“Honey, Your Dad Lacks Empathy”

“Oh, sweetie!  You should have seen the darling little eight year old girl who wanted to dance with me at the meeting.  She had long curly blond hair, and a big beautiful smile.  I know her parents.  She came up to me, jumped in my lap and asked me to dance with her.  She was a really good dancer, too.”  Mark could hardly contain himself when telling Jenny of the story of the little girl who fell in love with him.

He quickly switched gears and said, “Jenny, honey, we’re getting ready to go.  Shouldn’t you find socks that match?  Let’s go look in your dresser drawer to see if we can find two socks that match.”

“Daddy, you told me to hurry, so I just grabbed the first two socks I saw.  I’m wearing boots, Daddy.  No one will see that my socks don’t match.”

“Isn’t that funny that you wear mismatched socks.  Did you brush your hair today?”

“Yes, Daddy, I just brushed it.”


“Mom, I asked dad if it was okay to ski beyond the roped-off area.  He said it was okay, but when I went back up to the top, the Ski Patrol was waiting to talk to me.  When the Ski Patrol came up to me, dad skied off to talk to a friend.  How come he ditched me when the Ski Patrol came over?”

“On the way home from skiing I asked dad if he had any good stories to tell me.  He told me some really scary ghost stories, and now I’m afraid to go to sleep.  Why would he tell me that scary stuff?”


Jenny wants to know why her dad will go on and on about some other eight year old girl with curly blond hair who likes to dance with him, but then criticizes her for the socks she wears, and wonders if she ever brushes her hair.

Will wants to know why his dad didn’t look out for him on the ski hill, and why he insists on scaring the crap out of him with stories that many grown ups wouldn’t appreciate.

I tell them that their dad lacks empathy.

Mark doesn’t know how to put himself in another person’s shoes and anticipate what they might be feeling.  He doesn’t try to know what it’s like to be a little girl who wants her dad’s world to revolve around her.  He doesn’t know that when he talks glowingly of another little girl, his own little girl is thinking, “What about me dad?  Do you like my straight hair?  I’m a good dancer, Dad.  Why don’t you dance with me?”

I tell Will that his dad doesn’t acknowledge that it’s scary to get in trouble with the Ski Patrol.  He doesn’t realize that he threw Will to the wolves when he encouraged him to ski out of bounds.  He doesn’t see the problem, so he’s not going to be there for Will to help sort it out.

“Mom, what’s empathy?”

“Empathy is what you feel, Jenny, when you don’t want to tell dad that you are afraid to go skiing with him, because you don’t want to hurt his feelings.”

“Empathy is what you feel, Will, when you don’t share the scary ghost stories with Jenny because you worry about her, and don’t want her to be up all night.”

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  1. I’m sure he has never experienced that important human feeling – empathy. I’ll bet no one ever coached him to help him develop it. Most kids have pretty natural empathy, but normal developmental selfishness can get in the way of thinking about other people’s feelings. That’s when adults need to step in and encourage generosity and paying attention to how their actions affect others – how it makes them feel. Back to sitting under the tree with the bird overhead: Ya know he’s gonna do it; you just have to learn how to dodge it. You’re doing an excellent job of helping your kids learn to understand the bird, and how to dodge his normal functions. You continue to amaze me.

  2. Pat,

    Sometimes dodging the bird gets real old, especially when it’s usually something so seemingly innocent that turns into a big ol’ pile of mess.

    Once again thinking of moving my baby birdies to a nest in a new tree.

    All the stuff I read says to put distance between yourself and the narcissist. Not sure why I was thinking we could stay and that our situation might be different.

  3. I wanted to think that he would get it! One day he would wake up and realize that he was kicking the birdies out of the nest…but you already know that would never happen. I still find myself thinking in those quiet periods that perhaps he has realized his behavior is not benefitting his son, then the storm hits…

    You are my hero. I hope to be as clever explaining things someday.

  4. Zaira,

    Gawd, we do walk the same path, don’t we.

    I still find myself thinking that one day he’ll get it, even though I have not read a single thing that tells me that is remotely possible.

    Lately, I’m thinking those thoughts are more about me. There’s a part of me that still struggles with coming to terms with the fact that I was capable of marrying that. If – one day – he realized the fallout of his behavior, that part of me could say, “See, there’s some good there. I didn’t marry someone who was completely evil.

    Ya, and as far as the explaining… thanks…. That job is like laundry – it never ends.

