It’s been a good month since I wrote you… not for lack of things to tell you, I assure you. I just haven’t had the gumption to sit down and get it all out, I guess. Been going through a lot. After a second go at our relationship and some counseling, it didn’t work out with me and my sweetie. I was so hopeful that we’d successfully work through things so I’m still struggling a lot and I still think about him every single day. But by the end, it felt as if he didn’t see any of my good qualities anymore and instead saw only the areas where I openly admitted I needed some improvement. I started to not like myself anymore and that really made me sad so I chose to end things. It hurt like a mother fucker, but I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize anymore and it felt like the right thing to do. I look forward to the day when I can really move on and when I won’t get weepy thinking about all the amazing times we had together because there were so, so many of them and I’m really grateful for that. I’ll always remember those times very fondly and I wish him much happiness.
Also on the relationship front…Mom and dad’s divorce is final; has been for a few months now. But as of the first week of September, Mom has finally been in her own place! She’s now renting a duplex in Red Wing and is doing really well! You should know that she’s been keeping very busy seeing all her friends and getting visitors nearly every single day and she has such an amazing support system. And the best news? Her friends have been regularly telling her how nice it is to see that “old spark” back in her eyes. How’s that for good news??
I talk to her most every single day and it’s good to hear the “perk” in her voice. I haven’t talk to dad in a long time, though. That shouldn’t surprise you much, I’d assume. He virtually never called me but would get on the phone sometimes when I was talking to Mom. If he were to ever call, it would be because he wanted something. You and I spoke about that all the time; the only time you’d hear from him was when he wanted you to come fix the computer for him or he wanted your help carving pumpkins and it bothered you. A lot. I’ve tried explaining it to him but he just doesn’t understand. I remember years ago Mark and I had driven from Minneapolis down to Red Wing to have dinner with you all one evening. We had literally just walked in the door and before so much as a “hello” or “how are you doing?” or “how was the drive?” or “good to see you” I was greeted by him pushing a 3-ring binder at me with a stern look on his face and saying, “Laura, you need to read this. It’s a collection of my editorials to the newspaper and letters I’m writing to government officials about the war.” I pushed it back to him and said, “No. I’m not reading this. You didn’t even say hello or ask us how we were doing before you told us what WE could do for YOU. I’m not interested.”
That might sound harsh… but I’m done thinking of it in that way. And I’m done sugar-coating things– after all, it’s my story to tell. He was upset at me for doing that and said, “You don’t care about this stuff, it’s important, Laura! You need to care about it!” The thing is… how do you expect other people to care about your cause and your writings when you don’t seem to care about them as a person? If I told him I wasn’t interested in hearing it, he completely martyred himself to the cause. When I suggested him possibly helping out around the house more often or get a part-time job so Mom wasn’t so stressed with still working full-time, teaching piano lessons in the evenings and still trying to take care of much of the housework, yard work and shopping he said he felt “god” has kept him alive for the mission of spreading peace to the world and that his activism WAS his job and that he was totally prepared to lose friends,family and even his life for god’s purpose for him. To get an actual job would mean taking time away from the activism; and that to not do that work would be an “act of defiance” against god. I still don’t understand that at all… because being more present (emotionally and physically) for your family and friends and the activism do not need to be mutually exclusive.
I wrote a semi-ambiguous post about dads and daughters some time back. I chose to leave it “somewhat” ambiguous out of fear of being hurtful… but the thing is, nothing I said there was untrue… and, as I said before, anything that happens to me leaves a story that is mine alone to tell from my perspective and will continue to try and honor that. If you recall, one thing I brought up in that letter was how you and I were exposed to sexual displays and conversations what were inappropriate for anyone to see or have with their parents… at any age, let alone as a child who is learning how to develop healthy boundaries, a healthy sense of self and a healthy sexuality. For instance, dad would stand behind Mom as she sat at the kitchen table across from you and I at dinner and put his hand down the front of her shirt and down the inside of her bra to grope at her breasts. As he did that, he would attempt to hold my gaze with a childish, devilish grin and say to me as I looked away, “What, Laura? What’s wrong? What am I doing to Mommy? She likes this, see? She likes it.” Or when we were watching a movie and a sex scene would come on, he didn’t change the channel (even though I was too young to be seeing it) but I do remember on multiple occasions him noticing my discomfort and saying, “Geez, Laura. What’s happening there? What’s he doing to that lady? What’s he doing to her?” (As if sex wasn’t something mutual shared between two loving adults but rather something being “inflicted” upon the woman?) I could go on and on with examples of those kinds of things in addition to him confiding in you and I as young kids when he and Mom were fighting or not having sex… using us as a sounding board as if we were equipped to handle that kind of discussion at that age. And with a parent, to boot.
I finally, a few years ago, had the courage to mention these things to him and tell him how they affected me and it made no difference. In fact, some of what was said to me was, “I don’t know why you’re going on about your childhood like this.” And “I’m sorry if you think I was a bad father.” And when I asked him not to reach out to me any longer regarding intimacy issues in their marriage and said it wasn’t appropriate his response to me was, “Quite frankly I am just a little more than offended that affection always equates sex. Maybe you have not learned that and if you haven’t I feel sad for you. There I had to say that, sorry.”
