Bringing My Violent Temper Under Control
SMASH! With a sweep of the hand my father sent the man’s glass spinning to the floor. There was a yell of protest, some pushing and shoving, then—swish! The man’s fist landed squarely on my father’s face and his face began streaming with blood. I sprang to my father’s help. Others joined in the fight. Soon that French café was the scene of a free-for-all. Glasses were smashed, chairs flew and tables were broken. Informed of the brawl, the police were quickly on the spot. For me the mere sight of a uniform was like a bull seeing the red muleta. I charged, fists flying. Three of the police were laid out before I was overcome, and my father and I were led off handcuffed to the local police station.
On that Saturday back in March 1953, my father and I had left home to do some shopping. We met some friends from work and ended up making the rounds of the local cafés. Father got drunk and soon we both were involved in that fight. The next day our names appeared in the newspaper under the headline “Father and Son Pick Quarrel Among Customers—Three Policemen Seriously Injured.” We were sent to prison for a month, and it took us a full year to pay off the fine.
That was just one episode that could have led me to a life of violence. But I have since learned to control my violent temper. How? First, let me tell you something about my background and how I developed such a temper.
Like Father, Like Son
I was born in Le Mans (western France) in 1929, the year the Great Depression hit the United States and then western Europe. There was much unemployment in France during the early 1930’s. My father—a bricklayer—was a good worker; so he managed to find work on building sites. As the economic situation got worse, he became interested in politics, trade unions and workers’ claims. He became aggressive and began drinking heavily.
When my father came home, often very late at night, my mother would have to put up with his terrible fits of temper, which frequently led to her being beaten, and dishes and furniture being broken. Saturday evenings were particularly hard on us, because it was the weekly payday. Mother would put my sister and me to bed, and we would often tremble while waiting for him to come home—drunk! Sometimes he would go out hunting, and he and his friends would come home drunk, firing their shotguns into the air.
Not surprisingly, I grew up to be hot-tempered, brutal and selfish. One day, after I had been on an escapade with a friend, my father confiscated my bicycle and locked it up in a shed. Overhearing a conversation between my father and one of his friends who asked for the bicycle for his son, I managed to break into the shed, took a big ax and smashed the bike, burying the pieces in the garden. Needless to say, when my father found out, he gave me a good beating.
Among the young hoodlums in our area I became a “big shot,” always willing to give advice to those who were up to some mischief. One of our pranks was to disturb vespers (a service of evening worship) by unexpectedly ringing the church bells or by throwing stones on a nearby tin roof. In my own way, I was following my father’s example. He made a nuisance of himself and was feared, and I was doing the same.
Becoming a Boxer
In the meantime, I left school and became an apprentice to a cabinetmaker. In March 1945, just before the end of World War II, my mother died of cancer. She had had a hard life, deprived of the love and happiness most women seek. Her death was a great blow to me, and life became meaningless.
The things I had observed during the war did nothing to cure me of my taste for violence. So, by way of recreation, I chose to go in for boxing. At the gymnasium, I would give vent to my aggressiveness by hitting a punching bag or by sparring with a partner. I became a good boxer, eventually reaching the quarterfinals of the amateur championship of France.
My boxing abilities flattered my ego and helped me to overcome the inferiority complex I had developed as a result of my unhappy childhood. Apart from boxing, my main distraction was attending the village dances. With my chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, it seemed I would always find some “worthy cause” to defend, some “wrong” that needed righting. And I was always ready to pitch in and have a “good fight.”
A Violent Soldier and a Violent Husband
In 1950 I was drafted and found myself in Algeria with a uniform on my back. Here again, my violent temper only caused me trouble. For some petty reason I beat up a fellow soldier. I appeared before a group of officers, but only resorted to abuse and mockery. I was told that I was not the boss and that they would bring me to heel. I was thrown into a concrete cell for three weeks. Strangely enough, it was there that from another detainee I first heard the name “Jehovah.” This name stuck in my mind. After this I was sent to a disciplinary camp at Biskra, Algeria.
After I was released from the army, I came back to my former job at an automobile factory and took up boxing again, now with a professional permit. In 1952 I met the girl who later became my wife. But marriage did not alter my violent ways. On one occasion, I went out to buy some potatoes, but since I was gone a long time, my wife came to see what I was up to and caught sight of my bicycle outside a café. She came in crying and found me seated at a table with some rowdy friends. I followed her out, accompanied by jeers, but as soon as we got home I gave her a beating. People soon began advising my wife to leave me.
Our married life was also marred by loss of our first baby. Two years later my wife became pregnant again, but death struck once more. A Catholic nun tried to convince us that God needs many angels around him, but this was no comfort to us. In fact, it strengthened me in my conviction that there is no God. We were in the depths of despair and our marriage was heading for disaster.
Finding a Means for Controlling My Temper
One morning my father showed me a book he had obtained from one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I thumbed through it, but it did not arouse any interest in me, except that I noticed the name “Jehovah” and remembered having heard that name when I was in the army in Algeria. When the Witness returned to visit my father, I asked him to bring me a Bible, and I subscribed for the magazine Awake! Still being an active boxer, I was out nearly every time the Witness came back to see me, so finally I told him not to bother visiting me anymore. However, when my Awake! subscription expired, I renewed it.