  5. That word…evil…when I saw glimpses of this even before marriage, I would do this little chant “evil ___, go away!” and he would/could correct his behavior then. I wholeheartedly believe this is a progressive disease. That has helped me deal with marrying THAT! But I, as you, know that I hope for change in him for myself. So I can have the peace I deserve in my life.

    My son wished for a clone the other day. He said he could send the clone to his dad’s so we didn’t have to miss each other when he is on visitation. I said, “but then you would miss your dad if the clone gets all the time with him.” The little one gets it. He says, “nah, then the clone can just do everything dad tells it to and it will be good.”

    I am planning a move soon. Right now we are a mere 2 miles apart and everything is convenient for him, but I really did that for the kids. Separating was enough to deal with at one time. Now we can look forward to new schools and friends and they are ready. It is hard to keep distance when children are involved, but I am hoping that 55 miles will be enough.

    Even though I don’t wish this path on anyone, I do find comfort that someone can truly understand mine.

  6. You didn’t marry someone who was completely evil, you married the idea of someone who was really special. I think you nailed it…those thoughts are more about us than they are them.

    Allowing yourself to have made a bad call when you were younger…and then really acknowledging the amazing way in which you turned a bad situation into something creative, something that reaches other people and helps them heal along with you…and probably getting the fuck out of there & taking the kids to another state…all good ideas in my humble opinion.

  7. So unfortunate that a person can be so blind to the feelings of those whose feelings should be valued most. It is especially hard for kids to understand. Your kids will continue to be amazing individuals because you are their mom. You are wearing two hats in most departments I am sure, but at least they are able to communicate their frustrations, disappointments, and hurts with a mom who can provide comfort and solace when needed. Being hopeful that the other person will change is sometimes all we can do, even when the possibility of this seems bleak. The one good thing is that having hope sometimes warrants a small chance for change, but we must understand this does not always guarantee it.

    It is his loss, however, that he is missing some great moments and experiences with what sounds like some pretty amazing kids.

    Your words are so poignant in the sense that what we are lacking allows us to miss out on so many things. You are definitely teaching your kids some great lessons, and the power of showing empathy, compassion, and understanding.

    Love and blessings always. KiraMloudly aka twitter peep :0)

  8. Zaira,

    I’m so impressed with how kids “Get It” and at such an early age.

    For me, it wouldn’t be possible to get this kind of healing without sharing with those who have gone through the same thing.

    I’m glad you’re here.

  9. Jenny,

    It’s great to see you here.

    True, I didn’t set out to marry an asshole. I do tell my kids that on an almost daily basis. (I don’t call Mark an ‘asshole’ to the kids, even if Will occasionally does.)

    I guess the reason I have this place on the internet is to show others in a similar situation how to move on – that it can be done – it’s not that scary – there is support and kindness and understanding.

    And then once in awhile it’s good to get a comment like yours that says, “Hell Yeah! Good call gettin’ out of there!”

    Thanks for that. ;)

  10. Hello Kira,

    It’s wonderful to see you here.

    You are so right about the role of hope in our lives. I sometimes think that’s what keeps the three of us going – and sometimes it has kept us from moving. :\

    Whether it’s wise to have that hope or not, I’m not sure. But I know I can’t completely squash their hopes in their father without squashing some part of their own spirits.

    I always enjoy your positive, upbeat nature on Twitter!

  11. How sad that Mark could do that to Jen and Will. About Mark telling Jen about the other little girl – that is very troubling. Do you think he could have been doing this on purpose, to make Jen feel jealous, or to make her want to try harder to be more charming, and more like the girl with the big beautiful smile? To me it would seem that Mark’s behavior goes beyond just a lack of empathy, and was intentional.

    My narcissistic ex used to talk in glowing terms about other women, how well they cooked, how clean their house was, how well they dressed, etc.

  12. OK this is going to sound weird and maybe way “off” but lately in thinking of a person I also chose for my life way back when, I have wondered, “Maybe he is a narcissist?”

    It almost seemed like if I could put a name and a “real” reason to it, I would feel better about making such a bad decision or choosing such a wrong person.

    I did some reading on this and other PDs. I was really wanting for something to fit like a “T.”

    I could find some similarities in this one or that one, but none was really him.

    And then I realized that “dickhead” was just the way some people are. Maybe they can change, maybe not. Maybe they can find a label to explain it, maybe give it more credibility than just “dickhead” but ultimately, that is what it is, at least in this case.

    Sigh. I chose a Dickhead.

  13. Reese,

    I know you are right. My father used to/still does say things to me like that. My ex still does, too.

