On my father
A summary of my relationship with my father, to give background to those who haven't been part of this nightmarish scenario all along. CW: emotional abuse, narcissism.
Content warning for discussion of emotional abuse and a narcissistic father.
... This is the first time I've talked about my father on my blog, isn't it? Well, let me try to explain quickly. And by quickly I mean it's going to be a pages-long summary of years of nightmares. Now that I think this horrible episode is at its end for me (for now), I will try sum it all up here. As much to process it all myself as for others to understand what I have been through.
My father seems to struggle with mental illness. Though he refuses to see a therapist and thus we've never gotten an official diagnosis, it seems that he suffers from paranoia and narcissism.
The paranoia is what we suspect leads him to do things like believe that he's being followed by people on the highway, accuse my siblings' significant others of conspiring against him to rob his house, end up being incredibly late for my brother's wedding weekend in order to set up lots of recording devices, or even record his own family without our knowledge or permission.
The narcissism manifests through his being cruel and controlling towards his children and his wife, constantly insulting and hurting us so that he can control us better. He has in the past few years gotten to regularly telling me that I have clear mental problems, I must be unhappy, therapy has ruined me, and only he can help me fix my problems and be happy. (And while I do struggle with depression and anxiety of my own, therapy has saved my life, both in the metaphorical sense of letting me enjoy it fully and in the literal sense of getting me past what had been increasingly regular suicidal thoughts.) Things like that.
He feels free to turn my siblings and my mother and me against each other if it suits him, picking and choosing how he quotes us to each other in order to make it seem like we're supporting him against each other. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions, always making himself out to be the victim whenever someone pushes back against his awful behavior - and using this as further excuse to be harmful to us. Along those lines, he blames my mother for my siblings and me having a bad relationship with him, even though my mother had for a long time defended him to my siblings and me as we grew increasingly discontent with how he treated us. Even though my mother had long denied and normalized the horrible treatment he gave her even as it became increasingly obvious to the rest of us.
My mother and my siblings and I tried for years to help him, at first trying to help him ourselves in our own way and then gradually realizing we were in way over our heads and trying to help him get to therapy, but he only used this as further opportunity to call us the broken ones and try to get us back under his control. Therapists were distrusted, and where he gave in at all, they were used as a bludgeon to justify his horrible treatment of us. We only realized later how skilled he was at making his behavior seem normal and ours seem abnormal to external sources, even therapists.
Since the start of this year, my mother has been going through the long and arduous process of divorcing him, for the sake of her safety and eventual happiness. And since around when I came out as trans (two years ago), I have stopped speaking with him because he has been hurting my mental health too, gleefully prying open the wounds I'm trying to seal because keeping me wounded benefits him. And cutting him out, not being drawn into his whirlpool of despair every week with something new, has honestly been a huge boon to my mental health.
He has only been more cruel to my mother and my siblings since the divorce began. (Thankfully, I have been immune to this behavior, since I had already stopped speaking to him.) This is where he started blocking my mother and siblings from entering the family home - and when they started to marshal the legal system to stop this injustice, he made it as difficult as possible. "As difficult as possible" has also been his strategy for the divorce with my mother. Double standards, stalling, selfishness, and cruelty have all been the themes of his actions, even as my mother tries to make the divorce as easy for him as she can. I had told him when I stopped talking to him that I hoped one day he would change for the better, and I would be willing to reconnect with him then. It's safe to say that the behavior I'm seeing from him does not represent a change for the better.
Each of us has dealt with this in our own way. But I can only speak for myself.
This has all been incredibly hard for me. I loved him deeply when I was younger. I was so close to him then. Before my transition, I was named after him, and back then, that made me happy, to be "Michael Jr." (Now it only makes me angry.) We were the computer pals of the family. I shared my projects with him constantly, he taught me things about computers (by example, in some cases, if nothing else). Towards the beginning of all this, he contacted me to ask for guidance about how to work with my mother when they were fighting, and it made me happy then to be trusted and to have my fledgling emotional intelligence trusted by someone I respected so deeply. (Not realizing that what he really seemed to want was to use me as a weapon against her, to use me to dismiss her points, to use me to find her weaknesses so that he could use them on her.)
