Four generations of Stanley men have serious tempers. Perhaps not the “run & hide, call the cops” temper of a Stanley Kowalski, but, always, a quick trigger hiding just under surface. It is a lurking temper, dangerous in the way of all hidden issues.
Generation One; my grandfather Carl. Carl had a noteworthy temper. My father tells stories of his father; Carl’s quick left jab at his mouthy, overly-bright only son, the snarls at his wife when food and beverage wasn’t quite to his liking, the “discussions” with vendors when goods for his store weren’t delivered properly, the explosions on the golf course. Carl’s temper was legendary around the clubhouse, the B’nai B’rith card games, the dinner table.
Gen-2; my father, Doctor Morton Stanley. Mort’s temper stemmed from his quick mind and his drive to be perfect. Rarely has there been a man who suffered the fool less gladly than my dad. In his office and the hospital, staff carried out his orders properly. There was no “or else.” An old-time family doc, his patients were his children. You toed the line in Mort’s presence, suffered his scoldings, or found a new physician. Mort loved his patients. He was rarely inaccurate in his diagnoses and treatment. The patients stayed.
Gen-3; me. David Stanley. I have always chosen sports with a serious one-on-one edge. I was a soccer goalkeeper in high school and college. I became a cycling match sprinter on the velodrome. I have a deep interest in the martial arts. When meeting an opponent, in any sport, my first thought is always the same: Can I kick his ass? Or can he kick mine?
I have an explosive temper. At 54, I am still not certain if my temper led me to my sporting choices, or my sporting choices reinforced my natural temperament, but I am a man who is always aware that I sit on something volatile.
Gen-4; my son, Aaron Stanley. Aaron has been explosive since his birth. He would throw a tantrum when his team lost in U-6 soccer. If he would earn the second highest score on a 2nd grade spelling test, a meltdown would ensue. He is an excellent tennis player, playing tournaments throughout the Midwest and competing for his college. Tennis is an expensive sport. Shattered racquets. We have a thick file of default letters and point penalty warning letters from the US Tennis Association (USTA). Like his ancestors, Aaron is always one bad shot away from combustion.
I realized I had a problem when I was fifteen. If you have ever studied soccer’s goal area during a corner kick, you may have noticed it is a battle zone. Everyone is fighting for position. As a goalkeeper, you are expected to dominate the goal mouth. I am not a large man. I played at 5’7” and 165 lbs. Large men are granted some space. I had to beat the crap out of people to earn that same space. I learned to stomp on a player’s instep with my heel cleats to get his attention. I kidney punched players who were illegally parked in my area. If the ball came in high, I learned to punch the ball clear while throwing a knee into someone’s ribs.
In 1973, I played in a highly competitive elite league. Everyone was “going” somewhere in soccer. You had to play fearless, tough soccer. I took plenty of shots; stitches, fat lips, black eyes. As long as the ball was the target, all contact was fair play.
One day, I became the target. It was a fairly played game, plenty of contact, several minutes left, tied score. Corner kick. The usual goal mouth scrum. The ball floats in. I leave my line, time my leap, and find myself checked, quite literally, onto my butt into the goal. No whistle. Fair enough, play on. A teammate clears the ball over the endline for another corner. I get up and see the culprit, a fellow in a Jimmy Page shag haircut, smirking by the goalpost.
Another corner kick scrum, someone has hold of my jersey, I fight my way to ball, make the save, and as I’m standing there with the ball, I see it’s Jimmy Page guy who was tugging my jersey. As he trots past me, he drills me with a solid kick right behind my knee. My leg buckles. No whistle. I snap.
I throw the ball over the goal and out of play. I grab him from behind, spin him around and drill him square in the face with a right hand. He drops. I am covered, instantly, by several of his mates. Brawl on. My teammates leap to my defense. Benches empty. Coaches try to figure out who to grab. I’ve really started something. One official grabs me from the pile from behind and drags me to our team’s sideline.
My Dad had arrived, sometime earlier. I hadn’t seen him pull up in our van. He motions me to get in.
“That,” he says, “was stupid.”
“You guys might get a forfeit. You might get tossed from the team; team might get tossed from the league. It was really stupid.”
“I know, Dad.”
“Shut up. I’m talking. What the Hell were you thinking? You were playing great. The team’s playing great. You’re tied with a team that cleaned your clock last time. All you have to do is hold the ball for a few seconds…”
“Did you see him kick me?” I protested.
“Yeah. Big deal. I know what you do out there. I’m not blind. You play goalie like a linebacker. You like to hit people, don’t do any damn complaining when they hit back.”
“Shut up. That was stupid.”
A few moments of silence.
Says Dad, “It was a pretty good right hand, though.”
“David Stanley, you better straighten this shit out before you get yourself in some real trouble.” Useful words to live by from my father, owner of his own remarkable temper. Words that I would need to remember thirty-five years later.
Aaron was sixteen. He was playing in his high school tennis league championship semi-finals. He was matched against a young man he had played often. “Andy” was a good player, but other than footspeed and sheer tenacity, he lacked a big point-ending weapon. Keeping his focus, Aaron won the first set easily.
