There is a knot of tension rising in my chest.
My son is writhing and planking on the change table, his eyes screwed tight shut, screaming like a dentist drill. He is tired beyond logic and reason.
It’s been a really tough couple of months, it’s the end of a really hard day, and I am exhausted myself. But I am just about holding it together.
I try to put his pyjama trousers on and his flailing feet kick me in the stomach, right in the solar plexus. The pain makes me feel sick.
His screaming is bouncing around my head, and my brain is throbbing. I haven’t eaten or drunk enough fluids today. My needs are secondary these days.
But I am still holding it together.
I’m now trying to put his pyjama top on and he is getting furious. I try the usual placating moves, the false choices, the soothing voice, the singing, the tickling, but my patience is wearing gossamer thin and he is going nuclear.
Suddenly he lunges forward and hits me on the nose. It hurts. It really hurts.
Still he screams and writhes.
I’ve tried hard to suppress the anger but my skin is beginning to flush and my ears ringing. I’m starting to feel removed from my body.
I try to stay calm and in control. I’m holding him now, still trying to negotiate the pyjamas.
He opens his mouth and clamps his teeth down on the soft skin between my neck and shoulder.
The extreme pain causes a flash of bright red light in my head, and a surge of rage courses through my veins.
Now I’ve lost it.
I’m properly yelling at him now. The force of my voice scares even me.
There are flames burning up my back and neck, my head is swimming, my ears ringing and my heart racing. My boy is still screaming. My daughter has retreated to a corner. Her fingers in her mouth and her eyes wide open. She looks horrified.
But I am full of fury.
The red demon has risen.
The red demon is me.
My wife comes in and tells me to leave the room. But I am full of fury. I’ve snapped
And the demon is jumping up and down, gibbering manically on my shoulder, gleeful at the chaos.
My wife tells me to leave the room again.
Suddenly I realise what I have done. I take a horrified step back.
I leave the room, shaking with adrenalin.
I am out running in the cold streets. The rain is on my face. It’s refreshing. My heart rate is up and my breathing rhythmic. I am scanning my body and physically I feel good.
Emotionally however I am shot through.
The red demon is still present but with each step I take the flames are subsiding, the fiery rage dissipating. His embers are still glowing but the demon is skulking in the darkness now, whispering to the shadows in forked tongues.
But his legacy is strong. I feel filthy, polluted, toxic.
I am going over the incident in my head, reflecting and analysing.
I am making excuses. I know I am stressed. I know the last few months have been really hard. I know I am exhausted, and yes, my boy was acting up. But the one thing I keep coming back to is that there is no excuse.
There is no excuse for losing my temper. There is no excuse for yelling at a two year old child. There is simply no excuse.
Anger is an important reflex in the story of human survival and evolution, and if harnessed correctly should continue to play a role in inspiring us to strive to be better as individuals and as a society. But it needs to be managed.
The cold night air is in my lungs, in my head. I can see things incredibly clearly. I was totally in the wrong. There are no excuses.
Much to the demon’s disgust I begin to harness the aggression constructively. I am starting to feel grateful.
I am grateful for my wife’s understanding and quiet, calming presence. Not just tonight, but at all times.
I am grateful that this is the first incident where anger has got the better of me in close to four years of being a father.
I am grateful that this incident has made me determined to be an even better father. To love my little boy even harder.
I am grateful that I can use this to show my children how important it is to apologise when I have done something bad, to show them how truly sorry I am – to hug them, kiss them and breathe them in. To show them that I am also vulnerable and prone to error.
I am grateful that I can use this to learn and grow. I will be able to identify the warning signs in future. I will be able to harness the powerful emotion of anger correctly.
My feet are moving quickly over the concrete now. The demon is squealing and shrinking, and in its place a pure white light is growing.
I am running faster. I want to get home. I want to see my children. I want them to see my vulnerability. I want them to see me apologising.
And I want them to see a light burning in my eyes.
But instead of the red light of anger I want them to see a glorious, luminescent glow of pure love blazing from my soul.
Because that is what I feel right now.
The light of love in my heart finally engulfs the demon. I am sprinting to my front door.