Learning to Deal with an Aging Narcissistic Parent

by CJLutz
(Portland, OR)

My dad has recently come back into my life after a 35 year almost complete absence.

Let me explain: my mom finally left him when I was 21 (they say kids don't want their parents to separate? I fantasized that mine would,) but of course he really wasn't out of her life - in fact, they came close to remarrying - until (surprise!) he found a better audience in my step-mom, D, who was herself married when she got involved with my dad, and who was pregnant probably before her divorce was final, but whatever - it was a dodged bullet for my mom, and bless her heart, D soldiered on with my dad until just this year.

For the first 20 years or so of their marriage, we had just the most basic contact with him/them. I did worry, because my dad had been abusive in all the ways, about their daughter. I wanted to say something to D but I was a young mom myself living miles away, dealing with my own issues as an adult child of a narcissist, (though I didn't realize that's what I was at the time,) whose biggest terror in life was that she was LIKE her dad, and I thought it possible that maybe he'd changed.

If he was happy I didn't want to mess it up. So if/when we were in town, we might have dinner with them, and we exchanged surface-y "everything's good everywhere" letters intermittently. I always remembered his birthday and Christmas (he was sketchy on that one,) and basically I just tried to let those sleeping dogs lie, as it were.

By the time my half-sister was in high school, there were hints that all was not well, but it wasn't until she was in college (at the same college as my oldest child, in fact,) and Facebook became a thing that we connected.

It had occurred to me that the last thing my dad would want was for us to have opportunity to exchange stories, but I friended W on FB, and to my delight (I'd always wanted a sister,) she seemed very open, into writing and willing to talk.

She was pretty circumspect at that time - I guess there was a lot more brewing than she let on - but I did learn and this story has stayed consistent that my dad had done a better job on the big two (sexual and physical abuse) than he'd done in his first family. (phew!)

Fast forward five years. I hear that D has left my dad and is staying with her grown son in a town near me. I learn additionally that this is the fifth or sixth time she's left, and I also learn that he's trying to blackmail her into staying, either by not paying back an enormous loan he'd taken out from her parents, or by murder suicide.

I decide it's time to have a chat, so I go down to see her. She's a lovely woman (no surprise) who is probably way more sympathetic and caring than my mom ever was, which is definitely her downfall, because she did go back to him - and she told him all the things I'd told her.

Boy did that get me on his hit list. He threatened to sue me for slander - turns out you can only win a slander lawsuit if what's been said is untrue and besides, he didn't have any money, so I wasn't really afraid of this, but it seriously scared and offended/irritated my husband. My dad, of course, did back away (only because he couldn't afford it, he said,) but my husband has been against my having any sort of contact with my dad ever since.

However, because my dad in fact has little in the way of funds (it's hard to know what the truth is here, but he was never good at holding on to a good thing (like a job,) he has made periodic reappearances.

At one point, we did pay his rent for two months (through a charitable organization, I'd never send him money directly,) to see him through a hard time, but it took some real finessing to get my husband to agree to it.

Either way, the point is that the reality that we might have to take care of him in his old age started to come home.

Fast forward another five years: D has left my dad again, and this time, she says it's for good. She isn't healthy herself (though she's just a few years older than I am,) stress and emotional abuse has taken its toll for sure, and my half-sister, who'd been - possibly ill-advisedly - trying to help them, is also done.

I bless them, honestly, for having run interference for us for the last 30-some years. Their lives were very separate from ours, but this allowed my brothers and me some time to be a family without the drama and chaos that my dad would have brought.

In fact, I don't think we'd even know each other if my dad hadn't been otherwise occupied; we'd've just scattered and. . .yeah. Hard to imagine a good outcome there.

So on a couple of levels, I have felt it was important that we, or at least I, step up. Not for my dad, but for W and D. This has been a hard row to hoe, too, as my brothers have had ... well, let's just say we all share some unfortunate traits. We've done BETTER than our dad (relationships, jobs, etc., all credit goes to God,) but it hasn't been easy, and their attitude has been like WE OWE HIM/THEM NOTHING, he made his choices, W isn't "family" etc.

This has changed (again, God?) in the last several months, thankfully, or I might be writing a different story; it only makes me feel for W more, because she basically did this on her own (despite having five half-siblings, her own brothers went the tough love route and disconnected from their mom when she went back to him that other time.)

The thing is, after 35 years of either no substantive contact or "there's going to be hell to pay" (this happened one other time, when my brother confronted him after I shared my story with him,) email exchanges, I have no idea how to deal with him.

He's 79 now, and has congestive heart failure (which, ironically? interestingly, seems MUCH IMPROVED since D left him,) a card he'll play if it suits him. When he needed to find a place to live, and we offered (W, D and I, my brothers were not involved at that point,) to help him move to where he wanted to move, he said he wanted to stay where he was/is (Arizona).

Of course, he also wanted to stay in his condo, have complete control over his finances, etc., but he can't do money (they spent $1200 on food in the month of March. At that point, he had $6000 in savings (an inheritance from someone on D's side of the family,) and $2200 SS between them, along with many co-payments for prescriptions, car and insurance, etc.

With D leaving, his income would be reduced to $1600 a month, but we were able to find him an independent living situation for $1400 which is $500 less (minimum) than he'd pay if he moved closer to where I live.

Income-based housing could be an option but we heard there are long wait lists, and he needed to move NOW, so - my brother, whom my dad respects far more than he respects me - finally weighed in and our dad agreed that it would "solve all (my) problems".

The problem is, none of the three of us (my other brother, who has some pretty severe health issues of his own - probably related to childhood trauma,) lives near him, and we want to keep it that way for as long as possible, but, we obviously are going to need to kick in funds to keep him in this facility.

To complicate matters, he's been there for about 12 weeks now and every week it's moaning, groaning, weeping, "I've been abandoned" and "What child treats his parent this way?"

We might imagine he has dementia but sadly he seems to have his wits mostly about him - at least, as much as he ever DID. His skill (or at least, his attempts) at manipulation are limited only by finances and geography. He got himself a smart phone (after being limited to a more basic model while they were attempting some fiscal responsibility?) so he can text now. Yay!

Because this is what he wants and I have little ability to resist, apparently, he's - if not center stage in my life, he's ON the stage. And part of me is like, "Well, that happens with aging parents, and you just have to suck it up," but another part of me is like "Man, there have GOT to be rules, because this is going to get OLD fast."

He can't follow rules, boundaries were always his to ignore/break. He does read (the internet was the worst thing that ever happened to us,) so he knows just enough about psychology (particularly "false memory syndrome") to be dangerous. He truly is a pathological liar, he refuses to be transparent about his finances, says to take help from us would come at "too high a price".

I know I've not related this well and it needs editing but I've got to go ... still, if anyone reads this and has thoughts, I would welcome them. How do you honor a parent like this? How do you care for a parent like this?

Thank you.

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