about his exceptional abilities as a parent. I must have made a face because he asked me to explain my expression. I said he wasn’t always perfect and had made a few mistakes. He asked for an example. I recounted the swim meet incident and suggested that it would have been better if had disciplined me in private instead of embarrassing me in front of the whole team. He became enraged and started yelling at me, saying I knew nothing and that I was wrong. I yelled back. I went into that hot white place and all those years of injustice and suppressed injury came flooding out of my mouth. My mother left the table in tears and locked herself in my parents’ bedroom. My younger brother ran down the hall after my mother, to protect and comfort her. My sister sat at the table, stunned. My father continued to rant and rave. At some point, I found myself standing outside, leaning against the side of the house and breathing hard.
We never spoke of the incident again in the family. I graduated and moved away. My relationship with my father is still difficult and it always will be. I limit the time I spend with him – I can feel the white hot anger within me when he treats family members rudely and I don’t want to lose my temper with him again.