After three days of rather detached and clinical responses to my father’s death, I’ve finally had a tremendous flood of emotions about him tonight.
I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m filled with rage. I don’t have adequate words to describe how shaken I am.
I picked up his last worldly possessions late Friday afternoon. He had little enough remaining that it all fit into his car, a white 2001 Toyota Avalon. I drove home with something like a sense of dread. The people with whom he had been living told me they had gone through his things — looking for a will or something that might give instructions about his wishes — and discovered journal entries and letters which I would find interesting. I haven’t looked for those yet.
But when I got home, I started his old MacBook Air. What I’ve found so far makes me sick.
He never learned to stop lying. Everywhere I look, there are lies he wrote about himself.
Even very recently, he had accounts on dating sites and was corresponding with women. The picture above is a mirror selfie that he took to send to one of those women. He wrote long letters and they sometimes became quite enchanted with him — but much of what he said was pure fantasy.
In less polite terms, he lied to them over and over. And when he was tired of talking to one of them, he would either disappear without explanation or else invent elaborate excuses. He even had a standard bio written for himself that he would slightly adapt for the different women. Here’s his explanation of how he had made his money in life:
“I started as a night clerk in a rail yard, but had the good fortune of eventually moving into management, and in time became Superintendent of Safety, with dual offices in Washington, D.C. and Birmingham,” he wrote. “While with the railroad I had the opportunity of partnering with 2 other men in the purchase of a coal mining operation in Alabama, and I opted to take the risk of giving up a certain, very good salary with the railroad for the unknowns of being in business for myself. It turned out to be a somewhat unwise decision, because even though we made a lot of money for several years, we were a small fish in a very large pond, and were, in effect, forced out of business when we refused to play games with the big coal operators.”
Very little of that is true. He did work for Southern Railway. He did start as a clerk and rose to superintendent of safety for a division of the railroad. He never owned a coal company. He never made a lot of money. Although he was a good administrator, he couldn’t have run a hotdog stand as a businessman. Instead, after he left Southern, he drifted for a couple of years before he ended up taking a job as administrative assistant to a man who owned several coal companies. (He would eventually embezzle millions of dollars from that man, but that’s a story for another day.)
He felt the need to explain to these women why he no longer had any money. He couldn’t admit to them that all of his stolen money had been taken from him in a legal settlement to avoid going to prison — which would have been true — so he had to lie. He had to weave a tale of bad investments and then losing everything in the real estate crash about 10 years ago. Some versions of the tale include his story of losing everything because he invested his fortune with Bernie Madoff. Yes, seriously.
When he quit writing to one woman, she wrote to him expressing concern.
“If you are interested in discontinuing our correspondence, please just say so and I will accept it gracefully,” she wrote. “Otherwise you have me wondering if you were in an accident on your way home from North Carolina, or … well, at our age anything can happen. Just please, don’t keep me in suspense.”
He responded with something brief which made it sound as though he planned to write again, but he didn’t. Two years later, this woman wrote again.
“Your last letter implied that you would write and I waited immediately and when I didn’t hear started wondering,” she said. “I hope that you are not going to report bad news.”
He never responded to the woman. As with so many things in his life, he couldn’t face the reality of the mess he had made — and the hurt he had caused for someone else.
I also discovered that he had been stalking my sisters and me on Facebook. About two years ago, I received a “friend request” from someone I’d never heard of named Ronald Smith. I suspected it was him, so I blocked the account and stopped posting everything for the public to see. It turns out that I was right. That was the Facebook account on his computer. He had “friended” two other David McElroys — including one who is a friend of mine — in his attempts to stalk me.
After about an hour, I had to put away the computer and I haven’t even unpacked the rest of the things in the car. I’m not sure when I’ll have the stomach to do so.
He knew that I would one day find these things. When I last saw him — two or three months ago — he mentioned that his computer would be something I would receive, among his few other things. So I presume he just didn’t care that he knew I would one day find these lies — and the other things yet to be uncovered.
I feel sick about what he was. Nothing I came across tonight was the least bit surprising to me, but it still hurts. It makes me angry that he could treat other people in the selfish and callous ways which he sometimes did. It fills me with rage that he wouldn’t face up to the truth of the things he had done. It makes me sick that he was so needy that he was willing to lie to get people to love him, even if they were loving a false self — someone who never existed.
Mostly, I feel incredible anger and hurt — even some shame — about being reminded that this man was my father. Half of my genes came from him. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. And it doesn’t make any sense that the man I thought I knew as a child never really existed — that the perfect and moral man I knew was always just a facade for a very damaged false self inside.
How could I possibly have come from this man? The renewed realization makes me sick.
When I was trying to work much of this out in therapy more than a decade ago, my psychologist said to me — more than once — “You have no right to be as sane as you are after what you went through.” She was joking, at least a little. Still, I wonder.
How am I as relatively sane as I am?
And how could I have come from this narcissistic man?