Beth grew up like all of us, thinking that what was happening in her home with her parents was normal. Her dad’s behavior seemed fine, because she didn’t know anything different. But as she grew old, she felt something was off. Her dad was cruel. He was hard to predict. Because, sometimes he was really nice, too. It took Beth a long time to unravel the story of her dad.
This episode is about how to deal with your own parent when they struggling and their struggle negatively affects you. It’s about what happens when a parent has a mental illness, but doesn’t seek support. Beth found her way. She decided to tell her story on the show in the hope that by sharing it, she might help a listener recognize her own experience.
Beth’s story is entitled “I thought the whole Problem was Me”
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Produced by Jamie Yuenger and Piet Hurkmans.
Our show’s musical intro and outro is taken from the track “Thursday” by the independent artist Nick Takénobu Ogawa. You can listen and support his music on bandcamp here.
Other music in this episode is by Blue Dot Sessions
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Host Jamie: To start, I wanna share a rather heady intellectual quote from a long ago philosopher because this guy pinpoints one of the deep reasons that we have this show. He's saying in the quote that people often stay in the outer world and that they have a hard shell unless that shell is cracked open by poetry or romance or art, or something that touches a person deeply.
But inside all of us is this tender inner life, this thing that is vast and hard to describe. This show makes an effort to bring out the inner life, to draw out and to make available the parts of us that we almost never share with the world. Here's the quote from philosopher William James.
"Only in some pitiful dreamer, some philosopher, poet, or romancer. Or when the common practical man becomes a lover, does the hard externality give way and a gleam of insight into the objective world?
The vast world of inner life beyond us, so different from that of outer seeming illuminate our mind. Then the whole scheme of our customary values gets confounded. Then ourself is riven and its narrow interests fly to pieces, then a new center and a new perspective must be found."
If you're joining us for the first time, my name is Jamie Yuenger and I'm your host.
This is 'If You Knew Me',
a show about the inner lives of women. We publish one incredible story at the top of each month. Our work and our mission is to document women's true stories from their inner lives. Our aim is to elevate women's voices and lived experiences, and our goal is to expand what it means to be a woman and create space for all of us.
If you appreciate what we're doing, we invite you to subscribe to the show and also to our monthly newsletter where we announce new episodes. You can find links in the show notes.
Today we have a story from Beth Lipton. Beth grew up like all of us thinking that what was happening in her home with her parents was normal.
Her dad's behavior seemed normal because she didn't know anything different, but as she grew up, she felt more and more that something was off. He was cruel, he was hard to predict, but sometimes he was really nice too. It took Beth a long time to unravel the story of her dad.
This episode really touched me. It's about how to deal with your parent or parents when they are struggling themselves and that struggle negatively affects you. It's about living with a parent who has a mental illness but doesn't seek support. Beth found her own way. She decided to tell her own story on this show in the hope that by sharing it, she might help a listener recognize their own experience.
Host Jamie Beth's story is entitled: I thought the whole Problem was Me.
Beth: I can't ever remember a time when I was comfortable with my father. it was always a strained and difficult relationship. But you know, when you're a child, you don't have anything to compare it to.
It just is the relationship.
I was always worried and scared. I never knew kind of who he was gonna be, what I was gonna say that was gonna make him fly off the handle or whether he would make fun of me. he always said a lot of derogatory or dismissive things about women. I just always felt anxious and insecure and frightened.
And, um, you know, on the flip side, I had a great relationship with my mother. my parents divorced when I was five and my father moved out. you know, it was the seventies, so it was that time when there wasn't any joint custody. Um, it was always, the mom had custody and then the dad would take the kids, you know, like Wednesday night and over the weekend, you know, every other weekend sort of thing.
so that's what we did. there were a lot of like weekend trips away where it was just my brother and my father and myself. And I just, really dreaded the time with him. I kind of never knew what I was gonna get. he always assumed that my mother was badmouthing him.
