My relationship with my father was not as cut and dried as the one I had with my mother. With her, there were distinct guideposts by which to tell the story. With Dad, it’s not as clear, even to me. So, instead of trying to explain a relationship that took me decades to unravel, I’ve decided to make it into a fairy tale of sorts, and let you glean from it what you wish. My Dad was beloved by many, but he wasn’t the benevolent martyr that he proclaimed himself to be, especially when it came to his kids.
Once upon a time, there was a King who ruled over a small, but independent kingdom called Narcissa. He didn’t inherit his kingdom. He came from very humble beginnings as the son of a farmer and struggled to build it on his own. He was proud that he had escaped the labor of farm life.
As was the way of royalty, he married a Princess from another, more wealthy kingdom to build upon his own kingdom. This Princess was unhappy under the strict rule of her mother, the Evil Queen, so she was relieved to marry a man who vowed to protect her and allow her to be the Queen of her own kingdom.
The King and Queen soon had a child, a beautiful dark haired little girl called the Dark Princess. The King remembered the day he fell in love with the little girl. She was sleeping with her head on his chest, when she awoke briefly, looked up at him, and smiled, then went back to sleep. The King loved the idea that someone could be that innocent and dependent on him. He thought he could love no one more.
After a few years, the King and Queen had a son, and the King went off to war. When he returned to his castle, the Queen was beside herself with joy. She bounded down the great stairway to greet him, leaving the Princess to struggle down the long staircase on her own. The Princess quickly found the King amongst all the soldiers and he was never so happy to see anyone, not even the Queen. A few years later, they had a golden haired daughter called the Golden Princess, and their family was complete.
The King was often out with his men, surveying his kingdom, and basking in the adulation of his subjects. The King was away more than he was home and the Queen, being prone to madness, became increasingly frightened that thieves would come and steal her youngest child away. Unbeknownst to the Dark Princess, the Queen would pace around in the nursery at night, keeping a watchful eye out for kidnappers. The Dark Princess heard the footsteps and knowing of her mother’s fears, began to fear for her own safety as well. She did not feel safe with her mother and would only feel safe when the King finally came home.
This went on for quite some time and the Dark Princess became increasingly afraid to be alone with her mother. She would wait to go sleep until the King got home, then she would lay at the foot of her mother and father’s bed. She would awaken before the King so that she could sneak back to her room, but one night the King found her and became angry. He said through clenched teeth, “I told you, there was nothing to be afraid of.” The Dark Princess cried as he dragged her around the castle, opening doors, trying to prove to her that no one was there. He told her that she was too old to be acting like a baby and, always wanting to please her father, she decided to hide her fears and do as she was told.
The Queen, however, could not suppress her fears. Instead, she built a tower and locked herself away. It was the only way she felt safe. The King would go visit her in her tower every day, while the Dark Princess watched over her younger siblings. The King gave her chores to complete and would get angry with her if he came home and the chores weren’t done. The Dark Princess didn’t understand why she had to make up for her mother’s absence and she resented all the work that she was expected to do. She was still a child after all, but the King and his confidants felt that the King was already terribly burdened, taking care of his sick wife and three small children, so the Dark Princess was urged to be good, be quiet, and help her father.
The Dark Princess missed her mother terribly. She couldn’t understand why her mother locked herself up in the tower and left her all alone. The King, not understanding children, did not try to help her understand what was going on nor did he try to convince her that everything would be okay. He simply left her to try to make sense of everything on her own.
Physical beauty was of the utmost importance to the King, and the older the Dark Princess got, the more disappointed in her appearance he became. She was not as pretty as she had been as a baby and he was afraid that he would never be able to marry her off. He resented the fact that the wealthy King and Queen had burdened him with an unhealthy wife and now he had a homely daughter he was going to have to care for as well.
The Prince and the Golden Princess, however, seemed to be everything the King wanted or at least that’s what he led the Dark Princess to believe. He boasted about how handsome the Prince was, how intelligent he was, and how extremely talented he was at all things creative. He also bragged that the Golden Princess was such a pretty girl, that all the young noblemen were enamored of her, and that she could dance like a fairy. Whenever the Dark Princess tried to gain her father’s approval with drawings, stories, or even her ability to compete in the hunt with all his men, he would simply pat her on the head and talk to her about how beautiful the princesses in other realms were or how smart, talented, and creative her siblings were. The Dark Princess finally gave up trying. She knew that nothing she could do would ever please her father and win back his love.
