Children are exhausting. For all the rewards they bring, they also bring a sleep-deprived, pressure-cooker, no-time-for-yourself, no-time-for-sanity sense of being overwhelmed. Other parents sometimes seem to do it easier, but I feel that that is just what we see in public: that emotional, financial, marital, personal pressures will carve deep channels in every parent’s face.
Children abrade your flesh, even as dad-bod softness accumulates around the midriff. Children carve away at your resilience, even as they mine seams of patience and selflessness that you never knew you possessed. Children are the ultimate oxymoron. Children are the feather of lead:
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
That’s Romeo trying to deal with love. He kinda nails it. And any parent knows what still-waking sleep, that is not what it is is.
My children have left me raw. I have discovered the meaning of love. Of devotion. Of fear. Of laughter. I have discovered what skin is for – holding those newborns on my chest will always be one of the lightning-flash moments scorched onto my memory.
I have also discovered a rage that pulls me almost to the brink of madness. My wife has, on several occasions, had to deal with the blind, frustrated, deeply impotent anger bursting to the surface as I have screamed and ranted and on one occasion done all I could to rip a solid door free from its hinges.
Don’t get me wrong – my fury isn’t directed at them! They’re safe. She’s safe. I’m a damn good father, if I may say so myself. My children are my soul.
But they have forced me to confront something that I maybe knew was there but have tried to suppress, or ignore. We all do.
I have finally had to admit that I contain so much anger, so much atomic fury, that I fear if I let it out I’ll never come back to myself.
I know I’m not for a second unique.
I see it all the time in my work. I teach actors. I try to prompt them, try to get them to lose their fear of that rage I see in so many of them. I tell them it’s okay to give in to it, that the fire they are so afraid of will not, cannot, shall not consume them.
But I’m lying. My own chest contains a bomb. I am terrified of its power.
King Lear, as he tries to swallow his mounting rage, manages to squeak out:
O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
Hysterica passio – down, thou climbing sorrow,
Thy element’s below!
He nails it. THAT is how I feel. This ‘mother’ that swells up in his chest – (Mother of what? Mother of destruction? A superfertile Sycorax who will deliver up all the devils of fury?) – must be restrained with all his might before it consumes his heart. The fury is born of children – the hysterica passio is a uterine madness, a female insanity.
“down, thou climbing sorrow”… Anger and sorrow are coupled. After every rage comes the deepest sadness, the deepest loss. Angry and sad are Siamese demon-twins. Tears and loneliness follow a tantrum as sure as sure as the white coldness of Winter follows the bonfired scarlet leaves of Autumn.
I’m angry beyond anger. I’m lonely beyond loneliness. I’m sad to the marrow. I’ll feel better after a nap.
Why write this post after so long? Maybe because Diamanda Galas is back. (nyti.ms/23vOOZK)
Maybe because last week I told someone my story and she just looked at me and asked “what have you done with all that anger?” and it is a question no-one has ever asked me, and I have never asked myself.
Maybe it’s because I finally said out loud, to my wife, that I’m frustrated, and blocked, and sad, and angry; and it isn’t about her, and it isn’t about my children, it’s about me.
Anyway. I wrote this. I’ll post this. I’m sad to be back. I’m sad that the past is still serving its purpose as prologue to the present. I’m sad that I’m back to one-day-at-a-time.
I’ll leave you with a quote from that Times article on Ms Galas:
“To be an artist is to be equal to the present, because mediocrity is so largely rewarded and broadcast ubiquitously, like a swarm of mosquitoes, by obese and tone-deaf accountants, the public is unable to learn about, let alone hear, see and digest the art of the present.
The only thing that works is distilled rage.”
You are teaching your children differently. They will grow up identifying and communicating their anger appropriately, so that it doesn’t hold them hostage. And YOU are the one walking them through that – YOU are the one with his hand on their shoulder saying, ‘You are angry and sad. That’s perfectly ok. I’m here, and I will stay with you through this.’ You are rewriting history.