Narcissistic men are hard to deal with. They have no empathy and cannot see others as real people. Their bravado doesn’t allow anyone else to be as good as them…or even good enough at all. They need the praise and accolades of being seen as the best person in the room. So with all of this craziness, can a narcissist be a good father?
Just like I explained in my article about whether a narcissist can be a good mother, a narcissist needs to be seen as a good father. He also does some good things with his children. But like a narcissistic mother, he will be unable to relate to his children on a personal level. He will be filled with jealousy, anger and desire to control his children. And the narcissistic father often views his children as not only an extension of himself, but that they exist to serve him.
Let’s take a deeper look at what this looks like in everyday life. But before we start, if you have already read my post about whether narcissists can be good mothers, you will notice that the subtitles are the same as the ones I have here. While narcissism does very similar damage and looks a lot alike whether the narcissist is a man or woman, the way it manifests can be very different. You will see that clearly upon reading both articles.
And with that, let’s begin!
Table of Contents
When Can a Narcissist be a Good Father?
Of course, a narcissistic father is at his best when he is in public or in front of people he feels he needs to impress. He will talk about all of the wonderful things he does with and for his children. And he will make sure everyone sees how thoughtful and caring he is. I have to say, this confuses me so much. If he can pretend for others to be thoughtful and caring, why can’t he ever actually do that for his kids?
There will actually be times that a father does good things with his children. Because it is his family, there will be times that he wants to do things as a family. So he will expect his family to do things with him. Most children want to relate in a healthy way with their dad. So they will willingly do things that he invites them to do with him. They do this in the hope that maybe they can be a normal family. And honestly, sometimes it does feel like a normal family. Until something random sets Dad off and he rages out of control for even the smallest things.
So then, while a narcissist can be a good father in appearance at times, unfortunately, the negative quickly overshadows the positive experiences. I think that many families try to focus on the positive experiences for a long time. They will try very hard to give their father the benefit of the doubt. And then at some point they realize that things will never truly get better. By the time they are adults, the father/child relationship is pretty distant and often cut off for the emotional health of the now adult children.
Narcissists Think They are Good Fathers
The official manual of American Psychology is the DSM–Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is currently in version 5. And this is what it says regarding narcissistic personality disorder (not to be confused with narcissistic traits):
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. – exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement (i.e. – unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)
- Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e. – takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
If a patient has just five of these nine traits, he is considered to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For more information, check out Psychiatry Data Base.
Most narcissistic fathers will display many of these identifiers as they try to prove that they are the best dad ever. But the fact that they actually think they are good fathers falls right in line with the first criterion.
Narcissistic fathers feel so much shame from early childhood that it has to be buried deep inside of them. They can’t risk anyone seeing that shame, so they put on an act of superiority, expecting everyone to fall for it. And most of us do. We want to give people the benefit of the doubt. And we want to believe they are what they say they are. We also don’t tend to dig too deeply when people tell us about themselves. We want to intrinsically believe everyone. And when we are honest people ourselves, we kind of just feel like everyone else is being straight with us as well.
This is not the case with narcissists. They are very rarely honest with anyone, including themselves.
Why its so Hard for a Narcissist to be a Good Father
As with narcissistic mothers, there are many reasons why it is so hard for a narcissistic father to be a good father. We will just look at a few of the major ones.
It’s Hard for a Narcissist to be a Good Father Because he Doesn’t see his Kids as People
Because a narcissistic father has no empathy for anyone, it is not hard to believe that he doesn’t see his own children as people with feelings, ideas, and value. All he sees is that he has needs and it is everyone else’s responsibility to make sure his needs are taken care of.
That includes what he chooses to do with his children. He does what he wants to with them. So if they happen to like those same things, then everyone has a great time. Otherwise, it’s too bad for everyone else. As long as he’s having a good time, it doesn’t matter how anyone else feels. He doesn’t acknowledge their feelings anyway.
The only time a narcissistic father will be sacrificial with his children is when he stands to gain popularity or recognition for it. And then he will be the most giving, kind person in the room. Until the people he is trying to impress are gone. And then you will pay for having “made him have to please you” when you should have been pleasing him.
It’s Hard for a Narcissist to be a Good Father Because he Isn’t Emotionally Mature
Narcissistic fathers got that way in the same way narcissistic mothers did–through intense childhood drama. While there is some genetic component to narcissistic personality disorder, it is widely believed that intense trauma from abuse and/or neglect at an early age cause the child to shut down. That makes the child forever stunted at an emotional maturity level of that age. Most psychological studies put that age between 5 and 7 years old.
As they grow up, children and then adults with narcissistic traits tend to hide more and more behind the mask they create. And the narcissism increases as they age, until they get to an elderly age and are still emotionally stunted. Often they die alone and without companionship.
During the parenting years, narcissistic fathers will dominate their children because they are virtually a captive audience. Children are expected to obey and respect their parents. And in religious circles, the father is the head of the home. Obedience is even more demanded.
