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Dear Chump Lady, My son keeps confronting his cheating father

Hi Chump Lady,

Here’s my situation: I was married thirteen years to a tax attorney who lived a double life. To all of us he appeared like a devoted family man committed to his Catholic faith. In reality he had multiple affairs and lied about our finances. This all came out after our divorce when this then ex-girlfriend called me out of spite and told me what she uncovered about my ex (mind you she’s a lawyer too). Yes, I was stunned. And I’m not an idiot. Let me repeat: I was stunned. So was my family, neighbors, etc.

So this is today’s problem: my husband and I have five children from the ages of 13 to 6 yrs. I’m the primary caregiver and was rewarded the house. I’m currently finishing my PhD and my finances are all in order. By no small miracle our kids are doing exceptionally well emotionally, academically, and spiritually. Their days are basically filled with kids activities—play dates, sports, etc. I’m very proud of our post-divorce life as I worked hard to maintain “normalcy” and thankfully have an extraordinary support system of smart, kind folks helping us out (and we’re helping them too). As for my ex and kids visitation with him, well, it’s a nightmare. He’s basically trying to maintain the holier-than thou, I am a perfect dad in front of the kids and the larger community and it ain’t cutting it. In fact, he’s full of anxiety and as a result excessively punishing the kids and making their lives miserable every-other weekend.

My approach is to be straight-up with the kids about their dad’s hypocrisy and to not “sugar coat” his lies. This was advice I got from a clinical psychologist who met my kids and their dad and said he was a hopeless case and would never change. The psychologist’s advice was always to tell the kids’ the truth about their dad—no matter how ugly—as it would empower them and they would know they could ultimately trust me as a truth-teller.

Up until this point, I’ve done this but lately my 13 year old has taken it upon himself to tell his dad he knows the truth about him and this has caused my ex to become more and more violent with him. This worries me considerably and I’ve asked our son not to agitate so much, but he argues that he must in order to fight against his father’s hypocrisy and lies. In fact I think our son is getting stronger, more self-assured each time he confronts his dad and nails him to the wall.

Would you agree? I ask because I obviously have no perspective here. But with the limited information I gave you would you agree that a child of a cheater can find it restorative to confront their father for his past—and current–betrayals or is this simply wishful thinking? My perception is that my son is getting stronger and more confident. Granted he’s an honor student and a star athlete in his own right, but my gut feeling is this confrontation is good and healthy for him—whereas for me conformation with my ex is pointless and never an option. I’ve run like heck from my ex and count my blessings every day I don’t have to see or deal with him.


Dear Elizabeth,

No. I don’t think it’s a good thing for your son to confront his father at age 13. He may as well try shaming a door post. Only a door post wouldn’t get violent with him. These encounters are not “restorative” — they are abusive.

He’s 13. I know from teenage boys. (We’ve had a few here at Che Chump.) They love nothing better than to sniff out hypocrisy and speak truth to power. Only generally speaking it’s along the lines of “Well YOU didn’t like chemistry EITHER, did YOU?!” or rebelling against the oppressive expectations of Finished Homework and Clean Bedrooms.

Generally teenagers rebel because they want a different answer than the one they’re getting. Yes, suck it up Buttercup, you have to take AP chemistry. Sorry kid, the room must be clean before you go out. Your son, IMO, is rebelling against his father because he doesn’t trust that he sucks. He wants his father to explain himself. And then when he tries his holier than thou shit, your son wants to pounce on that with the facts. EXPLAIN THIS THEN!

We chumps have all been there. It’s a form of untangling the skein of fuckupedness. Engaging with the cheater, demanding accountability. It’s utterly pointless. And very painful.

You’ve gone no contact with the ex. Sounds like the kids don’t have that luxury. Although I would argue as a teenagers, they don’t have to see him. They’re old enough to decide for themselves. And if your ex wants to enforce visitation, your son simply has to tell a judge what happens when he visits his father — his father gets violent with him. I would document what’s happening and consult a lawyer, frankly. The younger kids are probably not at the age of consent (I think it varies from state to state). But if by violent you mean physically violent, hell YES I’d get the courts involved.

I would worry too that your son may feel at some level that he’s fighting by proxy, for you. You’ve gone no contact, but a fight with his dad is still a relationship, even if it’s an antagonistic one. He tells you about the fights, puts a spin on them (or you do) that they increase his confidence and make him stronger. You bond over it, he feels like your protector. Let him know you’re OKAY. You don’t need this from him.

You say these encounters make him feel stronger. Maybe they do. I’m not your son. But I know that my fights with a double-life-leading narcissist wing nut were EXHAUSTING. Enraging. Painful. They didn’t make me feel stronger, they gave me the shakes. I got stress illnesses, ground my teeth at night, broke out in weird rashes, had nightmares. There’s no way I would subject a kid to that level of abusive mindfuckery. Your son is 13. Your ex has had years to perfect his disordered raging. Your son is a kid. It’s David and Golliath. No child should have to enter that arena.

My son has a mentally ill father. This is what I tell him — this is not your fault. The way he behaves toward you is not your fault. You didn’t make him this way. You can’t control it and not only is it not your job to fix him, it’s impossible. You’re setting yourself up for sorrow if you hope otherwise. I’m sorry you don’t get to have the sort of relationship other young men have with their fathers, that is close and supportive. Grieve that. But there are other people in your life who love you deeply and can be there for you in those ways.

He’ll have to figure this relationship out for himself. It may be that he can take his dad in small doses. It may be that they can enjoy — truly enjoy — small, superficial activities together. A ball game. A discussion about history. A hike outdoors. But realize that may be as deep as it goes. Don’t get broadsided and expect more. This may be all the narcissist is capable of.

It may be that he goes no contact on his father. Because any interaction will result in emotional or physical abuse. I’d get your son therapy on how to draw those boundaries.

This is all very sad, but the upside is he is learning these skills early — how not to be a chump. One of the first rules of not being a chump is don’t tangle with the skein. Stop confronting. Stop demanding an explanation. Stop giving your power to this person. Start focusing on yourself. Fortunately, adolescence is a pretty narcissistic age developmentally. Your son’s life will fill in and crowd out the centrality of his father and his father’s problems.

Be there for him. But don’t let him stay in a situation where this man hits him or rages at him. Get your son the therapy he needs to learn that this is who is father IS. When he accepts that, there’s nothing to say and nothing to fight about. And it’s your son’s choice if he wants to stick around and be provoked.

Ask Chump Lady

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  • I feel sad for your son because he is never going to get the truth anyway. My father was a serial cheater ( didn’t have that term in the 50’s and 60’s) we ( my sisters and I) never confronted him but over the years just ignored him. Dead now don’t even think about him.

  • In some sick way, my husband had decided that my youngest son was the one he could control and manipulate. Like yours at that time he was a high school athlete and as such tight/strong physically. Well one day stbx-we were separated- decided to pick on him and it resulted in a humiliating situation as my teenage son managed to subdue and pin him without one punch.
    It was freeing and liberating for all of my children, but later my son admitted he felt dirty stooping to the level of his dad. However his dad is much more civil to him. My son basically ignores him now. His dad is now reaching out to him it but they will never have a deep father/son relationship. God blessed him to have many other good relationships with men who showed their love in positive ways.

    Fighting between parents and children is never good and can result in loss of life. Teenage hormones and reactions with and abusive cheating dad is not a good mix! Mom need to step up.

  • I have lived through this with my oldest, who has dealt with a raging, sometimes violent, father during the divorce. He too raged at his father, demanded explanations, etc. I finally got him to agree to therapy and with the help of his excellent therapist he’s learned about boundaries and to honour his own feelings – which is essentially that he doesn’t particularly like being around his father because it stresses him out, makes him anxious and upsets him. So he sees his father once or twice a month for a meal or a movie and there are a few phone calls and texts but essentially he’s decided, at this point, that being around his father isn’t healthy for him.

    I stay out of it for the most part and only step in when the ex does something extra stupid – which is pointless, naturally, because ex’s default setting seems to be stupid 90% of the time when it comes to his kids. My older one has his father’s number and although he loves him he has very little respect for him. Which is a shame because my kids had a great relationship with their father – or thought they did – before DDay. Essentially they had the same relationship I had with ex: a false one built on what he was feeding us and what he wanted at that time. Now that he no longer wants that dynamic he gets pissed at the kids or anyone else who demands accountability. The kids have learned this – the younger one has his own way of dealing – and to be honest we’re much happier without him around.

