I really should have been prepared for it, but somehow the moment still blindsided me. Perhaps it was because my brother’s funeral had ended only 30 minutes prior and I was standing, massively pregnant and completely exhausted, at his wake. I hadn’t yet processed it–still haven’t–how a relatively young and healthy man just drops dead. I was still numb when the family friend approached me with the requisite platitudes and hug.
But then she started the conversation I should have known was inevitable.
“I was talking to your dad…”
I immediately tensed, and listened, stony eyed, as she told me how worried he was about me, and how I really should talk to him, how he was hurting. I was relieved to get called away to handle some minor detail with the food we were serving so I didn’t have to respond, because how could I?
Could I tell her that my dad had disowned me–for the fourth time in eight years–two weeks prior for having the audacity to point out that he’d made no attempt to see my son in nine months? That, like everything else, he claimed his lack of involvement was solidly my fault?
Should I show her the myriad emails in which he called me an evil bitch, told me I was going to hell, strongly implied that my mother knew I never loved her for any number of slights against him, real or perceived?
How could I explain that my father had been physically and emotionally abusive to all of his children behind closed doors for our entire lives, and that the brother he now so publicly mourned had borne the brunt of it?
As I scurried off to handle whatever needed fixing, I got very, very mad. I’ve known this woman for most of my life, and I know she thought she was helping heal the family rift that I am sure my father presented in a compelling way. However, what she was doing was being manipulated and feeding into the behavior of a narcissist. What she was doing is something no one should do–involving themselves in someone else’s family business.
I can understand the temptation; from the outside, it may seem like some silly thing is holding apart people you love. However, a true understanding of a family’s dynamics is not something you can get from the outside—it takes a lifetime. No matter how well-intentioned you are, unless you are part of the family, don’t fucking comment or involve yourself.
More than ten years ago, I decided to start keeping my distance from my father. It was not a decision I came to lightly, but one that became necessary for my mental health. My father exhibits all of the traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Rumor has it he may even have been officially diagnosed with it, but refuses to believe that (because HELLO CLICHÉ).
If you’ve never known someone with NPD, then you cannot possibly understand what it is like to deal with one, much less be parented by one. Even as a grandfather, my father is simply incapable of putting anyone above himself. He has an uncanny ability to warp a situation to fit his narrative, which pits him as the victim and anyone who questions his horrible behavior (me) as the villain. And he can be so fucking convincing if you don’t know him well. I try to be respectful and not air our dirty laundry to mutual friends and acquaintances, but when I do have to occasionally admit that I’ve decided not to have a relationship with him, the baffled responses are always the same.
“But that’s you’re dad…” Yep, but biology sure as hell doesn’t make him love me enough not to call me horrible names when no one is looking.
“He never got over your mother’s death.” Nope, he didn’t. I haven’t either, but I somehow cope without verbally abusing people.
“I’m worried he might kill himself.” Welcome to his trump card! He’s been threatening to kill himself for literally my entire life. I wrote a story about suicide in second grade because it was such a familiar concept to me (and earned a day in the school counselor’s office for it). Suicide is my dad’s go-to when he wants attention, because it works.
The difficulty with someone with NPD is that, outwardly, they can be very charming. When I had friends over, my dad was always delightful–the fun dad. When they left, the screaming and hitting began. He would dote and fuss on my mom when he had an audience and then yell and rant as soon as they left. Maybe I should have been more open with people about what my home life was like so our lack of relationship wasn’t a shock. Maybe I should have been more open about the abuse.
But my end game now is not to expose my dad; it is to get left the hell alone about him. This is why I have such rage when people approach to try and help heal our relationship. Honey, that shit is beyond salvaging.
So why is it so hard to keep people from jumping in? Unless you’re very close to a family and know the situation inside and out, why would you insert yourself? Sure, not every family contains someone with NPD, but every family has baggage, and at least some portion of it is fair and earned, so why would you question? If someone tries to pull you in, you can politely listen, but don’t get involved. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.
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