Parental Narcissism: There are no neat little little bows

I had this all figured out. I did.

60 is upon me. I can binge a few seasons of a couple shows maybe before heading into that next decade? I mean, long running shows. Like Frasier or Friends, before turning 60. But not super long running shows. Not Doctor Who or SNL. Or The Simpsons. 


I’ve written about parental narcissism for years now. I went from discovery to acceptance to really not thinking about it much.

Then my dad started winding down. Hard.

Life isn’t neat and orderly. Problems present themselves and sometimes we can wait a lifetime for no answers. Life is capricious.

Too bad life isn’t actually like a sitcom. You know, a conflict is introduced and after some pain, soul searching, or misunderstanding, a solution gets presented.

But in real life? The Huxtable’s always figured out their shit on the show, but in real life, when Cliff Huxtable was just Bill Cosby, life becomes complicated and dark. So, I guess sitcoms don’t offer much usable guidance.

My dad is winding down.

And he’s doing this thing.

I talked about it before. I don’t want to be a broken record here, but it’s freaking me the fuck out.

When I was very young, my father worshipped me. I was a princess.

Then, I wasn’t.

I spent literal decades looking for that approval again. I didn’t get it.

I let it go. Or I thought I did.

When I see my dad now, he always seems genuinely glad to see me. I have no idea how to react.

When we leave, he hugs me and tells me he loves me.

See? This is fucking up my nice, neat little bow. I dealt with this shit.

I would be kind. I would be helpful, but I sure as fuck wasn’t going to care.

Now, I care a little. And I have to deal with anger, bitterness and so many things that I am just so goddamn tired of dealing with.

I mean, it changes nothing. He’s brain damaged and our relationship was damaged beyond repair before the decade of the seventies ended.

I let go of the anger. I let go of the bitterness. I let go of a lot.

I’m doing my best to not let the feelings bubble up again, because what is the point in that?

I do see something on the horizon, though. I’d like to pretend I don’t, but I do.

I can feel grief waiting. How is that fair?

No one gets any nice, neat little bows, do they?



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  • I feel your pain. I know how trite that is, but it’s true. My father was a mean drunk and a physical, emotional, and sexual abuser. Yet, when he was dying, there was no one left to take care of him but me. So I did. I wiped the drool from his face, hounded the doctors to give him more pain meds when he needed them, left the nursing home to get him Popsicles whenever he wanted one., and took care of all his affairs. Did all of those normal daughterly things. Except… I could NOT bring myself to tell him I loved him, no matter how many times he said those words to me. My husband told him… but I did not. Could not. I figured taking care of him and showing kindness to him at the end was the decent thing, the humane thing, to do, but that was all I could manage. I did it not because he was a kind man, but because I’m a kind woman. Just like you. Sorry you’re going through this, but believe it or not, treating him well now will help some of your hurt places heal, because it’ll put things into perspective for you. The truth is, he’s an old man in pain now, just a mere shadow of his former terrifying self. And he’s probably afraid. Hang in there. You’ve got this.

    • Thank you for this. Sincere thanks. This made me tear up a bit.

      I don’t want him to be in pain or afraid. I don’t love him, I can’t. He killed that in me a long time ago. But I do want him to be comfortable and I want him to experience joy, the same as I hope for most other people. I exclude the former president and the madman in Russia. I just can’t with them.

  • My relationship with my dad was difficult in my youth so this particularly resonated. He, too, was brain-impaired as he aged. There are no easy ways to come to terms with any of it. I feel you, girl.

  • I truly connected with this post…I too have experienced the lack of approval and pushing away of everything involving him or that side of the family for that matter. Now I get small checks…supposedly part of my inheritance…what the hell? Where does that come from?
    Now you care? Still havent met your grand daughters or great grand daughters….
    I can’t blame our disfunction on a medical problem…but thank you, I do not feel alone any more.

