Happy Father's Day: My Dad Is A Jerk

My dad moved out of the house in 1991. In the decades since, I’ve spent countless hours and thousands of dollars talking to therapists to try to forge a relationship with this control freak.
Publish date:
June 15, 2013
Father's Day, bad dads, biological fathers

I recently asked him -- for the umpteenth time -- to please treat me better. Although it was his behavior that caused the problem in the first place, he apparently is not responsible for his actions. So he’s mad that I told him to stop being a bully.

A bit of background: My dad moved out of the house in 1991. In the decades since, I’ve spent countless hours and thousands of dollars talking to therapists to try to forge a relationship with this control freak.

I once took an extension class at the local university on dealing with difficult people. After everyone shared his or her sob story, the consensus was that I had the most difficult person in my life. At 21, I was the youngest by at least 10 years. Lucky me.

A few examples of his charming behavior:

  • He’s a lawyer who specializes in trusts and estate planning, so a lot of his cruelty has involved money. He and my mom had set up a trust for college and graduate school, so I was surprised when I read a tax return he’d prepared on my behalf my senior year in college. I’d earned all of $8,000 that year, but somehow owed $4,000 in taxes. Huh?
  • When I called him and said I didn’t understand the amounts, he told me we didn’t need to figure out who put a knife in whose back. I spoke to an accountant and studied the document that established the college trust. According to that legal document, the trust -- not me -- was responsible for paying its own taxes. He was trying to trick me, for reasons I couldn’t comprehend. I could only wonder if he treated his clients with such vitriol.
  • He transferred $44,055 from the college trust’s account at the mutual fund company to a money market account in his name. So the money wasn’t used for its legally designated purpose and instead was used for -- what? The new Mercedes SUV he was driving? I didn’t ask; the answer was irrelevant since the behavior was just so borderline criminal.
  • Two years later, I was attending graduate school when he accused me of embezzling $3,830 from the college trust by inflating my rent and parking expenses. A normal person, who had perhaps forgotten the agreed-upon amounts of these expenses, might simply ask to see copies of my bills. Instead I was sent a chart labeled “Amy -- Over/Under” with columns listing advanced (from the trust) and actual expenses. Despite what I’d paid after receiving my monthly statements for rent and parking, my actual rent was lower and my parking was free.
  • Ten years after the divorce, he decided that he was done paying alimony to my mom. Instead of sending her a letter, asking if they (and/or their attorneys) could meet to discuss this, he had her served with a lawsuit at 11:30 p.m. Then he spent a year failing to disclose his assets and business revenue while simultaneously forcing my mom to give him access to her personal medical records as well as her financial ones.

I let him know that his approach to the situation was extremely painful and hurtful to me. “I am very sad that you directed so much anger toward my mother. You are both my parents and I care about you both, and how you behave towards each other affects me greatly,” I wrote. In response, he forwarded my email to his attorney as proof that my mom had turned me against him (as if!).

There were other situations involving my mom and younger sister, whose privacy I will respect in this forum.

And then I became a mom.

My son, who’s now 7, has autism, low muscle tone, and global developmental delays. So life is challenging, to say the least. When you toss a narcissist grandparent (enhanced by a nasty third spouse) into the mix, well, the result is rarely a pleasant afternoon.

  • As a toddler, my son refused to stay in his bed during naptime if he heard any noise in our tiny apartment. When it time for him to rest, I asked my dad to step out for a few hours. He frowned. Upon return, he complained that his back hurt from sitting on a bench outside (it was his choice to sit there -- my building’s lobby had two sofas, and Dunkin’ Donuts was just down the block).
  • During a visit to the aquarium when my son was 3, I tried to explain to my dad that he couldn’t just pluck the child out of my arms; he was too old to be passed back and forth like a shopping bag. My father started to bang his head against the jellyfish tank, screaming, “I can’t do anything right! I can’t do anything right!”

A few months ago, I got an email from my dad that he and his latest wife were coming to New York. They didn’t ask if we had plans on any of those days, which we did. Things like a wedding, which we couldn’t exactly ask my cousins to reschedule. (We didn’t invite them, obviously. In fact, I don’t ever think I’ve invited him to visit me.)

So I proposed we meet in my neighborhood after school. I didn’t really want to see them at all, but I felt guilty saying no because we live in New York and they live in California. So I proposed a visit of two hours, which is the length of time my son can sustain a play date, and that’s with someone he actually has fun with.

So I sent my dad a detailed explanation of why his proposed agenda for the afternoon didn’t work for me, and what the issues were in my daily life as the parent of a special needs child. I also told him that we couldn’t meet at my apartment since it was being fumigated. That wasn’t true, but it spared me having to deal with his jealousy that my mom was in town for the wedding we had the weekend they wanted to see us.

“I understand that you will have a lot of things happening with the wedding and the fumigation, so let’s see how things look as we get closer to our being in NYC.”

That was his entire reply.


So here’s what I wrote back:

Dad, I am really confused about your response. Is this an auto-reply message when you don’t get what you want? I shared a great deal of information about my life and my struggles."

The reply I got from you made me feel as if I am trying to communicate with a robot that doesn’t have any feelings or regard for another person or ability to care or connect or relate.

Did you read the part of my message about how Grandma and Grandpa made me feel? I don’t want history to repeat itself with my son. That is why, as his parent, I take measures to protect him from potential harm -- such as your anger.

I don’t know why you have so much anger inside you, and it saddens me. I have long seen you as an angry person and it is upsetting to me that you don’t seem to be concerned about the effect this anger has on your relationship with your children.

There have been times, during the 20-plus years since I went to college, that I have maintained a greater distance from you than I do now.

I have written you countless letters and emails to explain how your behavior makes me feel, because there is no one else in my life who has as much anger as you.

It is always about you. What you want. What I should be doing for you. You. You. You.

Honestly, Dad, this isn’t a relationship that makes me feel good. There is too much guilt and anger and very little kindness or thoughtfulness or consideration of what works for me or my family.

I don’t know why I even bother replying to your emails, trying to explain things to you, trying to work on a relationship that has not only caused me pain for so many years but that has also driven an enormous wedge between me and my sister that we were only recently able to bridge.

You are the parent. A parent is supposed to want to take care of and help and love and support (emotionally as well as financially) his child.

Not make them feel guilty or inadequate or unimportant.

I stopped thinking years ago that you would ever resemble a typical father. You were too busy ruining important events in my life such as my graduation with your demands and self-focus.

At best I see you as a distant relative.

But even those cousins I see every so often are NICE to me. They don’t shit all over me, like you do.

I don’t know how much longer I can tolerate pretending that this is something it’s not.

My suggestion is, and always has been, that you see a therapist, preferably one who has experience working with individuals with Asperger’s, and find out what is making you act like such a jerk to your children.

Show the therapist my emails. I have tried time and again to give examples of things you have said or done that hurt me. Use this information to grow and become a better person.


That was three months ago.

I didn’t send him a birthday card, even though it’s his 70th.

So when will I stop feeling guilty for walking away?