  • Hey Elizabeth,

    I am in the same leaky boat with no oars, although DD and I have just moved a very long way away. She is not no contact with Mr Fabulous, but very limited. When she blows him off, I get blamed of course.

    What your kid is experiencing is cognitive dissonance- trying to believe two things at once:’Dad loves me more than anything’ and ‘Dad loves himself more than anything’. CL is right, kids cannot trust that they suck, because they still want to believe the old Disney bromide that you can love someone into being honest. DD expresses it this way, “I wish Dad was what I thought he was, but he never was.”

    Despite my telling her it isn’t about her, she still internalizes the pain of him shacking up with the Downgrade, putting himself first, and dissing me.

    Sounds though, like you are on it, and it sucks when a kid learns this about some people via a parent, in DD’s case, that a standing prick has no conscience. It really does, but you can’t live that lesson for them, any more than you could mend their first broken heart. That is just regular parenting, but magnified by an extreme situation. Depending on laws where you are, your son should not have to interact with him, and if there is physical violence, that is another reason.

    You wouldn’t tolerate a stranger doing this to your kid-is it possible to have supervised visits? Anyone hurts my baby girl, I will drink their blood, that includes her Dad, and grandparents and uncles, too (Narc family constellation). Kids that age have a pretty well-calibrated hypocrisy meter (DD is 14) -and it seems your son’s is working just fine. It is hard to parse out what is normal teenage rebellion, and what is trauma. You may be accused of parental alienation (largely discredited), but this sounds more like estrangement is in the pipeline. Sounds like your boy has good role models elsewhere, and a Mom astute enough to see what the issues are. Give yourself credit for that, Elizabeth-it is one thing to be a single parent, quite another to be the only parent. That is scary as Hell.

    Napoleon put it well, “Never interfere with your enemies when they are in the process of destroying themselves.”

    My DD lives in hope about her Dad, as I live in hope about mine (both flaming narcs). As Chumps, we are programmed to not write people off, give the benefit of the doubt and show compassion-it takes a while to know that it is wasted on some people, and that sucks, but the alternatives are worse…my DD has self harmed and has been suicidal. Mr Fab’s response was to tell her she was being selfish and silly. Her response was to tell him to piss up a rope. When she insults him, I simply say, “Hey DD, that may well be the case, but we don’t mock the afflicted.” I would say that about anyone.

    So your son will stop spackling, in time,, and is developing some sound principles, sounds like you have them, too. Best of luck, you are in good company here.

    And you are completing a doctorate and raising five kids? Then your kid already has at least ONE kickass role model, just remember most teenagers’ conflicts are internal, and we as parents are judged by what we do, not what we say. You are doing it RIGHT.

    love and luck, Mehphista

    • Good point about getting the blame for any issues between the kids and their idiot parent. My ex, no matter if I’m 10 thousand miles away or standing next to him, will blame me for any issues with the kids. His parents do as well. I’ve learned to ignore it rather than argue that no, I have not done anything, mainly because he is bound and determined to blame me for any and all problems in his life, starting with the fact that people know he’s a cheater – which is my ‘fault’ in that I was open about why we divorced. Of course, it’s his fault that he cheated but hey, let’s not get bogged down by those little insignificant details, right? 😉

      • Same here, Nord. If there’s any pushback or unhappiness displayed by the kids, XWH tries to take me to task for attempting to alienate them from him, which is a huge load of rubbish. The quote from Napoleon is spot on. I continue to be positive and supportive of the kids’ relationship with their dad when they tell me they don’t want to visit him, and he continues behaving in a way that poisons his relationship with them.

        • MovingOn, your comments are essentially a synopsis of how things are going between my teenage daughters and their dad. He has an anger problem, but he has intimated that the reason for their unhappiness, their depression, and their lack of communication with him is my fault because I want to “alienate” them from him. It’s his anger and erratic ways which are doing all the alienating. I am the one pushing them toward him so they have some kind of relationship–and because I have to honor a court order. I am quickly losing patience, however, and am beginning to make it clear that I will no longer force them to see him. I may have to get an attorney again to deal with this. It’s bullshit that I have to take care of ex’s emotional needs, to the detriment of the children. I thought “the best interest of the children” was what the courts were supposed to care about.

          • Jade,

            Depending on their age, kids can vote with their feet. It IS in the best interests of children to have a relationship with both parents*


            * provided the parent isn’t a sociopathic wing nut- and you wouldn’t be here if they weren’t

  • Hi, Elizabeth! I’m another Elizabeth with 5 kids, but mine are almost all grown now. Definitely get the courts involved about the abuse. It’s not acceptable.

    But, my son who is now 19 did confront his father a couple of years ago about his abuse towards me and the rest of the family and it was very empowering for him. The confrontation was facilitated by my son’s counselor and held at the counselor’s office. My son went no contact with his father after that. Of our 5 children, only two have limited contact with their father. The others have gone NC.

    I’d suggest that you get your 13yo in counseling. A good counselor will give him techniques for dealing with the stress and anger he feels towards his dad. If the first one doesn’t work out, keep trying. It’s hard to find the right counselor for a teenage boy.

    • Yep, good counselling is the best thing and it’s important that the counsellor understand what has happened and what is ongoing. My kid’s counsellor spoke with my counsellor very early on to get the lay of the land and it was the best thing that could happen as my counsellor had met my ex a number of times, so was able to speak with knowledge.

  • Elizabeth, speaking from experience here as well, I think your son is fighting for YOU and trying to protect YOU. You are NC, however, and he is in the arena, but he is only a 13 year old boy. He sounds like a wonderful young man in every way, and I am so so sorry that his father is a complete POS.

    I think your son should decide in counseling where his boundaries are, how he will handle his father, what he will do if he fears violence or it occurs, what happens if inappropriate punishment is meted out to him or his siblings, what options he wants to exercise in terms of visitation and contact with his father, and WHAT IS GOOD FOR HIM, and then exercise that plan (with counselor involved so as to avoid claims of “parental alienation”).

    Trying to get his father to explain the unexplainable, trying to make his father see and acknowledge the incredible harm and hurt he has caused, essentially attempting to make his father agree that he knows he sucks???? That would be a soul-crushing and futile path for the chump–it’s unraveling the skein and a form of the pick-me dance all rolled up into one. Could it really be any better for your son? Let a counselor help him decide.

  • Hi Everyone,

    It’s Elizabeth & I’d like to thank everyone–especially you, Chump Lady–for sharing their advice, life lessons, and wisdom in regards to my 13 yr old son.

    This community rocks!

    At this stage my goal is to sit and cogitate more on each of your messages–lots to think about, consider, and incorporate into my parenting. You’ve all helped a lot from your own unique perspectives. There’s so much we can continually learn from each other . . . and in situations like this it clearly takes a village. 🙂

    And this village has a mighty ROAR!!!

    I’d like to add that during our divorce and ensuing custody battle my ex’s lawyer actually requested that our kids be evaluated by psychologists and after 12 mths of wkly sessions the psychologist’s concluded that our kids are very healthy-minded, stable kids dealing with an incredibly abusive, mentally unstable father (who when confronted by the children with the psychologists present and responded “I’ve done nothing wrong here . . and why have you brainwashed these children to think otherwise?”). I bring this situation up not to demonstrate how delusional my my ex is (because as chumps we’ve all witnessed this scary -hit first hand), but more to say my kids have been exposed to great–great!–psychologists who have helped them to decipher their father’s mental illness–just like you, Chump Lady, they’ve said “It’s not your fault & you can not fix your father”–Man, is THAT a life saver. Yet, as we all know, it’s one thing to know this wisdom–logically speaking–and quite another to take it to heart. Especially when it’s a parent, you’re a child in need of love, affirmation . . .

    Basically–per the psychologists’ advice–my ex lost the custody battle and was awarded minimal visitation with the kids (my ex is a lawyer & knew not to leave physical scars just emotional). At the time I thought the minimal exposure–though tough–would be at least manageable for the kids. But as I talk this all through with you guys, I’m starting to wonder if my son would benefit from counseling again now that he a teenager, and like the Chump Lady said, these wingnuts–after you confront them–it just makes you feel shaky, sick to your stomach, you rarely feel vindicated and it’s just a -cking mess.

    Yep, I think my son would benefit from some psychological counseling–and someone other than his mother with her own chumpy baggage–would be a great solution both in the short and long run.

