#697 “My narcissistic craphole dad likes to glom onto my achievements. How do I stop him from ruining my next big thing?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m in my late 20s and have achieved a considerable amount of success in my creative field. I earn a sizable living and have a good reputation in my field both nationally and internationally.  My father and I do not have a very good relationship (short backstory: he is a professor who left my mom for his T.A. when I was young, attempted to gain custody of my brother and not my sister or I, refused to acknowledge my sister’s depression was real despite her suicide attempt, other bad parent things).  At this point in my life, I prefer to keep things cordial but distant- get lunch one day if we are in the same city, phone calls on holidays.

The problem is that he undermines my achievements at any opportunity that presents itself. When I graduated from art school he flew to New York and showed up at my thesis exhibition unannounced, making my mother (who had been planning and saving to be able to fly up for the day) hugely uncomfortable and making comments like “So is this all you had to do to graduate?  I would have thought you’d at least have had to write a paper or something” and “I mean I’m just glad you’re graduating, it took you long enough.”

Now I am having my first solo art exhibition in London in the fall, and I got a call out of the blue from my dad telling me to let him know the dates because he’d like to attend.  He even had the audacity to say “maybe we’ll just drop in on you like we did for your thesis show!” I know that if he comes it will ruin what should be a major milestone in my art career.  He will make passive-aggressive and rude comments to my coworkers and friends and undermine my accomplishments by speaking negatively about me (“Oh you’ve met her mother?  Now you see why she’s so fucked up”

I’m worried that if I ask him not to come he will show up just to spite me.
How can I keep him from attending without turning it into a major dramatic argument?

Stop Asking Me if I Make A Good Living From My “Etsy Store or Whatever it is You Do”

Dear Stop Asking:

Bad news: You probably won’t be able to prevent him from attending, and it will turn into a major dramatic argument no matter what you do, because that’s how your dad rolls. Whatever will cause the most turmoil and get the most attention is what he will do. So I think you should risk the drama and the argument, but do it on your terms.

The exhibition will be up for a while, yes? It’s not a One Night Only thing? I suggest you pick a date or set of dates that starts after the opening festivities. That way you can have the opening events and enjoy your success without his shadow.

“Dear Dad,

Sometime between X date and Y date would be the best for me.”

Keep it really terse. If he asks specifically about opening parties and events, etc. just repeat yourself: “Between X and Y is the best window for me.”

Do not elaborate or give reasons. He doesn’t think he behaved badly at your thesis event, he thinks it was awesome that he came. He doesn’t think he said horrible and insulting things to you and about you, he thinks y’all were bonding. He has a selective memory, he’ll never be convinced otherwise, so don’t waste your energy. Ignore follow-ups. You’ve said what you needed to say.

You could also say, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t come, but if you insist, sometime between X & Y is best.” This response would rock the illusion of cordial relations you have now though I would argue that if you are filled with dread at seeing the dude, things ain’t that cordial. I think he would still come if you said that (because you are issuing a direct challenge to him), but it strips away the illusion that he is somehow doing this for you and returns some of the awkwardness to sender.

He might well look up the event online and crash the opening to spite you (and torment your mom). Against this contingency, you could recruit some of your most thick-skinned and gregarious friends to be your Dad-buffers. If your dad shows, you can give your dad a brief (& confused) hello, like “Oh hi, Dad, I didn’t realize you’d be here” before excusing yourself to the rest room for a good 10 minutes, while Dad-buffer Friend #1 swoops in to give your dad a personal tour of the gallery and keeps him far away from you for the rest of the evening. Buffer Friend #2 is there should you get cornered by your dad, to swoop in and call you away for something urgent, like, a buyer (fictional or real), i.e. “Letter Writer, so sorry to interrupt you and your Dad, but Sting is here and wants to ask you about your work.” Your script is “Sorry, can’t talk now!” as you walk away from him to somewhere else. If/when he releases the word-kraken of undermining nonsense and backhanded compliments, your friends will know that it doesn’t reflect on you, at all. He is only embarrassing himself.

Depending on what kind of venue it is, you could also deploy the guest list or “invitation only” qualities of the opening to your benefit. It would involve telling your agent or the venue manager (or other person in charge): “My dad and I are estranged, but he likes to crash my openings and make a big weird scene. Can we make sure he does not acquire tickets or guest list privileges?” Savvy people who are invested in your career (literally, they are literally invested in you) will realize that a shaky, seething, distracted You is a You Who Sells Less Art and do what they can to buffer you. There will be drama if your dad is escorted out by security, but security people are totally capable of saying “Sorry sir, it’s invitation only, and you’re not on the list. The show runs through (date), please come back another time.” They don’t have the same emotional engagement as you do, and they give zero fucks that he’s your dad.

If he doesn’t crash the opening, and shows up later, you can decide whether you want to meet up with him at all. You could reward him for at least respecting the time window boundary with a brief lunch and collect a few more inappropriate Dad sayings, or you could be all “Sorry, didn’t realize you were actually coming (since you insist on surprising me at these things). I’m actually in France for the weekend. Enjoy the show!

Congratulations on your show, I hope it is a great success and that it is relatively asshole-free.

Moderation note: Readers, if you have kind, normal parents, flying across the ocean to see your child’s art show would be a tremendous show of support and love. If you don’t relate to a scenario where this all fills you with dread, that’s okay – it means you’re lucky, and it also means that this question and response isn’t really about you. Please no “but he’s faaaaaaaamily” hijacks.

217 thoughts on “#697 “My narcissistic craphole dad likes to glom onto my achievements. How do I stop him from ruining my next big thing?”

  1. Jedi hugs, LW. That’s a tough situation and I can see why you don’t want much of a relationship with this guy. Good luck keeping him at arm’s length (+10 other arms’ lengths).

  2. I find myself hoping deeply that advance tickets to LW’s opening are not available on line, and if they are, LW’s father doesn’t discover such until it is way too late.

    1. ^^^ This ^^^^

      Also, I think it’s highly unlikely that in the internet age, the dad has not already Googled the show and found the dates himself. He just wants his daughter to know he’s considering coming – to wreck her enjoyment of the event – so he floats this question to her about dates.

  3. The captain’s advice is golden, as always.

    Also, I don’t know if this would help but can I just give the perspective of a person whose parents would not pull this crap?

    If I was at a colleague/friends art show, and their parent came in and caused this scene – bad mouthed them to me, talked crap about their work, tried to undermine them I would not be thinking ‘what a terrible person this daughter must be’, and nor would I believe his badmouthing. I would think ‘what a shitty guy this is; they must have had a tough time with him as their dad’.

    I mention this because a lot of my friends with similar parents have said that their concern is that their friends will believe their parents. I can say that most people will not believe him, and will think poorly of him. He will be embarassing himself, not you.

    Not that this will make it any less stessful and horrifying if he pulls this stunt – I just hope this perspective helps you if he does cause a scene. He is saying more about him than you, and I’d think that most people will see that.

    1. This is absolutely true. I am a parent who tries hard to be supportive, and I have supportive parents of my own, but I would still hear those type of bad-mouthing comments as Dad’s problem, not LW’s! Anninyn is right that most people will see that he is only making himself look bad.

      I hope with all my heart that he stays away and you have a FANTASTIC and successful exhibition. You should be so proud of yourself!

    2. Seconding this observation. I have shitty parents and the anxiety over “People will believe the lies and my life will be destroyed” is a deep and real one.

      However, I’ve learned that well-adjusted adults will realize that Parents Behaving Badly reflects badly on the parents, not the children. And those who go “Oh, what a hooooorrible child not to love her decent, hardworking father who just waaaaants what’s beeeeessssst for heeeerrrrr!” in that awful smug stage whispery kind of way? Are probably some flavor of abusive assholes themselves and they have just handed you a giant color guard-sized red flag letting you know to stay away from them. Take it for the gift it is.

      LW, many congratulations on your successes! I hope the show goes swimmingly.

    3. YUP. I was a bridesmaid at a dear friend’s wedding who was assigned to be Bullfighter/Babysitter to her mother, who has a similar history of ruining big life events of hers through sheer selfish cruelty.

      When Mother of the Bride said to me, “I thought we’d never get rid of her!” as my friend was walking down the aisle, it made it really obvious who the asshole was in that family.

      1. “How funny! SHE never thought she’d get rid of YOU either!” *said with a big shit-eating grin on one’s face*

    4. Yep. This thought didn’t occur to me while reading the letter, but I would have exactly the same response. “I think enough of the artist/ their work to take time out of my day to come to their art show. Their dad is a jerk, though. What’s his problem?”

    5. This.

      I married into a family with an asshole parent, and assigning buffers at my wedding did two things: made the wedding day survivable and fun for both partner and me, and gave my (functional but willing to give people too many benefits of the doubt) family chamces to see my partner’s stepmother in action. They are still telling each other horrified stories about how awful she was, while she remembers it as her being super popular and wonderful. (Last time I saw her, she said, “I hate you and I think ((partner)) made a huge mistake being with you, but I must admit, the wedding was awesomely fun. Maybe the divorce party will be just as much fun!”))

      None of the healthy people in this situation think my partner is the bad seed in this relationship.

      I also agree that anyone blamingq you, suggesting you aren’t trying hard enough, or bleating “but familyyyyyyyy” at you is at best lacking empathy and is most likely showing you that they are also an abusive asshole.

      So go ahead and recruit buffers, both from your friends and from your paid help (agent, manager, gallery owner,,etc.) then be your badass self and have a wonderful show!

      1. “What a coincidence–I was just commenting to hubby the other day about how much fun we will have at your funeral. We’re really looking forward to it, and so is my entire family.”

        1. Lovely. Just lovely. Possibly only inside her head though. Depends on how much trouble she’s willing to start.

          Two thumbs up!

          1. Sometimes, just taking a moment to enjoy the thought of that kind of comeback helps tremendously.

    6. This is a really good point and I agree 110%.

      I also want to add, for the LW, that sometimes in this situation people will come up to you afterwards and say something like, “Wow, your dad is a bit full on, isn’t he?” or, if they’re more blunt, “Wow, your dad is an asshole.” They almost certainly mean this in a sympathetic way, like “Your dad is an asshole and it’s a miracle you turned out as sweet and talented as you did,” but in the LW’s situation it’s easy to hear this as “Your dad is an asshole, so what must be wrong with you?” THAT IS NOT WHAT THEY MEAN. It’s easy to get defensive when you’ve spent your whole life having to defend yourself from this charmless insect, but most people only want to express sympathy, even if they phrase it badly.

      1. YES THIS. It is absolutely true, LW, that your dad’s behavior is going to come across as No, Sir, It Is YOU Who Are The Asshole to everybody who sees and hears him. The examples you have shared are not considered normal and appropriate behavior by any functioning adult. Your dad does not understand this because he is a narcissistic asshole, and doesn’t understand that when people smile and say nothing, they’re making horrified polite face and edging away from him.

        1. I would add that in the rare case that someone who sees LW’s dad behaving like a mugful of social pirhanas that have been given fart pills and does *not* identify that as a case of No, Sir, It Is YOU Who Are The Asshole, that’s a bright red flag. Best case, that person is just Very Oblivious and believes the best of everyone, which can be a liability in a world where not everyone has got the best intentions. A … not-best … case would be if that person sees nothing wrong with that sort of behavior.

    7. Agreed. We have a friend whose dad pulls this kind of shit all the time and our response is simply to invite her over to our house more when she’s home, so she can get away from him. I’ve had clients parents (I work with children in the private sector) do similar stuff and again, everyone just tries to give the kid a buffer zone. People are going to be judging him not you. I full appreciate that this isn’t the bigger part of the problem, but anninyn is right about how outsiders will view this.

    8. At a professional art show, though, he could really cause a lot of damage for her if he harasses potential buyers in addition to the LW. 😦

      1. Which is why the advice to set up some kind of buffer, maybe even inform security to prevent him entrance is still excellent advice.

