My relationship with my father is broken, probably largely because my father himself is broken. But it took a long time for that bond to finally unravel, and now that it has I feel a great sense of relief, and an enormous sense of confusion and loss.
The loss is self-explanatory. I don’t think anyone can endure the absence of a parent -– whether by death, estrangement, or abandonment – without some sort of deep emotional pain, acknowledged or buried. But for me the confusion arises from the cognitive whiplash of contrast: my extreme closeness to my dad as a child and my profound alienation from him as an adult. It didn’t happen suddenly, and in fact it took my entire adolescence and early adulthood to happen. But the contrast between then and now is still incomprehensible.
Then: I’m eleven years old and my dad is one of my best friends, maybe my very best friend. I walk four blocks home from school to eat lunch at home every day, and every day I call my dad at work to talk to him for a few minutes before I return to school. One day I decide to surprise him by doing something extra nice for him. I write him a hundred little notes and stick them in places I know he’ll eventually find them: his vitamin bottles, his dresser drawers, inside his shoes. They all say something slightly different, but they all send the same message: “I love you, Daddy.” He is still finding them a month later. He will keep a couple of them taped to the mirror of his dresser ‘til long after I’ve graduated from college.
Now: I’m having a baby in September, and my dad doesn’t even know I’m pregnant. In the context of our relationship, it’s not strange that I haven’t told him yet, since we only talk on the phone maybe once a year, maybe twice. But it’s getting late, and soon it will be strange. I dread telling him; for some reason I just don’t want him to know. But I guess I am aware of at least one reason: a new grandchild might represent a motivation for him to want to see me, and I don’t want to see him. He has met O., his first and only grandchild. It was a long time ago and at a funeral, but still: he’s seen my son. With this new baby, I won’t be able to say “Well, he’s seen her.” Unless, of course, I see my dad. Then again, when O. was born, my dad never once expressed an interest in meeting him. And that was a huge relief. And it was hugely wounding, too. And here we go again.
My dad has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you look in the DSM IV, there are nine characteristics of the disorder, and a person needs to have five in order to merit a clinical diagnosis. My dad has at least eight. It’s essentially impossible to have a functional relationship with a narcissist, particularly someone with as advanced and pronounced a version of the disorder as my dad’s. But it’s also pretty easy to have a remote, extremely partial relationship with this particular narcissist, because he doesn’t seem to notice that I never share any news or information about myself with him. I don’t need to, because he’s happy to remain the sole focus of the conversation. And he doesn’t seem to care that I don’t say much at all when we’re on the phone; he’s happy to do all the talking.
But I have some news I need to share between now and late August. And I wonder how I’ll gather the will to do it, afraid as I am that it may disturb he weirdly placid surface of the sad-as-hell but least-distressing-and-painful mode of detached relationship I have established with my dad.