A Temper to be Reckoned With

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Dad and Leah

I was talking with my brother, Mark, about my father’s legendary temper. Recalling how Mom would say, “Wait til your father gets home,” to get us (mostly Mark) in line because the threat of Dad’s anger was a powerful weapon. Leah, my daughter, who was listening to the conversation, later said to me, “That’s not the Grandpa I knew. He wasn’t intimidating to me.” I smiled, happy that her experience was different. Happy, too, that Dad, as he got older, mellowed and rarely erupted – he was more at peace with himself, I think.

I knew my father’s anger well. He had quite a temper when we were growing up. His deep voice, muscular frame, bald head and prominent nose gave him an intensity, even when he wasn’t angry. He was the perfect high school dean, which, in fact, he was. He was perfect because while he did have that presence about him that made you think twice about doing something wrong, he was also fair-minded and had a deeply engrained, true moral compass.

Despite his volcanic outbursts, he never, to my knowledge, raised a hand to any of us. I was on the receiving end of his verbal outbursts – usually because of fighting with my brother, Mark, or for using a ‘tone’ with my mother. I think it is fair to say that I could be pretty disrespectful to her and Dad rose readily and angrily to her defense.

One of the things that made living with my dad’s anger more tolerable was his willingness to apologize. Pretty much like clockwork, after the yelling, after I ran to my room crying, there would be a knock on my door. Usually he would say something like, “I shouldn’t have raised my voice like that, I’m sorry. But that doesn’t excuse your behavior….” He would then explain what I had done wrong. He would be calm and sorrowful. The anger gone like a brief, intense summer storm.

I was, I think, ten years old when I realized he was gruff on the outside, and prone to bursts of temper, but a marshmallow inside. It seemed that his anger needed venting, like a pressure cooker. While I don’t remember how I came to that understanding, I do remember the moment of clarity; the time when he screamed and I looked at him and knew that he wouldn’t actually do anything to me.

I had been upstairs in my grandparent’s apartment and I did something awful. I don’t remember what precipitated it, but I yelled at Uncle Terry’s girlfriend (now wife) that I hated her and I ran downstairs to my room. The way I remember it, my parents were in the room when I had my outburst and my father was hot on my trail as I ran down the steps. He boomed, “Linda!!!! How dare you!!! You go apologize this instant!”

It was at this moment that I decided he wasn’t going to hit me, and I didn’t have to do everything he said. I said, calmly, “No, I don’t want to.” I was feeling quite righteous in my own anger. My father was taken aback. Interestingly, he didn’t get angrier, he was silent for a moment. Quietly, he said, “I’m not going to get into an argument with you. But, I want you to think about Uncle Terry.”

That penetrated. I have no memory of why I was so angry at Barbara – I’m sure a good measure of it was jealousy. After all, her time with him cut deeply into my own.

“We love Uncle Terry,” he continued, “and we want him to be happy. You acting that way will not make him happy.”

That took the wind out of my sails. I felt embarrassed. “Okay, I’ll apologize.”

With great difficulty, I climbed the stairs and faced Barbara. “I’m sorry I said that. I shouldn’t have.”

Somehow I understood my Dad and 99% of the time I ended up agreeing with him – despite his temper.

That wouldn’t be the last time my father got angry with me. And, his anger could certainly make me unhappy, uncomfortable, frustrated, resentful, or angry with him. But, I wasn’t afraid.

I don’t know if my brothers ever came to the same realization.

12 thoughts on “A Temper to be Reckoned With

  1. I think that when we met, the transition from the more angry Barry Brody to the more mellow version of himself was brand new. As I recall, you warned me about what he was like, about that legendary temper. But when we met, the reality was not all that similar to the coming attractions. To be sure, the impressive and even intimidating physical presence was there. And the intellectual presence was there. And the desire to protect you and the rest of his family was certainly there.

    I also recall how he found out that his cholesterol was 304 and went on a diet and dropped his cholesterol without drugs to 153. While he did ultimately require medication for the cholesterol, it was his reaction to his leukemia that was most impressive to me. As the malignancy progressed and repeatedly behaved more aggressively than expected, we saw his determination. He was willing to endure whatever it took to get his treatment, to maximize his chances to defeat the demon. That single-mindedness and iron will made a great impression on me.

    He always seemed to understand the difference between the important and the superficial and knew where to place his values. He was so grounded, so reliable and so caring. He was a loving husband to Feige. He was so proud of you and your brothers. And he so gloried his grandchildren.

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    1. Thank you, Gary. I still remember that first meeting – my parents came to Binghamton to visit and we went to Perkins for breakfast. At the time the federal government was considering bailing out Chrysler. I remember the discussion at the table, the pros and cons. I was impressed that you were so comfortable with my Dad. I’m so glad you knew him as well as you did. It adds so much to our bond.