        I’m merely trying to remind LW that most other people will not read his opinions as reality, and will just think he’s a dick. My friends with narcisstic or abusive parents often struggle with an awful fear that if People Hear This They Will Believe It. They will BELIEVE they’re an incapable artist, that they’re a fuck-up, that they don’t put any effort in, because PARENT SAYS SO.

        That is not what will happen, because these things are not true. People may be dissauded from buying work, true, but it won’t be because they believe jerkdad that LW is an awful child who doesn’t try and is meeeean to their poor old dad. It will be because his jerkiness is so massively jerky that they feel uncomfortable and want to leave.

        And that’s shitty. But I still think it’s important that LW doesn’t believe that it’s for reason a (people believe my abusive father) rather than person b (people think my abusive father is a dick and don’t want to be around him). For their sanity.

    9. Add me to the list of people who agree with anninyn. My father is the kind of person who would pull this sort of stunt, I can confirm that everyone who knows me thinks he’s a massive arsehole and they don’t believe a word he says about me or the rest of my family. OP, you have my deepest sympathy. I’m offering hugs and lemon cheese cake if you want them.

  4. So many Jedi hugs to you, LW. I don’t have anything to add to the Captain’s advice, but I wanted to post to say you are 100% not alone in having a parent like this – my brother and I have actually nicknamed our parents “The Ruiners” because of their behavior during our major life moments.

    Also, make sure you take a day – or a weekend, or a week, as much time as you can carve out – to put the dad-worries aside for a bit and really celebrate this moment for yourself. A solo art exhibition? In London? That is flipping remarkable! Do something nice for yourself. Heck, do many somethings nice for yourself! (My personal somethings nice typically involve fruity drinks with friends and gourmet cupcakes, if you’re looking for ideas 🙂 ).

    1. Ah, The Runiers! We’ve got ’em, too–his family is notorious for this. Sometimes, I get snagged on the WHY of this situation. His sister just tried to Ruin our son’s First Communion this past weekend, but we disinvited her because we could see the writing on the wall. Why, why, WHY do they do this??

      1. Because they can’t bear any event to not be About Them, and if they can’t make it About Them in a good way, they’ll do it in a bad way. Yelling is still attention.

        1. My mother, who once told me that “some people just aren’t cut out for college”, and told me not to bother even trying to re-apply or finish my bachelor’s until I wised up and stopped telling her about my life, came to my graduation with my BA and acted like she’d done it herself, popping up happily when the speaker invited parents of graduating students to be recognized etc. She was on her best behaviour because I had a big party of friends there and she can’t bear for people to think she’s not fantastic and wonderful, but it really made me sick.

          (I now have an MA too, btw, and am ABD on a PhD, so clearly I’m not cut out for college.)

      2. To ruin a kid’s First Communion? HOW CAN ONE RUIN THAT? Someone would have to be an extreme self-centred douchebag to to that! Good call with disinviting! Best wishes to your son!

        (now I’m dreading my little cousin’s FC this weekend! We also have some highly difficult family members, I do hope that at least the church will calm them down a bit, if not any “regard” for my cousin)

  5. Fyi when ppl say things like “oh you met her mom, now you know why she’s so fucked up lolllllllll”? They think they’re hilarious. Other people think they’re jackasses. Just a reminder that as stressful as his abusive behavior & comments are, he’s showing his ass to others & reflecting poorly on himself, not so much on you. Good luck with your show.

      1. Yeah I’ve been getting “Wow… you’re surprisingly well-adjusted!” since high school.

  6. Um… do we have the same dad? I have this super sensitivity to the word “actually” because he uses it all the time to undermine me. “I read your article and it was actually quite insightful.” etc.

    All the Captain’s suggestions are good and I especially love the Buffer Friends suggestion – anyone who is in the loop and supportive can be roped into serving as your bouncers. “Hey LW’s father, I hear you know a lot about (topic) and I’d love to hear more!” Academics loooove talking about their subject matter, and I will go out on a stereotype limb that older male academics would love to talk about anything subject, even if it’s not their area of expertise! Yes it’s painful for your Buffers, but if they’re good friends they will take one on the chin for you 🙂

    Congratulations and good luck!

    1. Ooh, that “actually” thing burns. And you know that (preferred derogatory name for your dad here) thinks he’s complimenting you and would find you so mystifyingly out of line if you were grouchy about it. Gross. Support for you.

    2. “Actually” is a bit of a verbal tic for me so I’ve been working hard to use it sparingly since it’s been abused to undermine and contradict so often.

      1. I think the issue is that “actually” applies that it is despite what you would expect. So, it can be fine in some circumstances, “I actually liked this despite the fact that it contains some anise and I hate anise.” But if the thing you wouldn’t expect is for somebody to be smart/competent/good/some other positive thing, then it’s a backhanded compliment. It’s more a statement of, “Well, you usually are awful, but you managed to not be this one shocking time”, which isn’t a compliment.

        I think it can be okay sometimes if somebody is very new to something. Or if you are countering their own expectations. For example, I’ve helped to teach some people go (a tactics/strategy game with similar difficulty and depth as chess), and often they’ll be frustrated at their progress, because it takes years of study and practice to get good at it, so I might say, “You’re actually learning quite quickly, but it’s normal for it to feel slow and to take a while before you can see which groups need defending.” or something similar. Basically, it’s all about context. But you need to keep in mind that you’re making two statements – one about the thing directly and another about what the expectations are around it.

        1. Yeah, this is a good summary. I don’t hate the word itself – I use it myself every now and then – but it’s that connotation of “This ran counter to my expectation that you would be useless.”

  7. LW, I am one of the people mentioned in the moderation note with a kind, loving family who don’t fill me with dread. I am also a classical musician who finds performances both highly personal and highly nerve-wracking. I am here only to say this:

    Even if your father were literally the World’s Best Dad Ever, it’s ok not to want your family members at a public display of your art. These can be highly emotionally charged occasions, and even the best families aren’t always the right audience. I think of performing as giving the audience a piece of myself. This usually isn’t the same piece of me that I give to my family. And that’s ok.

    I’m sorry that Helpful, Supportive Dad isn’t a thing that you get to have. I know that you will tackle this difficult situation like the amazing and competent adult that you are. I just wanted you to know that, if there is some lingering part of your brain that is saying, “But he’s faaaaaaaaaaaaaamily,” you can ignore it, without guilt or hesitation.

    Best of luck with your exhibit!

    1. This! I can speak to both sides, having a terrible cringe-inducing father and a lovely supportive mom. Neither of whom do I want showing up at my art venues. My art is…. not personal, exactly, but very separate from my family. It’s a piece of myself I don’t necessarily want to share with them, kind of like how I wouldn’t invite my mom to a party with all my peers. It’s not secret or shameful, but it’s not a part of myself that I want family commentary on, no matter how supportive the comments might be. Compartmentalizing your life is okay and doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.

      1. AMEN TO THIS. My mom was super offended when I told her I didn’t want to give her one of my paintings for her to display in her home. I’d rather just keep them in my basement thank you! They’re mine! They’re not conversation pieces for the church ladies!

        1. it gets way way weirder when she then offers to purchase artwork for her home – because she likes it, and is proud of me and yet… so difficult.

      2. Hear hear. During my adolescence, my mother decided to take “being involved” very literally and wanted to “help” me with creative projects, until the fateful “Your poetry is quite interesting”-“YOU READ MY POETRY?!”-“The notebook was on your bed”-“AAAAAARGH!” freakout of ’03. To this day it is very hard to explain that my creative process is very personal and intimate and I neither want nor need to share it with every single person.

    2. This: “Even if your father were literally the World’s Best Dad Ever, it’s ok not to want your family members at a public display of your art. These can be highly emotionally charged occasions, and even the best families aren’t always the right audience. I think of performing as giving the audience a piece of myself. This usually isn’t the same piece of me that I give to my family. And that’s ok.” Thank you, arbortrary. Perfectly said.

    3. I can relate to this. My super proud and sweet mom invited the whole family (without my knowledge) to an important college presentation – for which I was quite nervous already, given that I would be graded for it. Stress level highest as I’ve ever had. But it must be so much worse if family member(s) act out like the LW’s dad. Hugs for you, LW.

      BTW, the Captain’s advice to team up is excellent. The more people you know what kind of asshole your dad is, the better they can help keeping him away from you AND people will realize that he’s the one embarrassing himself. One of my friends has a dad like yours – on her wedding, her dad had basically no “stage” to show off on, as the complete bridal party knew already what an asshat he was. He still managed to make some assholish comments, but at least that was to me and not to her.

    4. Thanks for this. I’m venturing into an art form that is out of character for me, and am discovering just how badly my family has stereotyped me as Not Good At That. Just not inviting them had not occurred to me as an okay option.

    5. I want to THIS. I am in the process of querying a novel right now, and my parents are extremely huffy about the fact that I haven’t let them read it. My parents, who are alternatingly hyper-critical and saccharine in their praise of things they think they had something to do with (“such great diction! I’m so glad we made you take speech classes in elementary school!”). I have sounding boards and people I trust to look the thing over. My parents fill a different role (a limited role, if we’re being honest) in my life. And that’s okay. If this publication thing ever happens, they can have a copy, but until then? It’s too raw and personal for me to share it with them.

  8. I love the Captain’s advice! Perhaps also practice saying something along the lines of, “Wow, Dad, it’s incredibly unprofessional and rude of you to come to this event, not only because I specifically asked you not to come, but because you are also insulting me to my coworkers. [Optional: As a result, I’ve called security.]” This is in case you overhear him talking smack about you and/or your mother to a colleague. As the Cap says, it returns the awkward to sender! And then, for when he leaves, just practice a little shrug and headshake, and a very light, “I wish you hadn’t gotten cornered like that – this is why I don’t invite him to these things. Thank you so much for being here! What’s new with you?” (I want to steer clear of “I’m sorry,” as it isn’t your fault.)

    What I’m trying to stress here is that your father is behaving in a way that everyone will recognize as shaming HIM and not you – but when someone emotionally bombs you by showing up at your work events and talking smack, it can be quite difficult not to feel like it reflects negatively on you. Even practicing behaving like it doesn’t reflect on you (because it doesn’t! At all!) can help you have more equanimity at the time. Meanwhile, freeing everyone up to say, “how very not cool of that one person” allows people to process and move past the incident without it becoming A Thing that they need to feel awkward about forever.

    1. This is great. One addition – if you pick him up on saying something rude you may get “it was a joke” or some such (I think this is sometimes called Shroedinger’s Joke). In which case embrace being someone without a sense of humour 🙂

  9. Hugs to you, LW. I can completely relate — going thru something similar with my own folks, tho fortunately it looks like they’ll be too busy on the day of my Big Event to show up & ruin it.
    (On another note, am I the only one who hopes that Sting really does show up to LW’s event, buys something, and offers to adopt her?)

  10. LW, I’m so sorry you have to put up with this crap, instead of simply being able to focus on your amazing achievement. As someone who has gleefully performed this role in the past, I can guarantee that your friends will be *delighted* to be a buffer/bouncer between you and your dad. We’re always much more protective of our friends than ourselves, right? So being given permission to have a go at this jerk who is hurting our friend is a *gift*, not an obligation.

    1. Yes! Often when I hear stories of how awful my friends’ parents are I think, “Oh, just let me AT the shits who hurt my friend!” So getting to bare my teeth at them and just wait for them to make a move that lets me toss them out on their ears gives me absolute joy.

      1. See, you’re a good friend. I’ve had to go low contact with a friend I love dearly because she thinks my mother is great. In fact, I’ve had to cut loose a few people because I was sick of hearing “You’re so meeaaaan to your mother, you should respect her!”.

        People like her (and LW’s dad) are often incredibly plausible, charming, and forthright, whereas their victims children are written off as “Too erratic and too emotional”. That’s code, BTW, for ” Sees right through their shitlord parents’ gross abuse and boundary violation, and gets skittish about their presence, because said parent(s) are manipulative and unpredictable narcissists who would have the ability to turn the Doctor against the TARDIS , given five minutes.