And, he was very paranoid about that. she never did by the way, so in a sense he would like badmouth her just by saying that like whatever she was saying about him was a lie. And, he insisted that whatever problems he and I were having was because my mother had you know, poisoned the well, which wasn't true,
my father had acute unipolar depression, which isn't what caused the abuse. he had a narcissistic personality disorder, which was not diagnosed. I'm not an expert, but I think the interaction between the two sort of parts of his illness made it impossible for him to heal either one. anything that he saw as disrespect, whether or not it was. he would fly off the handle, anytime he thought that he was being sort of downplayed.
he would bring my brother and me into arguments that he was having with my mother, which were always around control. he used money to control my brother and me and my mother. but it was his anger and his rage were mostly directed at the women in his life.
so his mother and my mother and then me, and a long-term girlfriend that he had, although I don't know that much about their relationship, he would yell, he would scream. He would threaten, When I was older, when I was a, you know, preteen and teenager, there was a lot of screaming.
he called me all kinds of names. he used to joke around and say that, well, he would always love me as long as I didn't get fat or pregnant or addicted to drugs. so everything was conditional.
as I got older and I saw my friends' interactions with their fathers and just started to realize that I had a little more agency and just grew into being a pre-teen and teenager, I would sometimes argue back, but it was never worth it. and anytime I tried to actually talk to him about what was bothering me, I. He would just take it as some sort of personal affront. He would say like, oh, I guess I'm just the worst father in the world.
And start yelling at me and start yelling at me about how all the things he did for me. And I was so ungrateful and I had no idea how hard he worked and nobody worked as hard as him. And it was all for me. so I think some of the time I just silenced myself and pushed it down.
And sometimes I fought back and got, you know, taken through the ringer for it.
there were times when I was younger, when I was a teenager that I wanted to end the relationship. And it was my mother who said, you can't, he's your father. You have to try to work it out. So, Even though he was insisting that she was badmouthing him, she was doing just the opposite.
The other thing, which I haven't mentioned is that no one told me that my father was mentally ill. I had no idea. at the time, I mean, first of all, at the time, nobody talked about. Mental illness, it just wasn't discussed. And my father was of the generation where you keep everything from the kids.
I don't think he liked to admit that he had a mental illness because, you know, part of being a narcissist is thinking you're perfect, and wanting everyone to admire you. I didn't know. It was hidden from me when he was hospitalized. and I think, my mother did it because he threatened her.
If she ever told me, he would withhold child support and, you know, make life really difficult for her. and just, nobody else ever told me.
if you had asked him, he would've told you, you were crazy for thinking anything was wrong with him. he would've bragged about the, schools he went to and him being a lawyer, and he just, no, he just thought he was the smartest person in the room at all times.
One of the biggest things is that I, I'm, I mean, I'm a very anxious person.
and also that I don't trust myself. I didn't trust myself then, and I still struggle with that. And I think it's because I, never stood on any sort of solid ground as a child. even though my mother did her best, and she was an excellent mother.
and every time I tried to do something that I thought would make it better, it never did. So I just learned that I couldn't trust myself. and at the time, like as a teenager, I also, you know, I did that thing that all girls with daddy issues do, which is sought out attention from men, you know, sometimes inappropriately.
I looked older than I was. I, I always say like, I looked the same from when I was 12 until I was about 26. so I got away with a lot. I would go to clubs and I worked in restaurants, so I was interacting with people a lot, oftentimes people older than myself.
And, I dated men who were much older. remember being, I dunno, 17. And I had a friend who I worked with in a restaurant who had a roommate, who was a real womanizer he was probably 25 or so and he took a shine to me because I was one of those, women that he.
He probably preyed upon the most, you know, I mean, a girl who just wants the attention of a guy, especially an older guy. I mean, he just,played with my head. so I had, a brief, I don't even wanna call it a relationship because it was mostly physical.
this was me like seeking, I mean, it was, The curiosity of any teenager, but also there was definitely an aspect of, seeking approval and seeking, the attention of a man.
the older I got, the more, I think my father and I sort of became a little bit more collegial in a sense. I mean it, looking back on it nowI still can't believe some of the things he said at the time, um, like how inappropriate and just wrong they were.
, like, the thing that made him laugh the most was saying to me things like, you know, I always say I'll never date a woman older than my mother or younger than my daughter. But now you're kind of pushing that kid. You know, when I was like 18, 19, he would say things like that.
Beth: and he said it all the time.
he just thought it was so funny. or he would comment on my clothes, like if I was wearing loose pants or long skirt, he would. Say, you should wear miniskirts. That's what men like. so basically like giving me the message that really my purpose was to be a, attractive to men.
and that's what I was good for. and the fights got uglier. I mean, he revealed a lot more to me the older I got. So he would tell me things like he didn't really want a second child. he was happy with just my older brother. but my mom wanted to, so he went along with it. and at one point he said we were in a, having an argument and he said, you know what?
I was fine for 35 years before you came along. so it got sort of better and worse at the same time. And then when I was in college, I mean, I, at this point I suspected that there was something really wrong with him. we had a huge fight and my mother told me that my father had stopped paying for college as a way to get back at her.
