Me and My Dad

My dad and I were a lot alike.  I believe we thought in much the same way about many things.

I recently looked up the results of an old Meyers-Briggs test — possibly the first one I ever took, at my first job.  I was typed as an ESFJ.

Reading the description I found here made me think about whether Dad might not have been an ESFJ, too.  I’ll never know, of course, but it is kind of comforting to me to think so.

The bold remarks below are from the original; my observations are in italics.

 

Male ESFJs

As a type, ESFJs probably personify “motherhood”. Their gentle, caring nature, in its Extraverted way, takes them beyond their own needs to serve the world around them. As a result, they are the hosts and hostesses of the world. ESFJ males, who have less need to be “in charge” than to be concerned with others’ needs, may be torn between expressing the more conventionally masculine parts of their personalities and giving in to opposing tendencies. The male’s Sensing-Judging temperament, sometimes described as “stabilizer-traditionalist”, demands macho, objectively cool, yet aggressive behavior, while the Extraverted-Feeling preferences demands a warm or more caring and gentler role.

Certainly my father took on a traditionally female role when he took custody of his three youngest children.  If you read the testimony I gave our lawyer, it is clear that Dad’s idea of taking care of someone included service and concern with others’ needs.

This also makes sense if you ask why on earth this man would have chosen to — fought to! — take on the role of parenting three small children, one of them a 6YO girl, in an era when it was far more expected that he would cut and run.  (My siblings have various other explanations, from “he did it to hurt Mom” to “he fought for custody of the kids because whoever got the kids got the house.”  Yeah, right.  The house he sold in the fall of 1989, when I was in college, on my first co-op, and it became clear that I would never come to live at home again.  But maybe this acknowledges, in a twisted kind of way, that the HOME was important to him, as discussed below.)

This could also give a clue as to why my parents even got married — if Mom liked to be taken care of, and Dad did indeed take care of her — until there were children, at which point her job became to take care of them — well.  I just bet she’d resent that change in the arrangement.  And maybe for good reason, sort of.  “All conflict is caused by differing expectations” and if Mom somehow expected not to have to get her hands dirty once she had a house and kids to take care of, while Dad clearly expected exactly that — it’s a recipe for disaster.  It’s a mystery to me where she would have gotten that expectation, though.  Who thinks running a house by yourself all week and taking care of kids is an easy job?  She came from a big family of mostly girls, so maybe the older ones did most of the work?  I’ll never know.

Female ESFJs

If the ESFJ male is something of a fish out of water, the ESFJ female, in contrast, often represents the epitome of femininity. She always wears the right clothes, says the right words, and behaves the right way. ESFJ girls are the perfect children who never get dirty, and even as adults, never seem to get mussed. There’s something about an ESFJ — especially the female — that just reeks of appropriateness in all aspects of life.

I’m not too sure about this for myself, but I do know I have always been neat and tidy, even as a child.

Weak points

Don’t think that ESFJs have found perfection, however. As EJs, for example, they are given to quick, abrasive comments whenever their routines are interrupted. As SFs, however, they are critical of their own EJ behavior and compensate for their abrasiveness with extra sweetness. To paraphrase Isabel Briggs Myers, they have many “shoulds” and “should nots”, and they express them freely. They may especially overlook facts when they find a situation disagreeable or a criticism hurtful. As a result, they may sweep problems under the rug rather than seek solutions.

Dad hated it when dinner was late.  And I can remember there were certain things that happened every week, such as me cleaning out the refrigerator.

Routines weren’t always about chores, though.  The last summer I spent at home, we cooked a T-bone steak out on a little hibachi grill on the back steps every Sunday evening.

And perhaps this helps explain why my dad continued to work at a job that made him an absentee father for years, even as the marriage apparently deteriorated.

Home life

Photo.aspxThe ESFJ’s home is the center of his or her universe: it is the focus of family life, the place for entertainment, the bastion against the harshness of the outside world, the ultimate womb for all family members. The ESFJ’s home is generally neat and orderly, however much activity takes place there. It isn’t advisable to tell an ESFJ to relax as long as there are unmade beds or messy kitchens. Relaxation for the ESFJ comes both from doing such chores and from knowing that they are done. (As an EJ, they may complain about the mess and about how much work must be done, but they nevertheless are happiest in serving others in this way.) Like all Js, ESFJs schedule their relaxation whether it be reading a book or being with friends.

