Angry Love

It’s a hard concept, I explained. I know it doesn’t make sense.

My daughter looked at me, quizzical.

We were on a city bus, riding from her school to the ferry stop downtown. We were heading home.

And she just had a rough day at school.

Now, when I saw rough, I don’t mean that other kids were mean to her, as kids sometimes do to each other.

And this is nothing like the time she led a group of classmates to run away from their teachers while on a field trip to the local park.

This was somewhere in the six-seven scale. With 10 being the worst she can ever be, and one being the best she can ever be. Honestly, right now as I type this about a month later, I don’t exactly remember specifically what happened.

But, I know it was a rough day.

Normally on our commutes we get to talk about her day, my day, life in general.

Today, I was angry with her. She didn’t follow the daily routine instructions.

Every day before school we go over what she should do:

Me: What are you going to do today?

Her: I’m going to listen to my teachers.

Me: How are you going to act?

Her: Like a leader.

Me: And what’s a leader do?

Her: The right thing.

henrywardbeecher1-2xIt’s something that we’re trying to instill in her. Leadership is lacking in a lot of areas right now, whether it’s political, financial, in companies, or in life. We stress to our kiddo to be a leader and we also stress to her that it’s not easy to be a leader. Leadership is difficult, and she understands that. Or at least, we explain that it’s difficult to make the right choices to be a leader. She gets that part.

For a five-year-old, we actually have some pretty good conversations.

This day was another one. But, in a different direction.

I had just finished cooling off from what the teachers had told me about my daughter’s day at school. I had just finished dragging her a block to the bus stop. I had just spoken to her about how I wasn’t happy with her behavior.

We discussed what went wrong and what happened. Then I dropped this on her …

I’m only angry with you because I love you.

She sat and stared at me. I knew the message, as a stand-alone, was lost. It didn’t matter if she were five, or twenty-five. That’s a hard message to deliver. And an even tougher one to understand.

I took a deep breath.

It’s a hard concept, I explained. I know it doesn’t make sense.

Then I tried to tell her that the reason I was upset was because I wanted her to grow up to be a good person. That the reason I was being a hard-ass dad was because I wanted her to grow up better than me. That if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be mad.

Somehow, in my somewhat rational rambling, it clicked. She got it.

She nodded and hugged me. She said the sweetest four words to me any child can say to their parent.

I love you, too.

Even though I hadn’t said the first part. She just got it.

Flash forward a few weeks. We’re walking off the ferry, on our way to school and work. She does something stupid, like stop in the walkway, or pushes someone, or says something – again, nothing specific, but dumb in the moment which is somewhat disappointing and disconcerting as a parent. As I walk with her, I talk to her about why we don’t do (insert what she did here).

I know, Daddy. I’m sorry.

Silence for a moment.

I know that you’re upset with me because you love me. 

In that moment, and all the moments to follow, I realize that it works. The conversation. The understanding. The concept.

She gets it.

She knows I am not angry with her but that I am angry with her behavior and only because I want her to be a good person.

I am upset because I love her.

And she gets it.

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