    Hey, thank you for listening–and sharing! Wishing you all well on the journey ~ take care

    • Elizabeth, I suspected your ex is a lawyer just from what you had described. Narcissist attorneys somehow just stand out like a sore thumb. You have clearly done well supporting and protecting your children and will continue to do so. (((HUGS)))

    • Elizabeth,

      You are right, this is a great community to be a part of. I discovered this site in June after I was beginning the divorce process, and the information found here and the support of others has been invaluable.

      Hang in there, I’ve heard and seen that it does get better (I think I’m on my way there too).

      • Sending hugs, Elizabeth. My ex is an attorney too. He is so controlling and angry, I rue the day I ever met him. I love my children, but wish I had never become involved with anyone like this. My situation is similar to yours–I am so overwhelmed with dealing with child-father issues, the thought of ever dating or remarrying is far, far away.

  • Elizabeth,

    Chump Son here.

    Chump Son agrees with Chump Lady and with those above who counsel caution.

    I’m the oldest son if a very dysfunctional marriage. No cheating, but a bad situation where Mom accommodated Dad and essentially raised me in the image of the husband she wanted. Long story. Some day, I’d like to ask my fellow Chumps to chime in on Father-First Son issues. Failed fathers often have it in for their first sons, who sometimes are Momma’s boys, to some degree. (Recall, however, the son doesn’t choose this, but it does happen.) I found my father drilling in on my confidence even into adulthood. But I digress…..

    It IS important for your son(s) and all your children to draw a line with their dad. NPD Dad’s can actually respect that. But you have to be careful how the line is drawn. In fact, the situation you describe is dangerous, if you ask me. On the one hand, you have a failed father, a guy who is NPD, who is in his mid-life crisis (which can even be flet by a non-NPD guy, when you realize that you ain’t going to realize all your dreams….), a person who feels his reputation, his masculinity slipping away. On the other, you have a kid who is just becoming a man, who has seen his mother wronged, who has been wronged himself, who is full of emerging male hormones, and he has the exhilarating experience of standing up to his crappy dad. This is not good.

    I recall a fight I had with my father. I was 18. He had treated us all badly, though, thanks to my mother’s constant mental gymnastics (read spackling), we all stayed together. I wrestled in high school and college. I’m not a small guy, and at the time, I wrestled — and won most of my matches — at 185 pounds. In the midst of a fight with my father — can’t remember what it was about, but, honestly, he usually started them — he yelled at me, “I can still lick YOU…BOY!!!!!”

    My father was an educated man. We are not talking about a hillbilly here. He knew what he was doing. He was smart and manipulative, and he, very skillfully, reversed roles on me. He challenged me — man to man — and it fired up every hormone and muscle in my body. But then he also depended on me, as a “good boy” (and a well-behaved kid I was) not to take him up on his challenge. What could I do?

    This bound me up for a long time with a lot of anger. Still does, though to a much-reduced degree. My point is that here my father was playing with dynamite. TNT. Real TNT. Years later, I did draw a line in the sand with him (which I have described in previous posts). But the time I describe would not have been the moment to do that nor would violence have been the way.

    I didn’t hit my father, and I’m glad I didn’t, though, honestly, for years I wished that I had.

    My point is that your son is learning violent confrontation from his father. He’s going to get accustomed to it, addicted to it. Anger is a drug like hopium. This is not what you want. You have two guys — one a philandering jerk and the other a kid and an emerging man — who are butting heads in potentially a very bad way. Had I done something to my father in the confrontation I describe above (took place in 1975-1976 or so), things could have gone very wrong. At the time, I was physically much stronger than he was, something he probably didn’t appreciate. (He was a big guy, too.) Imagine a push, slap or shove, and then my father coming out on the wrong side of that. Then he needs to prove himself, to retaliate. Then Mom or my brother step in. Then…. It could get really bad.

    Or imagine if I’d hit my father, even decked him. He was a clever Dude. I can imagine him looking at me and saying calmly, “Now how do you feel?”

    You can’t win with these people. They play chess on the same chess board they can manipulate. Your son has given it to his dad, and that’s OK, but now he has to channel that into NPD-management skills. If all they do is fight, he should go no-contact for a while. He should get therapy. He is learning the wrong things, and this kind of experience — and believe me, I know — digs little canals and trenches in your body, causes certain synapses to fire, releases adrenalin in ways that can cause you to become more prone to anger or that can change your very biology in a way that causes you to relive the event. It can create a kind of PTSD.

    I’m sorry to go into all the gory detail above. I enjoy this forum immensely, but one dynamic I see frequently here — and this not a complaint — is a mother who is struggling with an NPD-moron-husband. Frequently, this is paired with a father-son dynamic that can be very tough. The Mom who spackles may be setting her kids up for some great difficulties later on. Very often, kids will hide their problems because the parents are fighting. (I was a big achiever in high school: wrestling trophies, student council, quite decent grades, etc.) The kids will reverse parent the NPD-father (as above). But that imposes a long term cost on them in the form of stresses they don’t deserve, feelings-dilemmas that never get resolved.

    There’s also a uniquely male dynamic to this that I want to bring out. You might say, “Oh, they are fighting. Good, let him go after his cheating dad.” But, let me tell you, testosterone is a powerful thing, both the fading testosterone of the humiliated NPD dad and the rising testosterone of a wronged adolescent male. Do not let this situation continue. Your son has found the guts to express himself, but letting this wash, rinse and repeat is not a good idea. You never win, arguing with an NPD. Learning that, and learning that NC is the best route — and learning that EARLY IN LIFE — is a great and powerful thing.

    By the way, I talk about one particular pattern above (NPD Dad, Mom and conflicts between NPD Dad and son), but I know the genders can be reversed/changed/rearranged. Sadly, there are infinite combinations. Since this one struck close to home, I commented in detail. I think it’s important to understand these things from the guy-side. Thanks to all for putting up with this long post!

    Chump Son

    • Thank you so much for your comments
      My son is 4
      My STBXH, his cousin & his uncle are all serial cheaters & liars.
      I am lucky in a way my little one is so little & I have a vague hope that by the time he is older his father will realize he has been a dick or at least I will be truely meh & be able to help him without my undertone of anger.
      My feeling is STBXH is all over little kids because they are easy to impress , don’t ask super awkward questions & aren’t embarassed that future step mother was a sensual massuse
      This is why I insisted that DNA of the secret child was done early so he wouldn’t be 11 & mortified that he had secret 1/2 sister. Frankly if it was up to those 2 they would have left it forever !!!!
      So my point is when we enter pre adolescent years I think xh will be the hero with the feet of clay which gives me no pleasure. I don’t see it as a win – I think it’s sad for my son .
      Naturally xh thinks he is super courageous to be living his life in unconventional way – what an outlier.
      Um no you got caught !
      My thinking is I don’t sugar coat but I try to minimize neg talk which is hopefully eased by my nc . And let him work it out for himself but be supportive & consistent when he does.

      • Posy, I saw the process like this: Ex loved impressing the kids when they were young enough to fall for his shit (or his only daughter who always fell for it, along with me her chump-mom). But when the boys in particular got older, or due to personality just weren’t as malleable and adoring, and particularly when they would stand up to him and he didn’t get all ego kibbles from them, the jig was up. And our youngest (a boy, the most like his father, the closest to me, and the least likely to put up with his father’s crap), drove my ex crazy. My ex has not seen our youngest in the 2 years since D-Day, despite our son being only 14 years old now. Ex sends him a random text every 6 months asking to see him but saying he understands if son doesn’t want to, son shrugs his shoulders and does not want to, and that is it. Ex has no idea what youngest son is doing, how he is doing in school, sports he is in, that his voice is changing, or that he grew 6 inches since his dad left.

        I don’t know the answer, but be prepared.

        • Mmm. I was thinking it could go like that which is why the therapists etc tried to talk to him about the legacy he would be leaving for his son
          I try to talk to him about personal values in terms of fables & stories eg anakin was a good person originally but he was selfish & impatient. It’s really important to tell the truth , be nice to people not in the hope of a reward but just cos it’s good & right.
          I do have a sick feeling he will bear the brunt &hear things like ” you are just like your mother ” when he isn’t so malleable. Any flaws will be attributed to me.
          My only comfort is I did find out early so I’ve got time to sort it out. It kills me to think what it would have done to us if I found out when my son was a teenager or if xh had died with the secret.