The King was not able to provide the Queen or her children with everything they needed, so the Queen’s parents often had to help them. This angered the King and he accused them of being coddled by the royal grandparents. Despite his resentment, the King was also dependent on the Queen’s parents to help him maintain his kingdom. He felt, however, that they owed it to him for taking their sick daughter off of their hands. He was not spoiled. The rest of his family was.
The Dark Princess, seeing no place for herself in the castle, ventured off on her own, but she was ill prepared for the real world outside her father’s realm. She had no confidence in her own abilities after years of negative comparison to others and had never found encouragement or support in anything she did. She didn’t even know who she was, she had spent so long trying to find a way to gain her father’s approval. However, she didn’t feel safe out in the world after depending on her father for so long and soon, she slunk back to the castle and locked herself up in her own room as her mother had done. She spent some time with her mother, telling her about her failures and her grief. The Queen confessed her own fears and did her best to shore up her daughter’s confidence, but by that time, the damage had been done and the Queen was too far gone in her isolation and madness to know how to help her.
The Prince and the Golden Princess eventually went their own ways, while the Dark Princess stayed in the castle with the King and Queen. She convinced herself that she was helping them, but she knew they merely saw her as a burden. Eventually, the Dark Princess knew the time had come for her to strike out on her own again and this time, she was able to eke out an existence for herself. She knew she could never go back to the castle again.
Eventually, the Queen succumbed to her madness and died alone in her tower. The King, after so many years trying to make the Queen happy and blaming her for his own unhappiness, was at a loss. He sat dejected on his throne and didn’t move for many years while his kingdom slowly deteriorated around him. Soon, his wife’s parents died as well. The King hoped that the influx of money from his wife’s inheritance would allow him to get back on his feet and repair his kingdom. He felt that he deserved that money after all of his years of sacrifice.
However, the inheritance went to their daughter’s children, the young Prince, Golden Princess, and the Dark Princess instead. The King was furious. He demanded that the children give him part of their inheritance and they acquiesced to his demand, even though they knew that the King had been given large sums of money throughout his marriage to the Queen. With that demand, the King hammered in the wedge that had been growing between he and his children for many years and they began to see the King for who he truly was.
The Dark Princess, despite her dour demeanor, was ever the optimist when it came to others. She believed that one day, her father would realize that she wasn’t worthless. She also hoped that he would finally start doing things for himself, instead of depending on others to do everything for him. She also wanted for him to quit seeing himself as a victim of his circumstances. She hoped, but she didn’t believe.
Over the next several years, the King’s health began to fade. He developed dementia in addition to the very weak heart he had lived with for several decades. The dementia removed the already porous filter he had on his thoughts and he began to pick at his children’s emotional weaknesses with vicious glee. Eventually, they decided to stop subjecting themselves to his abuse and refused to see him.
While her father’s health declined, the Dark Princess began to find her true self. She had hidden away those parts of herself that the King didn’t approve of for most of her life, but now she felt free to explore what it was that she truly wanted out of life. She returned to her drawing and other creative pursuits and she was happier than she had ever been. The King came to visit her in her own tiny kingdom one day and she decided to give him one last chance to realize that he had been wrong about her all those years. She showed him her artwork and told him how excited she was to be doing it again. The King looked at her work and said, “Uh huh. That’s nice. Do you remember that drawing I did for you many years ago? Do you still have it? I’d love to see it.” And with that, the Dark Princess smiled and knew that the King would never be able to see her for who she truly was. After so many years of trying to please him, she finally gave up trying to win his love and she let him go.
She didn’t see the King again until he was on his deathbed. The Prince and the Golden Princess convinced her that she should go see her father one last time, although she had no desire to put herself in the position to be hurt by him again. However, she knew she would regret not going, so she agreed to go. While her brother and sister attended to their ailing father, the Dark Princess remained distant. The King was aware enough to know that his children were there and he tried to act as he normally would have in healthier times, but he he was too far gone to fool anyone. The Dark Princess was relieved when it was finally time to go. She leaned over her father, kissed him on the forehead, and said, “Bye, Dad.” Soon after, he was gone.