The anger that all dads want to control

Every father in the world has an issue with handling anger when stressed, if we can take the fathers whom Brett Farrell spoke to in his Eternity podcast, Fatherhood, as any guide.

“The thing I found remarkable in everyone I spoke to, me included, was anger. Anger was a common theme for fathers,” says the Sydney lawyer who created the podcast with his TV producer wife Loretta Farrell.

“Dads had different experiences and different ways of reacting, and different self-assessment of how he thought his anger level was, but all had a sense of ‘it’s an issue I don’t like. It happens and I want to deal with it.’ So that was fascinating if only because I certainly didn’t feel so alone anymore.”

Farrell’s interview subject in his first episode of Fatherhood is Matt Stedman, father of four and senior minister at St Bede’s Anglican Church in Drummoyne in Sydney’s inner west.

Even this model of godly parenting had experienced an isolated outburst of disproportionate anger that scared him and prompted some difficult soul-searching.

“There was one moment where I was frustrated at something. It came out in a physical way of frustration. I kicked a ball that was in my way,” he says.

“It was probably one of the first times that my frustration or anger exhibited in a physical action rather than an internal emotional reaction. And that took some soul searching, like ‘what led to that? Why did I respond like that?’” he reveals.

“What scared me about it was, ‘I hope that doesn’t happen again, and I hope that I would never show a violent action towards another.’”

“What needs to happen in churches is an intimacy between one another needs to grow, a band of brothers.” – Matt Stedman

Stedman, the son of a surfboard shaper, reflected that when stressed, the only resources he has to turn to are sleep, diet, and exercise – along with prayer.

But how much better would be if men could get real with other men, especially at church?

“What needs to happen in churches is an intimacy between one another needs to grow, a band of brothers,” he says.

“I think men need other men to ask them: ‘How’s your anger? How are you really going? How’s your drinking going?’ All sorts of other lifestyle questions. And if you’ve got one or two of those people who can hold you to account, who can pray for you, who can show you grace, who can point you to where we as believers need to be living the lives that we need – for we influence not only our wives and families but the wider community. I think that’s absolutely fundamental to getting it right.”

Farrell, who has two children aged 14 and 11, says he was inspired to create the Fatherhood podcast by the example of a friend in London who built a car with his daughter from scratch as a bonding exercise.

“So he taught her welding and bolts and nuts. And, like, that’s not just me, that’s not something I could pass on to my kids, but I remember watching it thinking, ‘that’s really cool, like that bond of just doing something together with her.’”

During the recent Sydney lockdown, Farrell says he has been building a lot of complicated Lego sets with his son.

“My job is to find all the millions of little pieces and get them in order. So we just chat about stuff as we go along. And it’s interesting because there are things he does with computer games which he finds fascinating. I get a bit lost with it all, quite frankly.

“But the other day he was sharing something with me. I was kinda getting lost. I don’t really understand what he’s talking about, but just in my head, I was like, ‘don’t worry about understanding, just listen.’ And it occurred to me – he hadn’t been at school for so long that he hadn’t seen his friends and he hadn’t really no one to talk to about this thing he was doing. And I honestly didn’t understand it, but I just listened.”

Meanwhile, Farrell and his teenage daughter are “working through the Marvel cinematic universe films from beginning to end in the order in which they were intended to be watched, and then I’m going to introduce her to Star Wars in the way in which they’re intended to be watched.

“Truth be told, I sort of channel my inner 14-year-old when I talked to Elle. Just talk about dumb stuff, teasing like one of my 14-year-old mates might have done. That’s working. Talk to me again next week. I’ll see if it still is.”

The big problem with navigating the challenges of fatherhood, Farrell reckons, is that there’s no manual and just when you think you’ve figured it out, the child gets older, they try something new, have a different group of friends who influence them in different ways. “So what worked yesterday or last month may not work tomorrow.”

What he learned from the diverse range of fathers he interviewed for the podcast was that everyone was trying to figure out the best way to cope with whatever hand of fatherhood they had been dealt, but none really knew what they should do.

“What certainly became apparent was a lack of resources. And I joke about men not reading, but there is a lack of resources available to help. And maybe it’s not a book, maybe it’s not a podcast. Maybe it’s a place men can go and talk. And, I don’t know, maybe there’s something for the church to look at this as an issue rather than, you know, a men’s day on how to beat your chest and be a better man or something.”

Apart from anger, the other common theme was that “regardless of what type of kids we had, what type of fathers we had, we all were all just trying to be just the best we could be in our own way.”

Listen to the Fatherhood podcast here or below.