        • I read somewhere quite awhile ago that NPD/BPs can deal with their same sex offspring until they hit puberty and then, when the cute hero worship stuff wears off and you’ve got an emerging adult going through all the joys of puberty the NPD/BP often bails right at that moment because it reminds them of their fleeting youth and it also means a challenge and a real person who they cannot manipulate in the same way. The article said that this is the most likely time serial cheaters leave for much younger partners, so that they can re-do the process and get that baby hero worship stuff again to make them feel good.

          My ex was right on schedule and so were other relatives of his. The breakdown of the marriage happened when their son’s turned 13 or so and started asserting their own personalities and manliness.

          My ex’s father, the serial cheater, didn’t leave, but he made sure ex knew flat out that no dissent would be tolerated and it really did a number on my ex. To this day he cannot stand up to his parents about ANYTHING. And when I say anything I mean anything – not little stuff, not big important stuff. He has been and always be his parent’s son, never anything else.

          • My ex bailed when our son was 13 also. I’ll also add that at the same time our daughter was a well developed, very good looking 15, and I also think he had an attraction to her that freaked him out as well. Hugs and kisses weren’t so sweet an innocent then, him being so visually oriented sexually and obviously unable to restrain himself when offered nubile, young flesh.

            So glad he left and worked his issues out with the bimbo before he ended up doing a real mind fuck on the kids.

            • oh my gosh this was something that always scared me stupid. He happily slept on the couch and I did worry about why as our girls got older. He never touched them thankfully, but he never hugged them either….and then he developed a relationship with a 21 year old when my daughter was 16…., oh hpw glad I am he is gone!

          • So on point / thank you.
            Also my xh family dynamic is roguish naughty charming uncle who is all over the ladies or was till he got to about 65 & finally settled down
            My xh has a Sweet gentle faithful father who uncle continually puts down at every opportunity – was always so embarassing
            The father saw the uncles attributes in the son – the son felt he was being put down & judged. He has now turned into way worse version of uncle.
            His cousin has gone that way also. The cheating & the lying. He was married to an amazing girl we all adored -treated her like shit. Took up with hookers & bimbos – (my xh mocked them . Then did same thing! )
            Interestingly his uncle was quite ashamed of the way his own son treated women & expressed regret about his own behavior . The uncle was widowed when he was 30 & his son was 2. And His own father also had a secret life & the uncle saved his mother from being hit as well. Foo can only be blamed for so much tho . I can see how caught up in untangling it I have become . No more ! Thanks. Chumps. . More lessons learnt

    • Wow, simply wow David, you have obviously lived it. That is such great insight and advice. The point you make about the toxic combination of an aging, fading, fearful narcissist and the angry, betrayed, physically-strong and hormone-filled teenager championing his mother, is so true. You painted the picture so well, I could actually FEEL it in my gut.

      • David really did nail it. It describes things between my older on and ex very, very well. Good insight for me when dealing with the bullshit.

    • Thank you, Chump Son, for your thoughts and insight. Your words help all of us in this community heal, grow and become stronger each day.

  • Chump Son,

    Please NEVER apologize for long posts-your insights have always been really helpful, even if I personally am on the other side of the gender divide. My father was emotionally violent, and much of what you say applies.

    Big hug from Mehphista,

      • Yes, I agree. David–Chump Son–You just gave me a window into the future–a perspective that will serve my 13 yr old well. Thank you. I’m so impressed by how you’ve transformed all your dad’s mindfuckery into self-knowledge as an adult. You are brilliant. This is what my son must do–the best and only way to break the skein and to be set free from this mother-cuker. And if I’m to be totally honest, the best way to be set free from me as well. He’s such a loyal, loving son, but he’s not my defender. Hell no. To communicate this I’ll start more actively leading by example so he realizes I’ve actually been strengthen–yes strengthened—by his dad’s mund-uckery & in time my son too can be strengthened~ Thank you as well to Mehphista, Kelly, Elizabeth Lee, and Nord–I’ve been virtually following your lives, life lessons, and wisdom here–and learning a lot from you and growing in kind. We are mighty MIGHTY women and men. Hear us ROARRRRRR!!!

  • Chump Son here,

    Listen, you guys, I have some serious tears right now. It means a lot to me that you didn’t see my post as some self-indulgent thing.

    I believe a big element of spackle is this: “Well, he put a roof over your head and three squares on the table…..”

    Frankly, that’s true. But there were also other things that three squares and a roof don’t excuse.

    And, what’s more, there were good things about my father. In the end, I decided that I didn’t like him, but he wasn’t all bad. But when he was bad, he was. And there was no excuse for that.

    Thanks, Chumps. I needed your support, and I got it.

    Thanks, CL, for creating this forum.

    Thanks. All your hugs are hotly and hard reciprocated! And remember, I was a wrestler, and I can really do a big (bear) hug!

    Chump Son

    p.s. For those of you who don’t know wrestling, the Bear Hug is actually a wrestling technique, hence the remark above has sort of a double meaning! Thanks. Damn, you Chumps did some real good for me today. Thanks. Means a lot…… I owe you all.

    Thanks, too, to Tracy. Helluva forum here…….


    • Funnily enough ex made a big deal for months after I kicked him out about how he gave me this great lifestyle. Apparently that balanced the scales when his serial cheating was put on the other side. Or in his mind it did. He just didn’t get that a nice home and all the other stuff meant nothing when it turned out he simply did not care about any of us enough to treasure our family and keep it safe.

      • Omg . Uncanny.
        ” look at the jewellery & fancy dinners & LV I bought you !!! I am entitled to have fun”
        Umm I didn’t ask for presents I just wanted honesty
        A gift isn’t a get out of jail free card especially when you are given it having no idea what is going on.
        I hate degustation menus anyway – who has that much small talk!
        The npd is all about the fancy thing for show tho. Interesting .

        • Mine said: “I was a good husband. I stood by you during those ‘terrible’ summers.’ ”
          One summer I had a hysterectomy, no big deal— except I learned later that ex lead everyone to believe I had cancer!!!!.

          The other summer I was depressed (imagine why) and took a month off of work till I got on antidepressants and felt better–afterward, I found out ex loved to talk to EVERYONE about it, which explained why people approached me like I was about to be admitted the the local psych ward on a suicide watch!!. (Oh, and by the way, during that month he pretended he had a business event and stayed with his AP overnight and refused to call me claiming his cell phone was not working etc. and I almost had a real nervous breakdown…gaslight much?)

          He also bought me tons and tons of jewelry, loved to show off at fancy restaurants.

          • Mine never noticed that last 6 months when I was dead depressed, just sitting on the sofa and barely able to function. My therapist pointed out taht this was my body and mind telling me something was wrong – screaming to me that something was wrong – but I wasn’t able to face up. And then I was. Since then I’ve slowly come back to life with a vengeance.

            • Forgot to add that he didn’t notice because his attention was on the various women he was either already banging or lining up. He actually told a mutual friend after I kicked him out that he didn’t realise I was depressed and wondered why I never mentioned it.

              Basically this told me that my well-being didn’t actually matter to him. Me being depressed meant he wasn’t getting enough attention and thus was a reason to step out. It never occurred to him to actually make sure I was ok.

              • This was me Nord. I was depressed too. He just told me to “take my pills.” Otherwise, I was just a bother to him. Ugh.

          • We have lead parallel lives!!
            In my pick me dance to ” get over my anger” I took anti anxiety meds. To level me off . For him. Naturally this was used against me. I was made out to be a basket case.
            I would love to meet the people that don’t get angry when their partner has an affair. A bit like shooting someone & saying for gods sake why are you bleeding .
            Where are they
            Yes I had the gas lighting to the max.
            Phones that didn’t ever seem to be charged. 3 hours to get carrots from the supermarket

      • My STBX was always doing what could almost be called a Shakespearian recitation of all of the things he had done for us. When I would listen to him rambling on and on, I would always think, “Dude, that’s the stuff you’re supposed to do when you’re the Parent in a family. You don’t deserve special recognition for doing what you signed up to do.”

        To this day, he believes he went above and beyond the call of duty paying (some of) the bills, attending activities, giving (me in particular) birthday presents, etc. That’s why he “deserves to be happy” and do what he wants now – because – OH NOS! – the sacrifice. Thinking about his insanity just makes my ass hurt.

    • David–Your post was extremely insightful. I wish that my STBXH would read it, and get some decent counseling. I’ve always known there were FOO issues–not that this excuses cheating–but your post helped me see some aspects I’d not understood previously. Thank you.