Even then there were signs - things like him rushing into my room to yell at me within a few hours when he saw that I had connected to a site for the Sonic anime when I was a teenager. Like him refusing to allow anyone to look at or touch his collection of bootleg DVDs, requiring us to go through him to watch anything. Like him demanding that I use the laptop he had given me to work and not to play, that it wasn't for games, when I was still a child. Acting the victim when I didn't want to use his suggestion for my college admissions essay. Threatening me with taking his belt off and having to be shouted down from this course of action by my mother. But I didn't recognize them then.
Not being told about being recorded was the shattering of trust for me, and the beginning of the end of our relationship. I refused to return to the family house at first, no longer trusting his control over it. Even when I did eventually return, it could no longer be a safe place for me. I was constantly uncomfortable there, even more so as my mother told me about her own fears. If he couldn't respect his own wife's mental safety, what chance did I have of having my own safety cared for when he had repeatedly made clear that he thought of me more as a subordinate than a fellow adult?
We fought over and over. I had just begun to escape from his control and that of the other abusive people who had entered my life since, to recognize my own power again - and I reveled in my newfound power to be angry with him. I was furious. I fought with him time and again. Every time I walked away broken and horrified by the casual disrespect he showed to me, the way he called it love, the way he justified.
In the end, with the help of my therapist, I realized that I couldn't keep demanding things of him he seemed incapable of giving. I had to grieve the father I loved. I had to accept that my dad was gone, and the horrible monster of a man who wore his face and voice was here to stay. Probably forever. I would never be able to go back to those comforting days of working side by side, discovering things about the Windows Registry together. I would never again be at a place where I was comfortable excitedly sharing my work with him when I made a breakthrough in my programming.
I realized that the comfortable nuclear family that I wanted to go back to had been destroyed, and it could probably never be restored again as long as I needed him to be part of it. His hovering, controlling, manipulative, frightening presence - and my trauma from his treatment of me - would forever poison anything he was part of.
I broke contact with him in the end, after he attempted to control my coming out as trans and use it as another way that I have victimized him.
In the coming months I realized I couldn't even hate him. He is not evil, he was and is sick, and his sickness prevents him from getting the help he needs and drives away the people he loves. He has lost jobs, love, family over this. And I do believe that he really does love me, and he's physically incapable of showing it without hurting me and trying to control me. I believe that he inflicts and exploits my mental injuries, consciously or unconsciously, because he's scared. He wants to prevent me from ever leaving or going against him, because he thinks that's what love is.
I have cried so much for him. I have cried so much for me and for my family. I'm crying as I write this. I loved him, and in some ways I still love him, and the decisions I have been forced to make in order to protect myself, to preserve my own emotional and mental safety - decisions I know will hurt him, and decisions I know will hurt me in the short term - have broken my heart again and again, and I am still to this day recovering from that heartbreak.
I believe that I have done what is right. I believe that I must choose my own safety and ability to function as an independent adult over letting myself be treated this way and traumatized again and again by a man who needs to break and control others, needs to hobble them and create a dependency on him, to feel secure. But that doesn't make this situation any happier. It is a horrible situation I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, and even my victories are bittersweet.
So keep all this in mind when I describe the events of December 28th.
My father messaged me shortly after I awoke, telling me that he wanted to wish me well on my trip to Japan, wish me a happy new year, and hope that we can reconnect when I return.
This is Manipulation Tactic #1: Act as if nothing is wrong, and your conversation partner will have to go against inertia to say that something is wrong. They might be willing to just go along with it, or doubt themselves and wonder whether anything really is wrong. It is his most favorite trick, and part of how he dodges responsibility so well.
The way of dealing with this tactic is simple: firmly assert the truth. I thanked him for the well wishes, but told him that if I had wanted them from him, I would have told him I was going to Japan myself. That I disapproved of the way he was treating my mother and siblings in the divorce, and that this was not the change for the better I meant when I said I might one day reconnect with him. That I had instructed him not to contact me, and that he had once again disrespected that boundary - so I still could not trust him.
He called it unfortunate that I was so angry with so many people who genuinely loved me, and asked me to think of the possibility that there might be other perspectives to the situation. He insisted that he has only ever been kind to me, only ever thought of and wanted the best for me, and he still does, and he's always willing to talk if I want to hear the other side.
