A while back, we talked over at Daily Stoic about one of Seneca’s remedies for a hot temper. Try to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror some time when you’re upset, he said, and you’ll be appalled at how you look. We talk about this exercise a bit in our course on anger, but the logic is worth considering for any dad. Anger might feel deserved or appropriate, but it almost always looks awful.
The next time you are out, try watching for other dads who are getting angered by something their kids are doing. Or observe the crowd at your son or daughter’s next baseball game. Track that family traveling on vacation at the airport, or people at the table across from you at dinner. Because it’s as close to a look in the mirror as you’re likely to get.
How do you think you look when you tell your son way too loudly to “Sit down. I told you already, sit down!” when they bounce around with too much energy? How do you think you look as you grab their arm with frustration and jerk them closer to you in line? Do you think you sound good threatening—like some tyrant—to take away some basic privilege of theirs because they’re not behaving exactly as you like? Or when you shout at them to hurry up at the airport? You think you don’t sound like a bully when you belittle and criticize them for messing up again? You think you don’t look like a monster when, after the argument escalates and escalates, you slap them across the face?
You look terrible. You look as awful and shameful as the people looked when you saw them do it in public, to their kids, as you tried to avert your gaze. You looked like Tom Izzo, yelling at that player during March Madness, and everyone else feels like the other players who wanted to step in and restrain him. No one looks good angry. No one would want to catch a reflection of themselves in the heat of the moment.
Which is why we have to catch ourselves first. Which is why we have to do the work on ourselves now, before we become the thing we cannot stand to look at.