I Was 46 Before I Realized My Father Was a Narcissist

Walter Rhein

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I remember riding along in the passenger’s seat next to my dad. I kept leaning forward to look at the stars. My dad kept telling me to stop. Finally, he got so frustrated that he slammed on the breaks causing my face to slam into the dashboard.

He kind of laughed about it and never offered an apology. Later, he said that he hit the brakes to avoid a deer, but there was no deer. He slammed on the brakes because he wanted to teach me a lesson. He did teach me a lesson. He taught me that I shouldn’t trust him.

Growing up there were more lies and there were acts of violence against my mom. I learned to live with him. If you showed obedience you could avoid the abuse.

Some topics were simply forbidden. Dad insisted that the only way to communicate with people was to insult them. He claimed insults were his way of showing love.

I learned not to ask him for help on homework. If I wasted his time like that, he gave me the wrong answers. When I came home with poor grades, he acted as if he’d never told me anything. Again I learned the lesson. The lesson was that I shouldn’t ask him for help.

We existed together under the same roof for 18 years. He called a family meeting to announce he was leaving the family and then invited some stranger he’d met on the internet to come live with us for a week. This was in the early days of the internet before people truly understood how dangerous it was.

The stranger crept around the house like a maniac. Dad decided he didn’t like him and left early. We finally called the police and got the unwelcome house guest to leave.

My brother started getting into problems with the law. Dad bought him expensive gifts. For the next ten years, everything the responsible people in the family did was ridiculed.

Dad never once demanded a formal visitation schedule. He just showed up when he felt like it, told my brother my mom was a terrible parent and left.

I stopped seeing my dad when I was in my twenties. I cut off email communication before I hit thirty.

Before that, I told him that I wouldn’t tolerate insults as a form of interaction. If he wanted to talk to me, he had to treat me with respect.

He threw a fit.

Even so, I was surprised not to receive communication from him when I had my first child. He just didn’t care. Despite everything that had happened, I was surprised that he didn’t care.

Today he’s still committed to waging a hate campaign against my mom even though they’ve been divorced for twenty-five years. In the past, I’d always held out hope that maybe he’d come around. I thought maybe he’d repent his behavior and try to make amends.

I’m forty-six now. At some point, you run out of time to fix the mistakes you’ve made in life.

The lesson I’ve learned is simple. When he has access to me, I’m miserable. When he has access, I lose good friends. When he has access, I lose good jobs.

When he’s gone, my life works. I owe it to my children to make sure my life works. People who sabotage me also sabotage my children. I’ve learned the lesson, it’s one of the first things my dad ever taught me.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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