    I just can’t bring myself to internalize the fact that my beautiful kids have such a lousy man for a father.

    I like the sounds of “lack of empathy” better than acknowledging that he is capable of intentionally being so mean and hurtful. With the acknowledgment of intention, comes the realization that it isn’t healthy to deal with him on a regular basis.

    Just as it has been much healthier for me to not deal with my father on a regular basis.

  14. Allison,

    Did you intentionally write “Dickhead” with a capital D?

    I always love your honesty and your uncanny ability to cut to the chase.

    I know exactly what you mean. In the meantime, I explain to my kids, in somewhat clinical terms, their dad is this way because of X or Y or Z.

    They already know that he’s a Dickhead.

    It’s bad enough that I walk around knowing that I married a Dickhead. I want them to have a few years under their belts before they walk around in this world with the knowledge that their dad is a Dickhead.

  15. Great posts, ladies! Thanks for all that! The Dickhead in my life used to tell me how boring I was, that I had no drive or ambition, that I looked older than him, my boobs were starting to sag. Well, by this time I was done and didn’t care so my response was that I just no longer cared to entertain him anymore, he too had wrinkles (maybe he should consider eye cream), and his balls were saggy! Lol! He seemed shocked! But I think I was more shocked by the fact that he really couldn’t see himself! He did get some eye cream… :)

  16. Zaira,

    I really laughed at your comment! We had to go to Mark’s today. Walked in the door and his house still smells like the special cream he uses.

    Never again, will I be with a man who spends more time grooming than I do.


  17. Are you sure we didn’t marry the same person somehow??? Ha! Except his house smells like moth balls. Yuck! I wish I would have taken pics along the years of how his clothing changed. He always liked designer, but they got more expensive and wildly colored. I had to refuse to leave the house with him a few times until he changed because no one would have believed he was married to a woman. It has escalated since I left too. I hardly recognized him the other day running in his spandex running pants and a windbreaker fancied in pink, teal, and light blue. There was even a matching hat! Is this what happens when there is no one to reign them in??? I can’t stop giggling at the vision of it! It is so embarrassing!

  18. Zaira,

    There is that common thread in all narcissists. Whether it’s a hairstyle they thought they looked good in 25 years ago that hasn’t been in style since; a skirt length that showed off legs that once were nice, but should be kept from public view now; or a t-shirt size that may have fit prior to the onset of senior paunch, narcissists – contrary to their own beliefs – can never be accused of being trendsetters. You’d think with all that time spent in front of the mirror, they’d get a clue at what the rest of the world is seeing.

    My kids are always telling me how embarrassed they are by the stuff their dad struts around in.

    I never commented on what he wore because I knew he’d shoot me down and attack me for my choices in clothing. Instead, he bought me the same kinds of shorts that he wore. Yes, imagine what the four of us looked like floating the rivers in all the same river shorts. It’s a vision I’d like to permanently erase from my brain.

  19. Listening in like a bird here – and I find myself both congratulating myself and kicking myself. I purposely, avidly, determinedly (is that a word) did NOT have children with the Dickhead.

    He wanted them.

    The way he treated me set my insides all crazy and although it took me a longer time than it probably should have to extricate myself from that marriage, what I knew for sure was that there was no way I could have kids with him. I knew he would be a lousy father for my kids.

    Of course, now I can say truly that I’m child-free by choice and that was best for me.

    Yet, there are children – fabulous little people – who I feel I know through their amazing moms and I know that having them – even with a Dickhead – is one small way to change the world.

    I’m not whining – I’m just saying what blessings you have in the kids – the rest of the journey isn’t all that fab, but the kids – they are amazing.

    (And as a step-mom, I’m NOT sugar coating – I also know that kids can be, well, um, kids…)

  20. Peggie,

    Funny the paths we choose, and how they bring us together to learn from each other.

    Thanks for sharing your experience here.

    A voice told me I shouldn’t marry him. That same voice said don’t have kids. I’m glad I waited to listen, and didn’t choose to do so until the voice told me to move out, or I wouldn’t have the privilege of being their mom. But, whew!! – you are so right about the rest of the journey with him.

  21. yep. same voice told me not to marry him. sigh.

  22. Peggie,

    I hope the voice keeps talking and doesn’t give up on us.

  23. I had an NPD dad who wanted to break me, because I often challenged his evil ways. I have survived him reasonably well… though most of my siblings were not so lucky.

    Good on you for getting your kids away from your ex, and for explaining his behaviour to them. My mother can’t… she was raised by a narcissist then married one. She is very fragile.