As a rule, home can be a place of fun, happiness, and affirmation for the ESFJ. These things must take place on schedule, however, and in an “appropriate” manner. Parties, for example, are great, but only when sufficiently planned; “spontaneous fun” is a contradiction in terms. “Appropriateness” extends to dress, decor, and behavior. ESFJs mete out assignments to family members and expect them to be done correctly and in timely fashion. They readily impose behavioral “shoulds” on other family members, and when disappointed in their expectations of others they become either hurt or upset.

In my younger adult days, I always had a difficult time leaving chores undone.  Over the two decades I have spent running my own home with my husband, I have learned to relax on this a bit.  But I still have a hard time, say, walking the dog after dinner before all the dishes are cleared away and the kitchen is spic and span.  I hate to come home to dirty dishes on the counter, whether we have been gone 5 minutes or two weeks.  When we travel, the house has to be neat and everything in its place before we leave.

This phrase is me all over:  “Parties, for example, are great, but only when sufficiently planned” — and “spontaneous fun is a contradiction in terms” could be tattooed on my forehead.

If Dad thought this way too, then when he came home from a long work week to find the home in disarray, it is not hard to imagine that he would find this a betrayal of how things were supposed to be.

Parenting

This need for appropriateness also drives ESFJs’ parenting style. The child of an ESFJ parent probably feels loved and generally satisfied, albeit somewhat restricted by the “shoulds” and “oughts”, coupled with the constant need to put work (homework, housework, etc.) before play. ESFJs are generally very patient with children, although even patience can be subject to other demands and responsibilities. An ESFJ parent is likely to be looked upon as being somewhat strict, but still very loving and caring.

My older siblings have complained about how they never could have any fun on the weekends, when Dad was home, and of course this got blamed on Dad’s presence and his insistence on doing chores first before fun — chores that apparently didn’t get done while he was gone all week.  What gets left out is that if Mom had disciplined herself, and them, to do the chores during the week, there would have been opportunity to have fun on the weekend.

Relationships

The same, in fact, may be said of ESFJs in relationships. They are very loyal, almost to a fault, often sacrificing their own needs in favor of the mates’. This, combined with with their drive for harmony, often puts their personal welfare low on the list of priorities and can result in their feeling more like hired help than lovers or mates. The paradox is that while it is difficult for them to acknowledge their own needs, they may resent those who take them for granted.

Growing up

ESFJ children bring the same graciousness, caring, and punctuality to their young lives. They tend to be neat and easy to be around. At school, ESFJs like teachers who stick to a lesson plan and generally “follow the rules”. They respond well in such situations with good work habits and punctually completed assignments. In one study, ESFJs were rated by teachers and school psychologists as the ideal type to have in the classroom. Many of the qualities desired by teachers come naturally to ESFJs: they are helpful, cooperative, and eager to please.

They are like that at home too. But difficulties may arise with ESFJs, as with all Js, if some of the demands placed on them conflict with strong inner needs. Bedtime, for example, can be difficult for the gregarious Extraverted child, whose social needs may conflict with the night’s hour and parents’ demands. Still, ESFJ children think “parents should be parents” and appreciate rules and regulations imposed by those in authority. Like their SJ adult counterparts, they may protest such authority, at the same time respecting and expecting it. Role clarity is important.

Hell, I still have a hard time going to bed at a decent hour.

Careers

ESFJs’ careers often lean toward those that serve humanity: nursing, public school teaching, clergy, and psychology. Sales and other public service-oriented jobs also have particular appeal. More impersonal tasks (related to computers, for example, or bookkeeping) and jobs that demand theory and speculation (such as college teaching, consulting, and especially investment brokering) can be particularly stressful to an ESFJ.

I have thought for a long time that I should have gone into psychology.  I am only partly joking when I quip that what I do now — teaching knitting — is about 1/3 therapy.

