Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’m celebrating. It could be by playing golf, kayaking, or just cooking dinner on the grill. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be celebrating because my kids haven’t told me the specific plans yet. Even if we do nothing, I’ll be celebrating in my mind the fact that I now have a great relationship with my children. I don’t take that for granted. I thank God for it almost every day. It wasn’t always the case, and it was my fault.

I didn’t always have a great relationship with my children, and it was my fault.

In their younger years, I was angry. A lot. I flew off the handle at little things they did that upset me. I raged during disagreements with their mom, and later with their stepmom. My reactions were almost always bigger than they needed to be. Way bigger. My kids learned it was best not to upset dad. They walked on eggshells, so to speak. Everyone did.

I thought it was great that I had such well-disciplined children. What I didn’t see was I was getting compliance but losing relationship. You might get children to follow your rules to avoid consequences for a while. But when they have the chance to choose how they are going to spend their time, as they do when they grow up, my kids were going to avoid me. Why wouldn’t they? Who wants to be around a person who’s easily upset and often takes it out on the people nearby?

With my anger, I was getting compliance but losing relationship.

While there was no physical abuse, the tip-toe environment I created was emotional abuse. They couldn’t relax and be themselves without fear of being yelled at. The issues that caused an abusive relationship with my spouse also caused an unhealthy and abusive relationship with my kids. Like my wife, they would eventually get a choice about whether or not they wanted to remain in a relationship with me. At the time, however, I did not see how I was hurting them or myself.

After being arrested for domestic violence for hitting my wife, I scrambled to change and save my marriage. The things I learned about how to control anger and stop domestic violence towards her, however, ended up really helping improve how I responded to situations with my children. Fewer things upset me. Even when something did, I learned ways of managing anger long enough to respond to the situation in a way that did not damage my relationship with them.

My kids noticed the change. My daughter, now a young adult, recently told me that I was on the verge of losing her respect, and therefore any chance of us having a close relationship. As she saw the changes I made, I was able to rebuild that respect, trust, and relationship. My son has echoed similar sentiments.

Improving and preserving my relationship with my kids turned out to be one of many unexpected side benefits.

Improving and preserving my relationship with my kids wasn’t my main motivation to work on controlling my anger and to stop creating abusive relationships. That turned out to be one of many unexpected side benefits. Maybe it should have been, because being part of their lives blesses me beyond words. That’s why Father’s Day is truly a day to celebrate.

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