        Some people just refuse to believe that “nice and normal people” abuse and control their kids.

        1. Oooh, I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with that. I think I really flirted with being that friend for a little bit. One of my friends (R) has a mom (O) who seems totally nice and lovely to everyone around her, but is actually a dragon lady. R, having been dealing with O’s crapery her whole life, would get really frustrated at seemingly small things and I admit that there was a window of time where I was buying into O’s portrait of the world and was kinda like “what is R’s deal? Why is she so touchy?” So, basically exactly what Big Pink Box said about writing off victims as too emotional. I think my not-seeing came from a place of mostly-lovely-family naiveté on my part and the fact that a lot of O’s bad behavior was very well hidden (she seemed so “nice and normal!”), so the small things seemed so harmless when they were, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg.
          But LW! The first time R actually asked me to run interference with O (we were in high school, so not telling O about the event wasn’t really an option, so R basically said “I asked her not to come, but I know she’ll be here, and I can’t deal with actually talking to her, please keep her occupied”), it was so so very revealing. Suddenly, knowing the R had actually asked her not to come and so knowing that nothing she was doing was actually to support R, I saw everything O did in a completely different light. The backhand in her compliments was so obvious, the fact that every good thing she had to say about R was actually about herself was so apparent. Since then I’ve been able to be a staunch defender of R in all interactions with O, and I am secretly thrilled when R asks me to manage O because it lets me ignore my manners and go all Ice Queen on someone who is being shitty to one of my friends. JADIS DOES NOT ALLOW SUCH INSULTS TO HER DEAR FRIENDS! CONSIDER YOURSELF BANISHED!
          Basically, what I’m saying is that even those people who might believe your dad is a good dad out of laziness or obliviousness might very well be completely in your corner once they understand what’s actually going on. None of this is to say, btw, that Big Pink Box didn’t adequately explain the situation to the folks who were being asshats about it to them, or if they’d just tried harder to explain people would have understood. I’m not trying to say that at all. I am very fortunate that R kept me in her life long enough to come around, but it was never her job to bring me around, and some people just refuse to get it. So I am very sorry that you’ve had to deal with those people, Big Pink Box, and I feel very blessed that R eventually hit me with a clue-by-four. And it sounds (from your examples you’ve given, anyway) like your dad might be a bit more obvious than O, so hopefully a clue-by-two will do the trick for most folks.

    2. Heck yeah. Some friends of mine banded together to form a Brute Squad at my wedding, in case the groom’s father showed up. (The marriage turned out to be a really awful idea, but the _wedding_ was _awesome_.) To my eternal relief, he didn’t show his face, but the Brute Squad kinda regretted not getting to toss him out on his butt.

  11. LW, been there done that. My dad isn’t nearly as bad as yours but I still have multiple memories of crying as a kid because he would randomly comment (always negatively) on whatever I was drawing. And of course, he doesn’t remember any of this and claims that I’m lying, because like your father he sees nothing wrong with that behavior. :/ Thank god living away from home makes it so much easier to keep him from seeing anything I create.

    Definitely love the Captain’s advice here, and I would also recommend that if he *insists* on having you tour him around or talk to him for a long period under the guise of “Let’s catch up!”, have an excuse ready for why you can’t and offer to catch up outside the show. I’m sure it’s not ideal but it might help reduce his time at the show and keep him from making any sort of spectacle if you promise to go to dinner with him afterwards. Because I definitely agree that he probably thinks he’s a good or at least an ok father and he certainly doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his behavior. You’re not going to change that, but playing along by offering to spend time *away from the event* will give him the attention he wants and hopefully help reduce his time at the event because of it.

    1. She has an excuse, and it comes ready-made: “I’m sorry, but I’m working right now”. A gallery opening for an artist, just like a theatrical performance for an actor, or a fashion show for a designer, or a symphonic solo for a musician, is part of their job. So she can quite reasonably hand off her dad to whichever helpful friends have designated themselves buffers for the evening, because she is working and needs to be available to speak with actual factual buyers, with critics, and with potential buyers as well, rather than with family members who would expect pieces supplied gratis.

      (If he’d throw a stink about being interrupted in the middle of a lecture or a tutorial by a family member wanting a tour of the campus, he has no grounds to object. Not that this will stop him, of course, but it does provide extra license to be blunt in response).

      1. Also leverage to get security or the gallery owner involved. Because megpie is right–as much of a party as gallery opening can be, you are still WORKING. Look into your options about security etc to be available to escort you dad away, or refuse to let him in at all. He’s going to be a big asshole baby and throw a stink anyway; let it be in a situation where you take the power from him for a change.

    2. “You’re not going to change that, but playing along by offering to spend time *away from the event* will give him the attention he wants and hopefully help reduce his time at the event because of it.”

      Maybe? I don’t know. People like this tend to up the ante no matter what. If LW thinks it will help to offer to spend post-event time with her dad, fine, but she should reserve the option to cancel if he pisses her off.

  12. “He doesn’t think he behaved badly at your thesis event, he thinks it was awesome that he came. He doesn’t think he said horrible and insulting things to you and about you, he thinks y’all were bonding.”

    Not that it matters for what the LW needs to do here to protect herself, but I’m not convinced of this. What I see here is jealousy. It’s screaming out of every action he takes and thing he says. 😦

    1. I think you are 100% spot on about his jealousy, but if the LW confronted him with any of this, selective memory would take over as well as his self-perception that he is a doting and delightful father.

      1. Plus that jealousy could be buried deep, deep down and, although it def. motivates this behavior, he probably really thinks he’s expressing affection and closeness! Like many difficult people, he likely lacks self-awareness. He probably thinks that’s what loving and supporting his daughter looks and feels like.

      2. The way he probably makes everything match up in his mind is probably some variant of “Why is everyone making a big deal if what she does? It looks easy. I could do it if I wanted to.” –> ” in a way I DID do it, since I raised her and everything good in her is because of me.” –> “All this attention and praise is RIGHTFULLY MINE!!”

        1. Oh my god. You just described my dad. He co-opts every single accomplishment of mine as a testament to his awesomeness. He will never ever give his children credit for something good that happens (but if we make mistakes you can bet that’s all on us).

          And he doesn’t understand why we’re so distant….

      3. Or faking selective memory in order to present a socially acceptable front for the behavior. Lots of people who go into the “What do you mean?!?!? I was just doing XYZ loving behavior!” know *exactly* what they are really doing, and know that you know it too. They are reaching for the socially approved front in order to use their victim’s fear of looking bad/ungrateful/rude in a social situation to maintain control.

        Predators prey. A lion never accidentally killed a gazelle while trying to give it a hug.

      4. So much truth to jealousy and his skewed perception of himself. My dad is a narcissist, and does this shit to me and my sister all the time. He relies on plausible deniability to mind fuck us in to thinking that his behavior is somehow reasonable and fatherly and we are just being uptight, unreasonable, ungrateful daughters.

    2. I hope this doesn’t come across as hostile, but what material difference would this observation make? He’s still acting in ways that undermine his daughter’s confidence and hurt her. I would think it would be even worse if this were (knowingly) coming from a place of jealousy, because it would mean that he was intentionally acting on that jealousy.
      Really, lack of awareness and selective memory are kind of… giving him the benefit of the doubt.

      1. I don’t see it that way, tbh. Selective memory is still a choice: to edit your own past so that you get to keep seeing a good person in the mirror while simultaneously acting perfectly terrible to $victim_of_choice. It’s not like it’s a disorder/disability. People with memory problems don’t get to pick and choose what to forget, y’know?

        You’re right that it doesn’t matter whether it’s jealousy at the heart of LW’s dad’s actions or some other reason, though – the effect on the LW is the same either way.

        1. Wellll – things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder lead to exactly this kind of behaviour (not that I know whether or not this fits the LW’s Dad due to not being able to magically diagnose people over the internet, or anywhere since I’m not qualified) but that is a disorder and the people who have it don’t appear to have any control over it. They behave in ways that ruin their relationships and make everyone around them miserable and if you were to ask them they will not understand. The selective memory and the self justifications run deep.

          Not to say you should hang around to be a victim of someone with NPD – you should not. Oh wow should you not. But it’s also not really something they can easily help – it doesn’t lend itself to going to therapy because that would be totally counter to the delusion that they’re a good and wonderful person who is perfect in every way. Obviously they’re just really unlucky in having terrible children who’ve cut them out of their lives for no reason…

          So sometimes it literally is a disorder. I find it helpful to know that because it can make it easier for me to accept that the difficult person I’m dealing with is probably incapable of understanding the problem and fixing their behaviour, and that I’ll be much happier if I just manage their impact on my life instead, rather than constantly trying to convince them not to be terrible (I have a parent who seems to fit the NPD mould).

          1. yah. I just read this thing in Pema Chodron about a Buddhist (parable? Sorry, don’t know the lingo) about someone being in a boat, and another boat coming directly toward them and so the guy stands up and screams and yells and gets very angry about the irresponsible boat-captain in the other boat and when it finally is crashing into his boat he sees there is no one at the helm. I was like, “bing! some people are empty boats”. It’s not worth getting mad at them, they are not going to see the error of their ways, they are not going to apologize, they are not going to change course — they are just an empty boat. Undertake evasive maneuvers when possible, brace for impact when not possible. Like the Captain’s advice says 🙂

      2. I hear what you’re saying and not hostile at all. I initially hesitated for a moment before I made the comment, but I guess I feel that even if it hurts worse, it’s sometimes best to have a handle on what is truly motivating the difficult people in your life. YMMV, of course.

      3. My take on this is mostly that working out which flavour of asshole you’re dealing with is frequently tactically useful. It can, for example, help the Designated Dad-Bouncers come up with the quietest effective way to get him out of that gallery.

        It’s also emotionally useful, for many though not all people, to actually sit down and answer the question “WHY do they keep doing this?” in some detail so as to have something to put in the place of the answer that THEY want you to accept, you know? For others, it’s enough to replace “They do it because I’m Wrong” with “They do it because THEY are Wrong.”

  13. Any chance you could “accidentally” tell your dad your show opens several weeks after it actually closes? Then, if he does show up and finds he’s missed it, you could say, “Oh, sorry, Dad…I guess Mom also fucked up my ability to understand how the calendar works, too.” 🙂

    1. I was thinking LW could mention the super-special pre-art-show show specially for family members and big buyers that’s happening the week before the show actually starts.

      …over the phone, so he doesn’t have any records of what LW told him.


  14. You can probably ask for the venue’s security team to escort your father out regardless of whether there’s a guest list or not. Or, if you’re in a position to do so, you could hire a bodyguard for the night of the opening event. I’d look for someone smooth and socially adept, rather than physically intimidating (though both wouldn’t hurt, obviously!).

    1. I don’t think you need a hired bodyguard if you have a strong and protective friend who’s willing to help you out.

      Years back, my housemate and I had a party… and the week before it, after the invites had already gone out, her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend broke our window with his fist. So we invited two friends of ours, twin brothers who had about four black belts and 600 pounds between them. They were happy to be our on-site security in exchange for free drinks and spiffy laminated badges we made them that said “Official Bouncer.” We knew them from the goth club we all went to in those days.

      I know it sounds like I’m making this up but I promise I’m not.

      1. Yeah, I remember for one of my friends’ weddings, she was terrified her father would show up (her whole family was a passel of emotional manipulation, but her father was a special case of Not Even Slightly Welcome). All of her close friends were briefed on her father and what to do if he showed up, and while I would’ve gladly thrown him out if he had, our biggest ace in the hole was the Maid of Honor’s fiance, who, once in a tux, looked not unlike a mob enforcer.

        Fortunately, her father did not show up, but I think it gave her some peace of mind just knowing she had buffer friends in various places.

      2. Ha, my cousin did something similar when he got married… he takes judo, and briefed all his judo friends about his asshole father’s personality. Nothing happened, but it would have been pretty spectacular to watch my Bad Seed Uncle get flipped like a table if he’d started anything.

