Note from Tina: One Mom’s Battle has many faces and its my honor to share them with you. My healing comes from sharing my story and from hearing your stories. There is power in numbers and our numbers are growing. It is my hope that this little “village” will be one strong voice which provides education to our court system and most importantly, brings change to our Family Court System.
This week’s story is much different from the others. This story takes place 30 years ago and the author is a 43 year old man. His father was a diagnosed Narcissist and this is his story of what it was like for him to grow up with someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
One Mom’s Battle Has Many Faces: Here is Face #21
My Father: Like most narcissists, my father saw other people, especially his children, as extensions of himself. Over and over, he would tell us that we had his hands, his musical ability, his whatever. That would have
been OK if there had been something else to balance it, but there was never much curiosity about who we really were or wanted to be. He would try to share aspects of his life with us, such as playing music, or sports, or one of the programs he was connected to as part of his job at the Parks Department. To be fair, I remember some trips to museums that had gone well, and through my father I learned to appreciate the diversity of New York City. But even those efforts at sharing were hampered by his lack of teaching ability and his failure to understand what it meant to be a child.
Music lessons could have been a bonding experience but instead were an engine of frustration. Sports were worse. I don’t think that my father understood that my tiny fingers could barely grip the football, much less throw it. Basketball was worse. I was just too young for an adult-sized hoop. So my attempts rarely even *reached* the rim. Arc and accuracy were far beyond my capabilities, but my father insisted that I keep trying. It took years for me to realize that I liked basketball. I just needed to be physically developed enough to play.
Opposition: In those experiences and others, I remember opposition. When I was sick and wanted to stay home from school, he was convinced that I was faking. He would tell jokes and play little mind games, but we were the targets and not his comrades. When we would compete in a game, my father had to win.
It Gets Worse. Much Worse: After a few years of dysfunctional but generally tolerable weekend parenting, my father pressed for joint custody of all four of his children. Opposing him were my mother, all four of said children, the court-appointed lawyer chosen to represent the interests of said children, every court-appointed psychologist who looked at the facts, and, eventually, the trial judge. Although my father said more than once that this opposition was based on naked prejudice against fathers, the facts just weren’t on his side. The kids didn’t want him to have joint custody because he just wasn’t very good at taking care of children. That by itself was enough to make it clear that my mother should have primary custody, and even if the inadequacy of those skills were not abundantly clear, my father’s personality was a clear disqualifier. There are plenty of hard decisions in life, but this just wasn’t one of them.
A reasonable person in my father’s position would have accepted that the children wanted to be with the parent that had actually taken care of them for their entire lives as opposed to someone who was clearly out of his depth. This reasonable person might have recognized that he wasn’t going to
get joint custody and tried to make the best of it. Plenty of people in this kind of situation find a way to grow meaningful connections with their children. For some people, this state of affairs might even provoke some self-reflection, perhaps some acknowledgement of their shortcomings and maybe even a commitment to self-improvement. But that wasn’t going to happen with my father. The same qualities that got him where he was also guaranteed that it was going to get worse. Much worse.
My father had an unshakable belief in himself and was completely unwilling (or maybe incapable) of considering the possibility that he was in the wrong. He still looked for explanations for why life wasn’t turning out the way he wanted, but those explanations were based on the bedrock premise that he was essentially correct in every way. As things got worse, self-reflection never came. Instead, the explanations got more complex, far-fetched, and bizarre. For example, the kids believed that their mother was better at taking care of them. That cannot be true, and so the kids must be brainwashed. The children’s lawyer agrees with the mother, so she must be corrupt. A court decision goes against him, so they must be biased against fathers, and so on. Later, a psychologist would diagnose him as paranoid, but I think that if he was, it was only because the belief that people were out to get him was the only way for him to explain what happened to him while maintaining his self-image.
