I’m Mad as Hell, but What Can I Do About it?

Category: Weekly Columns

Albert Finney

I recently returned home after an extended “leave of absence” during which time I skied a bunch, attended a Dad conference in New Orleans, and spent 2 ½ weeks in Boston helping my son with his sophomore year and packing up to continue whatever is next, back in California (he’s not returning to school in Boston).

Within a few days of returning home, the accumulated minor and not-so-minor health issues I’d put off were all scheduled. Some skin cancer had to be handled with not very unpleasant procedures and that is half-done. I’m not sure the root canal will be so pleasant coming up soon.

My aching shoulder wasn’t injured in that ski fall but I’ve gotten a nice case of arthritis there. At my internist, he said that my blood test results were all pretty good though my weight had stayed up where it shouldn’t still be.


My wife and I are somewhat at odds over tension related to preparing our house for sale and maintaining the way she wants it to look AT ALL TIMES. She’s “our” real estate broker so I can’t fire her. I’d like to find a real estate agent that actually is a little concerned with the client’s opinion.

Then, I have two teenage boys. Well, one is technically no longer a teen but his behavior in many ways still is stuck in that phase while at the same time demonstrating occasional maturity and brilliance. The roller coaster of his moods is truly as “thrilling” as any real-life ride. Note: I get nauseous on roller coasters.

His younger brother is sort of the opposite in that he keeps ALL his feelings inside so I never really know what is going on. The monosyllabic responses to “how are you?” and “what happened at school today?” are familiar to any parent. And, when he ever does need anything, it’s often asked for at the very last minute such as when I’m sitting on the toilet reading something important.

Mad Magazine

Then, there are the world events currently going on, with the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian Christian girls particularly sticking in my craw. Is that the right phrase? Is it politically incorrect? After all, I might want to speak on a college campus someday and I sure don’t want to be boycotted or have the professors rail against me.

Speaking of college campuses, my oldest friend in the world is currently irritated with me because of my outspoken and regular criticism of colleges today. Some of these criticisms are based on my personal recent experiences, after hearing and seeing what my 6-figures-for 2-years-of-tuition at a Boston college got my son – and got me — NOTHING. Mostly, I rant about the speech codes and other biases I tend to hear about at many universities today.

My friend, David, is a professor of Communication at a good college on the East Coast. He is so very articulate in his defense of the general college system and his attack on what he claims is my repetitive and narrow-view of college life. He’s right and my respect for him trumps my gut beliefs about the state of college affairs. I do intend to make a serious effort to moderate my position or to do my very best to present the other side.


Lastly is our crazy neighbor. He is literally disturbed and has been terrorizing the neighborhood AND his own family for years. The police do nothing and we seem powerless as well. They told us to install complete video surveillance and perhaps we can get something done when he trespasses and/or does damage to our property. We spent $4,000 on a system.

The sum total of these recent events – all relatively normal in life – is that I’m mad as hell. I’m on edge. I’m irritated. I want to run away. I haven’t felt like this in a long time. My go-to instinct when I was my older son’s age was always to “run away.” That was my strategy when I was in a relationship that wasn’t working out or I wanted to exit. Brave and effective.

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Heck, I transferred colleges three times in three years! Hello? Who am I to be critical of my moody older son? Who am I to be irritated by my anal-compulsive wife who just wants to do her job as “our” realtor? As for my health issues, who am I to be ungrateful that I’ve even lived this long when truly great men died well before my age. Men like JFK and George Gershwin.

Well, it’s my life and it’s me who’s living it. I believe attitude is the only thing we can control so this reaction to this sum total of my recent life events is within my control. I’ll get over it. Maybe I need a “time out?” Maybe I should take a short hiatus away from my family. Heck, maybe they need a hiatus from me? What would you suggest?

Funny dog

Postscript: It’s about 48 hours after I wrote this column. My root canal didn’t go that badly. My sons both reached out to me, and my wife actually smiled at me (once) so things are turning around. Reminds me why we NEVER should act in the moment, especially out of anger. Most things can wait a day or two and then they look a bit different…

anger management


  • jack43

    All of this sounds like normal background static (what we call life). I’ve survived more years of it than you and yet have nothing to offer except in once instance. I too had a “bad” neighbor and was driven to beg the assistance of “peace” officers. When I learned that they couldn’t protect me from my neighbor, I embraced the corollary: They couldn’t protect my neighbor from me. Being a creative individual, I succeeded where my neighbor failed and he departed the neighborhood.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Perhaps you can do some consulting work with my neighbor @jack43:disqus ????

  • Mei

    Hope all is better already! Had a good Dad’s day eventually?

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @disqus_mAYzV8PM6A:disqus – I actually had my worst Father’s Day ever – long story – but today is a new day!

  • ginavalley

    Been there, my friend. Life can be so overwhelming! My saving grace is remembering that “it came to pass.” This phase, the bad, the good, the whatever, will pass. It always does.

    And, yes, sometimes time away from one’s family can do wonders. Not because we don’t love them. Because we do.

    I hope you feel joy soon.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Yes @ginavalley:disqus – “This too shall pass” applies to the bad AND the good in life…a good phrase to keep in mind!

  • paulakiger

    Definitely feeling your pain, Bruce! I think you’ve done one important thing – shared your feelings/needs with others so we can lend a bit of support. Take care!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx @paulakiger:disqus – as @ginavalley:disqus said so well, “This too shall pass!” – the irony is I had the WORST Father’s Day ever – another blog sometime, perhaps…

  • NoelleNotNoel

    Wow. That’s a lot of stuff to be dealing with. Like your postscript said, give it a day and things usually change. I will say that putting off medical issues only males things worse in the long run. Often times, one issue leads to another when not addressed. I had my eyes opened to that a couple years ago. Chin up, take a deep breath, and keep moving forward. 🙂

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx @NoelleNotNoel:disqus – I’m doing fine (medically) but sadly the sh*t hit the fan with a family member so I’m back into the mess (again)…but “This too shall pass” I’m sure!

      • NoelleNotNoel

        Oh no! That’s no fun. I hope it sorts itself out quickly.

  • http://www.profkrg.com Kenna Griffin

    You need to hug your dog.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I’d rather hug you @krgriffin:disqus !!!

  • David Weber

    Sounds like a really bad patch. I most recently went through one last fall. Mine are not so intense, though, because they are built from smaller irritations, i.e., they don’t have to do with selling a house (I’m not selling my house at present), or with close family relationships as significant as one with wife or moody offspring (I have none of the above). For anyone reading this comment, I am the professor in question. Bruce got mistreated by the institution where his son studied–if I could have wished anyone to have had a fulfilling experience in that situation, it would be Bruce, primarily because he is my friend and I am not happy when a friend gets hurt.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      The old saw that “this too shall pass” is ALWAYS true in my experience as things seem SO MUCH BETTER than when I wrote this post! I wish YOU had been at my son’s college, David as he’d have someone there who REALLY cares…