      3. If there’s any remote chance that the LW’s father might engage in something physical, then I’d go for professional over friend. Professional security people should be trained to understand the law, and what actions they’re allowed to take under what circumstances. It would suck to have a friend land in jail for assault because things escalated out of control and they ended up in the wrong.

        1. That’s a great point, No Longer In Academia. I think you’re absolutely right.

    2. Yes! If you can provide the venue with a picture of your dad they can show to all staff who would be managing entry, that would be helpful. This isn’t terribly unusual, I don’t think. I used to work at a big box toy store, and one of my co-workers had an abusive ex-boyfriend that would sometimes show up and cause trouble. We kept a photo of him taped at the front desk and knew to call security immediately if we ever saw him.

      1. When I was in the throes of a nasty divorce thirty years ago, my co-workers at the public library did a *terrific* job of keeping my violent ex away from me at the workplace. I am still grateful to them for it. Let *everyone* know you don’t want him there, from friends on to any security or manager of the event. This is your pride and joy. He has no right to ruin it.

    3. +1 to the bodyguard suggestion, from someone who has used one. Mine looked like a totally normal late 40’s, early 50’s dude. He looked like someone’s uncle. I still have very fond memories of him, despite the painful circumstances that led to him being hired.

      1. If it’s not too tangential, and if you don’t have to go into details of the actual circumstances that led to the necessity, how exactly does one go about hiring a bodyguard anyway?

        1. I haven’t actually done it, but my impression is that it starts with a Google search for ‘private security in yourtownhere’. Then call them up, explain the situation, and see what they can do to help. Most private security firms can provide guards for locations or for people.

    4. I second this, I’ve worked venue security and it’s part of the job. It honestly feels good to be doing something which really helps the people running the event, it gives you something to focus on (it’s a very, very boring job) and if you’re warned ahead of time, 9 times out of 10 you can de-escalate and contain before anyone else knows something is up.

      LW please consider at least giving your venue security the heads up, the better informed they are, the better they can do their job.

  15. One thing to keep in mind is that, as LW gets older and advances in their career, Dad’s presence and conduct — as he gets older and older — will appear more and more eccentric, anti-social, and generally inappropriate to everyone else in the room. Co-workers and friends won’t take him seriously. They certainly won’t take his behavior as any kind of reflection on LW’s art or personal worth.

    As an example, one of my parents can come out with some incredibly offensive, tasteless, or downright bizarre comments sometimes. What happens if something bizarro goes down at a party that I’m holding, or at some other special event I’ve put on? Everyone in the room is kind of, “Huh. That’s Glomarization’s parent. How interesting. Oh, look a Facebook notification on my phone.”

    LW, it seems like a hugely big deal now. And it’s an invasion of privacy and boundaries. But everybody else the room? They don’t actually care about what your dad does.

  16. I would just add that if this isn’t the sort of place that has security, security is something that can be gotten for a relatively not enormous amount of money. Alternatively, as a person who has put on many events, people will believe anyone with a clip board. If it is too expensive or difficult to hire someone, you could ask a large friend to hold a clip board and do an officious ‘I’m sorry sir, you are not on the list.’ This plan needs more thinking out, but if the organizers are willing to work with you, that may be good back-up plan if you schedule a visit and he crashes anyway.

    I wish you huge luck with your art opening, that sounds wonderful! And by the way, I bet the Awkwateers in London would be more than happy to be tapped to provide a force-field if necessary.

    1. I kind of wish I was in the area, I’d gladly volunteer to hold a clipboard and insist that no, really, this is not the art show you are looking for. I’m not physically intimidating but I can hold my ground like no one’s business.

      LW I’m so sorry you have to deal with this, but congratulations on the show! I really hope things do run smoothly for you.

      1. Ha, yes, me too. I’m totally willing to be free “security” for an art show. I’m only 5’2″, but I box and have a quality bitchface and “don’t fuck with me” presence.

      2. I live in town, and my speciality is Meredith-from-Mad-Men dim-wittedness. You would not believe the situations where having a voice like the Queen Mother and a feigned low level of observation, but where secretly you give zero fucks about embarrassing anybody else, has worked for me – I volunteer as clipboard tribute, LW! Or just moral support for what will be a fantastic tribute to all your (Dad-free) achievements x

  17. I think I’d just go straight for the invited guests only/security will see you out now method for the opening. Depending on the venue and how controlled the entrance is, they might be able to turn him back before he ever gets in, and LW wouldn’t have to see him or even know he was there until later.

    Also, I agree with the commenters who have said that if he does get in and act like an asshole, it’ll reflect poorly on him and not on the LW. I’ve met a few people’s asshole parents (or siblings, or partners) and have always walked away thinking “Wow, what a jerk, poor [name].” If anything, people will think the LW is even more awesome for growing up to be a successful person with Jerk Dad looming over their childhood.

  18. Nightmare. Freakin’ nightmare – I’m so sorry, LW. And I completely understand – my mother is a grade-“A” (for you-know-what) narcissist and my husband’s father is even worse than that. He has openly mocked my career even though I have *exactly the same job title as he does* and do *exactly the same thing* he does, albeit for a different organization. Yep! Same job.

    In any case – I’m all for the “give him a later date” or the “invite-only” options that the Captain provided… although, maybe you have a friend at the State Department or DHS who can flag his passport or something for a day or two? Honest to Jebus, that’s what I’d do. No foolin’. (the NSA can’t actually trace who I am from my posts, right?)

    Good luck – I wish you much success with your exhibition! That’s such an awesome accomplishment, I really do hope you’re very proud of what you’ve achieved. Congrats!

  19. LW, I second (third?) what others have said above about your dad’s behavior reflecting on him and not you. That may be small comfort, but I hope it can relieve some of your anxiety.

    Also, if it’s possible, I suggest carving out a secret space & time for you to have drinks with a few of the people who are key to this exhibition — your agent, the venue owner, your friends who hooked you up with the gig, whoever. It’ll give you a chance to feel and act like the successful professional you are, as well as to experience the joys of having an art show while surrounded by people who recognize your worth. Good luck, LW, and congratulations!

  20. I assume that LW is not the actual organizer of the event? Perhaps s/he should talk with the actual organizers and explain the situation and see what they suggest.

    I don’t suppose telling him it’s an exhibit of male nudes would dissuade him from attending.

    1. How about tell him that it’s an exhibit entitled ‘Fatherhood: Examinations in Disappointment, Mother Truly Does Know Best’ ?

      1. Or tell him that there’s going to be a performance art element at the opening that he might find…uncomfortable.

        1. I almost spit out my morning coffee when I read this. Thank you for the AM giggles. 🙂

        2. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of that would make a person like this not show up. In fact, they now have a way to make it all about them with their righteous indignation about how awful their child is being with their “inappropriate art” and that the exhibit is something their kid is doing to them. They’d find it a “justifiable” excuse to make a scene.

          1. Yeah – joking here too. Although…the dad’s going to look for anything in the work to pick at, no matter what the LW does. “Wow, remember that one time I bought you a red t-shirt and you hated it? Are you using red in your work now to spite me?”

  21. Only thing I would love to stress to LW is informing the people in London is the most important thing for your mental space. As a person who has had her dad show up, unexpected, in places where she should feel safe (ex:work, school, etc); I can say MANY people let him in simply b’c he used the “DAD CARD”. I imagine it went something like “It’s OK, I’m her dad!” and suddenly people let him in anywhere he likes. I recommend she speak to the London folks, even if it feels embarrassing, just in case there is a way they can help her. You don’t have to explain anything, just simply that you would rather not have him invited during the opening. They will either get it, or not depending on their family relationships. But even if they don’t get it, you have already asked for help and they will likely oblige you.

  22. A solo art exhibition in London! Wow and congratulations!
    It sounds fun and also terrifying. I wish you had a dad who would behave well and give you all the kudos that you deserve for this achievement.
    However, even if he does show up, people do see through shenanigans like his. He is embarrassing himself more than you, I promise. If you can, get a couple friends to run interference as suggested above to make the evening go smother for you, and be less stressful for you. You deserve to have things go well for your opening, and you can ask your friends to help make that happen. I know that even though my parents were supportive sorts I would be happy to run interference for a friend if that was needed, and I would completely understand.

  23. Captain, feel free to delete this if you feel it isn’t appropriate.

    LW, I am London based. I am experienced in dealing with People’s Difficult Parents. If your London social network does not contain someone you feel comfortable asking to be Friend #1, I am more than happy to come admire your art and then if your dad shows up make Insistently Neutral Small Talk with him for as long as necessary.

    1. I’m in LA or I’d have offered the same. I am Very Good at making small talk with assholes.

    2. I laughed at Insistently Neutral Small Talk. I love it. Like a conversation ninja.

    3. Same offer here. I am a great making-arrogant-men-feel-special-and-distracting-them person, and am in London. I’d be more than happy to use my powers for good and either distract him, or bouncer him out in a smooth way. Honest offer 🙂 Also, congratulations on your exciting exhibition, wow!

    4. LW, I am an American transplant in London, and I want to second the offer. I will happily come along, be friend #2, and run as much interference as you need.

    5. Thirding. Another Londoner who is absolutely willing to be a buffer should you need one. I also know how to work a clipboard, if that helps. Genuine offer.

    6. I am so happy that this is an actual skill set that some people have. It is not a skill I have. Knowing that y’all exist and can be found and asked for help is very comforting.

  24. I’m adding support for the friends as buffers idea (and/or security, if that makes you more comfortable). My good friend’s wedding was being hijacked by her self-involved mother, who was upset at her daughter’s not exclusively focusing her attentions on her, so the other attendants and I ended up keeping watch and arriving at just the right moment to heads things off if Mom felt the need to throw a conversation grenade. It worked pretty well and the actual wedding went smoothly and happily. Your first solo art exhibition might be emotional in a completely different way, and it’s a huge achievement, so take care of yourself. Congratulations!

  25. First, no, “but he’s FAAAAAAAAMILY” crap from me, because family members are supposed to love you and support you and NOT be less happy for you than some random person on the internet. (Because I’m freaking thrilled for you.)

    Second, I totally agree with the neutral, emotionless response advice. Narcissists need supply, generally in the form of turmoil and attention. He wants you to beg him to come. But because he knows you’re unlikely to do so, he will settle for you begging him NOT to come, because the focus is on him. The attention is on him. He wants you thinking about him, worrying about him coming, etc. And if you ask him not to come in clear terms, he will be able to clutch his proverbial pearls in shock and hurt then rail to whoever will listen about his terrible ungrateful child who leaves him out of major life events, despite the sacrifices he made as a father. (So even MORE attention for him.)

    So yeah, totally neutral response focused on what’s best for you. ‘This window is best for me.’ And then disengage. Talk to the organizers about a potential scene at the exhibition when he shows up and ask some friends to monitor and rescue you if he starts shit. But honestly, other than that, you can’t control his behavior. And if he acts like an asshole, that’s on him, not you. If he disparages you or your mom, all people will see is a bitter angry man trying to tantrum for attention. He will look bad, not you.

  26. Congratulations on your exhibit, LW! Fully endorsing the Captain’s (as usual) excellent advice. No matter which option you choose, absolutely do let your agent/venue manager know what’s going on as soon as possible, even if it’s just to tell them “I’ve told him only to show up between X and Y dates but he might show up anyway and he’s caused bad scenes before. Thought I’d let you know.” They will want the opening to go as smoothly as possible, so things like this need to be talked about as early as you can.

    Also recommending that you get Team You in place to block him from you in the few weeks right before the opening. Odds are he will see the opening date in the newspaper or online and will try to increase his pressure on you in those last crucial weeks. Keep things curt. Tell him you’re too busy to talk and hang up. Ignore his calls and emails, whatever makes you feel comfortable. You don’t deserve that type of nonsense. Good luck with everything!

    1. Absolutely this. Ignore calls, then follow up a few hours later to say “busy, why did you call? About to get on train so text rather than call pls”.

