My Father: Portrait of the Narcissist as an Old Man

It's that time of year again. The time of year that I want to tell the media to shut up already. I don't want to hear about celebrating dad and I don't want to see all of the loving photos my friends post of their wonderful fathers. Truthfully, I am jealous. I don't have a father in the real sense of the word. After all that I have learned in my fifty-two years on this planet- I have a sperm donor, a tormenter, an ugly and evil competitor who only cares about himself. This is not someone you fete with a barbecue and gifts of bathrobes and slippers. This is someone you spend thousands of dollars on psychotherapy to rid your nervous system of the anxiety and nightmares that he has caused over the course of your lifetime.

If you have read some of my old blog posts, like this one, and this one, you will know that my father is bipolar with psychotic episodes of mania that last for years. You will also have read that I saved his life when he was in his last depression, moving him out his crumbling home in Mahopac Falls, NY, and into my home- nursing him back to health only to have him turn on my husband and me in a violent way. We caught him and we released him. He loves his mania. He even tattooed it on his arms.
 The devil on one side....
...and a laughing Buddha on the other.

My brother took those photos- this was right around the time my father was sending toxic mail and throwing things that looked like bombs in my yard.

I have not seen my father "officially" since he crashed my book launch for my book "Once Upon A Memory" on December 3, 2013. He came to make the event about him, but we were prepared and we used a secret weapon- my beautiful friend Teresa- to defuse him. Teresa used her wile and wit and she caught the nasty fly and held him captive, away from my reading until the very end. Then I had to face the enemy- and he was full of himself and full of smoke and weed- his t-shirt had burn holes, and an image of Frida Kahlo that he had written on- to add my mother's name, which was Frieda Savitz, and her birthday, which was the very day of my book launch. It was a disgusting display of vulgarity. He hurt my mother so badly that he destroyed her. She died 28 years ago this past January.

My father did not come to have me sign a copy of "Once Upon A Memory" to him. No. He had bought a copy himself, in advance of the signing, and HE had signed it. He drew a picture of the Oscar® that he had been nominated for- and told me to "remember that Oscar® had visited him twice..." (he didn't win either time) and he wrote other gibberish that was all about how great he is. I tried not to let him ruin my book launch, but he definitely left a horrid metallic taste in my psyche after it was over.

After that December day, my husband and I would spot him occasionally. He lives in our neighborhood in Seattle, about a mile away and we walk our errands all of the time. One day this spring he walked right past us, but didn't see us there. I drew this in my journal after that:

Then about three weeks ago on a Friday evening- the same day that I had given a live interview on CNN International about the Hachette-Amazon battle, Booth and I were walking home from a lovely dinner in Ballard. It was a gorgeous late spring evening and people were out and enjoying the weather. There was a crowd in front of the bar Hazelwood, which is next to the the Anchor Tattoo parlor. As I walked right next to the bar crowd, I looked up and there was my father- looking very clean-shaven, wearing hipster glasses, hitting on a 30-something woman, talking to her non-stop. I stared at him- and then watched as he quickly glanced at me and Booth walking by, and then went right back to chewing the woman's ear off, wishing he was chewing on the rest of her. He had no idea who we were. Booth turned around to see if he did a double-take, but he did not. We both laughed. I felt a sense of relief that I didn't have any anxiety. Sure, it was sad and pitiful, but it had not hurt like in the past.

I have spent my entire life trying to please this man- wishing for his love, for him to be proud of me, but over and over I have been screwed- not only by him, but by others in his new family circle after he left my mother. I have worked on the puzzle that caused so much hardship in my life and when I was 35 and had fallen into major clinical depression I figured out that he was bipolar, which shed light on why he was the way he was. He has refused treatment, fighting it vehemently. But even the bipolar diagnosis did not explain his lack of love and empathy. My mother was also bipolar, but she loved my brother and me and even though she was broke and dying, she loved us and said we were her "greatest achievements." Last week I stumbled on a website that dealt with "Toxic People," and my eyes were opened - it was like discovering another planet- not one that supported life, though- I read a description that fit my father so aptly; it was as plain as the enormous nose on his face: My father  has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

This doesn't absolve him of his sins. However, now I have context and I understand what I have been dealing with. A long time ago I had a Jungian Astrological reading done and the report said that my parents were "Beauty and the Beast." I didn't understand that then, but it has come true in so many ways, except I do not love the Beast. I will not celebrate him on Father's Day. Do not cry for him, though, he has built yet another world of adoring fans and as long as they agree with him and do his bidding, he will shower them with his incredible presence. Or if they are a pretty young woman, he will try to get them into the shower with his tattooed 82 year old body.