  • It’s so hard. My Dad passed last March, at the age of 93. I had a day and a half, to try to say all the things I had on my heart. He was past speaking, so I didn’t have to worry about his responses. It was, after all, all about him, at that point. It surprised me that my nephew, (in his 30’s) had a great deal of anger mixed with sadness, at his grandpa. I guess I gave up being angry a while ago.

  • I wish I could offer some words of wisdom. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I think we do get nice little neat bows, they just don’t last as long as they used to. Actually, I think bows went out of style when the messy buns came along. Hang in there!

  • You know when people think they might be coming to the end of their lives, they want to heal, reach out and make it all better. Forgiveness is tough, really tough. But you will sleep better at night. And you can quietly forgive him without having some long discussion that will just make you cry.

  • I thought I had dealt with my issues but they jumped up and slapped me across the face when mom moved in with me. It was rough, we both survived and I think we’re pretty kickass for a couple of old broads!

  • I have been very fortunate in that regard. I suspect because I never had the nice part. She tried in the end which is more than most people get I think. Old habits are hard to break. I haven’t had a ton of grief. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been any, but at no point did it overwhelm me as of yet. She’s been gone since 2004. I actually had a sense of relief, like I could finally realize my potential without her cutting away at my self esteem. I think my case has more to do with abuse than just narcissism. I am also sure that they are most often intertwined. My heart goes out to you. hugs

  • The fact that he’s at peace with the past because he’s forgotten it, seems unfair, but it should make it easier for you to know that your Dad loved you, somewhere in his mind. And when he’s gone, you may find comfort in that knowledge.

  • I was MIA for both of my parents’ decline and passing (well, passing, mom died of a brain tumor six weeks after they found it, and dad died of a heart attack in his sleep at 84) and it was my sister who kept contact and took care of the work involved, so thank you Carol.
    In retrospect, this was hella unfair of me, as Carol, who is gay, had the most difficult relationship with dad, but we both had our reasons and it turns out that she respects that, however lame I feel about it.
    Sorry you have to go through this as the goddamn apocalypse is winding down, but I do hope that it ends up giving you some unlooked for peace in some difficult areas you might have written off as losses.
    I don’t really have anything useful to say, except perhaps remember to take care of yourself while working through this bullshit.

  • One thing I can really relate to is how sitcoms tricked too many of us into thinking most problems could be wrapped up in thirty minutes or less. People could say the most awful, devastating things, they could betray each other in the worst ways, and it could all be fixed in half an hour. Maybe an hour if it was a two-parter. I learned early that life doesn’t work that way. Ever. But at least they’re realistic in showing us that even when people fall into familiar patterns it can surprise us, it can even be hard to understand. It’s just rarely funny.
    But as others have said you’ve got this. Life doesn’t give us reruns but you have a well-established pattern of being smart and strong.

  • You being a kind and humane Human Being is Enough and extending it towards others, however unworthy of it, is Grace in Motion. Knowing you did the Right thing, even tho’ it is not the Easy thing, in the end, will be therapeutic. The declining and the dying will have their regrets and apologies over how they lived out life, some may even be sincere.

  • I read this right when you published it. Then I sat trying to come up with how to say something appropriate…
    It’s just weird growing up with their changing whims. Sometimes the princess. Sometimes the sh#% on their shoe. Like you, I’ve done a lot of letting go. But, then something will bubble up and taint things for a while.
    My father died almost 5 years ago. The odd mixture of grief, relief, (and even a little pain that he would never admit what a monster he had been) was confusing! I had just figured out what he was a few months prior to his getting sick, so had been pulling away. Visiting him for those few weeks at the hospital was purely for me. I needed to keep being the compassionate person that I consider myself. He didn’t deserve it, but I also didn’t want him to be scared or in pain. Just as I don’t want ANYONE in pain.

    The hardest part for me, was not feeling guilty about not missing him… I think there will be things that will come up for years after we think we’ve covered everything. Things to process. Even now I still can’t wrap up my childhood or relationship with him in a pretty bow!

By Michelle

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