      If they want to come during your preview or a date not offered by you, the script is “shame, not available then”. Youre not available because youre hosting a preview or showing friends round the show or having a rest day, none of his business what “busy” means.

      Even if he can show up and see you through the window, he’s not on the list, not coming in, and unfortunately due to fire regulations they cant let him in because they are fully booked, sorry, bye, the door is that way.

      1. Fire regulations are such a great excuse. I used to work at a storytime where every once in a while we’d hit the fire regulation limit for the room, and I had to stand outside the door and tell people, “Sorry, we’re totally full today.” “Are you sure / But can’t I just sit in the back / Can I send my kid in alone?” “Sorry, the fire regulations say we can only have X number of people in the room.” Surprisingly many otherwise annoyed parents were pretty genial after learning it was a restriction we were legally obligated to respect.

        Not that Asshole Dad will respond the same, but it’s a very Official reason for why you can’t come in, and something that can’t really be moaned over as “my daughter is terrible and hates me,” because everyone’s response will be, “Dude, fire codes are fire codes. Them’s the breaks.”

  27. Dear LW:

    In one sense he can’t ruin your opening. That is, the people who come to your opening will perceive him as a massive jerk, and won’t listen to his spurious crap.

    In another sense, he almost has, because you are feeling such stress and anxiety already.

    I want you to be able to enjoy your opening and exhibition, and to experience your father’s presence (if he shows up at any point) as minor and tiny and useless. I want you to be able to ignore him and to enjoy every second of your massively accomplished show.

    To that end, the Captain is right: enlist helpers to keep him away from you if he shows. If it feels ok to you, telling him you don’t want him there might be really freeing.

    Because LW, you’re allowed to not be all that civil. He has consistently broken the social contract by belittling and gaslighting you. It’s totally ok for you to say he’s not welcome at the opening.

    And since his presence would already make things unpleasant for you, it’s totally fair to point the awkward back at him.

    Jedi hugs if you want them

  28. LW, congratulations on the exhibit! You are being awesome.

    My husband and I had a similar-ish situation with our wedding. My father-in-law has been estranged from the family for a while for excellent reasons, and we were concerned he might try to crash the wedding. To try to prevent that, we held the wedding on my side of the country instead of his, did not put the complete address on the wedding invitations (because some were going to people he was still in contact with), and invited a good friend of my parents’ who was a former LEO and has great people-control skills. We told the friend ahead of time what the situation was, and how to identify the FIL if he did show up. (We would have showed him a photo if we had one.) His instructions were to intercept and remove the guy, by calling the police if necessary. To our relief, the FIL didn’t show.

    It is totally okay for your dad to be uninvited and physically kept out, even if it’s a public show. Or there are other tactics. Choose what level of NOPE is appropriate for you and your situation. Good luck, let us know how it goes!

  29. Hi, LW!
    I had a similar situation with my grandma and my dad on my graduation, and I wish I had known about the Captain’s advice back then, because it is golden.
    Most likely, your dad will show up on opening night no matter what you do (he’ll find out about it because it’s really difficult to keep everyone who knows about your show from telling your dad, because of dadness), so make contingency plans.

    1. Find a safe space in your venue that you can disappear to, be it a WC, a supplies closet, or a staff-only room. Don’t tell anyone you don’t absolutely trust about it (even the organisers can survive 15 minutes without knowing where you are). Hide some comfort food/music/books/plushies there, just to be safe. You shouldn’t have to hide from your dad on *your* big day, but if you need to take a break OR hide from him, it will be there.
    2. Make it known to the organisers who your dad is, how very uninvited he is and how much you are not going to be dealing with him. Let them know he is not to come in, and even if there’s no security, the organisers will probably understand about how important it is that you’re at your best and keep him away from you. If he makes a scene, let him, and don’t let them rope you into managing him. His behaviour is *not* your responsibility (repeat this sentence until you feel able to believe it).
    3. Never get guilted into managing him. That’s the worst case scenario: your spending the whole day doing dad-damage control and not enjoying/working at your show. It’s not your fault if he decides to make a nuisance of himself. It’s not your fault if the guests have to put up with him. (Spoiler: it’s your dad’s.) It is certainly not your duty to try and keep him under control, so work on un-learning this if you need to.

    Please, do enlist thick-skinned friends to run a buffer between you two. As it was said earlier, they’ll love to get the chance of supporting you *and* protecting you from your dad. And do take the commenters who offered here up on their offers if it helps you, they wouldn’t be offering if it was a nuisance for them.

    Everyone who loves you is rooting for your success, and you’re going to rock that show, dad or no dad. Lots of luck, and congratulations!

  30. LW, I feel you, and I’m sorry for the stress you’re going through. I imagine that you’re feeling isolated and helpless against the juggernaut of your dad’s assholery, but I think you are underestimating how many people in the world are related to straight-up assholes themselves. (Hint: it’s all of them.) Your letter made me think of my Uncle Ted. If someone said something to me like what you’re afraid your dad will say to your friends, I would think, “Ugh, that sounds like something Uncle Ted would say. Poor LW.” Most people can recognize the Uncles Ted of this world as the overbearing, slightly pathetic, transparently insecure nuisances they are. Trust.

  31. As someone earlier said, Dad already knows the dates, and he’s coming anyway. I’m sure he can use the Internet. Also, yes, LW, please please tell your friends what’s going on, so that when Dad shows up, you know that nobody is gasping when he makes negative remarks about you and wondering what they don’t know about you. Those fears assuaged, you can relax knowing that everyone thinks your dad is a dick and that they’re really rooting for you. (They almost certainly are anyway, but this will help eliminate the nagging Jerkbrain that says WHAT IF EVERYONE BELIEVES HIM?!)

    I really like the Captain’s suggestion to get him banned from the event by talking to security. That will send him a FUCK YOU STOP PULLING THIS SHIT message, as well as cement the idea that showing up to random important milestone events for his daughter is a Really Bad Idea. It also means *you* don’t have to confront him. He obviously gives no fucks what you think, but he can’t argue with a security guard. If he whines and says “But but I didn’t do anything wrong” later, then other scripts come in. He probably won’t listen, but maybe enough of things like this, combined with getting friends to distract him and otherwise cover for you, will annoy him enough that he will stop making this a habit.

    Your dad is a phenomenal cock. Even so, gather your Team Me around you, and try to keep your chin up. You’ve accomplished a lot, and just because your dad likes to snub you, doesn’t mean you suck. 🙂 Hang in there. Your friends and coworkers I’m sure see the Real You, the one who is having her own exhibition and who has gained acclaim and regard. Your dad can’t take that away from you.

    1. The first two sentences of this are gold. The rest of the first paragraph is silver.

      And the entire second paragraph? Gold-pressed latinum with chocolate and cherries on top. Absolutely stellar.

      I personally love the mental image of LW’s jerk of a dad being stopped at the door by a security guard, trying to throw his weight around, and being escorted off by burly, completely unperturbed guards… while LW is blissfully unaware, far across the gallery space. Dad gets humiliated, gets nothing that he wants, and LW gets to enjoy her special event.

      Pre-warned security guards FTW in this situation.

      1. She probably should have someone else be the wrangler of her cell phone for the event, just in case

  32. I’m probably reading this letter from a different perspective because I have a dad very similar to your who I finally cut contact with completely for my own mental health. So just the idea of him showing up somewhere uninvited makes gives me cold chills. (And, yes, this is a guy who thinks ‘rent a billboard’ is a good solution to ‘daughter told me not to contact her.’). So I feel the need to expand on the Captain’s advice: You probably can’t prevent him from attending… *and remain on friendly terms.* But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t decide it was worth it to pull out all the stops on this one and shut this issue down hard if you decide it is worth it to you. Among other things, a very cold letter stating “you are not invited to this event and if you show up security will escort you out and etc” would probably due the trick (regardless of actual security at the event). People like this may like attention but they don’t like looking bad in public, and having children call security on them is a very hard image to spin positively.

    I’m not saying you *should* or even *need* to take this option. But you may find it is easier to think through your options and weigh pros and cons if you are not approaching the situation from a place of helplessness and powerlessness. You get to decide where this relationship goes and how much you are willing to tolerate. (Again, maybe I am projecting a little too much of my own situation onto this, but the Captain’s response gave me -deep anxiety.- You have options. Your shitty dad may not give you many GOOD ones, but you have them.)

    1. Wow. Billboard? Wow.

      Here, have my hug supply, my rainicorn, and my bag of Kinder Schokobons (very delicious sweets!). You deserve it.

      I hope you’re in a better place now.

      1. I am, and thank you! My brother was very excellent and ran interference at the time (and continues to do so), and the billboard story is actually very useful when jerkbrain tries telling me I am blowing my issues with him out of proportion. :p

  33. This is more of an idea than a recommendation, especially if you don’t want to resort to nuclear options, but will there be any press surrounding this event? And if so, how comfortable are you delving into personal topics? It would destroy any hopes of a cordial relationship with him if there’s a story out there that clarifies you two aren’t close (even if you don’t go into details about why), but it’ll be harder for him to control the narrative or pull his surprise shock-and-dismay tactics if you put that out there first.

  34. > this is a guy who thinks ‘rent a billboard’ is a good solution to ‘daughter told me not to contact her.’

    Wow. I have no words. Lots of empathy.

  35. I think one question to ask yourself is what you need or want your future relationship with him to be, since that will influence how much you accommodate him or how far you’re willing to go to avoid having him there.

    I.e., is it important to you to maintain the limited relationship you do have? Or alternatively, are there other people involved for whose sake you want to prevent your relationship with your dad from becoming openly hostile or completely estranged?

    There’s no right or wrong answers, but it might change your options either way.

    1. I doubt you meant it this way, but this comment as written sounds a bit like it’s pressuring the LW to accommodate more than LW is comfortable with. The brief in the letter was “How can I keep him from attending without turning it into a major dramatic argument?”, which suggests to me that the LW has already given a lot of thought to the problem of future relationships / other relationships being held hostage here. I mean, as someone with a terrible relative myself, I can tell you that whenever the relative is involved in my life, there is basically no time at which I am not mentally juggling these questions.

      1. I definitely didn’t mean it that way. If anything, I was thinking more of the other possibility – that maybe the LW would actually feel OK cutting him off entirely, if that’s what it takes, and that if that’s the case, she has more options. But I was deliberately trying to not push either option as better than the other, in case it was important to her for one reason or other to maintain the relationship.

        1. I’ve been in this situation. I would have preferred to go no-contact with my N parents, but at least if I kept some kind of tenuous link, I could see where they were and I was less likely to have them turn up suddenly where I didn’t want them to be.

    2. As someone with narcissists in the family… I wouldn’t really worry about this. Narcissists are like teflon; they’re narcissists because they can’t internalize criticism. So even if the LW gets sky-writing about what an awful father this guy is and mortally offends him, give him a couple weeks, months, years, whatever, and he’ll forget all about it and come crawling back so he can pretend they’re buddy-buddies again.

      Which sucks for the LW, but on the other hand, gives LW a lot more freedom right now.

  36. I have an ex-stepfather who was in my life for 20 years who absolutely loved to do this and throw public and private physically violent tantrums and verbally abusive scenes when he didn’t get his way. I very recently cut off full contact once my siblings became appropriate ages (18+), and I could schedule visits and spend holidays with them without his express permission.
    The best advice I can give when dealing with a truly narcissistic parent, is to build a buffer of boundaries, space, and community. I let all of my family and friends know that not only is he unwelcome, but to notify me immediately when he makes an appearance. If you can do this at said venue on opening night, do it, and do it without regret. He’s not there for support or “faaaaaaaaaammmmiiillly” like he or others might say, he’s there for one reason: to belittle your accomplishments, put you in your place, and make everyone accommodate him. Ask the venue to put him on a “No Invite” list for opening night; if that’s not an option, I’d ask friends to be a buffer to directly ask him to leave.
    While there’s plenty of options you can do, it’s the most important to know that you do HAVE options and that you are and can be in control of this situation. You can’t necessarily control this unpredictable ego-centric family member, but you can control how you interact with him and what you’re will to put up with. While keeping or stopping a relationship is ultimately left up to the individual, I would strongly suggest asking what this person does for you that deserves them to be involved in your life.

