Opinion: My Narcissistic Father Didn't Care About My Long-Term Health

Walter Rhein

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It’s fashionable for older generations to pick on younger generations in public and the media. They call people under thirty “lazy” and “entitled.” But the truth is that older generations have ruined the economy and the world.

I grew up with a narcissistic father who demonstrated he didn’t care about my health. Fortunately, my mother spoke up when his behavior and expectations became too extreme.

We had a farm. One of my jobs on this farm was to go out with a hand sprayer and spray herbicide on invasive weeds.

If it had been up to my dad, I would not have been allowed to use any protective gear. He said that when a person had protective gear they spend all their time fiddling with their gear.

My mom, despite my dad’s objections, insisted that I wear a mask and gloves. She also told me not to get the herbicide on my skin.

“We don’t know the effect that will have on you twenty years down the road.”

My dad would always mock my mom for saying things like that. “You’re just making him lazy,” he would say. “Now he’s going to waste his time adjusting his rubber gloves rather than working.”

On the few occasions when he would work with us, he’d spray me with the herbicide just to show how ridiculous mom was. “See, it doesn’t hurt you,” he said.

He never sprayed himself to show it was harmless. Instead, he thought it was funny to spray me.

Fortunately, he never worked for very long. He had a busy schedule of naps on the couch to maintain. Thanks to my mom, my exposure to the herbicide was minimal.

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of advertisements on television that mention the herbicide we use. These advertisements discuss a lawsuit that determined this herbicide can lead to the development of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Looking back on it now, I wish I’d taken my mother more seriously. I think of all of my narcissistic father’s reckless actions and it makes me angry.

I’m fortunate that my mother was there to speak for me.

When you’re young, the only thing you want in life is the pride and approval of your parents. My narcissistic father was so aggressive in his mockery of anyone that didn’t agree with him, that I often took his side against my mother.

Back then, I would laugh as my father wiped herbicide on me and took it as a sign of how ridiculous my mother was.

Even so, some part of me held back and I used the gloves and the mask when my dad wasn’t around.

My narcissistic father often put me in situations where he expected me to defy my mother’s wishes. These moments were like personal victories for him. But those moments were damaging to me in several ways.

Every time my dad encouraged me to defy my mother, it sowed the seeds of discord in our family. It also taught me that it was funny to be disrespectful to authority. Finally, it taught me that it was appropriate to mock ideas that I didn’t believe.

These were not healthy lessons. None of them served me in my life.

My father was reckless with fertilizers and insecticides too. My mother would always pack us into the car and leave our home for a few days when he sprayed.

“You never know the effects these things will have decades later,” she would say.

“It’s perfectly safe, you’re being silly,” he would reply.

Looking back, it’s bizarre that my narcissistic father decided to make such a big issue about this. My mother’s attitude was not “hysterical.” Her concerns were valid.

My mom handled these moments all on her own. My father didn’t have to do anything. It took more energy to oppose her than it would have taken just to leave her alone.

My narcissistic father constantly pestered my mother. He put my future health at risk in service of his ego. His philosophy revolved around obedience and being right. He never even considered that he might be wrong, or that his actions might be causing us harm.

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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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