“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” – William Shakespeare
“If he doesn’t give me back my power board, I’m going to stop going to school,” Luca told me, lying face down on his makeshift bed, the air mattress that is now the centerpiece of our living room.
He and Prince are in a power struggle over the motorized skateboard Luca bought in part with money my relatives and I had given him for Christmas. Prince didn’t approve of the power board and confiscated it. At least that’s his story. Prince really confiscated it because he’s sadistic and is trying to punish Luca for not shining the right light on him.
“Where do you think that’s going to get you? If you stop going to school, he’ll send you to residential.”
Luca and I sat at the dining room table, eating tacos.
“I don’t care!” he yelled, his voice hoarse with fatigue and exasperation. “He’s going to send me away anyway! I might as well have fun in the time I’ve got left.”
Luca and I have been having various permutations of this conversation for the past few days. I have entreated him to look at the long view: in a year-and-a-half, he will be a legal adult and Prince won’t be able to confiscate his belongings, at least theoretically. I have suggested he save up money from birthday and Christmas gifts to buy another power board. I have told him that, while the power board is the most important thing in the world to him now, it won’t be next year or even next month. I have begged him not to screw up his life over a replaceable object.
“I want my power board. It’s not fair. I bought it with my money.”
“I know you want it,” I said. “And it’s not fair. I get it. But the more you let him know you want it, the more he’s going to dig in his heels and keep it from you. You have to empower yourself. Take it off the table. Pretend you don’t want it. ”
Luca looked at me like I was the densest person on the planet.
“But I DO want it!”
I sighed. Sixteen-year-olds are incapable of thinking beyond what they want at the moment. And Luca is incapable, right now, of understanding that the power board is not really what he wants. It’s a symbol of freedom, of autonomy, of individuation.
Everything that a narcissist father does not want his son to have.
I watched Luca pick at his taco. I saw the slump of his shoulders, listened to the despondent sigh, felt the thick fog of hopelessness roll in and settle down around him.
I remembered what it was like, living with a narcissist. Fighting for crumbs. Swallowing anger on a daily basis. Sinking into depression because I had no control over my life.
The only way to wrest control from a narcissist is not to need anything from him. Today it’s a powerboard, tomorrow it’s a car, in ten years, it’s a downpayment on a house. I have told Luca that he should not depend on his dad to get him any of these things, that it is better to forego them than to slog through life with a yoke around his neck.
But his eyes glazed over when I told him this. He’s been saturated with lectures. All that exists for him is this powerboard.
“Well,” I said, “I think it’s a mistake to risk being sent to residential because of a power board, but it’s your journey.”
Luca stood up and took his plate into the kitchen.
“Mom, I told you. It doesn’t matter what I do. He’s going to send me away.”
He rinsed his plate, then put it in the dishwasher. I felt the rage rise up in me, the helplessness I feel from not being able to extricate my son from his father’s sadism by gaining child custody of him. And then I employed the survival techniques I have honed in the eleven oh-so-illuminating years I’ve been divorced from a narcissist.
I observed my thoughts and sensations, let them move past me as if on an assembly line. I set my intention, a silent meditation, a kind of prayer, that Luca learns to focus on what he can control in order to wrest himself from his father’s grasp. And then I tried to detach from the outcome.
Which is what all parents have to do if they want their kids to grow up.