The outburst seemed to come out of nowhere. Josh’s dad slapped at him with words that would sting for a long while. Josh was just surfing the TV when his dad’s anger found him.

“When are you gonna get a life, Josh? Flopping in front of that idiot box and watching junk. You’re old enough to stop being a nitwit!” There was more; even uglier words, but by then Josh had slammed the remote into the sofa, tone into the garage, grabbed his bike and headed out to find Matt, his best friend. His dad didn’t chase after him, but his words did.

Later that evening his mom made excuses for his dad. “I heard the blow-up, Josh. I’m sorry that happened. Your dad had a rough day, almost lost his job. You caught some of his anger.” “That’s not fair,” Josh replied. “I don’t need to be his garbage can.”

Nobody needs that. But anger always goes somewhere, whether being buried alive inside to exploding on unaware scapegoats. Anger is a very real part of being human. At its worst it can destroy relationships or cripple them for years. It creates bitterness, incubates resentments that poison perceptions never entirely forgotten despite time. At its best it can teach what it means to be vulnerable.

Anger only complicates relationships. It may not show one’s better side but when it finds a voice it can open the door to feelings that should not be ignored.

Garbage can anger is misplaced anger.  It may give a feeling of temporary relief even while hurting whoever happens to catch it. Just as Josh did. But his dad didn’t come close to taking care of his “bad day” feelings by dumping them on his son, admitting later he’d made his bad day even worse when he told his wife he felt bad about ripping into Josh. “Tell him, please,” she replied. “He needs to hear that from you.”

Misplaced anger is difficult to talk about, especially after the fact. Too often the angry person thinks time and distance will dissipate its ugliness. Couples rarely ask, “Can we talk about what happened yesterday?” But Josh’s dad did tell him, “I’m sorry about getting on your case, Josh. It wasn’t one of my better days and you didn’t deserve to be hurt by me like that. I was the nitwit, not you. I’m sorry, son.” “Its okay, Dad. I love you. Hope today goes better.”

Moral: Anger can go anywhere but to be resolved it needs to be taken where it belongs, back to its source, to whoever triggered it.