It was early on a Sunday morning. I can’t describe my parents’ bedroom, but I know where we lived. I can’t tell you what else was going on. I just remember playing with my father on their bed.
My favorite game on all of these Sunday mornings was when he would let me climb onto his legs and he would lift me into the air, higher than a little boy knew was possible. I laughed gleefully and wanted to ride again and again.
I was a happy little boy in those moments.
This faded photograph from my baby book is the only physical evidence of those times, but my memory is more powerful than a photo anyway. You might not be able to tell in the darkness of the old picture, but that’s my father’s face on the lower left. I’m on top of his legs and he’s holding onto me with his outstretched hands.
Now that my father has been dead for more than three years, I wish I could erase all of the bad things about him in my memory. I wish it were possible to lose all the evidence of the angry and abusive narcissist who hurt me.
I wish I could hold onto just the loving and tender moments with my father, because those memories are powerful.
I was at war with my father — in one way or another — ever since I was a teen-ager. It didn’t become open conflict until the last decade of his life. I had always been too scared to defy him openly. We had waged a cold war for control of my life.
I finally won that battle, but there was a tremendous price to be paid.
The decades spent fighting that battle meant I couldn’t have the relationship with my father that I needed. I couldn’t have the experience of being an adult whose father finally treated him like an adult. And since he fought the same sorts of narcissistic battles with other people in his life, my father was deprived of the love and companionship that others wanted to give him.
After I cut off contact with my father, he told me many times — in his unrelenting emails and voicemails — that I would “bitterly regret” cutting him off. Three years and two months later, the only regret I have about that is that I didn’t cut him off far sooner.
I was talking to someone about Father’s Day a few minutes ago and she asked me about my father. I gave a brief explanation, but she didn’t understand in the least.
“Well, at least he was there for you,” she said. “It’s a lot worse when they’re not there.”
That’s when I knew she didn’t get it. I didn’t argue with her, because, well, how could I possibly explain?
My father could be kind and loving. He could also be a raging and angry monster. He could shift between those personas without warning.
I needed the kind and loving father. Now that I’m free from the threat of his emotional abuse, it’s easier for me to remember those good times — like those early Sunday morning play times — and think about how much they meant to me.
If I could have had more of that — and far less of the screaming monster who scared us all and ran my mother off — I would have appreciated him more. I actually needed a father more, but the raging monster simply overwhelmed the loving father.
The notion that it’s always better for a child when he’s brought up by his father (or mother, for that matter) is very flawed. Yes, the ideal situation is for a biological mother and a biological father to both be there and raise the child. But the damage done by a narcissist — and by many abusers, even when the abuse is more subtle — overpowers the good.
I would have been better off if my mother had been successful in taking us with her, as she tried to do repeatedly when I was about 5 years old. On more than one occasion, she apologized to me — about 20 years ago — for not having been successful in getting us away from him. She knew he was a monster, but she was too weak to follow through on her attempts to save us.
I can look at my father now almost as a historian might look at the flawed subject of his biography. I can see his flaws and I can vividly recall the times when he almost destroyed us — my sisters and me. But more and more, I can detach the abuse from the good parts.
On those Sunday mornings — when I was about 2 or 3 — we played for awhile. Then he and I would go for Krispy Kreme doughnuts in East Lake. After that, we would watch trains for a bit, because I loved trains. And then it would be time to get ready for church.
The abusive monster died three years ago. I don’t think about that narcissistic man nearly as much anymore. Instead, I can increasingly remember the times with the loving father when I felt loved and wanted. Those times are special.
That was a different man.
And those good memories always renew my desire for my own children, because children deserve a lot more of the loving and caring father. If I can emulate my father at his best — and never at his worst — maybe I can be the father I always wanted for myself.
Maybe I can be the father he simply didn’t know how to be.