For most of my life, I tried to drown my anger in my drink of choice. As a social alcoholic, I drank to be accepted and to be seen as the life of the party—I was “Goodtime Johnny”—but I also drank to numb my pain that often presented itself as anger.
Because my father had chosen to leave me by killing himself when I was just eleven years old, I was angry with so many people for decades because of the hand I had been dealt. I thought that all my pain was someone else’s fault, or, at the very least, I was a victim of circumstance.
Even into adulthood, I became easily angered with myself for not being able to do the smallest of home repairs, like basic plumbing. I later realized that I was still angry with my father because he wasn’t there to teach me how to do the kinds of things I thought every man already knew how to do. Frustration at even the smallest of issues often led to angry outbursts.
Until I learned how to forgive my dad for leaving me, this cycle of anger ruled my life.
I fear this cycle rules many men’s lives too.
They’re easily angered, and they may even be angered by the fact that they’re so easily angered, but they don’t have a clue as to where that anger stems from.
For men with dead, divorced, or disinterested dads, this anger is a “bitter seed [that] had come directly from him, that was planted there for many years.” Those are the words of an inmate I interviewed for The Father Effect documentary whose eyes were opened to the connection between his anger as a young man and his absent dad.
And it’s not just that anger seethes beneath the surface of the fatherless. Often, this anger seems to consume every other emotion.
As this interview from The Father Effect says so well, “If the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, it’s amazing how everything starts looking like a nail.” In other words—and I was living proof of this—when a man ought to feel grief, he’ll feel anger first. When he ought to feel responsibility, he’ll feel anger. Because it’s so ready to be released, anger is often our go-to emotion.
And that’s dangerous for so many reasons.
Anger left unchecked can lead to devastating consequences for yourself and your family. Anger desires solitude and separation. Anger fights for self-justification. Anger breeds more anger. Ultimately, anger hides unforgiveness.
I believe that the key to being freed from anger is to seek to forgive those who anger you.
I had to forgive my father—for not being there when I needed him, for being in prison, and for being selfish.
I had to forgive myself—for being angry at my dad, for not being the kind of dad I wanted to be, and for not living up to the standard I’d set for myself as a man, husband, and father.
Once I’d worked through my needs to forgive and to be forgiven, that bitter seed of anger that had grown into an unwieldy plant that dominated my life was finally pulled up by its roots.
John Finch is the author of The Father Effect: Hope and Healing from a Dad’s Absence and creator and storyteller of The Father Effect Movie.