I was reminded today about one of the things my father does that can really irritate people: he's dismissive about people's lives as worthless. He doesn't so much "one up you" as redefine you as a fraud of some kind. A good example of this is and incident with my dad during my son's fifth birthday party at Chuck-ee-cheeses, where a lot of those friends were attending.
Dad: So, what are you doing these days?
Me: I work in software development, doing scripting for things like bug report and--
Dad: So, really, you're just some glorified data entry person. [turns to my friend ninjacooter with blue hair] And what sort of thing do YOU do?
ninjacooter: Well, I am a Certified Switch Engineer--
Dad: [to his wife] Proof that "engineer" doesn't mean anything these days. [turns to Suzi, who was wearing something fairly conservative for her, i.e., not leather halter and vampire fangs because, after all, this was a small kid's party] And what sort of thing do you do?
Suzi: I am a manager for a Beta development team at America Onlin--
Dad: How many people do you manage?
Suzi: About 4 or 5--
Dad: That's not really management, then, is it? [turns to Cambion, Suzi's boyfriend, a CCNA for UUNet at the time] And what is it that you do?
Cambion: [deadpan face] I am a piano player at a whorehouse.
You never heard a bunch of adults at a table at Chuck-ee-Cheeses laugh so hard. Cambion cut right through that "line of shame" right away. At another birthday party, he was arguing with my friend Neal's younger brother Glen, who is a staunch Libertarian, and at the time was 19, just started college, and in high school was on the debate team. Thus, my father's usual tactics of arguments did not work on him.
Glen: [makes some point]
Dad: Oh, come on, that's not true and you know it.
Glen: [Points out that it is true, cites sources, and that is why he knows it is true]
Dad: Oh come on, you don't really believe that.
Glen: [points out that he does, and that so far, my father was not presenting any convincing counter-argument]
Dad: I am sure you think you are important. Is that what they tell you?
Glen: [Points out people's opinions of him are not relevant to the point, and that my father still has not presented any case]
Dad: [shoots down some points, adding comments about his inexperience, education, and the fact his father was a lobbyist]
Glen: [Remembers everything my father said, repeats it back to him, and then addresses each topic with a counterpoint, and then finishes with the repetition that personal comments towards his parentage do not make an effective argument. He does this despite my father constantly interrupting him; he stays on topic and does not lose his place]
Dad: [gets very angry and upset to the point it makes all the other guests very uncomfortable, and we all leave to the front yard]
But I was so proud of Glen. My father was furious, and Glen never budged, never got upset, never smirked or claimed arrogance, but continued his debate tactics like a true pro.
Heaven help you if you were a professional related to medical, law, or the government. You were even worse if you were religious, involved in psychology, or what he called "a bureaucrat." My father? DOD Beltway bandit. Sponges off the defense industry for contract work. Most of his coworkers later told me he was not a pleasant man to work with, but made a good first impression enough to stay at a job long enough to leave with references. My father never had the same job for more than a few years (back when that was rare), but he did work for SRI, PRC, SPC, Aracor, and Booz Allen Hamilton while I grew up. I had to find out what he did for a living by a private investigator. Right now, he's working as some DOD contractor with Alameda as a paper-title consultant (so the company can go, "Look, we got ourselves a real engineer!"). Is that a legitimate job? Sure. Especially around here. In San Diego? Yeah, probably there too... and you know what?
I am sure they tell him that he's VERY important... :D