The narcissistic father expects obedience and subservience over love and relationship. So while the children long for more of a relationship, as long as they are obeying and following along, he doesn’t want the status quo changed. If anyone tries, there will be hell to pay.
It’s Hard for a Narcissist to be a Good Father Because he Cannot Relate to his Children
This point continues from the last one. The narcissist cannot be a good father because all he can see is himself. When he does see his children, it is for them to give him what he thinks he deserves. And if they don’t fall in line, he will make sure they do from then on.
Children of narcissistic fathers can react in one of two ways. The first is to speak out against the wrong and the lack of relationship. He will take their challenge and raise them. And it will become unbearable very quickly. A couple of my children did this. The other reaction is to fly under the radar. My kids that did this succeeded in avoiding poking the already angry bear. But they also walked on eggshells until the day he was removed from our home by our church leadership and counselors.
Because control of his children was taken away from him, his idea of relating to his children then became taking us to court to force them to be with him. At the time, he sued for half custody of the 4 younger children (all the ones that were under 18 at the time). The court wouldn’t entertain the three oldest spending time with him because they were all teenagers and old enough to say no. The youngest has to spend a few hours once a week with him. Only in public and no sleepovers or trips to his house.
The relationship is now non-existent, even with his youngest son who spends that little bit of time with him. But he thinks things are great because he was able to force him to spend those few hours with him. And he doesn’t realize that the lack of relating even during those few hours is going to cause his youngest to walk away forever just like all of his older siblings did.
The Narcissist Father and His Daughter
Just like with a narcissistic mother, a narcissistic father relates to his sons and daughters in very different ways. It is very much based on how he perceives them in relationship to how he feels threatened by them.
In the case of daughters of narcissistic fathers, they feel that they can never measure up or please their dad. They vie for his attention but can never quite get it because he is too busy looking at himself and his own needs. As a young child, she most likely felt like she was the apple of her daddy’s eye. But then as she gets older and he criticizes her appearance, weight and clothing, she realizes that she will never be able to guess what it is he wants her to be and act accordingly. Because every time she tries, the goalpost gets moved.
Her inability to please her dad transfers to her other relationships as she gets older. She lives in constant fear of displeasing whoever she is with at the moment. So she continues to try to rise above everyone. She ends up exhausted, frustrated, and depressed. And unless she gets professional help, she will spend the rest of her life chasing for that elusive approval that she has never gotten.
The Narcissist Father and His Son
The narcissistic father’s relationship with his son is very much like the narcissistic mother’s to her daughter. He sees his son as the ultimate competition. And when you have two alpha males in the home, one of which is a narcissist, sparks will fly like you have never seen before!
I was one of three daughters in my childhood home. We had no brothers. So I did not have any clue about the alpha male thing, or any other male thing for that matter. So I had no idea what was going on when my first son was born. My then-husband treated him very differently from our oldest child, a daughter. It was like there was contempt from the beginning. And I had no idea why that was. Over the years, I kept trying to mend their relationship, but it only got worse as our son got older.
Interestingly enough, our second son was my ex’s golden boy. He could do no wrong. But there was still no closeness in relationship to them. He just didn’t catch the ire of his dad nearly as much as his older brother did.
I had three more sons, and all of them worked very hard to stay out of the sight of their dad. They knew if they didn’t they would be punished for something that they would have no way to see coming. Nobody ever knew what was going to set their dad off. So they just stayed away.
When there were family games or other activities, my ex would not only beat everyone at the table, he would completely obliterate them. The last game we played as a family was miserable. My ex made it so nobody else could even take a turn, then he took over the whole game board and won. While we all sat there and watched in boredom and irritation. The boys asked to be excused from the game. But then they couldn’t see him pummel them and win. So he made them stay until his last turn and victory. They refused to ever play another game with him again. He won the game that night but he lost his sons.
The need to conquer wasn’t just with games. It is with every conversation, argument, or activity. If a narcissistic dad ever gets beat by one of his sons, the shame would be too unbearable. So he makes sure he wins at all costs. And it does cost him dearly.
As much as a narcissist wants to be a good father, and even though he can do good things with and for his children, at the end of the day it is not possible. To be a truly good father, a man must be able to put aside his own desires and learn to care sincerely for the needs of his children. A full-blown narcissist is unable to do this.
While a normal relationship is not possible, with the correct counseling and boundaries set in place, children (especially adult children) of narcissists could have some semblance of a relationship. And that may be enough to keep the family somewhat secure. For more on setting and keeping appropriate boundaries, check out this book by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. You will likely find this book life-changing if you have not already learned about boundaries and how they can keep you safe emotionally as well as physically! Click on the book below to learn more:
What has been your experience with a narcissistic father? Was he your father? Your children’s father? A friend’s father? How was the situation handled? Did the children find healing? I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment below. If you don’t feel comfortable commenting publicly, feel free to contact me privately by clicking here.
Love, hugs, and prayers,
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