Updated: Nov 13
I recently watched the film The Twelfth Man, a true story about a Norwegian spy on the run from a Nazi officer determined to track him down through Norway’s frozen tundra. The film makes a point to say at the very beginning that the facts are all true, which is good intel as when one watches it, it is indeed hard to believe that this man not only survived the ordeal over the course of so many months, but that so many ordinary Norwegians of all ages risked their lives to get him over the Swedish border.
As with most movies I love, I will tell friends that certain ones are a must-see, and I said this to my friend in a text the other day as I was happy that I could so strongly recommend such a riveting tale. But she then reminded me that as a child, she lived among many Jewish neighbors who still had numbers tattooed on their arms from their time in concentration camps, which back then fascinated her but also troubled her, so much so that she sought out every bit of information she could find about Nazi Germany and how it all happened.
She once asked her mother what she would have done if they had lived in Nazi Germany and had to watch their Jewish neighbors be dragged away, and her mother said she didn’t know, mainly because her first priority would have been to protect my friend (then a small child), even if it meant keeping quiet about the horrors she was witnessing.
My friend’s words were very eloquent as she described why she couldn’t watch the film, and I have to admit that it was difficult viewing, not just because of the details of the story but because of what is happening in America in these post-election days in November of 2020. Trump is not accepting that he has lost, and his army of lawyers is trying to come up with every angle to overturn the election, which I admit has me extremely unsettled, only because everything we ever thought could never happen with Trump has actually happened, so the election won’t really be over until Joe Biden is finally sworn in on Jan.20.
As I speak to friends about my anxieties, most say an overturn could never happen, but when one is raised by a narcissist, it soon becomes evident very early in life that narcissists live strangely charmed lives, and more important, they never ever pay for their sins. The horrors that they cause don’t end until their lives do, which can take a very long time.
In the case of my father, who died Aug. 23, I find myself reliving—or maybe living for the first time—a rage at him that seems to know no bounds. I am not grieving his loss at all, but instead am remembering the carnage he caused in my family, and the scars he left within me in particular. For some reason, the memories are playing out in my mind as though on a big screen, and with each one I imagine a much different reaction than what I had when he was alive.
Back then, after the stunned astonishment I would feel in the moments right after an act of unbelievable cruelty, I was often rendered mute and paralyzed, for if I were to express what I was really feeling, I might have ended up behind bars.
And of course, there was always the protection I felt for my mother, fearing that if I somehow made things worse by smashing the bowl of mashed potatoes in his face, or some such act, she would be the one to pay once I would go home, for it was his M.O. to rage for days in a self-pitying state of complete victimhood should anyone challenge his behavior.
My God, when I think of what his former black neighbors would think of him if they only knew what a racist he truly was. My father was always incredibly charismatic, always willing to help out with lawn or snow duties on their properties in a hyper friendly way, which, of course, created tremendous good will and friendship across the racial divide--a divide I’m sure our neighbors thought was getting smaller by the day, judging from the acts of their pal Bob. But oh, how very wrong they were, which is no fault of their own, of course. My dad was a master manipulator, able to switch between charm and rage in literally a split second, depending on who was in the room and what he wanted to project.
Most often, he wanted to project that he was the perfect guy with the perfect family who was loved by all, when the truth is that he would espouse racial hatred at the dinner table nearly every night, which even my teenage self could see was so deeply pathetic. He would act as though he was George Wallace or even Hitler himself up on the podium talking to millions when in reality his audience was my timid mother and me, and then the baby once my sister came along.
I can recall feeling the utter absurdity of it all as his chest would puff and he’d pound his fists on the table, making eye contact with no one as he’d bark his true feelings about "the blacks" and what they were doing to this country, all while Joe and his family next door had no idea of what was going on just across the alley. In hindsight, I can see now why those side windows in the kitchen facing Joe’s house were never open. (I should note that my dad rarely used the word "blacks," but instead preferred all of the other euphemisms used in racial hate speech.)
And this is how it would go night after night—my father preaching to an audience of none with a look on his face that what he was saying were the most important words ever uttered by a human being. My teenage self felt deep disgust, embarrassment, and complete disrespect for this man acting so big before the obedient females in his life, secure we would just sit silent for the never-ending diatribes.
Never did a man seem so incredibly small and powerless, so frightened of his world, yet so incredibly dangerous to all around him, especially when he drank. There were many nights during these drunken rages that I thought my mom and I would not be alive in the morning, particularly when his eyes would go jet black from the alcohol. Small comfort would come only when he would ultimately pass out.
But of course this wasn’t the worst of it when it came to my dad, as it was easier to have his rage targeted at someone else other than my mom, my sister or me. When it turned on me, in particular, he could be ruthless with his words and lose all control over just how mean he could get, as if there was a direct line somehow between his viciousness and an infusion of some kind of supernatural power. The more he could eviscerate and devour me, the more his ego would balloon, which is why I find it somewhat ironic that Trump followers believe the conspiracy theory that the left not only traffics in children, but then eats them.
In my experience, my dad the narcissist ate his young in a far more egregious ways than if he had actually cooked me and sliced me up for dinner. For the child served up on a plate, the nightmare is finally over. For the survivors, though, the nightmare goes on in recurrent memories and the complete wreckage of their self-esteem, no matter how hard they try to repair the damage and move on.
