Portrait of a sociopath, part 3 of 4

My father-in-law, the sociopath

My sociopathic father-in-law, Andrew, is a very different flavor than my mother-in-law, Delia. Remember the end of part 1 of this post? She’s French Silk Pie and he’s Rocky Road. She’s smooth and evil. He’s silly and reckless. When you put them together, they sure do cover all the bases—on the dessert table and in the How-To-Jack-With-People Department.

Andrew is gregarious, but he works very combatively with others—rude, bossy, refusing to explain things. He likes giving speeches, but he embarrasses us when he does it (waaaay too long, TMI, etc.). He laughs a lot, but he complains a lot. He likes giving gifts, but he usually buys cheap trinkets that fall apart. He’s hard-working, but he’s also extremely impulsive. He likes helping people less fortunate than he is, but he was detached and hostile with his children. He can manage large projects well, but he lacks wisdom about basic day-to-day tasks. He likes fixing things, but he’s terrible at it—using sub-standard materials/techniques, so everything he fixes breaks again. He’s silly and likes to joke, but he’s easily enraged.

He thrives on same-ness—things never changing—but he complains frequently about his life. He was trusted as a school administrator and a church elder, but he’s reckless with regard to safety. Extremely, dangerously reckless. Oblivious. Unseeing. Unhearing. Unthinking. Unfeeling. Uncaring.

And—on a lighter note—when we’re driving, he likes to tell us where to park. Can you believe that? We ignore him, park where we want, and he complains.

Reckless and violent
It’s Andrew’s reckless disregard for safety that made it so obvious to our counselor, Matt, that my father-in-law is a card-carrying sociopath. Let’s take a quick walk down Memory Lane. And not just any Memory Lane… Sociopaths-In-Charge Memory Lane.

Ski trip 1 and more
While they were on a ski trip, someone slammed the van door on Brandon’s finger and split it wide open. His dad’s perspective? “Too bad. Shake it off.” Andrew chopped a tree with one-inch spikes on top of Brandon while they were clearing fence rows on their farm. Andrew’s response? “Get up! You ain’t hurt.” My first post includes a regular occurrence that explains how Brandon developed a high tolerance for electrical shock. That one makes me shake my head every time I think about it. (And the reckless disregard for electrical safety was my father-in-law’s standard practice, not a one-time incident.)

Ski trip 2
Here’s another one. Brandon remembers when his oldest sister, Hazel, blew out her knee while snow skiing. Even though the bottom half of her leg was lying at an unnatural angle from the knee down, even though she was in excruciating pain, the pat line whenever his children were hurt came flying out of Andrew’s mouth as forcefully as ever. “Get up! You ain’t hurt.” Actually, she was terribly hurt, had to be moved on a stretcher, and required knee surgery.

Date night for sociopaths
Brandon’s parents, Delia and Andrew, would check him for marks every time they came home from a night out. They expected Hazel to be in charge during their absence since she was the oldest of the three children. Right. Do I need to tell you who was in charge? The sociopaths left their middle child at home—the one who was extremely violent and had a personality disorder….

This is how things went for the children who were left at home during Date Night for Sociopaths. Hazel locked herself in her room to protect herself from Shelly. This left Brandon in the hands of his older sister, Sadistic Shelly, who took great pleasure in attacking him physically and leaving marks on him.

Andrew would come home and see the marks on Brandon, and then he’d ask Shelly and Brandon what happened. Since Shelly was older (and a bright, sadistic nightmare), her lies were always more dramatic and entertaining than Brandon’s explanation. So his dad would round out Date Night for Sociopaths by whipping Brandon with a belt for fighting with his sister, leaving more marks on his young body and his spirit. Good grief.

Can I tell you something? That infuriates me! More than I can say….

You see, in this good law-abiding sociopathic family, boys aren’t allowed to fight with girls, even sadistic, violent, evil ones. Rules matter. People don’t.

Bumper cars
Fast forward to current events. Since Andrew can’t vent his daily frustration by beating his son anymore, his current M.O. is to routinely run his various vehicles, his camper, his tractor and so on into buildings and other vehicles, and then just drive off as if nothing happened. No acknowledgement that what he did was wrong. No remorse. No note. No apology. No offer to repair the damage. Nothing. When his vehicle is still drivable, that’s the only thing that matters. (When it isn’t still drivable, he and Delia lie about it.) Watch out, world.

Chronic failure to protect
When we stop spending time with Brandon’s family, Andrew asks my husband: “Can’t we all get along?” Brandon replies: “I’m not the one who likes to fight. I’m not the problem here.”

His place
When my father-in-law asks “Can’t we all get along?” what he really means is: “Can’t we keep things the way they’ve always been? Can’t you ignore all the hateful things various family members are doing? Can’t you pretend you don’t hear what they’re saying, like I do?” Translation: “Can’t you just accept being the target of abuse? I mean, I’ve accepted that role. Why isn’t it good enough for you?” Andrew was treated like dirt by The Mafia Don in this family, Delia’s dad, who lived next door and owned the farm that my father-in-law slaved on (in addition to his full-time job). Grandpa was the Top Dog, Delia is the Top Cat, and Andrew knows his place.

Good cop, bad cop
It’s tempting to minimize the seriousness of my father-in-law’s attitudes because he’s currently The Nice One in our pair of sociopaths. (During Brandon’s childhood, his mom played The Nice One most of the time, since she had a slew of minions circling around her, doing all her dirty work. More about that in a future post.) Andrew and his beautiful Delia are the sociopathic version of Good Cop, Bad Cop.

Never
The sad truth is that Andrew will never stick up for his one-and-only son. He will never go to bat for any of us. He will never try to fix what’s broken. He never protected his son from horrific abuse—at his own hands and at the hands of others. He will never admit the truth of how sick his family is. Why? Because he’s a sociopath.

Formulas, checklists and propaganda
Andrew, my father-in-law, seems to see life in a simplistic, formulaic way. “If I do this, I’ll get that.” “If I follow these rules, things will go well for me.”

He lives in a small box filled with checklists, not understanding life away from the endless lists—the lists that don’t work and never have. He’s like a time bomb when the lists don’t work—from sizzling to explosive. But he’s consumed with following the lists, following the rules, doing what he was told to do, doing what they told him was right. Who are they? His teachers, preachers and his parents (including his abusive, neglectful, ice-cold mother).

Likewise, Andrew is a persistent Purveyor of Propaganda, with this doozy being his favorite: “Loyalty to family at all costs!” Translation: “Good people are loyal, and loyal people do what they’re told without ever questioning what’s going on.” Sociopathic propaganda, also known as mind control, creates victims and keeps them in line.

Andrew’s loyalty to family (i.e., subjugation) has certainly cost him and his son dearly. Andrew pays the high price for that “loyalty” daily. Why? To maintain his image of himself: “I’m the good guy who followed the formula I was taught.” Unfortunately for Andrew and his children, some of the people who taught him the How-To-Live-Right Formula were abusive, sadistic and had personality disorders.

The image vs. the truth
The casual observer would describe my father-in-law as friendly, hard-working and generous. I’d describe him as catastrophically lost—someone who understands almost nothing of value, someone who has no cause and effect thinking, someone who’s lived to receive and commit abuse. He won’t step out of his small, familiar box. And he’s very aggressive. Very, very out of control. But he doesn’t want to think about that.

Until next time
Thanks for tuning in. In part 4, we’ll wrap up this post with some of the characteristics my in-laws have in common, some steps to take as we reflect on our experiences, and some hints about what’s coming in future posts.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Psalm 121

Song for Healing: “Praise You In This Storm” by Casting Crowns