Late in life

In their later years, ESFJs may mellow somewhat, but they still are guided by the same values that shaped their earlier years. After a life devoted to meeting the needs of those around them, they may turn their attention to more abstract, universal concerns. Even in retirement, however, they tend to be driven by “shoulds” (and, perhaps, a few “shouldn’ts”), though the “shoulds” may be of a more leisurely kind, with perhaps less emphasis on service ideals — for example, learning a language, tending to neglected hobbies, or meeting some self-directed needs. In general, home, children, and grandchildren play central roles; they prefer to have family nearby and accessible, and may also enjoy the occasional unexpected visitor. For them, the ultimate symbol of security may be the continually replenished woodpile for the fireplace around which the family gathers.

Orange Juice

I was close to 30 before I began to realize just how manipulative my mother was.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By that time I was married, and we had a house in Dallas.  Mom was visiting us.

We were all in the kitchen having breakfast.  Mom was at the table, drinking orange juice.  I was at the stove, probably cooking eggs or pancakes or something — I know I had my hands full.  So I am not sure whether my husband was seated or standing.

I heard my mother say, “This orange juice is delicious.”  Either I heard her put down the empty glass, or I looked over to see.  Either way, I knew she had just finished the glass of juice that she had.

I heard my husband say, “I’m glad you like it.”

A few seconds’ pause.

Then, almost as if it were someone else speaking, I heard the words come out of my mouth, explaining to my husband, “That means she wants you to get her some more.”

Another few seconds’ pause, while he looked at me in surprise, then at my mother.  Finally he asked — in a tone that I recognized as one where he wasn’t sure what the rules were now, feeling his way, learning — “Would you like some more orange juice?”

My mother said, “Oh, yes, that would be nice,” as if I hadn’t spoken.

As if I hadn’t just begun training my own husband that what he was supposed to be doing all the time was to interpret her seemingly innocuous remarks, figure out what she wanted, and provide it.

In this case, she wanted to be waited on hand and foot.  She wanted someone else to take care of getting what she wanted.  It’s not like she wasn’t capable of getting her ass up from the table and walking the length of the kitchen to get to the refrigerator.  She just didn’t want to, BUT SHE STILL WANTED THAT JUICE.

And she couldn’t just ask for it:  “Would you mind getting me another glass of juice, please?”  Simple enough.  But that carries the risk of giving the other person agency, a choice in the matter, a decision about whether they will agree, or say “no”.

The solution?  Manipulate your daughter into doing it, or get her to start training her own husband to do it.

After the Last Straw

This was not written by me, but with a few changes (from “friend” to “family”) — it could have been.  Originally written by lightshouse, I first found a paraphrasing on a thread at outofthefog.net:

you are ASSUMING that if a big enough tragedy struck you, these people would be there for you. They would care. They would make you pots of chicken soup and babysit your children and go the distance for you if ever needed them desperately. Because they know that’s what you’d unfailingly do for them, of course.

But hold on a second — you’re the one who never troubles them. You’re the one who usually gives more than you get. You’re the one they like because you’re so “easy” to know. You don’t make requests, much less demands. You’ve been a piece of cake — a free ride.

And what kind of person really wants the kind of friend who makes sure a person never has to go out of their way too much?

A lame friend, that’s who. A self-centered, uncaring, unempathetic, fair-weather friend. They just LOVE people who never ask for things, because they don’t like giving much, and they like to get more than they give! When you are at your absolute lowest moment in life and most desperately need the support of others, these people you haven’t asked enough from are the ones who will shame, dump, and even smear you.

Fine time for someone to start treating you like garbage, right? But that’s when their true colors will come right through — when suddenly, they have to make a significant effort to stand by you. Because they won’t do it, and they never planned to have to.

All of a sudden, they’ll be telling you that you’re just too high-maintenance, and they’re too busy, too overwhelmed, or too important to support you. They’ll criticize and reject you, and they’ll try to make you feel like you’re just impossible to live with. The truth is, they’re suddenly not getting more than they give, and that’s just not acceptable to them. You have to go back to being their nice, easy friend who never asks anything of them, or you’ve got to go.