  • NPD Dads often are good with small pets and small children. But when puberty hits and the kids express some independence, they run! They want/need that total admiration and the total forgiveness that comes from someone small after one of their blow-ups. I think they see their kids, at least initially, as potential clones and award-grabbers, who will work to gain credit to them (that is, to the NPD dad). When that arrangement doesn’t hold (and it can’t when a child truly matures and individuates), they reject their offspring. Very weird, but also a very clear pattern that only expresses the failed dad’s inadequacy.

    Of course, genders can be switched, but I’m just writing from my own experience.

    Thanks, too, for the Chump Solidarity. Much appreciated!

    Chump Son

    • “Very weird, but also a very clear pattern that only expresses the failed dad’s inadequacy.”
      EXACTLY! Thank you for that. I’ve been spackling and making excuses since son was 12. And now he’s a grown man (wedding comment below). The thing is, normal people just don’t expect such odd behavior from adults.

    • So true David. I think that is a trait they all share and it’s a hard lesson for the little ones to learn.

      You write so eloquently what the kids are going through – thank you for your perspective.

    • David,

      This is all so true. My STBX provides “rewards” (money, support) when any of our young adult children are engaged in things that he feels reflect well upon him and that he can brag about to others. When they make any decision that he feels is not appropriately aggrandizing (for him), then he derides them (usually behind their backs) and questions their ability to make good decisions about their lives.

      My children are very good people, all will have graduated from college and are pursuing their own dreams. I applaud them. Him? He needs to go and have a seat in the STFU corner. I repeat – thinking about his insanity just makes my ass hurt.

  • I’m debating making my putative spouse an ex and am a friend of Elizabeth…she is a paragon of strength and role model in dealing with dysfunctional ex-… my problem is somewhat different, although eventually may be the same (my son is only 6 and has asperger’s)…he is having trouble processing his putative father’s passive aggressive behavior (denigration and abusive comments toward me when I’m not around, for example, financial tricks, occasional physical actions or threats) toward me…which likely leads to the scenarios you all describe when son is older and can process (to the extent aspies can)… if anyone has any further advice, it is welcome – but otherwise, thanks for sharing. this site is amazing.

    one thing I learned here and won’t forget is the spackle theory – thanks, Chump Lady – at a certain point, spackle disintegrates when nothing lies beneath, and the putative (sorry, my favorite word for 2013-14) crumbles.

    • Amy, I believe one of my sons has a touch of Asperberger’s. It was never formally diagnosed, but in family counseling after D-Day the psychologist realized that this is probably the case. My son told me that during the marriage he felt his father never approved of him, or felt he was adequate, he felt judged and judged inadequate by his father who by the end of the marriage acted more and more trapped and unhappy with having children, a house, dogs, etc, and of course my son blamed himself. ‘

      However, because my son does not experience emotion in the same way as my other children, oddly, in some ways he seemed better able to handle the betrayal and dissolution of our family once it occurred. He was fine not seeing his father for almost two years after D-Day. But then when my daughter decided to have dinner with her father, my son was happy to accompany her and calm as a cucumber. The depth of emotion my other two children feel is just not there, and in some ways it is easier for him.

      An unexpected difficulty it caused ME is that my son shares many of the traits his sociopathic dad has: ie. inability to empathize, lack of what seems to be “normal” emotion, very verbose and formal way of speaking at times, believing he is never wrong, etc. The counselor assures me that my son is NOT a sociopath, and that is when he told me he appears to be classic Aspberger’s, but you may face this as well in the future.

      I don’t think I addressed your question, but I wanted to offer my two cents on this.

      (Oh and I like your word for the year, “putative”, it has a ring to it!!).

  • I think that bad fathers are often jealous of their sons. Then the son is little, they idealize him as a sort of potential clone. And little kids will follow along/flow into this. Little kids don’t hold grudges about episodes of abuse. But when the kids get older and start challenging these bad dad, the father freaks out.

    Of course, the genders can be reversed.

    Anyway, that’s the dynamic. The NPD dad can’t deal with the necessary autonomy of an adolescent and so will become destructive in an emotional sense, making hurtful comments, etc. These are dads/men in decline and they become jealous of their sons, who they see on an incline. They start to argue that “I did it all for the kid….” etc. In reality, they are like an old ram on a mountain somewhere who just can’t make room for the new arrival.

    Healthy parents do not compete with their kids or try to take credit for their kids’ achievements.

    • You know, David, I never realized until we all started talking here about children and in particular (in our cases) boys reaching their teen years and what it means to the narcissist and its contribution to his decision to finally move on. As I look back, my ex was becoming more and more unhappy– mind you he had been leading a double life for decades, so something else was going on. I now realize it was the children being older (2 young adults and one then-12 year old), and in particular the boys (and most in particular my then-12-year old son standing up to him, refusing to humor him, calling him on his rages, and just being totally unimpressed with his father), that also fed into this dynamic. Ex raged at the youngest, would lunge at him as if to harm him when I was not around– alternating with withdrawing from the family altogether and making me deal with him and everything else. I see it now so so clearly. THANK YOU CHUMP SON (David). I realize I was still spackling post-divorce (“your dad still loves you, you should still see him,” etc., to which my youngest would react with disbelief and at times rage). I am no longer going to lament that ex is totally out of my children’s lives, It is a small blessing under the circumstances.

      • Oh Kelly, I did the same thing, except I did it for 9 years (when I happened upon this site)! All that spackling was exhausting, and ridiculous. Ironically, I found this haven a few days after I got home from my son’s wedding. NPD dad took off in the middle of the reception to go to a ballroom dance (or some other weird excuse). I guess you could say that was the last straw. Son wrote a scathing email, NPD dad was all confused (still is) but I finally told son he doesn’t need to make an effort anymore. NPD’s are galactically pathetic.

      • I NEVER did and will never blurt the cliched, “Your father loves you, you should see him!” to my children. Other people say it to my kids, and I think it’s WRONG. Love is as love does. And I sure as hell will not confuse my kids, teaching them that what their father has done to his family resembles love in any way. I will not teach my children that their father (that word!!) is any sort of role model to be admired. No, he is a warning, and if one is so inclined, then he is to be pitied.

        • I do not bad-mouth the children’s father, either, mind you. His actions speak for themselves. If they enjoy themselves with their father, that is a positive, as long as they haven’t done anything illegal or immoral or dangerous. But I don’t push for them to spend time with him, nor do I interfere with their time, nor punish them. I know too many women who have poisoned their own relationships with their children by badmouthing their father or punishing the kids for visiting with their father. I am who I am. My kids WANT to spend time with me; any time spent with their father is not a slight against me. But I NEVER lie that their father “loves” them because I don’t believe their father knows what love is.

  • This post is extremely relevant to my current situation. I am divorced two years now and have 3 children in various stages of visitation with their father (some see him briefly, some not at all). Just this weekend I am dealing with shouty cap emails from the ex that are extremely insulting. While I try to be as NC as possible with him, the fact that we share 3 children and he has limited custody, true NC isn’t possible. No matter what I say or do, how briefly I reply, he can always twist, manipulate and find fault. It is defeating and exhausting.

    Trying to be a good role model for my children and help them learn so they do not become chumps too. Just this weekend my one child was telling me about her friend’s family situation (another chump-case) and said “you should talk to them mom, you could help”. So maybe, just maybe, I’m role modeling something positive?? And as for their aging NP father and his shouty cap emails-well-perhaps they will do a much better job of dealing with him. In the meantime, I’m counting on the CL community for support, advice and a shoulder to lean on in this journey to meh.

    • Oh the shouty caps emails. BTDT. It’s such a form of control. Or attempt at control. And we’re so conditioned to react, to placate, to smooth over this shit.

      Just try to take a deep breath when you get a nastygram and go “Oh really? Huh. WTFever.” And then ask yourself, is there ANYTHING of substance to respond to? I’m not talking about insults to your character, I mean any confusion like pick up is Wednesday instead of Tuesday. If there is nothing there — just NC. Crickets. Don’t reply. If there is substance somewhere in the invective, just one sentence reply. “I’ll pick Betsy up on Tuesday.” Period.

      It’s exhausting. These freaks never give up trying to get a reaction. It’s oxygen to them.

  • Lots of kind words above, for which I am very grateful.

    I have more thoughts on this.

    A concept to add: Spackle Poison.

