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Friday, March 18, 2005

A parent who displays rage, anger, contempt or scorn.

The first two parts in my series on pro-life women who have abortions are the introduction and families who don't recover.

I'm writing this series because of the mistaken belief that if you teach your children that abortion is very wrong, your children will therefore not have abortions, even if they agree with you that abortion is very wrong.

As we know from other areas of life, people commit sins all the time, even while knowing that what they are doing is wrong. So it shouldn't be surprising that this happens in the case of abortion. It does seem to surprise people, though (I know it surprised formerly pro-abortion me.)

This reflection will be about the impact on a child of a parent who has rage attacks, is easily triggered into anger, or frequently speaks about others in tones of contempt or scorn.

This parent could be either the mom or the dad, but I'll write as if it is the dad.

It's a fearsome thing when a father explodes in rage. Can you remember the last time someone did this in your immediate physical vicinity? Even as an unrelated adult--say, when we see this in the workplace--witnessing this behavior is very unpleasant and downright scary.

We're friends with a family with a rage-o-holic dad. This man is a pro-life Catholic, although he is not outspoken about his beliefs. His wife has been considering divorce for five or so years. They have two children, a girl, 16, and a boy, 11. His episodes of out-of-control rage have declined a lot over the years. In the last two years, according to his wife, he has had three rage attacks. They were triggered by misbehavior of the family dog. The attacks usually last about an hour. This dad appears to be (and may actually be) completely out-of-control during these episodes. He rages, shouts, curses, stalks about, hits the wall repeatedly, has a very angry loud voice and a very dark red face. The wife and the children have what could be called post-traumatic stress after these episodes. (Flashbacks, lots of anxiety, fear of being around him, fear of triggering him). These rage attacks are the sole reason the wife is considering divorce. He has never hit his wife or children (or anyone else), nor does he verbally or emotionally attack them. He is, if it matters, a very, very successful white-collar professional. Most of the time, he is a very pleasant companion and a good man. I like him very much--although I have to say that I sometimes feel on pins and needles around him because of what I've heard.

In many cases where there is a rager in the family, the rager has no idea on God's Green Earth how much impact his rage is having on his beloved wife and family. For one thing, when he rages, naturally enough, his wife and children retreat into stunned silence and withdrawal. How likely would you be to confront a rager over this behavior?

For a rager, when the episode is over, it's over. For him, anyway. He usually has no awareness that the rage attack has left a deep, lasting and destructive impact on his family members.

It's probably obvious that a daughter in such a family would have a profound fear of the consequences of revealing a pregnancy. "If Dad can get that upset over the dog scratching a hole in the screen, what might Dad do if I tell him I'm pregnant?" The girl is likely to imagine that since a pregnancy might be seen as a far worse event than a tear in the screen, the corresponding rage attack would also be much, much worse.

Obviously, this is an extreme case. In most families, no one has ever pitched such a rage attack. But there are families where Dad often displays lesser forms of anger, and these forms have a cumulative, destructive, impact.

(I'm leaving out the case where anger attacks are brought on by drinking, since I'll be writing separately about that.)

Some Dads are angry a lot. They're not explosive, but they are angry a lot. On a given day, a Dad might be angry because it snowed and he has to shovel the sidewalk before he can go to work, irritated because the price of gas has gone up another five cents, resentful that some asshole at work fucking forgot to call Jane about the damned meeting time being changed, and pissed off that Survivor isn't on because of the basketball tournament (oh, sorry that was me.)

Some Dads don't know that they are angry, pissed off, resentful and irritated quite often but what they do know is that there are many things in the world about which they feel contempt and scorn. (Someone once described contempt as "crystallized anger"). A dinner table conversation in this home might often consist of Dad expressing his contempt, disgust or scorn about various people and events: Hillary Clinton. The stupid Bishops. The media. His co-workers. His tone can be lighter or darker, but it is clear that some people are just...they are just beyond redemption or grace. They are fools, and that's all they will ever be.

Just as the rager doesn't know how much his rage creates a lasting impression on his family, so the chronically angry Dad, or the chronically contemptuous Dad, are not aware of the impact this has on their impressionable daughters.

Two of the most destructive impacts of chronic anger and chronic contempt on daughters are the messages that (1) the world must be pretty crummy and (2) my Dad is already, often, in a state where anger is just under or right on the surface.

Believing that the world is a pretty crummy place leads one to be more abortion-vulnerable. Believing that Dad has a whole big ocean of anger right under the surface--and also that he is inclined to regard foolish people with contempt and disdain--does not make a girl want to tell her Dad that she is pregnant.

I hope it's clear that angry but pro-life Dads can unwittingly create a situation where their children are more abortion-vulnerable.

If you're a pro-life spouse and any of this description of anger sounds even remotely familiar to you as you consider your spouse, one of the best things you can to do help guard your children against abortion is start working with a therapist. Start off by yourself, and the therapist will help you figure out how to involve your spouse in treatment.

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