    1. A+ comment

      Your jerk!Dad gets off on demonstrating his control of situations and making you feel helpless. This is a lie. You have the power to choose your plan of attack for his jerk! behavior. My suggestion is this: make a list of every suggestion CA and Akwardeers have given. Look at the list and recognize – this is YOUR power.

  37. Sympathy LW!

    It might be that the fact it’s in London gives you a bit of added fuel if he pushes for your opening night, if you’re lucky? Script:

    Him: When can I come?
    You: Between X and Y is best.
    Him: But I want to come to the opener!
    You: Aw, sorry, tickets for that are all sold out. Between X and Y would be great though.

    It doesn’t actually matter if it’s even ticketed – tell him it is, and he’s more likely to stick between the X and Y dates (or possibly not, but still not opening night) because one doesn’t fly around the world to risk being turned away at the door for lack of ticket. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if it was an exhibition 10 miles down the road, but with the larger distance, it’s less likely he’ll risk it. Maybe, hopefully?

    1. I. . .I was wondering about a clever lie. “Dad, X night is a special night for family and friends. I’d like you to come on THAT night. It’s a special night. A super-duper special night. For super-duper special people. So special that it isn’t even publicized. . . “

      1. Hmmm. That’s an interesting possibility. If you can lure him in to one night in particular with the seed that that showing is All About Him, you could potentially schedule his awfulness and alleviate part of the dread this is just not knowing if you’re going to turn around at one night of the showing and suddenly see him standing there.

        Sure that one night is going to suck, but at least for the others you don’t have to stress about him just showing up.

  38. Love the Buffer Friends. I’ve done this on occasion with tricky family stuff. I’ve also been the Buffer Friend on occasion and I liked being able to help out in the situation!

  39. Will there be security at the event? Maybe you could show them a picture of daddy dearest and tell them he’s going to make trouble and not let him in. I mean, it’ll be the nuclear option and no more pretending everything’s great, but it’ll keep him out.


    [My dad’s current tactic is to find out when I am planning to visit my siblings, and visit them at the same time. He does this because I have a bare minimum of contact with him and have not allowed him to see my children for almost 3 years, and he is either trying to force me out of a relationship with my siblings, or into letting him see my kids — I don’t know which. Seriously, fuck narcissistic asshole dads. And also I have no idea what to do about this because it’s either literally never see my out-of-town siblings — they all live in the same city — or put up with my dad, since apparently getting my out-of-town siblings not to mention that I’m coming to see them isn’t going to happen.]

    1. Wow, I’m sorry that your siblings are so uncooperative/uninvested in helping you.

      1. To some extent I just look at it and shrug and go “well, that’s one thing that happens after a lifetime of emotional abuse: you quietly do what your abuser tells you even when they no longer have power over you”. Because to a very large extent, that’s what’s going on.

    2. Oh that suuuuuuuucks 😦 Ugh. My mind is ticking through possibilities of changing the rules of this game that is currently set up so that heads, he wins, tails, you lose. It seems pretty clear that it is “easier” for your family to visit the city where a number of your siblings all live with their families, but maybe you could get them to come visit you? Probably just one household at a time of course. Heck, you could even offer to help pay for some of their travel costs if that’s an issue, since otherwise you would be paying for your family’s travel anyhow.

      Or you could, like, NOT tell them you’re coming ahead of time? That’s just a fantasy I find kind of satisfying. Your dad would totally find out if you stayed longer than like 2 hours.

      Oooor you could visit their city, stay in a hotel where you have asked the front desk to check with you before forwarding calls, letting anyone up, etc., and plan activities that are NOT at your siblings’ houses and that your dad is NOT invited to. For example, hey siblings, let’s all take the kids to the zoo (or whatever) today! (For best results, don’t let your siblings in on any plans ahead of time.) You guys KNOW that I will be very unhappy if Dad finds out and shows up, so for the love of all that’s holy, DO NOT INVITE HIM, plskthx? (Aaaaalso, if you are in some place like a zoo, a museum, or so forth, you can find out how to contact security while you are there, and ask them to escort this man who is harassing you off the premises.

      Maybe that’s another fantasy? Might depend on how willing you are to get security involved, but as others have said upthread, security does not care that he’s your dad, is experienced at handling stuff like this without causing scenes or attracting too much attention, and is invested in making sure that their customers have a good experience. They are totally going to have your back. On the one hand: you, your family, your sibs and their families. Many admissions! Chances of you all coming back another time! On the other hand: one guy who you have already been given a heads-up about that he tries to stalk his kid and their family. Poor security personnel! Tough choice!

      Aaaanyhow, I hope that at the least I have provided you with some satisfying fantasies of ruining your dad’s attempts to ruin your visits, and perhaps even some seeds of actual ideas you could play with. Your dad (and clearly also the parents of a number of people here–I am so sorry you all have to deal with this shit) is the worst and he is the one causing the problems and you are doing the best you can in an awful situation where you don’t have good choices. You are the expert on the situation. You are going to make the best decisions possible for you and your family. I believe you and I believe in you and I wish you luck and fierceness and all the support you need.

      1. Thank you for the kind thoughts.

        I’m afraid none of those possibilities work — trust me, I’ve been thinking about permutations of this for a long time — but I appreciate the time & effort. 🙂

  41. I just wanted to say, in case LW is nervous about asking people to run interference for her, that toxic parents aren’t entirely unheard of in the world of the arts. I’m willing to bet that if you were to mention this to people involved with your community or this show, you’ll get reactions ranging from an understanding nod to a desire to swap horror stories. If there’s a security staff at the event, they’re almost certainly trained to handle situations like this (along with abusive exes and the like) without any eyebrow-raising as well.

    I’m not guaranteeing you a life free of “but he’s faaaaamily” reactions, but most people familiar with artists have also known at least a few who use their art to work through scars imparted by their families, so if you haven’t tried asking for help from that subset of people yet I suggest you give it a try.

    1. Very much this. LW, you may be feeling like you’re imposing on other people or dumping your dad’s toxic shit on them by asking them to help. Please understand YOU ARE NOT and there is NOTHING WRONG with asking people to help you in this regard.

      Toxic, evil parents like your dad get very good about crippling their children to make sure they can’t easily fight back. Problem is, they haven’t had years and years to do the same to other people. Please let those other people help you – especially since many of them are, or have been, in your shoes.

      1. Part of why stuff is so toxic is because an abuser will push your personal buttons – they know things about you, you have – at one time or another – opened up to them, and they’re now using that against you. Deliberately.

        For third parties – friends, bystanders – it’s just a load of tripe. It might – depending on circumstances – be ugly and uncomfortable, but mostly, they can shrug it off: they’ll never have to see that person again, there’s little chance that whispered nastygrams will get back to *their* friends, relations, or workplace (=anyone they don’t want to think bad of them), so they can *afford* to be a whole lot more relaxed. And if they’re doing this professionally – as security of one sort or another – they’re used to a degree of it and hopefully had training in how to handle upset clients and how to recognise when they become dangerous.

        So letting others deal with stuff defuses situations and lessens the amount of toxicity in the air.

        1. Your bit about buttons just made me tear up. Someone gets it. My wife, my friends, former colleagues, family members etc. have all accused me of “Flying off the handle [at mother] for no reason”. I am frowned upon, disparaged, and let tired about respect, decency, my being ” over emotional”.

          My wife almost, 90% maybe, understands the concept of buttons now, but still sometimes falls back on “You just flipped, why would you do that? She was just trying to have a normal conversation with you!”. I’ve tried to explain to people, choking on tears and hurting like hell , that they don’t see what I see, or hear what I hear. That word in conjunction with this expression, this gesture with that word, that look, the smug “i will alienate you from everyone, and make you look like an idiot” attitude.
          Apparently innocent words and phrases are used as triggers, over and over till I melt down. The constant retelling of “funny” (ie. upsetting, demeaning or abusive) stories about my childhood, until I am reduced to that helpless little girl again, being mocked by adults.

          I’d related a story to my wife about a family holiday in Blackpool in the late eighties. When you stayed in old fashioned guesthouses you had to go out after breakfast, and stay out until the evening meal.
          I’ve had migraines since childhood, the smell of fried food is like a smack to my eyes with a brick. My head throbs, I want to vomit, I get photophobia and dizziness. At lunch time one day my parents dragged me and Big Pink Bro around the usual assortment of cheap and nasty cafes that served nothing but chips. With the lights, noise and smells of Blackpool I was feeling more I’ll with every step, and said I didn’t want chips. Two or three cafes later and my furious parents dragged me into an alley, screamed at me for “always ruining everything”, and gave me a good hiding for being ” spoiled and ungrateful”. I had to sit, red-faced and blotchy, while they had their vile cheap chips (of the frozen bulk bag variety) . I was accused of shaming the family because as there was nothing on the menu that wasn’t fried, I’d chosen not to eat, so “Blah blah what would people think?”

          I’d told my beloved that story to illustrate how my pain was ignored, and my needs overruled by whatever was the cheapest option for my cash controlling mother and also to show how certain phrases “Won’t eat chips” or certain words in association with ‘Blackpool’.. Shortly after Christmas my wife had an appointment to go to, but couldn’t drive herself, due to an injury. My dad took her there. Apparently, during the fairly long journey, he started to tell her about the time they smacked the crap out of me in Blackpool, because I was “Whinging about not wanting chips, wasting our time and being a pain in the arse. Well she ended up going without lunch, and got a hiding for showing us up Haha, I showed her!”.

          To the feisty little lady’s credit she replied ” Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that one. That would be the time she was eleven, suffering from hellish migraines, and being forced to walk around Blackpool for seven hours, in the rain, yeah?”. Must have been awful, we don’t even own anything you could fry food in, makes her so ill”. So he tried to come back with a weak justification, more about how it’s impossible to avoid fried food in Blackpool (if you are tight-fisted and refuse to pay more than £1 for a ‘meal’), and how bratty I was for sitting there without food while they ate.. So once more, she hits him with “But if she’s ordered something and then not eaten it, what would you have done? Smacked her for wasting food I reckon”. Apparently he changed the subject pretty quick!y.

          My point is, they’re controlling that narrative, bringing up ” She was a brat then too!” whenever I try to enforce boundaries now. They know which words and phrases act as buttons, and just how to push them, and then BOOM! “See? Once a brat, always a brat”. because I got upset over a seemingly innocuous topic. This is now, when I’m 37. People believe them, find them plausible and even sweet. It kills me to see so many repeated claims of ” Nobody will believe your parents, you’re an adult now!”. These people are cunning, scheming and manipulative. If they aren’t, they never would have lasted this long at their sick games. Some people still think that Parent > everything else.

          Sorry this is so long, I have many feels.

          1. Many sympathies and Internet hugs. Very few people hearing such a story could fail to be horrified at your parents, even if they didn’t know about the migraines. And as others have said, the exceptions are telling you something very useful about themselves.

          2. Manipulators are so good at being believed, mostly because they’re smooth and plausible liars, not because they’re adults or whatever. It is also true that most people really WANT to believe that parents are good and kind and loving and that kids are more likely to be resentful, ungrateful liars than parents are to be violent, unreasonable abusers.

            I’m sorry that this happens to you, and I’m sorry that you aren’t being appropriately supported by the people around you.

          3. Thank you. Fortunately my wife learned the truth when my mother got too comfortable and let her mask slip. She tried the same button-pushing control freakery on someone she hasn’t raised, and the result was terribly amusing. As for my friends, I’ve been too ill to see anyone for a while, and the benefit of communicating via text and email is that I can ignore certain topics and redirect conversation.

            My parents are currently out of the country at their white elephant of a villa, but that means six weeks of choosing how much contact I have. That amounts to one curt text a day right now, because of her supremely shitty behaviour just prior to leaving the country. She’s flailing via email and text, bringing out all the “I love you!” and “Miss you so much!” crap.

