I don’t know what to do about my narcissistic father. When I was 13 my father found his special OW on the internet — quite a feat in the late 90s. The dissonance of having a wife and two kids but wanting his OW who lived half way across the country made him angry, emotionally abusive, and just plain evil at times until eventually he filed for divorce. My mother did everything she could to keep our family going despite my father financially devastating her, dragging her to court over pieces of furniture, and using a short-lived visitation schedule with me just to scream at her during transfers. Shortly after the divorce my father moved two thousand miles away to live with and marry the OW.
In the past 15 years our relationship has consisted of an email here and there and a handful of visits, all the while he has acknowledged nothing of what transpired and claims to be an all-around good guy. Our conversations always center on him — the good things he has done for people, the fantastic computer programs he has written, and the early age he can retire. He even has helped lead OW to a proper salvation and tells me stories about them watching Joyce Meyer together. As someone with an MDiv this makes me want to vomit.
Over the years I came to accept the shallow relationship that we had. I ate a shit sandwich here and there and I was rewarded with some sort of contact from him. Sometimes it bothers me more than others. But recently I got married to a former chump. My wife was married for nine years until her then husband found his special OW and, like my father, his dissonance about the situation caused him to be abusive and forced her and her 2 month premature baby to leave.
Now I don’t know what to do about my relationship with him. I feel like it is unfair to my wife and a bad example for my step-daughter to just keep eating the shit sandwiches. I want to talk to him about what he did but I am afraid he will cut me out of his life completely. He always seems to hold me at arm’s length. If I try to get too close he backs off. But if I ignore him he sends me texts or emails to remind me he exists. I don’t know what his reaction would be to confronting him. He might act like he doesn’t remember or he might turn into that angry person I knew as a child. Should I just completely go NC with him or should I try to confront him?
I think you should go back to accepting the shallow relationship that you had.
Here’s the thing with narcissists — they don’t do confrontation well. It’s a direct affront to ego kibbles (what I call narcissistic supply). They don’t get self-reflexive — they get ugly. They don’t accept blame — they blame shift. Confronting your dad about what a total shit he was to your mom, or to you, is not going to result in a conversion experience. The skies are not going to part and a beam of sunshine will not down from the Lord and change his heart. No, he’s still going to be the guy who brags to you about his early retirement.
You need to remember the Dr. Simon axiom we trot out here — “It’s not that they don’t see, it’s that they disagree.”
He knows what he did. And he doesn’t care. To him, he did what he had to do to protect his kibble supply. The OW was a fresher, more willing supply of kibbles. Your mother was not. She stood between him and greater kibbles. She had to be punished.
Did he cheat? Yeah so what?
It’s not going to make sense to you because you’re an integrated person with a moral compass. You cannot imagine seeing the world the two-dimensional, self-serving way your father does. You can’t imagine treating your wife and child so terribly that it would not fill you with a lifetime’s worth of regret. He’s not you. He doesn’t share your moral compass or he could not have behaved the way he did.
Do people change over time? Some do. Some people grow and mellow. From what you write, he doesn’t sound like one of those people. If he’s truly wired NPD, this stuff is deep in his operating system.
So what do you do? You accept this is who he is. You trust that he sucks. You grieve (as you’ve probably been grieving for years) the father you wished you had and accept the father you actually got — a crashing bore who enjoys televangelists.
But AK, that doesn’t mean you have to eat shit sandwiches. Figure out what you will and will not put up with and act accordingly. Deal with your dad like you would deal with a toddler. Is he going on about his fabulous computer programming? Deflect! “How about those Cubs?” Change the subject to something light and superficial. Find those small areas of common ground that are safe. Toddler wants a sugary kibble cookie, you deflect over to a shiny toy.
But… but… this is so UNSATISFYING.
Well, yeah it is. You can’t have a reciprocal relationship with a narcissist. It’s always going to be about them. Most of us can do that sporadically for a few hours at a time, and then we need a cocktail, or a 7-day cruise in the Caribbean to recover. This shit is DRAINING.
That’s why people avoid narcissists. They sparkle for the people they need to extract value from, but to their intimates, they’re dreadful companions. The OW gets his soul-sucking company every. single. day. Consider the karma.
I don’t think you are dishonoring your wife and daughter by having a superficial relationship with your mostly absent father. I’m sure your wife must have toxic family members. We all can relate. As long as he’s not interfering in your life in a big way, why not contain the threat with an occasional draining phone call or birthday card?
You could go NC on him and that’s your choice. But IMO, unless he’s really trying to fuck you over, that’s probably more trouble than it’s worth. Then he’ll focus his wrath on you. KIBBLE LOSS RED ALERT!
Just toss the occasional kibble. Like feeding monkeys at the zoo.