But, I couldn't do anything about it because it wasn't in their divorce agreement that he would pay for college. So my mother was just stuck and he had also stopped paying child support, which he didn't have the right to do.
So I confronted him and I said, you're gonna pay that money. or I'm gonna go to the IRS. I'm gonna make this hard for you. And he got so angry with me that he told me that he had told my mother that if, she told me what was going on with the college, tuition, that he would then tell me the real reason they got divorced.
I knew the real reason they got divorced, but I wanted to know what his version was. so I said, tell me. I mean, there's nothing you can tell me that's gonna make me feel any differently about my mother. whatever it is, let me have it. and he basically said that she like, made up her mind one day that she wanted to be divorced.
it's ridiculous. Like, who does that? So I, called my mother's best friend my mother's best friend was the wife of a childhood friend of my father's. And when my parents split, my father told them that they couldn't be friends with my mother anymore.
And they said, forget you. And they stayed friends with my mother instead. So she, my mother's best friend, Allie, knew my father way before my parents were married. So I called her and I was like, you have to explain all of this to me.
Even though I trusted my mother, I just wanted to hear it from somebody who was there and she told me everything.
she confirmed that he was ill. she told me everything she knew about his illness. She told me a lot of things I had never heard before about, how incapacitated he was by the illness, which made me feel sorry for him. But he was never really successful in his, law practice. And some of that was as a result of his illness.
some of it was the fact that he couldn't form a relationship because of his narcissism, but I think some of it really was the depression. and it weighed on him. but she just told me a lot of stories about my grandmother and my father and what they were like before. My father married my mother, and a lot of stories about my parents' marriage.
and it just, it opened up for me, the perspective of this pattern, that it wasn't just me. my father had this rage toward women and I was just another one in the line. and it had started before I was born, It was just so important for me to hear that.
I think it ?Sort of gave me this freedom to recognize that this wasn't my fault. every relationship is a two-way street. And I certainly had moments where I'm not proud of my behavior, but that the root of the problem was not me and was not anything that I had done.
this went on before I was born and that he had behaved this way toward others. And it justmade me start to realize that maybe I couldn't fix it. You know, nobody else, nobody had fixed it. My mother hadn't fixed it.
His, mother hadn't fixed it. so. I think there was a piece of me at the time that was like, I don't know how repairable this is.
I was always trying to behave the right way, because when he flew off the handle, I always saw it as my fault. And some of that is, The anxiety of being raised by an unstable parent, but some of it I think is also just generational. a friend of mine once said that women our age, I'm 52, so women our age, we're raised to believe that we are responsible for the outcome of every interaction.
And when she said that, like a huge light bulb went off for me because to me, that was definitely my experience. I mean, no one ever said it, but that was definitely the message that I received. So having that perspective on the world and then having a relationship with someone like my father.
Yeah, I thought the whole problem was me.
So hearing that from my mom's friend, me, it really changed everything.
I mean, I think some of it was just a function of the fact that I was a young adult. I was out of the house. I wasn't living nearby. So I definitely. Had less interaction with him. I mean, I still spoke to him frequently. I saw him whenever I was, uh, in New York or he would come to visit. but there was definitely just less interaction overall, just as there is, I think in any sort of young adult parent relationship.
at one point I was living back in New York and then I had an opportunity to move to San Francisco.
And, I remember thinking at the time that it would be just great to be far away from him. And when I was in my late twenties, approaching 30, I was living in San Francisco. I was newly married. my career was, you know, doing its thing and I went through a really difficult time.
a bunch of things happened all at once. right before and around my 30th birthday. my very short marriage ended. the job I was in ended. I was in the part of the.com boom. So everybody was losing their jobs, including me.
and I was just having this sort of crisis. and also my father-in-law at the time who, even though my ex and I were splitting, it was very amicable and I really loved his parents. And his father was diagnosed with cancer. So it was just like everything happened in the same moment as it often does.
And, my father's reaction was to write me this really long letter about how I had been very neglectful of him, and he was really mad at me and disappointed in me because he was going through a lot and he really needed, attention and my help, and I just wasn't there for him.
and something inside me just snapped. And I just was like, I can't do this right now. the letters, either nasty letters or pleading letters were definitely a thing that he did. I got many of them over the years. My father was very smart.
He was a lawyer, he was a good writer, so he knew how to turn a phrase and kind of turn a knife at the same time. Um, my father and I had been through this pattern of like, things are okay and then, you know, and even sort of good sometimes, and then there's a blow up.