            I’m just glad I’m not my brother, because he’s trapped in her spiral of sickness and is still living at “home”. When my parents didn’t go abroad at all last year due to my mother waiting for surgery, he had a breakdown. He was swinging wildly between mania and virtual catatonia, and drinking on his meds, because she was on his case 24/7.

            He was the golden child growing up, but at least I got out permanently, so he’s a victim of access and opportunity now. He’s bounced back to their house all his adult life. It’s probably because her years of control leave him unable to function without that pressure. I couldn’t leave until my mid twenties due to chronic illness, and he used to mock me, call me names, he even physically abused me. The poor bastard clearly never gave a thought to ending up back there himself. I hope he can get out of her orbit one day, or I think it will end up killing him.

      2. “Toxic, evil parents like your dad get very good about crippling their children to make sure they can’t easily fight back. ”

        Ding! This is why my siblings panic and don’t say no to my father about things, even when it hurts other people. Mr Hypotenuse sees it as a refusal to support me; I see it as frightened victims of serious emotional abuse who literally cannot support me.

  42. Assuming the show is on private property, it means that someone needs permission–tacit or explicit–to attend. So one possible approach is for the LW to tell her father, “No, you aren’t invited and you cannot attend”. And then to tell the organizers that she has a disruptive and unwanted family member who should not be allowed by security to enter the show. It shouldn’t have to be the LW or LW’s friends and colleagues who “run interference”. This is what event security is for: to keep out people who aren’t invited.

    1. Ugh, didn’t read prior comments carefully enough to see this was already suggested several times. Sorry! Anyway, here’s another vote for this tactic. LW’s friends and colleagues should be able to enjoy the show.

  43. LW, I really like the idea of informing security, but it’s not clear from your letter whether or not the event is open to the public. You might not have the power to keep him out. So, if you don’t, I feel like I’d be inclined toward a threefold plan based on the Captain’s good advice:
    1. Tell him to come on less harmful dates and resign yourself to one miserable evening that involves your dad acting poorly, but that will hopefully not be especially damaging or ruin your event right at the start (congrats on the event, by the way – that sounds awesome)
    2. The info is likely public, so you probably can’t keep him from learning details since he knows the event exists already. From what you said about him, it sounds like he might come on uninvited dates because he knows you don’t want him then. So, I’d have a friend buffer set up, if you can pull that off, to keep him occupied and away from people you don’t want him near. Your script if he shows on an uninvited date is a brief, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to be here tonight, unfortunately I’ll be too busy to spend any time with you. I have to go professionally mingle now. We’ll catch up on $date_you_stated_here if you’re still around.” or something like that. Then you walk away immediately and you don’t talk to him. If he comes to talk to you, you say, “Sorry, I need to keep available for non-family tonight.” and walk away again, hopefully friend buffer will help deal with this too.
    3. In future, you see what you can do to keep him from even learning you’re having an event like this. It sounds like there is no way to keep him from trying to ruin your nice things. I’m guessing you’ve already spent a good portion of your life trying to do that, and it doesn’t really sound like it’s something you want to invest more effort into. So, letting people around you know that sharing info about your life with your dad is not okay. Then you can call him on holidays or whatever as you like and tell him what you choose to tell him. But if you can prevent him from learning of your next exhibit, it’ll be even better. This may not fully work if he online stalks you, and may partially depend on how common your name is. You could even try feeding him decoy info to distract him or make him think something you don’t really care about is an upcoming thing you do care about, but how possible that is would depend a lot on whether you have any good, safe decoy topics to discuss.

    Finally, you have my sympathy. This sounds really horrible to deal with. The fact that you’re worried about your father actively trying to harm you for setting boundaries puts this into really tough territory. He may well try to retaliate against you, so I think your top priority should be your well-being. There are zero ethical issues about keeping information or even outright lying to someone who is actively dangerous to you. And someone who may do things you don’t want just to spite you is someone who is actively dangerous to you. I’d just be careful about lies that can be discovered through online searches, since those could lead to retaliation – a practical concern, not an ethical one.

    Whatever you do, just know that you’re doing the right thing by trying to take care of yourself.

    1. I think the event itself has been responded to pretty thoroughly — yes! hire a bodyguard, tell security and have friends at the ready! — but I’m definitely seconding the recommendation that LW does whatever they can to keep him away from future events, and from learning personal information going forward. The least stressful way to handle a narcissist’s tantrum is removing their ability to throw it.

    2. A lot of artistic success is about promotion; I kind of hate to think about LW always thinking “I’d like to advertize x event, but dad might see it”; I think it’s better for her to build a structure of “how to handle dad” rather than trying to hide from him.

      1. I agree. And I wasn’t thinking of limiting things jobwise, so much as familywise. Telling people who know your dad not to tell him things can make a big difference. I was more stating it’s a question of how well it might or might not work. It also depends how tech savvy he is, how dedicated he is to hurting her, and how big of a danger he poses. But somebody who the letter writer feels would potentially be willing to spend large sums of money and fly to another country with the express purpose of causing her harm is a threat. This is a safety issue. And the safety implications of her dad knowing things need to be considered. How big of a danger he poses is very unclear, but he clearly is dangerous. So, it’s important to fit things into a long-term structure of what is essentially, “How do I handle my stalker who I don’t currently want to break all contact with, but who will go out of his way to hurt me if I don’t appease him properly?” That’s a really, really tough issue. And it’s also tough, because it’ll be tangled together with all of the complicated emotions that someone can have for a parent, even one who goes out of his way to do things to harm you, because he knows you don’t want him to.

      2. Perhaps it could be less about trying to hide (since yes she will need to promote herself, and she should enjoy her success rather than be afraid of a higher profile) and more about avoiding triggering his interference. Having people know not to pass on information about her could at least make it so it has to occur to him to look for her events (which depending on his degree of self-involvement may be not that likely), instead of him being told about them without any effort on his part.

        Sometimes you can hide in plain sight, if the person you’re trying to avoid is so into themselves that they don’t look for you or even realize you might be there.

        But certainly have the “how to handle him” stuff set up, as advised.

        1. Thank you, yes, that’s more what I meant. Just don’t make it easy for him to have the info. There’s a lot of info people could generally theoretically find if they thought to look and were good at looking, but it’s a whole lot easier if somebody mentions it to them. Simply putting a lot of thought into what you mention, combined with asking others who know him to not pass certain info along can sometimes go a long way. It won’t fix the problem, but it can be part of a plan of trying to make these problems happen less often. Any future headache that simply doesn’t come up is a win. Even if sometimes he’ll still learn about things, and the tactics discussed will still be needed.

    3. I *really* like the idea of a curt “I have to go professionally mingle now” or “I need to keep available for non-family tonight,” coupled with firmly walking away before he even tries to draw you into any bullshit. It’s absolutely true — it really would look unprofessional if you spent large chunks of the evening talking to your parents — and it signals to your dad that the event is not about him.

      Also, I just want to say that “Oh you’ve met her mother? Now you see why she’s so fucked up” made my eyebrows merge with my hairline. If my dad said that to a coworker I would consider it grounds for cutting off contact. Yikes.

  44. A thought for you, LW: I get on with my dad perfectly ok, and I have less contact with him than you describe with your father.

  45. It’s been mentioned that people genreally aren’t going to be taking the Dad’s awful comments seriously, more likely to think he’s an ass. But I just wanted to address it in a little more depth.

    When we’re kids everyone believes the parent. We see it happening all the time, it is the reality we live in. Some parents reinforce it by explicitly saying, “No one will believe you,” or “I’ll tell everyone -whatever- and no one will like you anymore.” That kind of thing. And it’s true what they’re saying. Parents can ruin their kids’ lives. People trust parents.

    But we get older. Now it’s not kid vs parent*, it’s adult vs adult and the reality of it shifts. In kid vs parent mostly parent wins by default. In adult vs adult the rules are different. He’s still playing by the old rules. He still thinks he wins by default. He doesn’t, and he’s playing badly now because he hasn’t adjusted to the new rules.

    It’s hard to let go of the mindset that our parents give us. We get stuck in kid vs parent with us losing by default. But it’s just not true anymore. You’re on your turf, surrounded by your people, supported by your own money. He’s not Respected Parental Figure here, he’s random guy. If he shows up and starts making an ass of himself people won’t see it as you vs parent, it won’t even be you vs random guy. It’ll be ‘who the hell is this random guy, what an ass’ without any vs at all. It’ll be him by himself making himself look terrible.

    I know that doesn’t take away the dread and the cost to you if he does show up. But I do take a lot of comfort and strength from knowing that the parent/child portion of my life is over and the playing field is a lot more level now. If anything it’s balanced in my favor now since there’s nothing my mom has that I want or need anymore, but there’s plenty of mine that she wants access to. You’re not powerless. He’s not powerful.

    *I don’t consider most human interaction in terms of vs, nor do I parse regular human interaction as rules. parents who treat interactions with their kids as zero-sum games create this weird kind of interaction.

    1. Everything about this comment is awesome advice, and I hope LW sees it and takes it to heart.

    2. Not the OP but I badly needed to hear something like this. Thank you. My mom keeps trying to keep us on parent vs. child. The idea that I can be adult vs adult is honestly revolutionary, and *so* being discussed next week at therapy.

    3. Thank you so much for that. Ive finally understood why my mother still treated me like a child til I married, and still tries if I let her in.

  46. If he’s flying in from the US he is literally spending $1k and a whole day on a plane to get there – and be an arse.

    That’s not a border skirmish. It’s a declaration of war.

    Feel free to activate your Missile Defense System and rally the troops. Pre-emptive strikes are well-justified and you’re entitled to shoot him down at your earliest convenience.

    Seriously. The dude has nothing better to do with his time and money than to torment his children? Gah.

  47. First off, LW, congrats on the solo show! That’s a huge milestone.

    I agree with having security or the event organizer turf your dad. It seems like such events generally get one oddball who has to be shown the door. Sadly, it doesn’t sound like he’s doing it to be supportive, but as an extension of jealousy and to try to torpedo your event.

    If it’s small enough that there won’t be security, do you have a friend who’s a bouncer? They’re generally very good at deflecting conflict and deflating potentially troublesome situations. Failing that, they have no damns, shits, or f**ks to give and will happily toss someone out of an event. Even if you have to pay the person for the night, it’s peace of mind.

  48. Firstly: Congratulations on the show and the exhibition, and on making a career in the Arts. Good work! and may things continue to go well for you in future.

    Secondly: As numerous people have pointed out, your chances of getting him to stay away are somewhere between slim and none whatsoever. He’s doing this for his own reasons, which are only tangentially related to you in the first place – in the sense that your existence provides him with an excuse to do this at all. So plan for him turning up; I’m nth-ing the suggestions of security, ticketing and so on.

    If he gets inside, you’re busy. You’re working. This is your job you’re doing. He has no right to come into your workplace while you are working and expect you to drop everything and do whatever it is he wants. He wouldn’t have that right if you were working a cash register in McDonalds; he doesn’t gain that right because you’re giving an exhibition in a gallery. If he gets in, you’re allowed to blow him off and attend to your actual job – selling your art to patrons.

    As someone else pointed out, if he’s coming across from the USA to London in order to be an arsehole, with all the time and expense that implies, this isn’t a skirmish, it’s a declaration of outright war. Feel free to go straight to the nuclear option if necessary.

    One thing you may well have on your side: the British respect and value Good Behaviour above a lot of other qualities. If he’s coming to Make A Scene, he’s going to find the reception he obtains there is going to be far less favourable to the one he’d get back home in the USA. The more of a scene he makes, the less of a good impression he’s going to give (a possible pre-emptive measure: see whether you can stack the audience with people whose good impression could have an impact on HIS career, at which point it’s his choice whether he behaves well or poorly, and he gets to wear the consequences).

    1. “The British respect and value Good Behaviour above a lot of other qualities. If he’s coming to Make A Scene, he’s going to find the reception he obtains there is going to be far less favourable to the one he’d get back home in the USA.”