I will celebrate Father's Day with my husband, who is a great father. I will also remember both of my grandfathers, Sam and Ralph, who were great fathers. I will also work on healing myself from my painful past. I still thank my father for so many lessons that he has taught me- most of them on how "not to be..." But as a narcissist, he will claim credit for how I've turned out and what I've done.

What I've done is let him go.

With Love,


Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency: Communing With Book People

I was thrilled when the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts asked me to teach at their Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency this August. They not only dangled the literary carrot of getting to hang out with other writers and characters who love writing and books, but they also enticed me with the setting of gorgeous Whidbey Island and the Captain Whidbey Inn. Now that the plot is thickening and the registration period is still open (until June 15th) I thought I'd lend my voice to help promote it by answering the five questions that Guest Faculty were given to answer.

1. What's your favorite thing about teaching writers?

Getting to check out their glasses and writing tools. No, seriously, I think my favorite thing about teaching writers is sharing a love of story. Stories are how we communicate and how we share our experiences, and though themes may be similar, we all bring something fresh to the table. 

2. How would you suggest students approach a writer, agent, or editor they admire? 

With dark chocolate, a glass of wine, and don't ask them to "help them get published." I am half-joking of course, but I wasn't joking about the "getting published" part. Students seem to want to put the cart before the horse, and not the art before the course! (I just made that up. The last part, that is.) Don't put the emphasis on being published. Approach writers, agents and editors as "someone who wants to learn." There is much you can glean from those who have been there and done that, but have a "beginners mind" and stay open and curious. There is no "one way" to get to your destination- there are many ways, so take a light-hearted approach and make friends with writers, agents and editors, but please don't force them to read your manuscript immediately, and don't tell them that it is "guaranteed to be a bestseller," or that your kids or grandkids loved it. 

3. How about a sneak peek of what we can expect to learn from you in your sessions at Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA?

I am teaching two workshop sessions. Here are the descriptions that I wrote for them:

“WRITING FRICTION: Why You Need Conflict in Children’s Books”

Children’s books, especially picture books seem deceptively simple. People want to know “how many can you write in one day?” (Can you hear me laughing?) In this workshop we will explore the need for conflict in children’s books and how you can increase the tension in order to create a page-turner for the grade school set. Bring a pencil and journal and your imagination as we brainstorm up some good “frictional” ideas.

“The 1st Person, The 2nd Person & The 3rd Person Walk Into a Book”

The 1st Person says, “I want to be the main character.”
The 2nd Person says, “You don’t have what it takes.”
The 3rd Person says, “They always make a mess of things.”

In this workshop we will discuss voice in children’s books.
We will be writing, and we will be talking!

4. Tell us what "literary community" means to you.

If you look at the sketch at the top of this post, you will see that I can sometimes take things literally. But the truth of the matter is that I love the world of books. Everything about books- from scheming up ideas to polishing them until they shine, to working with other writers and artists, to hanging out at bookstores and breathing in volumes of words and stories, to going to conferences and meeting like-minded individuals who all would rather be wearing sweats, sitting on their butts and making things up, to getting to know publishers, editors, agents, art directors, bookstore owners and clerks, teachers, librarians, to standing in the aisle at Office Max and imagining how each pen would feel touching the paper in my journal, to dreaming that one day my books would get published and I would share them with people around the world, to waking up and finding out that dream came true.

5. When not teaching or working at your "day job," you can be found...

(deep breath)... hunting for agates and other minerals, foraging for mushrooms and wild edibles, cooking everything from scratch, preserving and canning things I grow, taking long walks on the beach and writing in my head, working out with a body ball, taking care of two homes, my beloved husband, my sweet rescue cat, playing guitar and ukulele, dreaming of skiing next winter, kayaking around our Lummi Island waters, reading great books, wondering what I forgot to list here, and sleeping.

The MFA Residency includes a FREE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE in which we all jump into the lovely, refreshing waters of the Puget Sound. On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the most likely, how likely are you to participate?


I hope that this has piqued your interest and that you will want to sign up for this incredible workshop- at very least to see me in the Salish Sea in my bathing suit.

With Love,