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  2. As usual, so well written. I hope I don’t sound defensive, but both dad and I were so young. I was 21, 22 and 25 when I had you, and Dad was just one year older. I always regretted saying “wait till Dad comes home.” I learned more from some of the readings I did when I went back to school. The only thing those Ed courses had were some good books. Believe it or not, I learned more from the TV at the time. Father knows Best. Leave it to Beaver and even All In The Family ( bad parenting) made me aware of (even fake) parenting. Any way as I hope you know we did the best we could and you and the brothers were beloved. I am really not being defensive, we can’t redo the past, only hope we learn from the mistakes.

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    1. Mom, you owe no apologies. I think I can speak for all three of us when I say we know you did the best you could. We were loved and cared for. I think the three of us turned out pretty good :). I am grateful to you and Dad.

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  3. Linda:
    1. I think it is safe to say that dad never yelled at either Steve or me as we were the chosen ones.
    2. Ok, back to reality, yes dad did yell, but, I was never, never fearful. The thought of his actually striking one of us never occurred to me.
    3. I learned from dad the most effective parenting tool was as follows; a. Demonstrate your support for the child- always; b. Do not make issues out of minutiae: and c a quiet I am disappointed with you will then work wonders.
    Lastly, I think you actually yelled at Terry’s former girlfriend , that you hated her, because you were concerned that she was not good enough for him. You were actually waiting for him to find a woman of Barbara’s great qualities.

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  4. Linda, I so enjoy reading about your recollections, the good the bad and the ugly. It’s wonderful to be able to relate from the standpoint of both childhood and adulthood. The years change our perspective of events so much.
    As you know, I adored your Dad. He was so interesting to talk to and seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of many different subjects. He was very kind and empathetic, and I can think of three instances when he went out of his way to make me feel better about something: we were visiting NJ in 1997, and a group decided to go out to the movies – we saw the Kevin Kline comedy “In & Out.” Afterward, Barry made a point of engaging me in conversation about it. He apologized for the insensitive portrayal of the Catholic clergy, and hoped I wasn’t offended. (I wasn’t). The next instance was Erica Woltz’s Bat Mitzvah in 1998. Paul gave us a terrible time about wearing dress clothes. He ended up much to my horror being allowed to wear casual clothes to the event (which was black tie) because his father refused to fight with him about it. Your father picked up on the situation right away. He went out of his way to tell me several times that night what good parents Ira and I were, and I’ll never forget it. The third instance was at our house in Maynard in July 1999 when we celebrated Ira getting his MBA. We all had dinner at our local Italian restaurant, and sometime during dessert at our house later, Barry told me that Ira and I created a “wonderful family feeling” over the course of the weekend, that it was a pleasure to come to Maynard.
    Each instance of kindness meant more than you can imagine.

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  5. Barbara and I truly cannot remember any such incident. She is assuming it was a different girlfriend. We had such a wonderful relationship having all of us living right upstairs. It was one extended family. Your father was a very special person. I am fortunate enough to have know him pretty much my entire life. He certainly came across strong. When I was 5 in Texas, your mother and I would do a very quick cleanup before he came home. He would come across as very demanding but even then I knew he was a sweetheart underneath. He really learned to love his family, all of us. We came first. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for family. He was very gracious to have Barbara and I as tenants for so many years. It was a remarkable experience we will never forget. You certainly know how blessed you and your brothers were to have such wonderful parents. That is why the three of you are such wonderful people.

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  6. Linda – As usual, your wonderful writing evokes so many memories. Your dad was a terrific uncle to me. When I was a child, I was afraid of his temper, and always tried to be on my best behavoir in front of him. However, I do remember being on the receiving end of his temper once or twice. Your recounting of how your dad was able to apologize for his outbursts is impressive. It underscores his emotional intelligence. As an adult, I got to spend quality time with both your parents here in Florida. It was so amazing to me how your dad mellowed. One of my favorite things he did was to always call me “doll.” I miss hearing that. I know I have told you the story of when your mother and I disagreed about some aspect of my father’s personality and your father defended me. I was so grateful to him that he understood my feelings. I remember many interesting conversations about current events and history. I learned so much from your dad. He was a very loving man. And I think the family’s comments on his moral compass are right on target. I admired and respected him, as well as loved him.

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    1. Thanks for your remembrance, Laurie. I can totally hear my dad calling you ‘doll.’ He used many terms of endearment for my mother and for me. He used to call me ‘vonce,’ which when I found out what it meant (bedbug in Yiddish!), I had to wonder. But, I’m pretty sure he meant it affectionately. He also called me ‘ketzel’ – I’m not sure if that word had any meaning – maybe kitty-cat. Anyway, he was very loving and I was lucky.

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