This is Manipulation Tactic #2: when someone calls you out, it is their problem. They are broken, taking out their misplaced anger on you when you are actually a saint. They simply don't understand your point of view, and oh geez are they going to be embarrassed when they figure out that you were good all along. Bonus points if you can show that this is a systematic problem with them, and not just a problem that you have with them. The purpose of this trick is to get the victim to doubt themselves and to turn the focus back on their actions and away from yours. If even for a moment they consider that they might be in the wrong here, or even acknowledge your accusation, you can lean into that and make the conversation all about that, putting them inescapably on the defensive and taking the pressure off you.
But I have learned how to deal with this tactic, too. I kept the focus on him: it is unfortunate, yes... that those who claim to love me will use their supposed love as a shield to continue their harmful actions when called out for them. And I can understand where he's coming from with his harmful actions and still call them out and not want them in my life.
Next he said "I'm not sure what you think I am doing to harm you, but know that I will stop when I become aware." After all, he said, he never wants me to be harmed, he only wants things that are good for me. He insisted that he was only concerned that I was being misinformed.
This first part is Manipulation Tactic #1 combined with a significant helping of Manipulation Tactic #3. What's tactic #3, you ask?
Lie. Just lie. Distort the truth. Rearrange things so that they look favorable to you. Make your conversation partner have to contradict you. If they do contradict you, then you have forced them to consider whether they're right or not, and you can accuse them of lying and trying to hurt or argue with you, going back to tactic #2 (and #4, coming up). If they accept what you give as true, or even just fail to contradict you, then you have successfully shaped their worldview - or at least this conversation - to your liking. Again, this is about throwing off the victim's trust in themselves and their memories, allowing you to overwrite them.
In this case, he insists that he would stop if told - blatantly contradicting the fact that I have told him again and again and again what is wrong, what I need him to do and stop doing.
And the second part is primarily Manipulation Tactic #4: Accuse others of doing what you're doing. If you're lying, accuse others of lying. If you're losing your temper, accuse others of losing their temper. If you're being rude, accuse others of being rude. Redirect the conversation to be about what others have done. If you're even slightly right, or if there's the possibility you are, you can get people off your trail and put them on the defensive.
My father has lied and distorted the truth again and again and again. He has done so with the intent of villainizing me and my mother in conversations with me over and over again. But he has often claimed that any distaste I have for him is manufactured by my mother. And though he didn't mention her specifically here, it's clear that once again he thinks my mother is sharing misinformation about his actions (this time the way he's behaving during the divorce) - though she has never been anything but straightforward with me, even when she's embarrassed of her own actions. Always her story is consistent with the evidence, and always his omits or alters or exaggerates key details.
Which brings me to the other tactic in the second part, Manipulation Tactic #5: Cast doubt on your conversation partner's story, and on your conversation partner. Make them wonder if they have been lied to and not noticed it. Make them believe they have been duped, make them feel stupid for falling for a lie, and in that moment, you can lie to them.
But I know all this is not true. I reminded him that I had tried to fight for things to be better for years, gone to therapy for years with the explicit goal to better our relationship. I reminded him that my own perspective, without the perspectives of anyone else, gave plenty of damning evidence - he had treated me poorly directly. And that the others' perspectives had always been consistent both with my own experiences and with the evidence, and helped me see that I wasn't alone in how he treated me.
Truth is the only antidote to such brazen lies.
But the greatest antidote of all is never ingesting the poison to begin with. And thus... I finally blocked him. I blocked him everywhere I could think of, and I steeled myself to block him again should I find that I missed anywhere.
Will I ever speak to him again? Perhaps. Somewhere down the road, it's possible. I have no plans to do so, no intended roadmap, no anticipated sign that will cause me to change my mind.
Am I happy with how this turned out?
In some ways, yes. I finally stood up to all his manipulative tricks. In the end, a narcissist's manipulation is about taking the victim's insecurities and vulnerabilities and using them against the victim - so this is also a sign that I have grown and been able to confront my insecurities and vulnerabilities for myself. And this is all thanks to my wonderful friends, who have taught me to fight this. And by blocking him, I've made it much harder for him to get to me. He basically has to show up in person now, a much more dangerous move - and even that will become harder when I move to Japan.
In other ways, no. It devastates me that I am forced to block my own father to keep my mental health in order. It devastates me that I must leave a man so sick to his own devices. I genuinely hope that he has a happy life without me. I worry that he will not.
In the end, we cannot choose the situations we are born into. We can only choose how we respond to them.
I choose to fight for my happiness.