Really? Where do you suppose that I learned those blurred lines about boundaries? Was it as Mom was standing at the stove cooking dinner and he went over to her, stuck his hand inside the front of her pants and said to me, “What am I doing to Mommy, Laura?” Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was when he would tell me dirty jokes. Or when he’d see a woman in a skimpy outfit and say to me, “Gee, she sure is pretty. See that? She must really want people to look at her wearing something like that, right? But she’s pretty, isn’t she? Geez, look at how big her boobs are…Do you want to grow up to look like her someday?” I wasn’t one of his locker room buddies, I was an impressionable girl trying to learn how to feel about myself, about my body and about what I could expect out of a relationship with a man.
A few other responses I’ve received from him include: “It may all be true but there is nothing I can do about it.” And, “Move on. Stop living in the past.” And, my personal favorite: “This world is so full of hate because people cannot move on with their lives and leave the past in the past. We would have peace in the world if that were true. We need to reconcile and do it often. Nelson Mandela who just died was the epitome of being able to reconcile and that is his greatest achievement. After being persecuted and tortured for 27 years in prison he found peace in his heart and then healed his country. That is what reconciliation can do.” See what he did there? Turned it around into a lecture supporting his cause. He also once said, “You may be right, I did all those things. I didn’t like that person very much, that’s why I tried to kill him. I’m not the same person.” (Referring to his failed suicide attempt.) That was an odd way to phrase it, if you ask me. It brings up a few things: first, speaking in the “third person” distances him from the actions as though it were “someone else” and he can’t be held responsible. And second, saying he “tried to kill that person” is yet another way to dodge guilt by looking for sympathy. Neither of which is an actual apology. And the thing is… a truly different person would have admitted to the mistakes and wrongdoings and apologize for them… not turn it on the person who they hurt to begin with.
I Googled “apologies from narcissists” recently and wasn’t terribly shocked that what came up was so similar to previous “apologies.” Some examples:
- I’m sorry you feel that way.
- I’m sorry that happened.
- I apologize for trying.
- I apologize for being human.
- I’m sorry you see things that way.
These aren’t real apologies. They don’t show that the person takes any ownership of their behavior… as if they are blameless for their actions. To me, a genuine apology should include a confession of guilt and a sense that the person actually feels regret or remorse for having been hurtful. I’ve heard, “You already said that, why are you saying this again?” To which I should have responded, “Perhaps I’m saying it again because I want to feel as though you are genuinely sorry for doing or saying something that hurt me.” But a narcissist is not capable of providing empathy to those they have hurt because to do so would be an admission of guilt and they cannot do that; it will always be someone else’s fault. When I spoke to dad about how you and I often felt “ignored” by him growing up his response could have been, “I’m so sorry I hurt you. I love you kids and I never wanted you to feel neglected or disregarded or unimportant.” But instead his response was, “Well you and Brian never wanted to talk to me so why should I have even tried??” Again, see what he did there? The blame was turned back around on us. The thing is… there was a lot happening to lead up to that– the reason you and I didn’t talk to him much was because he didn’t pay attention to us when we DID talk and didn’t respect our boundaries. A TV show was too important for us to interrupt long enough to show him a good grade on a school project. He rarely came to any of our football games, cross country meets, choir or band concerts… but Mom came to nearly everything. He’d manage to get out of it by saying, “You don’t really need daddy to go to this thing tonight, do you? Daddy’s really tired and there’s a football game on tonight.” That put us in a position of feeling bad asking him to go because we knew he didn’t really want to be there. Or we could have begged him to come… which would have just been humiliating. So he usually just didn’t come. But by getting us to give him “permission” not to go, I guess he found a loophole. Mom admitted to me that she tended to spoil us with money and material things we wanted in an effort to compensate for the lack of connection and attention we received from dad… I still struggle with that a lot yet today. I often find myself attempting to self-soothe with shopping to this day. I’m working on that.
Regarding the lack of boundaries, it wasn’t just the sexual or suggestive things. I can’t even recall the number of times this scenario happened to one or both of us: I remember studying and trying to work on my homework and dad would come up and do something to bother or tease me, such as tugging on my ponytail or poking at my back or arm or book or something. I’d say, “Please don’t… I’m trying to study.” He’d continue. I’d say it again, “Please… I’m busy.” Yet he’d continue. I’d say it yet again, “Please, dad. Knock it off… I really need to get this done.” But no matter how many times I’d ask him to stop he’d keep going until I finally got upset and shouted, “DAD, PLEASE! I’M TRYING TO WORK!” That infuriated him and resulted in him screaming, “GODDAMNIT!! I can’t even talk to you damn kids, is that how it’s going to be? Is it?? Fine, you don’t ever have to talk to me again. I get it!!!” So…. see what happened there? He didn’t respect our boundaries when we’d politely ask him to stop… and when we got angry at him for repeatedly not respecting those boundaries it was somehow our fault and he was the victim.
So Brian, have you gained any knowledge about life and relationships on the other side? I’d ask you, how do you forgive someone who won’t ever think they’ve done anything wrong?
I so wish you were still here so we could sit and talk about all of these things over pizza and beer and support one another… you’re the only person who truly understands what all of this felt like and now you’re gone. In your absence, writing these letters and pretending that I’m talking to you has helped me heal in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.