You’ll be shocked and horrified, you won’t believe what they’ll do, and you’ll wonder what is so wrong with the world that in your time of deepest need or pain, there is yet another awful realization heaped on your shoulders — your “friend” has no empathy and doesn’t like to give.

What Is Missing

Yesterday, I was talking with a co-worker about skipping family reunions.  Cathy is from upstate New York and she was saying how she is always the one who travels.  “Planes go both ways,” as she said.  And this past year, she didn’t go to hers either.

But, she went on to say that her brothers posted pictures saying things like, “It’s not the same without you!” and “We miss you!”

 

What did my sister post this year?  A picture of the other five siblings with the caption, “ALMOST all the siblings.”

I wrote to her back in ’07 or ’09 that I feel like I am invited “only to complete the set”.  If I needed any further evidence of that, I just got it.

 

What is missing is any kind of indication that I am loved, wanted, valued as the person that I am — not just as number 6 of 6.

If someone loves you, it should FEEL like they love you.

If they don’t, or they’re incapable of showing it…what difference does it truly make? You’re never really going to know. To me, it’s offering false hope, that maybe [she] could learn, or you’ll keep hanging in there, on the premise that [she] loves you deep down.

It doesn’t change the day to day reality.

Apologies

Quick quiz:  which one is from the normal person, and which one is from the toxic narcissist?

My favorite part is where Susan claims she didn’t know I asked her to leave the room.  Clearly, they knew exactly what I asked them to do, because they came up with an alternative that they figured was good enough for me:  “Oh, we’ll just keep it down, keep quiet.”  If you’re going to lie, you probably shouldn’t do it in writing.

I have been told over the years — by people who have no other evidence, other than what Joe and Susan have told them — that they have fully apologized, and that I am petty and unforgiving to not accept the “fauxpology“.  That link is to a post about what a real apology is, and what this is not.  This is, at absolute best, an attempt to share the blame with me for actions that were entirely Susan’s.

Of course, any kind of apology for attacking me and yelling in my face the next day, or for the lies they spread about me afterwards, is utterly lacking.

I suppose I ought to be impressed that she was willing to admit to even sharing the blame for our “misunderstanding.”  That was probably a BIG step for her.

And oddly enough, no one seems to realize that I hold nothing against the hospice nurse.  I forgave her when I first read her heartfelt note, saying she was sorry for what she had unknowingly done to me.  There is no attempt at justifying her actions because she “didn’t know what I wanted”, there is no implication that we share the blame equally, there is no arguing over what specific words I said that were “disrespectful”.

She just expressed sorrow in knowing that she had made my pain worse, and acknowledged that she, and no one else, was responsible for having done that to me.

Teresa, wherever you may be now, I would gladly hug you, and thank you for caring about me more than my so-called family.

The History, Part 1 – Dad’s Death

And boy, is there a lot of it.

But it starts with the night my father died.

He had died maybe a half-hour ago.  I was sitting next to his body as we waited for the ambulance to come and take him away, because I didn’t want to leave him alone, in the corner of the living room where my brothers had shoved the hospital bed almost as soon as he was gone, before most of them scattered to various other rooms.

I was listening to my sister-in-law having a jolly conversation with the hospice nurse, not 10 feet away.  Susan is also a nurse, and they were merrily talking shop, and laughing, as though nothing of any significance had just happened.

I had already left the room once, and gone down to the basement, tacitly accepting that their sociable small talk and laughter — LAUGHTER! — took precedence over my wishes at my father’s deathbed.  With the help of my husband, who followed me, I decided that I would regret not having stayed by my father if I didn’t go back.  So I went back, and listened to some more laughter and happy chatter.

I finally got up the courage to say, “Excuse me.”  They were so loud, I had to say it twice before I could get their attention.

I asked, “Could you take this… this chat into another room?”

I don’t remember which one of them said it, but the response I got was, “Oh, we’ll just keep it quiet.”  Of course, within minutes they were laughing and talking as loudly as before.

I said nothing more to Susan then.  The ambulance finally came and took my father away, wrapping blankets even over his face, which bothered me.  I remember one of the ambulance attendants saying something about, “He’s a long one.”  I muttered so only my husband could hear, “TALL.  He was TALL.”  He had been six feet even.  Now he was “long”.

