When dad's bad mood makes home a living hell, is he a tyrant or troubled?

Men's mental health issues tend to be neglected. We need to start asking 'why is dad mad' instead of saying 'that's how it is'

09 June 2019 - 00:05 By
Depression and other mood disorders can lead to rage, irritability and disinterest in family, which prevents fathers from playing a positive role in the home.
Depression and other mood disorders can lead to rage, irritability and disinterest in family, which prevents fathers from playing a positive role in the home.
Image: 123RF/Aliyahya

Everything in a traditional household is determined by the mood of the patriarchal head. It's a toxic influence that poisons the rest of the family. It catalyses tension and it incites a volcanic reaction in the general disposition of mothers, daughters and sons.

I remember the secret anxieties I faced growing up; the apprehension I experienced when I knew it was almost time for my dad to get home from work. What mood would he arrive in? Who would he take it out on? I would wonder how his treatment of a specific victim would ultimately affect the entire household. Would it be the salt in the food?

It was a traumatic time but not a unique experience - something I was confronted by when I had an in-depth conversation with a white friend.

I was always under the impression that only people of colour generally tend to suffer from the wrath of this kind of behaviour because cultural norms dictate that getting help or therapy is a Western idea and surrendering to an emotional condition is a sign of weakness.

Studies have reflected this thoroughly. One of the reasons people of colour in general are more susceptible to living with untreated mental illnesses is a lack of access to care and services. The direct trauma of historical adversity and race-based crimes due to the apartheid regime and slavery before that is a trauma with mental health consequences all on its own. There is significant proof that shows these people are at higher risk of having poor mental health whose symptoms live in silence.

During our conversation my friend revealed that her dad, who now resides in a retirement home, has spent the last few decades dedicating his time to writing a book about how to reinstate apartheid because he believes it truly works. It screams of delusion.

She too grew up in a home where her father was septic with mood swings. His is a condition that sprouts from a "perfect storm", as she calls it: a seamless conjoining of brainwashed religious god complexes and apartheid ideology. The degrees of narcissism becoming clear in their own personal drilled-in truths: God first, white men second and above all other people.

We have a habit of calling our fathers mad men, and succumbing to their lunacy to the point of acceptance and shrugging it off. But what if we searched a little deeper and found that certain kinds of behaviours are actually a form of undiagnosed psychosis, especially among a certain generation?

What if we truly investigated the social and cultural impact of their immediate environments? What if we examined the cushioned patriarchal power that existed in a time of very little critique? What if we asked "why is dad mad" instead of saying "that's how it is"?

There's an episode of the British comedy Absolutely Fabulous where Patsy, one of the lead characters, makes a statement that could seem quite throwaway, but in the context of the undiagnosed mental illness conversation rings quite true.

She says, and I paraphrase: "Remember the days when we could get through a day without taking a pill first thing in the morning?" Our fathers got through many days without taking a pill first thing in the morning but we didn't, did we? We, the ones who bore the brunt. And we should consider that getting through a day without treating a problem you don't even know exists is hardly getting through anything at all.

It can't feel nice to have mood swings, or be cross all the time and potentially not know why

Simply put, it can't feel nice to have mood swings, or be cross all the time and potentially not know why. It doesn't feel nice to hurt the ones around you, well, not unless you're a complete psychopath - something which is also diagnosed only after a trail of debris has led the way.

Emotional stoicism is the biggest cheerleader of toxic masculinity - that powerful pull towards traditional patriarchal roles which dictates that men should restrict their emotions because there are certain variables they need to adhere to when it comes to the correct ways to reach societal expectations. These expectations limit men to a very small emotional range that mostly translates in expressions of anger and control over those around them.

Research shows this can lead to depression and other mood disorders, which leads to rage, anger, irritability, disinterest in family or family emotions, and the inability to fulfill daily household chores as contribution in men.

It's not enough that we accept "mad men" - that's a dangerous perpetuation of a vicious cycle. It's time we understood our fathers and start to change society for the better
so that other women, sons and daughters don't have to live with the consequences of traditional models of masculinity and a type of fatherhood that affects both our dads and their families.

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