Shortly afterward, my wife and I were visited by Antoine Branca, the presiding minister in the Le Mans Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. With his warm southern French accent, he explained God’s purposes and the resurrection hope. (Acts 24:15) My wife was particularly thrilled at the thought of seeing her two babies again, and also her 19-year-old brother whom she had lost. I was a little more reticent, but accepted a Bible study.
Of course, my newly acquired knowledge of the Bible did not miraculously affect my violent temper. After Antoine Branca left Le Mans to become a missionary in Madagascar, two other Witnesses came to study with us. My father noticed these visits and made fun of us. A quarrel broke out. I could see what was going to happen, and my father was a big man. So I hit him before he hit me. I floored him with one blow! But I felt very much ashamed. When he picked himself up, he turned us out of the house that we had built together. My wife was pregnant, and here we were without a place to live. All because of my violent temper!
My wife’s parents kindly took us in and even agreed for us to continue studying the Bible with the Witnesses, hoping it might help me to change my ways. Shortly after this our daughter Katrina was born. This made me very happy, but I still felt the need to box. I was torn between my violent personality and the Bible principles I was learning. A fight was going on within me, and to let off steam I would take it out on my boxing opponent. But to ease my conscience, I would let my opponent strike first. Yet something inside prevented me from hitting the way I had in the past. One day the Witness who was studying with me put it to me bluntly—boxing was not the type of sport that would help me to control my temper. I finally decided to give it up.
Some time before this, we had to move because our little Katrina was growing up. So one day I decided to visit my father to make peace. I wanted to ask if he could sell me the little wooden house that we had built together so I could transfer it to another piece of land. He was glad to see me and to meet his granddaughter, whom he had never seen. He was happy to note the changes I had made and even helped me to rebuild the house. I think that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ politeness and sincerity made a good impression on him. Later, he even agreed for some Witnesses to place their tents and trailers on his land during one of their assemblies.
Another Fight Was Just Beginning
I attended my first assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1957. It was in an old circus building in Paris, the Cirque d’Hiver. In view of my violent disposition, the peacefulness and quiet joy of those in attendance impressed me most. Many came up to me and said “Bonjour,” even calling me “Frère” (Brother). I explained all of this to my wife when I got back home. Later that same year, my wife and I dedicated our lives to Jehovah and we were baptized on November 23, 1957.
True, I had given up boxing, but now I had another fight on my hands—the fight against my “old personality.” (Eph. 4:22) As it became known that I was now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I lost many of my former friends. (1 Pet. 4:4) Some of the men with whom I worked made fun of my newfound faith. One day, as they jeered at me, I lost my temper and beat them all up. I won the fight against them, but I lost the fight against my violent temper.—Rom. 7:18-23.
However, in time and with the help of God’s spirit and of fellow Witnesses, I gradually made progress in my fight to bring my violent temper under control. Eventually I gained the confidence of my Christian brothers and was recommended to serve as presiding overseer of the Le Mans Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Constant Vigilance Needed
My constant efforts to develop self-control at first affected my health. I had trouble with my nerves and became afflicted with psoriasis. For this and other reasons, in November 1965 we moved to Grenoble, a city in the French Alps. Since being here my health has improved greatly.
I still have the privilege of serving as a Christian elder. However, I do have to beware of the danger of slipping back into my violent ways. I remember that on one occasion, while I was making house-to-house calls to discuss the Bible, a man began shouting at me and insulting me, banging the door with his fists. My old violent reactions welled up inside of me. I stepped back and clenched my fists, ready to strike. Then a feeling of shame came over me. Fortunately the man calmed down and I was able to take leave of him quietly. I thanked Jehovah for his protection against the man—and myself!
On another occasion, a lawyer upon whom I called became violent and went to get a gun, threatening to shoot me if I did not leave right away. I surprised myself by calmly replying: “Au revoir, Monsieur, I will move on to speak to your neighbors.” What a difference from the way I would have reacted a few years ago!
After the birth of Katrina, my wife and I had two sons, and the five of us have been able to lead a happy, peaceful life as a Christian family.
Although I often used to “see red,” the study and the personal application of God’s Word have helped me. I believe that if I had appreciated that source of help sooner, I would have progressed faster. One particular point impressed me a great deal: Jehovah’s power. Perhaps this was because of my fighting spirit. I learned that no one can oppose God’s strength with impunity. Jehovah was now my real “manager,” the One I needed. He was able to provide me with an unfailing “guard” with which to protect myself, and accurate knowledge to give “punch” to the Kingdom message—but without doing any harm! I really do thank Jehovah, for he has allowed me, through his Word and with the help of his witnesses, to bring my violent temper under control.—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 18]
“I was always ready to pitch in and have a ‘good fight’”
[Blurb on page 19]
‘I still have to beware of slipping back into my violent ways’
[Picture on page 17]
To give vent to my violent temper, I became a boxer