I waited until the next morning, when Susan’s husband, my brother Joe, was alone in the kitchen.  Almost everyone else was out of the house, either at church or their own homes.

I said to him something like, “I wasn’t happy with the way Susan acted yesterday.”

Immediately, Susan came running into the room — she must have been eavesdropping, and immediately seized the chance to be the “third man in” — and the two of them began yelling at me, shouting in my face things I thankfully couldn’t make out between the two of them.  I must have started looking down at the floor in an effort to shut them out, because I remember Susan actually bending down, the better to shout right into my face.

[ETA:  another brother was still in the house.  He recently told me he came up the basement stairs and saw me sitting in a kitchen chair.  I have no recollection of sitting, but he said he saw Susan bend down to shout into my face.  He also said he thought she was going to grab my shoulders and shake me, she was so enraged.]

any challenge, disagreement or even mildly negative remark from another person is considered criticism, rejection or mockery. Narcissists perceive these as an all-out assault or total betrayal, and go to war with the person who dares to do that to them. A mere slight is apt to result in shouting, screaming, and making absurd accusations against the victim for having such atrocious intentions and actions.

I now know this is called a “narcissistic rage attack“, but that day I had no idea what was happening.  I was just completely shocked.  My husband had come into the room, and I looked to him for help, but he was just as shocked as I was.

I fled the house, only to find later (years later) that this gave Susan and Joe the opportunity to spin the whole thing as being my fault:  to say that I had started the fight, that I had “criticized” her and her job when I had asked her to go talk in another room, that I had been emotional and over-reactive.  This threw me for another loop.  I had no idea that anyone I knew, let alone a beloved brother, could lie so deliberately and viciously.  I now know this is called “character assassination” and it is a favorite tool of narcissists.

Unfortunately, due to other circumstances in my family, it worked perfectly.  Everyone else was only too happy to accept their explanation of what had happened.  Not one person, out of five older siblings and their three spouses, asked me about what had happened — although I did get told by one brother that I “should have approached Joe alone first.”  This is what should have started giving me the clue that what everyone was told, and what everyone perceived, was not the truth.

The therapist I eventually went to never did understand why no one defended me — why no one told Susan, “Hey, lay off her.  She is our sister, and she is grieving.  Cut her some slack.”  My therapist once said, mystified, “You’re not even allowed to defend yourself.”

Even weirder — in the 3 days leading up to my father’s death, absolutely everyone in the house agreed on two things (or said they did, at any rate):

  1. I was going to take Dad’s death the hardest.
  2. We all need to cut each other some slack during this difficult time.

As my husband said in the sole group meeting we had after all the shit hit the fan (which Susan did not attend) —

You were all saying that you knew she would take it the hardest, so why were you so surprised when she did?”

Over the years I have found out some of the reasons why it all happened the way it did.  Some of it is just a “Perfect Storm”.  Susan is a toxic narcissist, and I am the family scapegoat who allows Susan (and everyone else) to pretend there is nothing wrong with her and her toxic behavior.  In much the same way, my mom was able to blame my dad for everything her whole life, and thus pretend there was nothing wrong with her.

You see, while from my point of view, this is a hugely complicated mess of a family problem that will probably never be resolved due to certain people’s issues and their resistance to working on them — from their point of view, it’s really, really simple.  This sad, tragic family rift exists entirely because I “refuse to let bygones be bygones”.

In reality, I just refuse to quietly accept the blame for the results of Susan’s vicious behavior, and the pain that behavior caused me — which is what created the “bygones” in the first place.  And I seem to bear a lot of other blame for the results of a lot of other peoples’ actions and choices, as it turns out.

The Susan Incident is what started this journey.  This website is part of the journey, and its purpose is to help me break the bonds that still hold me to the people I have known the longest:  the people from whom I first learned about love and trust and what “family” means, the people who ought to have protected and taken care of me, especially as the baby of that family — and who have chosen not to protect me now, nor allow me to defend myself.

They refuse to listen.  I have a right to be heard.

The next part of the story.