    I don’t want to hit spackling Moms with this, but sometimes spackle is not good. The incident I describe above was not isolated (though it was bad) and my then-insecure (though not philandering) father was capable of tossing other thought bombs at his eldest son, who was something of a Momma’s boy (me). Another one was, “Your gonna flunk outta college!!!” when I’d do something wrong. These are weird, disordered things to say. They are bait, come-ons for the kid, the kind of taunts that almost make you want to: a) take on your father or b) flunk out of college. I did neither. In fact, graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

    Post chump-Moms need to be aware that this is going on. Tell the kids they don’t have to take it. You have to parallel parent, yes, but adolescents can also set limits on visitation.

    Now, in my case, I was fed a fair amount of spackle-poison. Sad, but true.

    I was told that my father was a man with “flaws,” that he “really cared deep down.” “It’s just that he worries….” etc. And here’s a thought I have to offer about what happens to kids in relationships that go wrong. The harmful part is that THE KID LEARNS TO HURT HIMSELF.

    (All genders can be reversed. Just speaking from personal experience.)

    I believe that the discomforts and humiliations to which we expose ourselves often can hurt us more than those we have to endure.

    Were I captured by the North Koreans and mistreated, that would really suck, or truly suck, as CL likes to say. But, frankly, it would not generate an internal problem for me. Heck, I’ve been captured by a bunch of jerks and they are treating me rotten. No spackle. Just abuse. It’s not poison because it doesn’t get inside you.

    Now, if you prepare the spackle-poison potion, then the kid keeps going back for more, going back and fighting (as in Elizabeth’s letter above) or going back and looking/hoping for a better relationship (as I did for many years). Ain’t gonna happen. These NPD characters are really quite empty and they never really “get it.” Oh, there may be rare cases when some of them have a revelation, but for the most part, there is just too little there for them to learn much of anything. And their defenses are too strong. They will always find a way to rationalize their behavior. Maybe, as with psychopaths, there is a deep-down biological limitation to their thinking. Personally, I think they are deeply insecure, and when the kids start to grow up and become competitors for ego-kibbles, they often freak out (in connection with mid-life crises, etc.)

    If you are co-parenting, all you can do is co-parent. But you can tell adolescent children that they can set limits. My brother actually had a much better relationship with my father — after not talking to him for something like six years (or more). The long silence led to far more respectful dealings. (Brother is younger. I was the oldest. Lots of times these guys vector in on the oldest.)

    Anyway, I think the worst hurts are those to which we Chumps know we have subjected ourselves. That said, CL has created a kind of laboratory here, and it’s working. In the end, if you do a decent job parallel parenting, your kids will recognize these NPD jerks out there in the world, will deal with them better when they have to (say as with a boss at work) and will avoid them whenever they can. And we’ll all feel better knowing that we got away, even if it took a long time (in my case about 47 years….. Not exactly the Great Escape, but it worked out. Been married 24 years now. Have two teens at home, both of whom talk to me. We get therapy as we need it.)

    Chump Son

    • David, such insightful comments on this thread. Thank you so much! Although I know they were lessons learned from a great deal of pain.

      On the subject of “spackle poison” — YES. I think a lot of us, myself included once, try to soften the blow for our kids. We say things after divorce like “Well, we both love you.” Or “Although your parent is being difficult, deep down they love you.”

      It’s the making for futures chumps. What kids learn is this person is NOT behaving lovingly and yet, somehow I’m supposed to believe that deep down REALLY this person loves me. We make spacklers. Abusive behavior does not equal abuse. They were loving me all along! Isn’t that what we believe of cheaters when we’re in reconciliation?

      Maybe they do. Maybe that’s the best “love” they can do.

      What I learned is — I only speak for myself. I don’t speak for my son’s father. I have zero idea if his father loves him. All I know is that he blows him off, doesn’t live up to his obligations, and puts himself first in all things. I’ll be damned if I will “charitably” say that man loves his son. That relationship isn’t mine. It’s between my son and him.

      Take away — don’t sugarcoat this shit. I wouldn’t presume to say a parent does NOT love their child, but I would not say that they do. I would point out that certain actions are unloving and abusive — and let the kid connect their own dots. Preferably with the help of a therapist.

      • CL,

        Thanks for the kind words. I think that’s good advice. Let the other parent speak for himself. I saw my own mother try to “spin” everything so it was all good. In truth, my father was not all bad. Most people are not all bad. But he certainly shouldn’t have been spackled and spun into something he was not.

        Nicole, below, has an interesting story to tell. A very tough one.

      • I no longer discuss whether dad loves them or not with the kids. I tell them I can’t speak for their father or interpret his actions. I let his actions speak for themselves. And honestly, his whole family does enough spackling of his dumbass decisions. No need for me to help any more with that crap.

        I do worry my kids will be longterm harmed by the bullshit their father visited on them but I’m doing everything I can do minimise the damage.

        • “his whole family does enough spackling of his dumbass decisions”

          So true Nord, so true. I am now to the point that when my children want to discuss their father, I listen more than I speak. I try not to have nor express any opinion about his behavior. He has spent much time attempting to convince them that any truth I might tell comes from a place of bitterness and not truth. So be it. All I can do is live my life as peacefully and authentically as possible. They already know he is selfish and self-absorbed as he demonstrates it regularly. They believe he has redeeming qualities. He may. It’s important to them and no longer matters to me. His family spackles for him as much for themselves as for him. However, if and when questioned, I will no longer be supportive of any illusions or delusions.

          I now consider myself a port in the storm, as opposed to being a part of or in the eye of the storm.

      • I encouraged my kids (now 12 and 14 ys old) to have their own relationships with their father after the split, but in this and several other contexts, also encouraged them to watch what people DO, not just what they say. I refused to spackle his behaviours towards them, for a couple of years before the end (so much so that he was actually treating the kids somewhat better, seeing that he couldn’t get away w/as much negative, critical, crabby crap than before). I also would not be involved in the kids’ relationship w/their father post-split; if they were unhappy about something, they had to talk to him, and if he was unhappy about something, he had to talk the the kids.

        Final result; this past September the kids started refusing to see him at all. His selfishness and the ways he took them for granted just kept shining through, until they decided they didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

        They did eventually agree to attend family therapy w/him. Hasn’t gotten anybody any closer to a good relationship, but it was VERY helpful in providing a safe space for the kids to express their anger, hurt and disdain. They have recently agreed to see him once a month for a couple of hours, first time was Xmas eve. He declares that he’s now understood how wrong he was and wants to show he’s changed, but they are extremely skeptical. I’m betting contact will remain minimal from here on out.

        I have to say I am VERY proud of my kids for refusing to eat shit sandwiches, and for refusing to melt when the idiot starts talking about how painful this is for him – after all, he admits he did not even THINK about them, not once, when he made multiple decisions over a 18 month period that had huge impacts on my kids’ lives and their relationship with him.

        Karma bus, beep beep!

  • Elizabeth,

    This is a tough one because adolescents can be so vulnerable and yet so defiant. They can have a keen sense of fairness and justice and have a very hard time dealing with those who do not.

    Please do your best to find a good counselor who can help your son understand that while his motives for standing up to his father may be admirable, his methods are likely to bring on retaliation–both emotional and physical. Hopefully a good counselor can help your son internalize the old axiom that “discretion is the better part of valor” when dealing with irrational/ vindictive people who are temporarily in the “driver’s seat.”

    If you are convinced that visitation with their father puts your children in an abusive situation, by all means document and seek legal solutions. Be aware, however, that you will need to be scrupulous about proving it and that a solution may take more time than you would like. It is a sad fact that family courts often do not and cannot always secure what is truly in the best interests of children.

    I am so sorry that you and your children are having to go through this.

  • I grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive home where my dad’s violent and unpredictable temper resulted in my mother being physically abused, and frequent slaps/hits/screaming at me and my brother were a regular way of life. My brother, around age 10, tried to assume the role of “protector” of my mother. He called the police several times when my mother was being abused (I was too scared even though I was a year older – I was very small for my age and my dad was a big man). When he was a freshman in HS, my dad hit him for something…who knows what…and my brother snapped. He hit my dad back, and a terrible fight ensued. At that point, my brother was larger than my dad…but he was still a boy, not a man. However, he was able to pin my dad to the ground and get in several good hits while screaming that if he ever hit him again he would kill him. I cowered in the house and silently cheered him on. It was horrible. It represents the depths of dysfunction that can occur in a home with an abusive adult. My dad never touched him again after that day, but also barely spoke to him and basically pretended he no longer existed. Today, my brother is a 46 year old man who has been in and out of jail, suffers from PTSD from his time in military service (he barely graduated HS despite being very intelligent and felt the military was his only option), has lost his wife and has limited contact with his children, struggles with drug addiction, and relies on my mother for most of his financial support. He is a sad and down-trodden lost man. I truly believe it ALL stems from his “inability” as a child to protect his mother from abuse, and from being put in the situation where he literally had to fight his own father to get his own abuse to stop. PLEASE don’t let your son’s “relationship” with his dad get to this place. PLEASE document any and all instances of abuse and if you need to enforce something legally to limit visitation, don’t be afraid to do so. My mother never protected my brother and me, and I struggle with that resentment to this day. Your son’s future depends on YOU protecting him…not the other way around.