And he either yells at me or writes me a nasty letter or both, and then I go away and I don't speak to him for a little while, usually a few weeks. And then he comes back and either writes me a sort of nice letter pleading letter or calls me and I fall forward again, and we get back into the same pattern.
And this is sort of like the pattern over and over again. So this letter wasn't out of the ordinary, but. It just came at this moment where my own life was. I just didn't have it in me. and part of me also was like, no, no, I'm not doing this with you. and I started to, Make this decision.
I was making a lot of decisions at that time. I was moving back to New York. I was ending the marriage. I was figuring out what to do with my career that had crashed and burned and I just was making all these decisions at once. And in the process I was thinking that, you know, I was creating this new life and I started to feel like I didn't want him in that new life.
That I had sort of done my time and I didn't, want this burden anymore and I couldn't carry it anymore. and so that was when I started to think about ending the relationship or removing myself from it.
we went through a phase of Maybe even a year or two of, not speaking, except like one of us would send the other birthday card or I would send him a Father's Day card. Father's Day was a very big deal to him. and then at one point he reached out to me and said, you know, if our relationship is just gonna be like exchanging cards once a year, then let's just not do it.
Let's just not have it. And I was like, okay. I mean, I was only sending the cards to avoid the actual confrontation. he didn't mean what he said, he was saying it sarcastically, but I, took it at its face and I was like, yeah, okay. and in the meantime I had very well-meaning relatives reaching out to me saying, you have to make this work.
not my mother who. At that time was like, you're an adult now and you can make your own decisions. But relatives on his side of the family reached out to me and said, you should try to make this work. I had a cousin who was a professional moderator who tried to moderate between us, um, something had just like a switch had been flipped in me and I was not going back.
And at one point I was speaking to my cousin privately and. She said, you know, we have to work on building the trust. And I was like, there is no trust. There is no trust, there's nothing to build. And she said, you don't trust him anymore. And I was like, I don't know that I ever did. and she sort of paused and she was like, you know what?
I don't know if I can help you, if that's the case.
I didn't know anybody who was estranged from a parent, or at least nobody who talked about it. I really didn't have much in the way of resources. Someone did give me a book about narcissism, which, at the time I still didn't really understand and didn't know that it was as widespread as it is.
So reading that book really helped me too, because. It was just people sort of experience after experience explaining their interactions with the narcissist in their life. And so much of it echoed my experience with my father. but over time when I started to think about being in that, morass with him again, just everything in me was fighting it.
Everything in me was saying no, and I just knew that couldn't go back That now my mental health was at stake and I just couldn't, do it. so I think at the time, especially given all the other upheaval in my life, I just thought about it as like survival.
I just needed to get through it and I just needed to survive and be healthy, and I couldn't do it with him in my life.
I don't really talk about my father that much. I'm not ashamed of it. I mean, if somebody asks me about my parents, you know, I just usually say, well, my father and I were estranged and, you know, when he was alive, I would say My father and I are estranged now.
I just say he's passed away. and I don't really go into it, but people who knew me or who knew the situation, often would just give me their opinion as people do. family members certainly, but other people as well. , people would say things like, well, you know, I don't really get along with my parents either, but I figured out a way to make it work.
Like you have to just make it work. so. That same cousin who, I loved and who really did mean well, the one who tried to moderate between us, told me that I was gonna regret it when he was gone.
That she was really concerned that I would regret the estrangement once my father passed away and there was nothing I could do about it to repair the relationship. And I had several people say things like that to me.
And when my daughter was born, Somebody told him and or when I was pregnant with her and he reached out to me, he wrote me a letter and said he really wanted to have a relationship with my child.
And I said, absolutely not. Absolutely not. And my feeling was that he was not gonna make this child feel even once the way he made me feel my whole life, not once. I was never gonna let it happen. and I knew that he would, especially if it was a girl, which as it turned out it was, but it really, it didn't matter.
So we went back and forth letters. he at one point threatened me with legal action and you know, I live in New York. I knew enough, I had researched it, so I knew that grandparents have rights in New York state, and I knew that there was every chance that he might try to do something.
And when my daughter was two, he did. he filed suit in family court trying to force my husband, who he's never met, and me to allow him visitation with my daughter.
one thing I have to say is that my father He hated little kids. if you asked him, he would say, oh, they're cute and everything, but they take all the attention away.
he used to say that all the time, so I knew for a fact that he didn't care about seeing my daughter. Not that it mattered one way or another, what his intentions were, but to me it mattered. He didn't care about seeing her. my child. My baby was the only weapon he had to use against me, and he used it and he thought I was weak.
