Angry Fathers and Bonsai Children

Recently I’ve had to deal with two angry men. There was nothing unusual about that; angry men are everywhere, and every man I know is angry at one time or another. But these two bothered me, because both are about to become fathers. What was disconcerting was that both are good men and both, by all appearances, are calm and measured people. But under scrutiny, that apparent calmness is not calmness at all; it is a sublimation of a deep anger into order, rigidity, and tight emotional control.

This does not serve a potential father well. Life is messy and children are messy. They are beings unto themselves, not projections of our own ideas and expectations. A person who asserts order and rigidity in daily affairs, even in the name of morality and righteousness, takes the joy and mystery out of life and binds a child emotionally. What results is a “bonsai child” — it may look perfect, and it may be a work of art. But, at heart, it is stunted. It has been forced to grow into a form, not encouraged to reach for the light.

There are many ways to father, and there are many kinds of children who respond to different kinds of fathering. But any way of fathering that has at its heart a severe righteousness, even if it is wrapped in an outward mantle of love, is essentially a fatherhood of anger. And it produces a child who is angry or fearful or stunted or ashamed.

The challenge of fatherhood is to raise a hopeful and caring child. and to do so in a world of which we do not always approve. Our task is to establish standards without being rigid; to guide rather than command; to encourage forgiveness rather than judgment; to show love without abandoning expectations.

And there is much more. But this is a start.

I don’t know how the two angry men will do as fathers. I can only hope that the birth of their children works that special magic that so many fathers have experienced: there is the world before the birth of your child, and there is the world that began the moment you looked into your child’s wonder-filled eyes. That is the moment of transformation; that is the moment of revelation.

It is at that moment that we realize that the world is far different than we expected it to be, no matter what rules and expectations we have put in place. It is a moment that calls us to abandon our belief in rigid control and to celebrate the mystery of a universe too vast for our paltry human understanding.

I hope these men experience that moment. It will free their hearts and turn them from angry men into thankful men.

In the process, it will free their children from the bondage of rigid expectation, and offer them the chance to grow and flower in the sunlight of possibility.

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2 thoughts on “Angry Fathers and Bonsai Children”

  1. There is a philosophy in saying no to the kids. Instead of “Do not go there!” or “Do not put that into your mouth!” we’d better tell them “Let’s better go the other way!” or “Let’s eat this sweet thing!” I remember my father interdicting me a lot of things, but I hope I am not a bonsai, because my mother was a wise one and finally put them on the right path. After that I remember not doing the things that he wouldn’t like me to and I did the other with pleasure.
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  2. ive never thought about this matter before , and i applaud your insights. as i read this, i resonate with the truthfulness of it. what can i say, you probably would make a good priest, compassion is a rare virtue in this world. forgiveness seeks to understand and make room for and explain otherwise horrible things and youve put a very soft spin on the curse that most of us suffer with .anger. i believe most of the drinking and drug taking done in this world is probably due to our attempts at anestithising ourselves from unresolved anger. anger towards our parents , ourselves, towards anybody who ever betrayed our trust, or abandoned us.anger at being lied to, by the goverment,family members, angry for feeling stuck in our jobs.and then eventually angry at living all alone after weve chased everyone out of our life with our anger. anger is as destructive a force as a atomic, im 52 years old, i feel the effects of this anger in my liver , kidneys and spleen. anger eventually implodes on our body. a chineese acupunture doctor lady told me last week,…”dont worry,it is your thinking that has beat up your organs, just dont worry, keep your mind open , be happy”…..o.k. i thought as i walked out to my truck, ill try to figure out how to be happy , not be angry and taste the joy of living as i try to figure out where im going to come up with 2400 for rent, one thousand for storage, four hundred for that stop sign ticket, 40 bucks for insurance that is past due, cell phone bills, the ten grand i barrowed to get thru last summer , and also rectify myself to solving my health problems with no medical insurance (this lapsed in october). well i guess we can always find stuff to be angry about cant we.i suppose we can look at a paraplegic, or a homeless person, which i will be in a few days, or some other poor soul worse off than we are to help us foster an attitude of gratitude. yes life is messy isnt it.?i think ill get up in a few hrs and go to mass to pray for god to give me a better attitude, and a healthy liver so i can go to a irish pub and slam down a few pints of going back to sleep and hope ill dream about when my mom and my grandparents were still alive and my wife loved me and my kids were little and friends used to come over for dinner parties, and we lived in the country up in malibu with our quarter acre garden and our cattle and pigs and chickens, looking out over the channel islands. awe, what a differance a decade makes….dear lord jesus have mercy on this old sinner.amen, amen amen

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