    • Nicole,

      You tell a very sad story.

      I have sometimes thought about the incident that I describe from my own history, above. I’ve wondered how else it might have turned out. Most of the alternate endings are bad. Once things get violent, a lot can happen. None of it very good.

      These abusive types are bullies. My brother was smart enough to hand my father several years of silence. In effect, he want NC, just saying the absolute minimum to him. Eventually, my father reached out to my brother (in actions more than words) and did wind up treating him quite respectfully. Your brother also “tamed” your father, but the action was violent and it sounds like it marked him badly. I’m sorry.

      It’s important not to get into an abuse cycle. My own brother set standards for his relationship with my father that I did not, not until much later. I think it was easier for him as the second child. Birth order seems to affect how different kids deal with a dysfunctional parent (and, of course, individual personalities). I tended to be the fight-back/stick up for Mom type. I also wanted my father to “see the light.” My brother handled it better. Teaching kids how to protect themselves in ways that are not self-destructive is vital here. NC is the way to go. Even if it has to be practiced within the home. NC and the no-spackle rule. Let each parent’s actions speak to his/her character.

      • David, I also really appreciate your insights regarding a son’s relationship with his narc father.

        My oldest son was 25 and had been married two months when my ex’s cheating came to light. I have to say that I’d always been close to my oldest son because he was sensitive and intuitive and met my needs for connection and emotional support that my workaholic husband did not. Anyway, my oldest son seems to have carried the anger in our family over the situation. He cussed out his father numerous times and in some ways seemed to reverse roles with him by becoming the stronger one. It was heartbreaking to witness because he practically idolized his dad before, although he also felt disconnected from him. One of the first things my son said after D-day was “great, now my entire relationship with dad will consist of getting texts from him while he’s sitting in airports.”

        Anyway, my counselor encouraged me to completely back out of their relationship. I think now they do communicate more, but I don’t think my son will ever get over what his father has done.

        Being an oldest child myself, I understand the pressure put on us to fill in empty spaces between parents. My own father was a workaholic and my very sick mother depended on me for emotional support as well. Until all this happened I thought that was a normal relationship between an oldest child and mother.

    • Wow, Nicole–how painful for your brother and for you, that your parents didn’t parent. I am so sorry! Thank you for sharing your experience. It is enlightening.

      David, same goes for you. What healthful presence you are here.

    • Nicole, I am so sorry you went through that and that your brother did as well. But it’s a good lesson for all us chumps. After I kicked ex out there was a period of many months where he would SCREAM at the kid who gave him the most shit about what he had done and was continuing to do. He also hit him a few times and when I found out I told him that one more time and I was calling social services. It was horrific and scary and it scarred my kid very much. I got the kid into therapy and he’s doing much better now but the upshot is that he sees little of his dad and has the full support of his therapist to draw very tough boundaries. This gets blamed on my by ex and I’m fine with that. I’ll happily take the blame if it saves my kid from his emotionally and sometimes physically abusive father. I had never seen narc rage before and let me tell you, it’s bloody scary.

  • Hi Chump Lady & David, It’ s Elizabeth from the original post–thank you for your additional insights. I wanted to add that what you’re advocating here is exactly the same advice my kids’ psychologists gave me after meeting my ex 3 yrs ago. Sugar coating and Spackle Poison (great term!) are lethal. They said this is the WORST thing I could do as the healthy-minded parent. The truth no matter how brutal & cruel must be spoken and reinforced. Over and over again. So what happens for us as a family, when my 5 kids visit with their dad, they’re gradually learning not to be charmed (or confused) by his beguiling spin on his life/betrayals/lies because my kids and I have already discussed the truth. It’s funny, when their dad does his usual obfuscating now, the kids’ resist his befuddled crazy interpretations of “reality” because quite frankly his version is so -cked up it just doesn’t “ring true” to because they know what the truth sounds like. And as the years pass, what I’m slowly discovering is that my kids’ learning curve is getting HUGE as they’re exposed to more healthy, compassionate, and accomplished adults–who live and speak the truth–so it’s like “Wow, Dad, you’re really not like other folks, I’m kinda embarrassed by you.” But as I’ve mentioned earlier, my 13 yr old has become more aggressive & confrontational with his rejection and this is something I will address with a trusted professional (in large part because of what you shared, David–thank you!). I think what I’m learning from this post is that at every age, our children will need active help and guidance with these -cktards. Luckily these psycho-sociopaths don’t change–they’re a known variable–but our kids will change & grow & we’re obligated to help them on their journeys. (((hugs)))) Elizabeth

    • Elizabeth,

      Sounds like you are a great Mom.

      I think your “just the facts” approach will work well. Just tell the kids the facts. You don’t have to even attack your ex. Just give them a healthy parallel space. Glad to hear you are going to get on the violent confrontations. I know that in my own case, I’m not sure my mother ever understood just how potentially dangerous a testosterone cocktail was brewing. Now, in my case, it never exploded, but I sure did carry a lot of anger in me for a long, long time.

      Anyway, you are on this, a skilled former Chump with a no-nonsense, no-spackle approach. Get the little guy (the 13 year old) to put distance between himself and his father. Sadly, his anger at his father shows that, at some level, he still hopes to “reach” his dad. He probably can’t. But his outrage also shows he’s a better person. So you can turn him in the right direction. Let him know that limited engagement or NC is a better way to deal with these types than confrontation. He’s a gutsy kid who has already stood his ground. Now to the next stage……

      This was all very helpful to me, as you can imagine. Personally, I think you got this covered!

  • Hi David,

    It’s Elizabeth–thank you for your very kind, supportive reply. I actually shared your earlier message (where you described your younger self & dad) last night with my 13 yr old son. He was silent while we read it together, then he was moved to tears. You could be him–He could be you–your parallel lives–collided in cyberspace.

    As I said to my son, you–David–are a window into his future, and as an adult–as a very intuitive, evolved person–you offer hope to my son that YES, it’s possible to survive and even excel–yes, excel!!!!–despite having a horrifically cruel, damaged father in your life. SO we both agreed his motto will be more Ghandi-like from now on: passive-resistance. A conscientious objector. His Freedom of Thought is: NO-response, No-spackle, No-skein.

    So we both would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your story here on CL’s site and for leading by example. I’ve always believed one the most noblest things a person can do is to anonymously help a stranger. It’s such an act of courage to share your story, Dave, and by sharing it with my son, you restored our hope in humanity, healing, and the power of good in the world. Ya done good by my son, Dave!!!! You are mighty MIGHTY (((hugs))) Elizabeth

    • I am so glad I read this today.

      Way to go, team, to help a developing young man.

      David and Elizabeth, many kudos to you both. And also to the 13-year-old.

      What a wonderful world.

    • Yikes! What nice words. Thanks. Very kind of you.

      Tell your son that he’s got guts. I used to coach wrestling, so I like to think I know a bit about that. He’s a gutsy kid. He stood up to his dad and fought back! I like a kid like that.

      (As an aside, think about wrestling or any of the martial arts. They teach competition but also are closely supervised and are great outlets for testosterone. Now, you always have to check out the individual coach and make sure that they are OK, but very often such activities are good places to find coaches, support, positive male figures.)

      OK, back to the main point.

      Now that your son has broken the “stand-up-to-dad-barrier,” he doesn’t need to do that any more. Been there. Done that. No need for a repeat.

      Now there is the second phase that you describe. Don’t follow my example! Sadly, I got wrapped up in my anger. I stayed trapped in the feedback loop, the cycle of spackling and being stabbed. I’ve done fine in life. Work in international relations. Speak three languages besides English. Got a good job. Even some publications. Nice marriage. And, above all, my teens talk to me! But I did and do still carry around some of “the big churn,” memories of that frustrated anger.