In the second set, Aaron got a bit careless and Andy broke Aaron’s serve to go up 5-3. Andy to serve for the set. Andy was also feeling the pressure. Several double faults later, Aaron was up 15-40 with several chances to break back. Aaron mishits a return of serve; 30-40. Aaron chips a return, Andy hits a great a lob for a winner; deuce. A long point and Andy digs one out to get back to set point. Another long point and Andy hits short to Aaron’s backhand. Aaron closes on the ball and instead of taking the easy score tying winner up the line, he tries to caress a tightly angled backhand, nearly parallel to the net. It hits the tape, hovers, and falls back on Aaron’s side. Andy’s point. Set to Andy. All tied. One set all.
Aaron screams. A real scream- “OOOOOOOH MYYYYYYYYYY GOOOOOOOOD! Very loudly. There is a ball lying at the net. He picks it up. Aaron blasts it over the far fence, into the woods on a high arc. He screams again. Nine other courts go dead silent.
Aaron’s coach says, quietly, “Penalty point. Andy leads the third set, love-15.”
Aaron turns and says to his coach, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Coach looks back at Aaron. “That’s a default. Match to Andy.”
Aaron is still standing by the net. He smacks his racquet against the net tape. In the silence of the tennis center, it sounds like a rifle shot.
Aaron walks to his gear bag and slams his racquet into the bag. He turns to a dumbstruck Andy. Off-court, they’re friends. Aaron waves.
“Good luck, Andy. Win it, bro.”
Aaron means it.
I read Aaron’s lips. A long string of self-directed profanities is streaming forth. I approach his coach. We’ve known each other for years.
“Coach, do you want me to…?”
“Yeah, thanks, Dave. I’ve got a bunch of other matches to worry about.”
I turn and Aaron is gone. I walk to the car. No Aaron. I walk around the perimeter of the courts. No kid. I head back to the car. He’s sitting under a tree near the car, head in hands, half-cursing and half crying, gently beating a racquet against the ground.
“What the fuck was I doing out there, Dad? What happened? I was blowing him out, all of sudden I couldn’t hit a frickin’ forehand, then I just fuckin’ lose it. God, I should never lose like that.”
“What happened, kiddo, wasn’t to your forehand. It was your frontal lobe. He started playing tougher. You stop trusting your game, you panicked. Slippery slope, man. Pretty soon, all you’re thinking about is the last point you lost. You just lost your shit. Again. You need to straighten this shit out. Otherwise, you’re in for a really rough life.”
What Happened to the Four Stanley Men?
As Carl aged, his Alzheimer’s worsened. His temper grew to nearly uncontrollable levels. My grandfather, Carl Stanley, never tamed his temper and he died, a very angry and vexed man.
Mort’s temper, thirty-some years in the making, was legendary, and then, poof, it was gone. Quadruple by-pass surgery and the birth of the first grandchild changed my Dad forever. It is that almost dying is a blessing. Mort dodged Death. He crept right up to the edge of the abyss- four of his six coronary arteries were 98% occluded. Dad was the real Walking Dead. Four months later, my son Aaron; his first grandchild, was born. Mort and Peace found each other. Twenty years later, my father still vital at 82, I cannot recall an uncontrolled outburst since Aaron was born.
As for me, I am no longer actively angry. Like a recovered alcoholic, I know the anger is still within, but I have found a path. In my twenties, I traveled North America as a semi-pro privateer on the bicycle racing circuit. I heard the Eastern Bloc countries had their racers doing “autogenic training”- imagery, meditations, relaxation. I bought the cassette tapes. I did the mental exercises. Through this work, I discovered Zen meditation. I found that my Judaism meshed with my newly found Buddhist practices. I cannot change my true nature. Over the years, I have accepted it, and learned to use it positively-while training and racing my bike, in the weight room, as a catalyst for getting good stuff done. Anger is transient. Anger is power. I finally get that. I use it.
Lastly, Aaron, my son. He is twenty. He is a perfectionist. Like his grandfather, he has little tolerance for shortcomings in others and no tolerance for his own. He works with a sports psychologist on the court. We have put him in the hands of excellent USTA tennis coaches; good men who can teach tennis and model good behavior. We have tried to follow the dictum “Put your child in good circumstances and let peer pressure do its thing.”
As Aaron has matured, I have suggested books and mental practices. He is a young man. I can only support, I cannot impose. It is my hope that he finds his own way, before his temper causes him great harm. I suspect it will, because Aaron’s rage is nearly always self-directed and he has a good heart. Letting your child fail is one of the most difficult learning experiences that a parent must endure. It is also the most vital.
As a teacher, coach and parent since the early 1990s, I would remind you of two things:
1) Adolescence is much harder on your kid than it is on you.
2) You are not your child’s friend. You are the parent. You are in charge.
I have found the following resources to be of exceptional value. I recommend both works to parents of my students and athletes. I have also used their work with my own son.
1) Dr. Ross Greene, Lives in the Balance.
2) Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay, Love and Logic.
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Photo credit: olliethebastard / flickr