Having a father who believes that you have been brainwashed against him makes it somewhat difficult. But what really made it intolerable was my father’s all-or–nothing mentality. One of my lasting memories of my father was a musical performance in a park in NYC. He was singing “Which side are
you on?” To him, that was always the question. You had to be on one side or the other, so which was it?
Here are a few things that I never heard my father say:
“You know, there are really two sides to that argument.”
“I can understand why you feel that way.”
“I don’t think that this is worth fighting over.”
With my father, there were no minor disagreements. Every fight was a fight to the death, and if you “crossed” him, you would be branded a betrayer at least until you begged for forgiveness. His children could not avoid “betrayer” status unless they supported him in court. But there was no way
that we were going to do that, and so we were traitors. Well, brainwashed traitors, but still traitors. Not just us, either. His brother, my uncle, also spoke against him after the divorce, and they have not spoken
since. He was estranged from his parents. When he saw his father on his deathbed, his father could not speak, but my father reported that there was anger in his eyes. His relationship with his mother was even worse, and any hope of reconciliation was dashed when she failed to support him appropriately during the custody fight. He insisted that she cut us (her grandchildren) out of her will, and made this a precondition for having any relationship with him. To her credit, she refused.
So the list of betrayers was long. Of course, even if all of us had gone along with the joint custody plan, that would not have been enough. In time, my father demanded full custody, which made sense to him given my mother and stepfather’s status as evil incarnate. As you might guess, he wasn’t exactly suffering in silence during these disputes. And, as those of you who know me might guess, I wasn’t about to back down either, even at a young age.
My sister, was just as defiant, and as my younger brothers got older, they joined the fray, though my sister and I took the brunt of it. Actually, as bad as it was for me, my sister had it worse. I can’t do justice to it here, but the viciousness of my father’s attacks had to be heard to be believed. It could not have been easy for her to hear her father call her crazy for hours on end. As the oldest son (and he was constantly reminding me that I was the oldest son of an oldest son, I think he saw me as some kind of continuation of himself. But my sister was the other. In time, he would drop his demand for custody of her, focusing on the three boys instead. For my sister, this must have been a relief, even though it was also the ultimate insult.
Our visits with our father had become a series of multi-hour fights of a most personal nature. I had come to accept that it was never going to be any different. Still, as one grows up, one takes a second look at people and experiences that were once dismissed, and so when I was 12 or so I asked my father to take another shot at teaching me to play music. I thought that playing music would be a great thing to be able to do, and maybe I could use the experience to have some kind of connection with my father. He agreed to teach me, but within a few weeks told me that he wouldn’t teach me any more until I “started to say the right things in court.” I didn’t really know it at the time, but this was the last straw. I realized that compromise was impossible. I would never be able to have a relationship with my father unless I became completely subservient to him. I wasn’t going to do that, and so when the custody fight reached the trial stage, I told the psychologists, the lawyers, and the judge that I never wanted to see my father again. I was told that I couldn’t possibly mean that or even understand what that meant, but I did. Despite my age, I convinced them all that knew exactly what I was saying and that I meant
It was only as an adult that I became aware of the narcissism diagnosis, although I was certainly aware of the symptoms at the time. Psychological diagnosis is a tricky thing, to say the least. Once
someone is labeled with a particular disorder, their behavior is often filtered through the lens of that label. One of my college roommates described me to his mother, a psychologist, who decided that I must have a Napoleon complex. (I’m short, BTW.) While I have dreamed of world conquest
from time to time, I think that might have been a hasty diagnosis. Then again, maybe not . . .
Anyway, I describe my father as a narcissist now because all of his behavior fits that description and probably helps to communicate something of the experience. Not all narcissists are the same, but if you know something of the problem then you know something about my father.
Please submit your story (less than 900 words) to Tina@thePRdiva.com- I welcome all stories from Narcissistic survivors. If you are divorcing a narcissist then I want to hear from you.
Please “Like” One Mom’s Battle on Facebook or Follow me on Twitter @onemomsbattle.com
To Purchase “Tina’s Tips”, click here.