I’m assuming you own a socket wrench set. If you don’t, get one soon. It is an absolute requirement for certain maintenance and construction projects. You can get a sweet set for less than fifty bucks.
Anyway. Someday soon – if it hasn’t happened already – one of your angelic innocent children is going to borrow your socket wrench set and not put it back. Sometime later, you’re going to need that socket wrench set to assemble a floor lamp, adjust a bicycle wheel or tighten a miscellaneous bolt. Whistling while you work, you’ll make your way over to the place where you always, always keep the socket wrench set.
Lo and behold, it will not be there. Perhaps even worse, it will be there and when you open the case to get just the right socket, that particular socket you seek won’t be there. What’s more, several of the other sockets will not be there either. You know this because several of the little precast indentations in the case designed to organize and categorize the sockets will be empty.
For most dads, this is your signal to freak out. It’s a natural human response. Sometimes, things happen that make us angry. When that happens you have two choices. Turn it into a bad thing by losing it. Or turning it into a good thing by keeping your cool.
If you lose it – by stomping, cursing, accusing, wailing – you lose a little piece of yourself. You will be surrendering a small portion of your authority and credibility as a father. If your kids are small, they may actually be frightened by your loss of control. If your kids are older, you will be giving them permission to lose their cool when they face moments of frustration in their own lives. Plus, in the future when you tell them to “calm down” about some minor issue, they will always have this thought in the back of their heads: “Sure, old man, why don’t you practice what you preach!” Ouch.
Still, your socket wrench is missing. You are frustrated. Your kids need to learn to respect other people’s property. Something has to be done!
Here’s my suggestion: Proceed to begin the freak out process. But just a little. No swearing. No throwing things. No yelling. To be clear, under these circumstances it is perfectly acceptable and even expected for you to walk (not stomp) around the house and ask in a firm, but controlled manner, “Has anyone seen my socket wrench set?” Or, “Who was using my socket wrench set?”
Do not expect an answer. If you do get an answer, it will always be the same two words. “Not me.” Or perhaps some variation of these four words, “I didn’t touch it.” At this point, please dad, do not escalate the amount of freaking out. It’s tempting, I know, but you will regret it. Take it from a man who has experienced both extremes. An out-of-control freak-out will fill you with regret and remorse. A controlled freak-out is a beautiful thing. The Bible lays it out in a mere six words: “In your anger do not sin.”
A controlled freak-out can accomplish several objectives. First, you get their attention. Second, they take you seriously. Third, you might actually stir their brain cells inducing them to remember where they inadvertently left your socket wrench set. Fourth, you demonstrate that it is possible to feel intense frustration and retain self-control and composure.
It’s worth repeating. If you exhibit any kind of rabid, maniacal, or volcanic behavior, you have lost respect, lost influence and probably lost your socket wrench set forever.
For the record, all of the above applies to other tools, athletic equipment, car keys, office supplies, television remotes, flashlights, cell phones, rolls of duct tape, toilet plungers, sports sections, road maps, and “the good scissors.”
In the end, your children’s ability to deal with the inevitable teeny-tiny frustrations of life like a mature adult is more important that any lost, stolen or misplaced item. That’s a lesson you can talk about until your face turns blue, but it won’t sink in. However, if you can model that key moment of composure without your face turning red, then your kids may just get the message.
Know the difference between self-serving anger and righteous anger.
“No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched.”
— George Jean Nathan
Jay K. Payleitner is author of the book 52 Things Kids Need from their Dad (Harvest House Publishers, 2010), from which this article was adapted. He also writes the National Center’s featured blog, Fathers 52. Jay is also a marketing consultant, speaker, and fathering advocate, and helps produce Carey Casey’s Today’s Father radio program. Jay and his wife Rita have five children and live in Illinois.