    One little gem… my dear partner and I, who have modest, normal jobs and lives, managed to save and were lucky enough to buy a modest house in the best suburb in our city, before prices went crazy. My father’s response? (ex-famous person, who blew his money on booze and gambling) “It’s not a home, is it?”

  24. OMG Zaira, you are so brave. Good comeback re: the balls.

    Do any of you think your ex-Ns are gay? I suspect my dad was… He sure hated women.

  25. Narc Hunter,

    Nice to see you here. Thanks for commenting.

    It never ceases to amaze me how a narcissist can twist things around. They are adept at picking apart everything. Everything is a potential target. Is it all about making themselves look better than the rest of us? A normal person would be thrilled for you and your partner and your home.

  26. Narc Hunter,

    I’ve avoided bringing up that aspect of my situation. Yes, I have speculated. Recently, my kids have questioned me on that.

    I have also read a bit about narcissists being mysogynists. Often, both male and female Ns hate women. My ex hated his mother.

  27. That has been an ongoing question for some time now with my family and friends. His ridiculous dress causes all kinds of speculation. I took a picture of what he was wearing the other day because I just had to laugh out loud! The 4th of July apparently brought out the patriot in him because he had on a red polo shirt, solid white vans, and navy blue pants with white stars on them! The sunglasses with the white stripe along the side indicated that he was feeling pretty proud of that get up.

    Recently, he posted on his fb page about how flabbergasted he was that some girl at the bar asked him outright if he was gay. He said on his comment that no one had asked him that before. (yeah, right!) He is approached with that question all the time, but I suspect he wanted some reassurance from his friends as he doubted himself at that point. Of course, they came in with how that is preposterous. He has been propositioned by gay men and I tend to believe they usually have good gaydar. As a self-labeled metrosexual, he does date women. Is it to keep up the mystery? Intrigue? I really have no clue.

    Mysogynists…hmmm…will have to look into that. My ex doesn’t hate his mother, but his abandonment issues with her fester in denial.

  28. I agree with the mysogynist aspect of narcissism. Ns treat all those they view as inferior badly. There is a definite disrespect for women, at least that was my experience.

    It is hard on daughters to be neglected and never get a positive word from their father. It is hard on sons too. It is just hard period!

  29. Zaira,

    Do you ever look at what he’s wearing and say, “How did I marry that guy?”

    I do.

  30. Lynn,

    Mark used to tell me that I was the only competent woman he knew.

    That should have been a red flag.

  31. I swear that when we met, the colors in his closet consisted of navy blue, khaki, black, blue jeans, and the occasional white or red polo shirt. I mentioned once then that maybe he needed a little bit of color in his life. Never ever did I think it would turn out to be what it is today!!! I am seriously embarrassed (mostly for my youngest son who has to go out with him in public) by what has transpired.

    I looked up mysogyny so I could get a good grasp on the term and found what I was looking for in Wikipedia’s definition. “In feminist theory, misogyny is a negative attitude towards women as a group, and so need not fully determine a misogynist’s attitude towards each individual woman. The fact that someone holds misogynist views may not prevent him or her from having positive relationships with some women.”

    I hesitated to say that my ex was mysogynist, but you know what? He is. He likes women on the surface, as long as they are not too close. The MINUTE they criticize him, he is done with them and cannot hold back his hostility. He will actually briefly contemplate or laugh off any criticism from men.

    Very interesting observation, ladies, thanks for teaching me something today!

  32. Zaira,

    My kids complain about being embarrassed by Mark’s clothing choices, too. There’s a commonality amongst Ns there, too.

    I remember reading that about mysogyny – a dislike of women as a group. If an N’s source is a female, I guess they are forced to fake liking females – or at least one particular one.

  33. I just had to stop by and say that I’m not at all surprised it’s been four months and I still get email updates to comments on this post. I remember it as well as the first time I read it. This is art. This is life.

  34. Jenny,

    Thank you. Thanks for spreading kindness here. ;)

  35. I wish I had had a better handle on why he is the way he is when my children were younger, and confused at the way their father behaved. I was, however, in denial about his behavior myself. I wanted to believe that good guy side….but the other side kept hurting us. Finally I left when the children were out of the nest. Years of private pain by the man who appears to be superman.

  36. Joy,

    Thanks for writing.

    I believe that the only reason I was able to see my situation was because my N had kids from a previous. I was given a glimpse into my kids’ future, and what I saw frightened me into making a move.

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