      Oooh, I had forgotten this. Brits tend to have a stereotype of Americans as rude, loud assholes. (I’ve been on the receiving end of this.) If he shows up, Dad’s accent is going to work against him badly.

      1. Oh yes. As he is a narcissist it is likely that the cold, clipped politeness won’t sink in as the insult it really is, but that is the best reception he’ll get.

        A lot of angry Brits saying things like ‘excuse me, I must go talk to x’ in super cool tones as soon as he starts up. Narcissists LOVE attention, but we British do not reward bad behaviour with attention. We respond by abandoning the boor and saying nasty cutting things about them to our friends.

        Imagine him, basically alone, no-one willing to talk to him or listen to his bullshit, everyone quietly laughing at him behind his back. It’s his worst nightmare.

  49. I am so very sorry you have to deal with this, LW, especially when you have your first solo show. My mother is similar, and after she destroyed my undergraduate graduation (which I achieved after 12 grueling years of college) and ruined my master’s graduation I resolved to never again tell her about any major event in my life. Sometimes it’s just easier to be as noncommittal about things as possible. It hurts not to be able to share with my family, but I don’t photograph well when I’m in tears.

    Protect yourself. Use buffer friends. It helps.

  50. Just chiming in with a congratulations! An exhibit in London–that’s super exciting, and you must have worked hella hard to get there! I’m sorry you’ve got the added stress of this dampening your excitement, and I hope the whole show goes smoothly.

  51. A mother, a sister and a brother! I often wonder if such nasty behavior is manaical or demonical. And they never see how the other people view them. I feel for you.

  52. I feel like Lindsey Lohan might have had a better time if she’d had and listened to the awkward army early in life.

  53. LW, your dad sounds like a giant a-hole, and you have my sympathy. You are a saint for maintaining a relationship with him. Every strategy has been well and truly covered by now, but I just want to extend some Jedi hugs to you and say that if it were me, I would definitely employ some friends-buffers (at minimum) or use security to my advantage to keep him from attending at all.

    I hope you have a wonderful, stress-free time at your exhibition. Congratulations on your success!

  54. Fully agree with the Buffer Friends, we’ve been using that successfully with my Grandmother for YEARS. One other thing we do, if you can find the humor spoons for it (Totally understand if you can’t), is to set up a points system or a hypothetical bingo card. My husband and I will literally place time bets, for example, on how long before we walk in to my inlaws house before his mother corners me and asks about grandkids, or when he’s going to shave his “awful dirty sock on your beautiful face”. (5 minutes, 15 minutes, 1 hr, etc.)

    G’ma is more a bingo card situation. Squares can be like “badmouth’s ex”, “undermines accomplishment”, “passive-aggressive comment about never seeing her”, etc. It’s a slightly light-hearted way to brief my Buffer Friends on what to expect, and gives me a metric for how many drinks I’m going to buy them afterwards…

    Good luck, and no one will blame you if you give him the wrong address to your show!

  55. I’ve had my fair share of terrible parenting (haven’t spoken to my father in 7 years; my mother is in a long-term time-out right now) … I don’t know if anyone else has seen this link, but it’s so nice to feel validated and know you’re not alone when it comes to narcissistic parents.

    1. To add to that, I like reddit’s Raised by Narcissists: http://www.reddit.com/r/raisedbynarcissists/

      When I discovered it, a huge penny dropped. It was a realism that I am not alone, and my experiences werent normal / reasonable. And it wasnt my fault. A weight lifted and I started to feel validated in the protective strategies and low contact that Ive put in place.

      OP maybe it will help you too. Unlike other sections of Reddit, I find it accepting and non judgemental.

    2. I want to thank you for this link, I found it very helpful and I shared it with some friends who found it just as helpful!

  56. It’s wonderful that the LW has a London show coming up: you need serious talent to achieve that, and I am properly impressed.

    I’m not so impressed by the father’s behaviours here, and am sending many sympathetic thoughts. It’s hard dealing with a parent with NPD. Almost impossible, in fact.

    Back in the days when I still spent time with my parents (probably-NPD mother, enabling father), my husband and I developed a game to make family visits more bearable. We made ourselves bingo cards full of the various dysfunctional behaviours my parents were likely to exhibit.

    It wasn’t the kindest thing we’ve ever done, but it did provide us with a little light relief out of some of their most difficult behaviours. And it really made clear how dysfunctional they were, and how frequent and predictable their bad behaviours were.

  57. I’m wondering if you could reverse engineer it. Tell your dad how excited you are that he is coming, and that you’ve told everyone about how awesome he is, and you are so looking forward to seeing him and introducing him to everyone and how long can he stay. If he is really invested in dashing your hopes and disappointing you, he’ll cancel at the last minute, thinking that he’s made you look a fool in front your colleagues. You could even sound disappointed when he calls and says he doesn’t have time to waste that kind of thing. Hard to say with this kind of putz.

    I had a horrible narcissistic person in my life and the best way I could get him to leave me alone was to invite him over, repeatedly, saying I had planned the evening around him. He’d never show, of course, because he delighted in thwarting my wishes. It worked so well I was afraid he’d catch on.

    At any rate, congratulations! That is an awesome accomplishment. Give yourself space to savor the sweetness!

    1. Ha! I had one who decided to punish me with the silent treatment after years of nagging, screeching, slapping, and shame. Oh. How could I possibly bear it

    2. I was going to reverse engineer it a different way. In my idea, LW would tell everyone at the opening that her father makes absurd comments to put her down so she’s running a contest to see who hears the worst insult. That way, everyone the asshole talks to would be hiding a chuckle under their breath, and he wouldn’t know why. If someone did tell him, or if the LW told him herself that they were all waiting to see what fresh insult he was going to come up with on her big day, it would still shut him up. Either way: Win.

        1. Not really. If he miraculously decided to behave … well then he’d be behaving, wouldn’t he?

      1. I think there’s a lot to be said for briefing selected friends and allies who’ll be there.

        Even if it doesn’t affect their visible reactions (in ways LW’s father will notice, anyway), it can make things psychologically completely different to get through if you know that afterwards you’ll be “debriefing” with hysterical laughter: “And then he actually said [blah-blah-blah], I mean I know you told me he was like that but I didn’t expect him to actually say THAT, I nearly cracked up and had to pretend to be coughing into the Tracy Emin piece.”

        My immediate family developed this to a fine art when dealing with certain awful relatives, so I know how much it helps. It insulates you psychologically to some degree when you know the awfulness is just going to be fuel for the hilarity and epic comparing-of-notes afterwards.

        We also got very good at rescuing each and other diving in with a contrived excuse why [immediate family member] really needed to come and check on [something out of the room] if it looked like they were about to be driven to murder, however justified.

  58. My mother is the queen of passive-aggressive bitchiness, and I’ve had to seriously think about banning her from important events in my life. The day after I had a C-section (the very next day) while I was still in the hospital after having a baby, she told me I still looked pregnant and was too fat. I told her if she ever criticized my weight again, I’d never let her near me or my daughter again. She’s still crazy passive-aggressive, but I can stand being around her now that she knows I’ll enforce my boundaries. Still, next time I have a baby, I’m not letting her in my hospital room at all.

  59. My mother kicked me out of the house when I was 16, then claimed I ran away when my father flew 7000 miles from California to come pick me up and move me in with him. Then claimed that he was neglecting me cause he had to leave one weekend out of the month on business trips. She made me miss three weeks of rehearsals for the only show I was ever cast as a lead in for “reconciliation therapy”, sent a sheriff to my house to investigate her claims of child abuse (he found a lovingly tended room filled with antique furniture donated by my stepmom and step-grandparents because they hadn’t had time to shop for my arrival cause I showed up about 20 hours after my dad came to get me, and brand new super expensive sheets, toiletries, school supplies, and a packet on ‘how to get your driver’s license’ sitting on the desk along side the registration papers to add me to my dad’s car insurance. My dad is an AWESOME parent) She ruined my high school GPA for two years and routinely stalked me when she could, forcing me out of classes sometimes.

    I managed to scrape honor roll for my junior and senior year, and graduated in the top 10% of my class, and she insisted on showing up to my high school graduation ceremony because “it was such an important milestone for her”. Ignoring the fact I hadn’t lived with her or spoken willingly to her in two and a half years.

    So I told my principal what was going on and not only did they remove any and all trace of me from the graduation ceremony but gave me the day off school. And didn’t tell her. I went and got brunch with my real family (my dad and stepmom and stepsibs) instead. Whenever I’m sad I imagine the fact that she sat through a 4 hour long graduation ceremony in the blazing California summer heat only to realize, too late, that I was not at the ceremony and there was no evidence of me actually having attended that high school (my friends helped me hide my name in the academic and theater related trophy cases and photos, even the YEARBOOKS), so she spent the next three weeks wondering if she went to the right school. Then she emailed my principal and tried to convince him I shouldn’t have been allowed to graduate since I didn’t attend the ceremony…. vindictive bitch..

    I still enjoy that memory though.

    1. OK, I was going to post the story of how my oldest sister and her still-husband-bless-him eloped right under our mother’s nose to prevent her from making herself the center of attention at the wedding, but never mind, you topped it! (They had the wedding later anyway so their friends could have a good time, but our mother didn’t feel like enjoying it because it wasn’t a “real” wedding, so she was quiet and looked sad a lot. Much, much better than the alternative.)

    2. Wooooow! That’s fucking terrible! I’m so happy that you got a last laugh in that situation but I’m so so sorry that you were in that position in the first place!

  60. Your next art show should be a collection of pieces all about your father being a shitty dad/person. I bet it will be the last show he ever crashes.

    I know that devoting your art to someone you don’t like out of pettiness is not going to happen, but daydreaming about it wont hurt anyone.

  61. Hoo boy, I can relate. I’m a professional artist with…difficult…parents, too. My parents rarely travel for my shows, but I have an uncle like the LW’s dad. He’s local, so he’s often at my openings. He behaves badly, but more out of insecurity and unthinking boorishness than malice. (I picture hogs at high tea when I think of him there.) All I can do is second the Captain’s advice about buffers: they help SO much. By now all my friends and colleagues know who my uncle is, and my kindly and gregarious buffer folks are highly skilled at keeping Unc from the potential buyers or grant committee folks. Extra gratitude to them for saving my introverted self from salvaging any mortifying moments on my own.

  62. Ugh. I think you are so completely within reason if you decide to straight up tell him that you don’t want him there. Whether or not this event is going to be invite-only, you can certainly have security keep a lookout for him, and have him removed if he does show. With his past behaviour, he’s definitely earned being handled like that.

    I also want to point out a thing that jumps out at me from your letter, which is that it sounds like you are hesitant to confront him about it when he’s a jerk to you. You ask how you can avoid a “major dramatic argument.” And I think that your dad knows, at least on some level, that he’s being a jerk to you and that you hate it, but that you will put up with it in the interest of not causing a scene. I think that as long as you go on tolerating how he acts, he’s going to keep on acting like that. If you want him to behave differently, you’re going to have to put your foot down and show him that you won’t tolerate his crap anymore…and then hold firm on that as he tries to push back on it, which he will.

    You don’t have to hash this out with him at your show, and I think you’re smart to want to avoid that. But the way your career is taking off tells me that there will be more shows in your future and, as you become better and better known for your work, more opportunities for him to show up and be a jerk to you some more. And if he knows that he can go on getting away with it, he’ll probably do just that. Whatever way you end up handling this particular event, it seems like it might be a smart idea to get together with him afterward and have whatever “major dramatic argument” you need to have, to let him know that you’re not going to put up with it anymore. That way you can stand up to him and lay down the law in private instead of in front of all your friends and fans and professional contacts.

    Of course, he may still crash your important events even after you’ve bluntly told him not to. But his part of that conversation will tell you whether you should expect that from him, and it will also be an important first step toward resetting his expectation of how you will react when he behaves like this. If you hold firm, eventually he’ll figure out that things have changed.

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