It always started with screaming, but it often ended in silence — for days or weeks.
On this particular night, I was in the kitchen when it started. I was about 14 years old. I don’t remember what made my father angry, but I know it was minor. It was always minor with him.
I might have used a tone he didn’t like. I might have forgotten to take out the trash. I might have forgotten to put a load of clothes into the dryer. As an adult, I now understand these are fairly minor things, but when I was a child, everything I did wrong was a cardinal sin — when he was in this mood.
I always forced myself to be completely calm. I wore a blank expression. Any sign of disagreement with him — or talking back to him in any way — would increase his fury. All I could do was stand like a statue and hope it would end soon.
I remember how red his face would get and how the veins on his neck would stand out as he screamed his rage at me. But I felt numb, because that was the only safe response.
On this night, he pushed me. It was a hard shove that sent me flailing across the kitchen floor. I didn’t fall but I stumbled. He didn’t often push me in that way, but it scared me when he did. I always felt a tremendous fear about what might happen next.
Nobody outside my family ever saw this side of my father. He was a charming and educated man who got credit from everyone for raising his three children all by himself. Part of the time, he was that man at home. On those times, he was kind and loving. But his absolute control over us was always there. Any time he was in a bad mood — when something bad happened at work or something else upset him — he turned into this raging monster who nobody saw except my two sisters and me.
For many years, I didn’t understand what I had gone through as a child. I was so terrified when I was young that I couldn’t even let myself acknowledge what I was going through. It was something like Stockholm syndrome, I suppose. But after I left home and started experiencing the world without his daily presence, I started to realize that something was wrong with what I’d been through, even though I had no explanation for it.
Nothing about my childhood made sense until a psychologist explained narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to me about 10 or 12 years ago.
I grew up knowing that my mother had problems with depression. I knew that she left us when I was young. What I didn’t understand at the time was that he was the truly dysfunctional one. He drove my mother away — and he created a controlling narcissistic nightmare in which his children lived.
I’ve never wanted to talk about this while he was still alive. Even though I broke off contact with him about eight or nine years ago — because he refused to go to counseling to talk about our relationship — I still haven’t wanted to hurt him by telling the truth about him, at least not publicly. And even though I didn’t want to admit this part of it to myself, I realize now that I’ve still been afraid of him.
Part of me has remained the little boy who knew that bad things happen when I upset Daddy.
He is in a hospital now and hasn’t been able to read what I have to say. (He found this site several years ago and I’ve limited what I had to say about him since then.) It was just eight days ago that I thought he was about to die. Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen to him.
A nurse called me from the hospital Saturday night and said he had had another episode that might have killed him, but he lived through it. As far as I know, he hasn’t been very coherent during this time. I’m told he’s confused for much of the time.
For years, I’ve needed to talk about what happened to me. I’ve been able to tell bits and pieces of my story to a few others, but most people don’t want to know the details. I still have a serious need to talk about it and process what happened — to understand more of it and beg someone to understand what happened to me.
I don’t know why that matters so much to me, but it does.
On the night I described, he demanded I admit to something which I hadn’t done. I don’t recall the details. I just know he insisted I confess to something.
My refusals to confess to things I hadn’t done were probably the only acts of open defiance of my childhood. I disobeyed him at times, but I never openly crossed him. Except at times such as this. Something in my little heart refused to admit to something I didn’t do.
When I refused to confess, he quit speaking to me. When he started giving me this sort of silent treatment, I never knew how long it would last. Would he have forgotten about it by the next morning? Would the silence go on for a few days? I never knew.
Sometimes the silence would go on for weeks. When I moved a few years ago, I found a couple of diaries that I sporadically kept for parts of my early teen years. (I kept them in a box that was locked by a combination known only to me.) In those diaries, I found discussion of one of these periods of silent treatment. It had gone on for a couple of weeks, according to what I read, and I finally was able to talk with him and convince him to “graciously” put it aside.
I realize now the extent to which I was the adult in my relationship with my father.
I’ve had a lot to think about over the last eight days, because the prospect of his death has stirred up a lot of painful memories. Although they’re painful, I need to talk about them. Over time, I will have a lot to say.
I need to talk about him moving us to Oregon with no plan and then the conversation on the side of a highway during which I told hm we had to go back to the South — where we knew people and had family, since we were broke. I was about 11 or 12.
I need to talk about the time when he yelled and screamed at my sisters and me all day one time — even skipping work to continue screaming, telling us that he was going to lose his job because of us — all because one of his belts had been moved in his closet and nobody would “admit” having done it.
I need to talk about his lies and the many times when he forced us to lie for him — and how this warped my perception of truth until I became an adult.
There are many things I need to talk about. There’s a lot that I still need to understand and process. More than anything else, though, I need for someone to read about what happened and to understand where I came from and what it did to me. I need someone to say, “I’m sorry this happened and I understand how you feel. It’s over now and I love you.”
Over the last 10 years, I’ve become aware just how widespread narcissistic personality disorder is. I’ve learned just how many people have been hurt by similar childhoods and how many people live with their own secrets and their own feelings of shame.
I don’t know exactly when, but the time is coming soon when I’m going to share the full story of the truth about my father.
Note: My father died three weeks after this was published, on April 17, 2018.