      In fact, silence and distance are FAR MORE effective techniques in dealing with difficult people than shouting and engagement. Icky fathers like to goad and provoke their sons. These guys are clever, sly. They were probably victims of bad fathering themselves, but they’ve gone the other way, gone over to “the dark side,” (think “Star Wars”) and they remember all the techniques, the little clever words (predict failure, criticize Mom, etc.) But you can slip their punches easily with some basic techniques. By saying things like: “I’m sorry, I don’t think that’s constructive.” “I don’t think that’s helpful.” And quietly get up and walk away. There’s also: “You know, it doesn’t seem that we are communicating. Perhaps we should get counseling together?” These guys are scared of counseling.

      Even simpler is JUST TAKING A BREAK. My brother’s silence was very Ghandi-like, as you point out. (Heck, tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day!) When provoked by the Bad Dad, just imagine yourself in a suite of medieval armor and the silly things that he says to you are like little rocks bouncing off that armor. Pretend you can hear the tinny clink the stones make as they hit your armor. Pretend that they are being thrown at you by a very tiny little man because, in fact, they are being thrown at you by a very tiny little man!

      There is something very sad when dad disappoints. There’s no way around that. Part of my lifetime of spackling was trying to pump up my father. In the end, however, it was better not to spackle. In truth, there were some good things about him. My brother, by laying down his marker by going silent, actually got more of the good things out of my father than I did. The NPD types really need discipline. And they can’t supply it themselves. In the end, you have to grieve the partial person that was your father and lay down the markers, including the option of no contact, that will make any communication with them civil.

      Sounds like you are a helluva Mom, Elizabeth. Sounds, too, like your son is gutsy and self-aware. I think you guys have this situation well in hand.

      • Thank you, David, for sharing this additional advice! This afternoon I’ll be sure to have my son read your message. These are very powerful insights. Silence. Distance. Taking a break. And I especially loved your suggestion about playing sports–sounds like wrestling was extremely helpful to you & that’s awesome. Thankfully my sons had excellent coaches over the years–great male role models–and this has helped significantly with his self esteem and his awareness of good men out there and how they conduct their lives. You sound like a helluva father yourself, David. Hope you & your family have a great MLK Day ~ and thank you again for helping my son. Elizabeth

  • Hi Miss Sunshines, It’s Elizabeth & I’m with you! There’s power in numbers and we’re positively reinforcing each other here in this forum. Thank you for your encouragement.

    But lest we get to high on our hopetum, I’m sure we’ve all learned it’s important to remain cautiously optimistic about our private little hells. My stomach still aches when I see my kids step into their Dad’s van and drive off for their weekend visitation. Like CL said these -cktards are EXHAUSTING and all the good-intentions, all the great planning & foresight can fall by the wayside for these poor kids after they’ve been punished severely for the 1000 millionth time or they’ve endured the a blowhard mindfuckery from their father again.

    So it’s a roller coaster ride. It’s a marathon. A long endurance run for these kids–and for all of us. But we can’t give up, I honestly believe goodness prevails if we’re disciplined, determined, and we put our words into action. Be honest. Give of yourself. Be grateful. Cultivate humility. And in the process you’ll start to recognize like-minded people trying just as hard as you are to achieve the same ends–some days failing other days kickin’ ass–and together you’ll change the world–even if it’s just in your neighborhood, school, athletic team. Whatever. You’ll mutually inspire and reinforce each other and a greater good will come of your connectedness . . . And those -ucktards, what -ucktards? They have no place or space in this kind of world, and truly, at the end of the day, that’s the beauty of it all, right? No -ucktards Allowed 🙂

    ((hugs)) Elizabeth

  • Great words of advice. Love this community. It is such an inspiring, supportive environment. Love love love it. My son (he’s now 18) decided that he didn’t want to be part of his dads life. He tried for the last 2 and a half years to see his dad. To be part of his life. In the meantime, he has been really sick in hospital, did his dad bother with him?? Not once. I rang, I text him every day multiple times a day to let him know what was happening with him. He responded with… oh I can’t come and see him I’m away working, I found out that he wasn’t he was with her about 10 minutes away. The last time my son went and stayed with his dad, the OWs two sons (aged 12 and 7) were also there. My ex and the OW went out for the night and left my son in charge of the kids. My son went to bed, the older boy climbed out of the window in the early hours of the morning, broke into the neighbours stole cigarettes and subsequently smoked them. He got caught by the neighbour. My son got the blame because he was asleep and got abused because he should have been more responsible… what the???? His 18th birthday is in a couple of weeks, his father isn’t even bothering to see him for that. He has decided that he doesn’t need somebody like that in his life. He has so many supportive people, men who are role models to him everyday. My father, his god father. Kind hearted men. My son is the most amazing person. I am blessed to have him in my life.

    • What a shit sandwich your ex fed his own son that night.

      Here, son–you come to visit me, and I will again abandon you with the same whore I originally abandoned you for. However this time, I will give you a responsibility. You know what responsibility is, don’t you? Good, because I do not. You take care of the whore’s kids–she sure as hell wouldn’t, and, after all, that would take away from my “me time” with her. When her children predictably act out, because they are neglected in much the same way as I neglect you (self-absorbed birds flock together, doncha know…) then we will conveniently blame you. After all, we are immature and want no responsibility whatsoever for anyone or anything, particularly anything that goes bad. Agreed, “son”?

      How’s that shit sandwich, son?

  • There are lots of good alternative father figures out there, alternatives to these father failures. Coaches, teachers, et al. Sure, you gotta vet ’em to be certain they are OK, but they are there in good organizations.

    The threads here of abandonment by fathers are pretty amazing. I think these guys are very weak and just can’t handle it when their kids individuate.

    • My son has many alternate father figures in his life, and the one I’m most grateful for is his karate sensei, who he studied with for 3 hours a week, year round, for seven years. That man was more of an example of honor and integrity in manhood than his own father, to be sure. The ex is more “successful” in worldly terms, which is how the ex takes measure of men. In the end, I have to say he spent more quality time with the karate master than his dad. I’m sure glad of that now.

      Yes, you have to vet them to be sure. This man was a 4th degree black belt of Okinawan style karate, which concentrates on DEFENSE, and not attack or winning competitions. He taught my son to have complete control over his emotions as far as the display of them and of responding to taunts. My son is unflappable, and people are shocked when they find out he’s a black belt. The sensei himself is affable and nonthreatening, though he is a very large man. He does not put up with out of control testosterone in his dojo. White guy, ex marine.

      For those of you considering lots of counseling for sons having difficulty dealing with their shape shifter fathers, please give some thought to something like karate. No, I take that back — not “something like”, but the real thing. Sitting and talking is one thing, it’s an intellectual exercise, but boys also need to MOVE when the energy of strong emotions hits them.

      Here’s an old Okinawan master describing how he deflected a challenge to see who’s best:

      • Sports like wrestling (my personal favorite) and the martial arts are quite good. They teach control. My own son really had a great sensei who got him up to Brown Belt at age 12. Sure, you have to check and make sure the person is good, but martial arts are a great activity that teaches self-mastery/self-denial, something that many NPD types utterly lack…..

  • I am learning not to sparkle. My ex made good money but walked out on his family to spend his future with his equally f-ed OW. His great decision making skills at that time affected our finances, while he could easily afford our mortgage he chose not to make the payments. When actions define character there is no explanation for why a man who had been married for twenty years would so thoroughly turn his back on his family but I do believe these men disassemble when all their lies no longer make sense. During our long divorce process 2+ years he no longer contributed towards college expenses (our son’s senior year was all about learning how little his dreams mattered to his father, my ex’s words to me when I accompanied son to University weekend and asked him what his intentions were, “He’s your son, you figure it out.” Best ten grand I ever spent. Lol And then Mr Loser cashed out our savings account and stole money from our youngest daughter’s college savings account. Hmmmm. That same year our eldest graduated from University of Miami and her father and his new bimbo walked out halfway through the ceremony. I think his actions are screaming pretty loudly exactly who and what matters to him. I do take offense at that whole “momma’s boy” thing, most relationships father/daughter, mother/son are very healthy. We teach our children how to treat others and ourselves and those dynamics are usually healthy. When a spouse cheats everything starts to seem a little off, and it did take me a while to figure it out. As to parenting It’s only when we compete with our children that it becomes unhealthy. I have three beautiful educated opinionated children in their early twenties. Their teen years were challenging because of their runaway father but I always enjoyed being their Mom-all their energy (and all their friends who spent much of their time hanging out at the house) and their very healthy take on life. I also don’t think being 48 is a life sentence. I look forward to redefining myself , I know more love and a truer one is headed my way and I am looking forward to living a more authentic life.

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