My Father Is a Narcissist and I’ve Felt Pity For Him Since I Was Young

Walter Rhein

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Growing up, there’s not a time I remember that I didn’t feel pity for my father. I was twenty when he eventually left the family, and I haven’t spoken to him for twenty-six years. It always felt as if it was my responsibility to teach him how to have healthy relationships. I guess I failed.

It took a long time for me to realize that he was a narcissist, but I always knew there was something wrong with him. A few years ago, he was divorced for the second time. It’s another failed relationship in a string of failed relationships.

In all interactions, my father has to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dinner table discussion or a family game night. As a child, I recognized when the rage was about to begin. If he began to realize he’d picked an indefensible position, he wouldn’t reconsider his opinion. Instead, he’d get angry.

Playing board games, he was ruthless. It’s comical to consider a thirty-year-old man playing Monopoly with a seven-year-old boy with such a singular fixation on victory. He wouldn’t make eye contact during those games. I was the opponent. He had to win.

As a child, all you want is time with your dad. Winning is secondary. I kept coming back and asking him to play even though he behaved selfishly again and again.

I remember the first time I beat him in a game of Scrabble. He thought of himself as a superior Scrabble player. No matter how good you are at any game, there is always an element of chance. Sometimes you draw nothing but vowels.

When I beat him, he muttered a forced congratulations under his breath, stood up, and walked away. He was furious. I knew then that somebody was going to have to pay for his sense of humiliation.

Some fathers let their children win when playing sports and games. That wasn’t the case in my family. I learned that I had to let him win so that my mom didn’t have to face the burden of his anger.

When you have a narcissist for a parent, you learn how to manage them. When you are young and powerless, it’s easy to defer to your parent’s demands.

Narcissists need to be showered with constant praise. They’re extremely insecure. You can never contradict them directly. Instead, when you want something from them, you have to prove how your request fits with their established philosophy.

Narcissists are easy to handle once you know the rules. The problem is that the rules represent manipulation. It’s a dishonest way to interact with people. When I got old enough, I decided I didn’t want to continue to play the game of manipulation.

I tried to have conversations with my father about how he had to be more respectful of the opinions of others. He denied that anything I said had any merit. He only wanted the old interaction where I’d shower him with false praise.

That form of a relationship simply doesn’t work. Today, he’s sitting at home alone. He’s probably resentful that I’m not more impressed by the way he used to dominate me at Monopoly when I was nine. Narcissists never learn that other people have feelings too. Until they recognize that, all their relationships are doomed to fail. Managing them is not kindness. The only kindness is pressuring them not to be a narcissist.

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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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