When I look back upon those days with my dad, I can see that he trafficked me, too, not in a sexual way (although sadism most definitely has a sexual element), but in the sense that I was expected to perform on cue, usually in some way that made him look good to others.
When most adults become parents, they are able to put their children in the center of the family universe as a way to foster their development, even if it means that the parents themselves must take a back seat. But my father never seemed to outgrow his infantile stage, which put me into a type of indentured servitude where it was my job to make him look good, feel good, and be willing to take the blame for his unending, self-centered and terrifying rages. If he told me I looked at him funny, and that was the reason for a two-week rage, I was supposed to apologize for it, repeatedly and with a specific contrite look on my face, so that he could not accept the apologies and thus inflict more pain. (I could never quite figure out what a contrite face looked like, but he would berate me until it seemed to suffice.)
He always took the gamble, too, that I would never tell anyone what really went on behind those closed doors, for he knew no one would believe it, as he was clearly the most popular guy in town. Indeed, while in my early 20s, when I finally disclosed to a male friend what my father was really like, that friend scolded me as being an ingrate and just plain wrong, like he knew better than me about my father's character simply because my dad made him laugh a few times. Despite countless Facebook invitations over the years to be friends, I can no longer look at that friend’s face without feeling revulsion.
And so, this past August, when it was obvious that my dad was finally dying, he was holding onto life in a way that his aides and the Hospice team said they had never seen before. He’d had no food or water for ten days or so, but yet his vitals were still strong, and it soon became the opinion of his 24/7 aide, Evelyn (a deeply religious Christian), that it was his guilt, over me in particular, that was keeping him tied to the earth.
Apparently, she and her preacher son, also an aide, had had conversations with my dad in that two-year period since my mom had died, where they gleaned this guilt, although I'm not sure my father ever actually confessed to anything at all. Evelyn was, and is, an extraordinary human being, but I sensed at the end that she had a deep need to believe that my dad had had a "deathbed repentance," and that his soul had been finally saved. But all that would come later, and at this point, she said that due to her 40 years of experience, she believed I needed to go in to him and tell him that I forgave him, which would ultimately help him let go.
The very idea of this nauseated me, as if there was ever a man who didn’t deserve such a speech, it was my dad. In fact, in the months prior to Covid's arrival, my planned speech to him was going to be quite different, although I’d never really worked out the words. But it was one that was going to confront him with the truth of what he had done, and also my own truth, that he had been a profound disappointment to me, and that every woman in his family was either dead because of him, or was now the walking wounded, suffering with addictions, depressions and our own personality disorders. Unfortunately, the arrival of Covid stopped that particular visit, and my sister and I didn’t visit again for months, at which point he was beginning to fail rapidly.
As he was holding on so tightly to life, I decided to give Evelyn’s words the benefit of the doubt, and agreed to talk about forgiveness with him, even though I told her that I'd already forgiven him in my heart years prior. No, she said. He needed to hear the words.
Ironically, when I went into his room to give the speech, all I felt at first was the usual terror that my dad always inspired in me when I thought my words might make him mad. Here he was on his deathbed, unable to move, yet all I could see in my mind's eye was his fists in my face years earlier when he was in rehab recovering from his heart attack, and I told him I was taking Mom home to have some dinner. True to form, he became enraged that we had needs of our own, so much so that that despite the staples in his chest, he was able to sit up, clench his teeth, spit vile words and attempt to land a punch.
But I gathered my courage and prevailed, and once I approached the bed, I told him that I forgave him for all he had done, that I thought he must have had some mental illness that made him inflict such cruelty upon me, my sister and my mom, who I said most likely had forgiven him, too, and was now waiting for him on the other side. As I said these words, his giant, crystal-blue eyes stared straight into mine, without flinching, and it was only when I closed with the words, “I love you” that they finally closed. He died the next day.
I wish I could say that I look upon that experience as some kind of redemptive moment for us both, but instead, in the subsequent days, I felt nothing but gall that I had done it, and resentment that Evelyn had talked me into it.
So now, as I see these days playing out in America, and how people like my father have contributed to them (and seeing just how many of these people actually exist), I find myself often sitting with clenched fists and clenched teeth myself about his seething hatred towards others with skin shades darker than his own, and how that very hatred is now bringing the country down.
After my friend reminded me about her discomfort with movies regarding Nazi history, I texted back with these final words:
I'm in a bad state today regarding the election. It's overwhelming to me that so many share the cruelty and ignorance of my father. I don't mourn him at all. All I feel towards him is rage and my profound regret that I allowed Evelyn to talk me into that forgiveness speech. If it made him leave this earth a day earlier, then I guess it was worth it. But I regret it terribly. That was not the planned speech I had for him before Covid hit. But I am enraged at him for being part of the hate and racism and insanity that has led us to this point. I'm even feeling rage at my mother for staying with him, for making me the sacrifice for her emotional security, although she never did achieve what she wanted from the bargain.
In life I forgave her completely, but in death I'm struggling. Because there are so many women like her who enable these men and this hatred. Of course many of the women hate just as much as their husbands, but many stand by and stay quiet, like my dear cousin, who at this point in life wouldn't know how to care for herself without her Trumpian husband and son. These women make deals with the devils. I hate my father so much for the carnage he caused, which I don't think I'll ever find the words for. The only thing I'm wishing for tonight is that he could somehow die again.
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All images are copyrighted 2020 and exist in my journal.