Today’s column is about the relationship between two powerful, and often conflicting emotions, love and anger. Our story begins with a man named Marcus who, on the surface, appears to be happy and successful. However, if you scratch him — dig to a deeper level — you will see the lie he has so carefully constructed. He wants to fool you into thinking this: “Look, there goes a guy who has it all”. The truth is, he is suffering. Like a coiled serpent, anger writhes inside his gut. It is this very anger which now threatens to destroy all that he loves.
Sixty-six stories up, floor-to-ceiling windows frame the blue impressionistic panorama which, like a physical force, slams you with unspeakable beauty — the vast, choppy waters of Lake Michigan. Motorboats churn up the lake, leaving foaming trails of long white whiskers in their wake. Marcus is sitting, gazing out over his dominion, a world-wide territory of lakes, rivers and seas, where more than 700 vessels fly his flag. After the death of his father, Marcus took the helm of his families’ shipping business.
With eyes on the lake, his right hand releases a sheet of paper which, like a butterfly with broken wings, spirals down and falls to the floor. “Sir, your London call is still holding,” reports Cindy, his secretary. Like a blow torch cutting through steel, Marcus applies his flame: “Dear Cindy, dumb as a box of rocks. STOP BOTHERING ME WITH TRIVIA,” he yells. Slam, goes his phone. He picks up the letter from the floor and re-reads it. “Dear Marcus: We left because your anger was destroying our family. What happened to you? Your daughters are afraid of you. We are now living with my parents at their farm. If you try to contact us, I will file a restraining order. Goodbye, Mary.”
Like a ship whose mast has been savagely ripped away by hurricane winds, Marcus’ mind snaps. “I’m 49, married to the woman I love for 27 years, with two daughters I adore. What happened?” He knows the answer but, by refusing to speak the words, he can continue to hide from reality. What reality? He hated his job. When his father became ill, Marcus was forced to withdraw from architecture school, his true passion. To make matters worse, he believed that by being successful in business, the hole blasted into his heart when his father died could be filled with accomplishments, power, and money. The reality was just the opposite: Each day, another drop of anger dripped into his wound, burning him, torturing him.
Sitting at his desk, Marcus holds his head with both hands and thinks to himself, “Dad, I need your help.” He unlocks the top drawer of his desk and gingerly removes its sole occupant. In his hands, he holds the last photograph taken of his father. They, father, and son, are fly fishing in a river located outside of Logan, Utah. Decked out in wading boots, Tilly hats and vests, Marcus is holding his catch, a trout. His father is beaming with pride. As Marcus holds the photo, his mind begins to flash on other pictures: the sunken face of his father, and the wasted flesh that had been eaten away by pancreatic cancer.
Office Visit #1: “I’ve reviewed all your tests. You have a long-standing, clinical depression and unresolved trauma from your father’s death. You also have kept your pain hidden under a blanket of anger.”
Marcus replies, “Please, help me get my family back.”
“Marcus, that part is not complicated — just stop cursing, name-calling, raising your voice, threatening and slamming doors.”
Office Visit #2: “I stopped all my anger-based behaviors. Since I was a kid, I always had to be right. I never yielded to anyone. I used to think this was a strength. Now, I’m trading in my ‘being right’ so that my family will take me back.”
Marcus is standing in his office, gazing out at the view. Far out, sailboats, like tiny triangles, catch the wind as they sail the vast blue deep. As the wind dies down, the surface of the lake calms, turning into the texture of velvet. Marcus feels a sense of peace enter his heart.
“Cindy, I need your help.”
Marcus is holding a legal document.
“I want you to read this over and sign it, and here is your key”. “Sir”, Cindy replies, “what’s this all about?” “Well, Cindy, this office suite now belongs to you, and that key is to your new Porsche”.
Marcus learned how to tame his anger and by doing so, he found he could process the grief he had held when his father died. He also learned an age-old lesson: Love trumps Anger. What happened to Marcus? Last I heard, he was seen driving a John Deere tractor.
The content of this article is for educational purposes only, not treatment. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.) References: “Power over Anger,” Holleman, 2007.
Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.