And he thought I was, irrational. He used that word for me a lot. and he thought that I would give in and that he would win this one easily. And what he learned was that he didn't really know me at all. and my husband was incredibly supportive. and we fought it. the first round it was thrown out of court because he didn't have standing, and then he appealed.
And we went through all in, it was about a year and a half of this legal battle. trying to keep him away from my daughter and ultimately we prevailed. one of the really important things that came out of that experience for me was if I had any like little bit of lingering doubt about whether I had made the right decision.
This was such a slap in the face, I realized no regrets, zero regrets. Anybody who would do something like this is not someone who belongs in my life. One of the best decisions I ever made, was getting him out of my life and keeping him away from my daughter.
It was the right thing to do.
I think at some point, you start to learn as you go through life. if you don't already know who you are, you hopefully learn. And this experience. both while I was going through it and in retrospect, you know, in talking to people in therapy, I've certainly examined not just the relationship with him, but also like what the implications have been.
the court battle was incredibly hard and painful. , it dredged up a lot of crap from the past. I had to be in the courtroom with him, which I really didn't want. I had to tell my story very publicly, you know, in these like court documents. And , the whole thing was incredibly uncomfortable.
It was almost like a divorce. but I did learn that. there was nothing more important to me than taking care of her and protecting her, and that there's no person who's gonna prevent me from doing that. Certainly not him. Certainly not this man who I had already, I. You know, gotten rid of, out of my own life, there was no way he was gonna, sort of worm his way back in , not with me, and certainly not with her.
and if there were things I wouldn't do to protect myself, there was nothing I was gonna not do to protect her.
he's been gone since 2017, and I have not regretted it once. I have never once looked back and thought, oh, maybe I should have done this, or maybe I should have done that.
I'm so glad I did what I did. It was very hard and very painful, and relationship with him caused a lot of pain. But taking myself out of that relationship was incredibly important for me. And it made my life better. And I know that there are people who don't understand that, who will never understand it, but what I've come to learn is that that's not my business.
It's really not my business. If other people don't get it, what I can do is take the experience I had and use it to be grateful for what I have and for what I've accomplished. and also to help others. I mean, I have friends with narcissistic parents or other narcissists in their lives, friends with difficult relationships with their parents for other reasons.
And I'm not here to preach to them to do what I did because my decision was mine and it belongs to me and was my set of circumstances. But to lend an understanding ear without judgment. For their situation. And for the times when friends have decided to separate themselves from their parents to be there for them around that.
that's my work.
I feel like I should say that I don't go around with like a chip on my shoulder or like blame him for the things that have gone wrong in my life. it's my life and I take responsibility for everything I have done, good or bad. all the decisions I've made, the sort of right and wrong turns, those are mine.
I was definitely set on a certain path and sort of formed a certain way because I had this very difficult relationship with him, but I don't think it's his fault,
To some extent, I just am who I am. I think we kind of all are, especially like I said, I'm 52, so, the idea that I could somehow like change in a huge way is, I don't think all that realistic, but I think what therapy has done, and I also have a seven plus year meditation practice.
What those things have done is just help me see the patterns so that I can work on them. I don't know that I'll ever fully break them, but now I recognize, my thoughts in a way that I didn't when I was younger. so I think it's always something I'm gonna struggle with. I'm never gonna fully trust myself.
I'm always gonna think everything is my fault, but at least now I see what I'm doing and I can kind of work through it from that perspective. give myself a little bit more grace and a show myself a little more empathy.
Host Jamie: Thanks so much for listening to this episode. Beth Lipton is a recipe developer and a food and wellness writer. Her latest cookbook is called 'Carnivore-Ish'.
You can learn more about her and her new book in the show notes. If you appreciate what we're doing here by documenting women's true stories in this first person real way, I invite you to join us on Patreon. We have six tiers of support and each comes with its own perks. So check it out in the link in the show notes, and we hope you join us.
This episode and all of our work is supported by our League of Women. League members include Fredda Herz Brown, Carrie Ahern, Christine Shook, Sister Monica Clare, Dawn Roode, Elizabeth Doerr, Kara Pass, and Karen McNeill. This show is produced by me, Jamie Yuenger and my husband Piet Hurkmans. Thanks so much for listening to 'If You Knew Me'. We'll be back with you on July 1st.