The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has a criteria on how to diagnose a narcissist. These symptoms reflect someone whose sense of self is rooted in hyperbole, resulting in megalomaniacal tendencies and an inflated sense of self.
A complication of untreated narcissistic personality disorder may include relationship difficulties.
Criteria #1: Being envious of others and believing others envy you
The problem with memory is its dependence on emotion. Rarely do we recall significant moments in our life without some connection, a symbiosis in a way, of our memories and the emotive effect. The writers of Pixar understood this connection when they wrote Inside Out. Certain memories are associated with happiness, euphoria, nostalgia. Others linked to sadness, anger, fear, disgust, bitterness and the connections make a complex tangle of memory/emotive relations. The process of returning to those memories creates both physical and emotional turmoil and the emotions, and sometimes the truth, can taint and distort the memory/emotion connection and the memory becomes like a photograph filtered one too many times. Too much contrast or brightness. Sepia tones and monochromatic tints and tungsten shades create a windshield splattered by knowledge and emotion.
I thought of the moments on the black top with you. On the few occasions you weren’t back after dark or consumed with payrolls and tax organizers, you would meet me on the vast black top outside and we would shoot hoops. For me, the asphalt bore tattoos made by the heat and the tread of my Reeboks, Nikes and Adidas. Through rain and blistering sun, I did my Mikan layups, shot free throws until I missed and drop kicked plenty basketballs down the side of the mountain and into the brush out of frustration. So to have my father, a legendary athlete at Kelseyville High School who played college ball in Spokane, Washington, come outside and play HORSE, shoot jumpers and occasionally play one-on-one implanted itself into my memory early on.
Basketball was more than a sport for our family. Grandpa George played ball. All the McQueen brothers played hoops. Of the McQueen boys, your legend echoed in the trophies, banners and hardwood of the Kelseyville High gym. The McQueens even coached basketball in some capacity when their playing days were waning. Later on, you were part of the Spokane Community College team that was inducted into the Washington Basketball Hall of Fame a few years ago. Besides family and God, basketball flowed through our marrow. Even my cousin, Isaac, went on to play college ball. The lineage ran from baseline to baseline.
Playing HORSE with you was equal parts circus side show and an act of beauty. You could hit shots from anywhere, even being nearly a hundred pounds overweight and far removed from your rec league days. As a twelve year old, the shots you conjured and executed marveled my sister and me. Behind the back lay-ups and the punch shot always gave us a letter. The hardest by far seemed contrived from some handbook of ridiculous basketball wizardry. The infamous Rock Shot involved finding a piece of flat rock, balancing it atop the ball, taking aim, and then taking the shot while catching the rock and watching the ball go through the hoop. I hated that shot.
Regardless of our imminent failure, my memory captured those times. I can still see the hill leading up to the saline tank and mountain brush beyond. The massive, black satellite dish jutting above the manzanita tree. Summer wind in the mountain with a breeze subtle enough to cool the sweat but not disrupt our jump shots.
FLEFL. Who could forget the ludicrous acronym you taught me. Feet-Legs-Elbow-Follow through. I never remembered what the words stood for then and I can’t now. The time of calling to refresh my memory no longer exists. Will it ever again? But that dumb acronym still sticks with me and pops up whenever I play basketball or shoot free throws. I can still see you pointing at the front net loop on the rim and telling me, “You want to aim for that front loop and try to shoot the ball just over. Toss it right above that loop.” And I did and it worked. We’d walk back in together and I’d look up at you, out of breath, and wish I could have sat in the bleachers long ago.
Now, the fondness of those memories doesn’t connect to the joy in a way it held all the years before. The memory carries with it sadness. Like recalling something long dead. More like mourning. Did mom tell you to come out and play with me? All my life, I thought you came of your own volition but, now, I question if you were guilted into spending time with me. Or perhaps you played hoops with me to prove to me your greatness. Maybe to yourself.
One thing I do know is when I reached about 14, I mastered the behind the back lay up, the punch shot and the infamous Rock Shot. Our HORSE games became more and more infrequent.
The next time you came out and shot hoops, we played one-on-one. When I outscored you 10-4, you didn’t smile or congratulate me. You stood under the basket, gathering your breath with your hands on your hips, then gave me a look I could only decipher as contempt and walked back to the house without a word.
And I felt ashamed of myself.
Criteria #2: Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
I believe you loved us in the only way you were capable. Honestly, we could never compete with you in terms of hierarchy. Work fueled your sense of worth because you found it nowhere else. Not in your role as a husband or as father. Or brother or son. Family meant competition. Who had the bigger house, the more significant position, the doctorate, the notoriety. Above all else, who made the most damn money.
A part of me believes money was your god after all. Maybe one cannot exist without the other because they are the same. Money held such vast importance, it defined you in someway, that you stole from the probate account back in your days as a college dean. Your god asked for a sacrifice and did you fully comprehend the severity of what your god was asking you to give up? Like the Aztecs who sacrificed their own to Huitzilopochtli, you sacrificed your own to your god. You so devoted yourself to it that you justified your sacrifice as an act of love to the sacrifice. Understand the bastardization of such a sacrifice.
The worst of it all is, you sacrificed me to a god I despise.
But I don’t believe money as the root of your actions. Expansive homes, ostentatious vacations to Europe, the ATV, the brand new Volvos and Jeeps, the deep-blue swimming pool, the parties. All of it needs money in order to survive but, what it needs more, is recognition of its existence. These offspring of money rely on the applause and awe of people to thrive and feed the supreme god: you.
It’s a pantheon of gods underneath one god. Regardless, all gods demand praise.
You must have loved those huge swim parties and to hear the parents laud the expansive pool, the rock waterfall, the glorious view of Clear Lake (which only looks good from atop a mountain), the redwood siding on the house that touched the clouds. All of your splendor for a moment of praise. The worshipers thanked you and spoke of your generosity and benevolence. “It’s so kind of you to host the party.”
The sacrifice of your children, of your wife, appeased the gods and the praise flowed and flowed.
Remember how, down off Highway 53 near the college, you loved to look up on the side of the mountain and point out how you could see the house? A beacon looking down upon your city.
You reveled at your Olympus.
You beamed at your Tenochtitlan.
Criteria #3: Requiring constant admiration
You used to throw these surprise birthday parties for family members and friends. A host of family and friends, crowded at the dusty church or a massive house of a friend who sells insurance, projectors and slideshows and, most importantly for you, the microphone. You stood before the audience as if they came to your stand-up routine. A Netflix special dedicated to your clever whips, bad puns and ridiculous pictures.
Whether the guise was mom’s birthday or Aunt Tat’s, the reason for the celebration held the microphone. All eyes on you. All ears tuned in to the show. The desperate need to hear the shrieks and shrill laughter, to see the keel over or a slap of the thigh, a delirious clap. The applause fueled your ego like a kiln.
But the laughter would shift to endearment. The sweet words toward mom, your true love, swooned in the hearts of the audience, of family and friends. Those moans of sweetness sent chills across your skin as if the elation in your senses could explode. A funny man could not satisfy your need to be loved completely. It took personas to achieve this level of adulation.
Happy Birthday, mom.
Criteria #4: Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
I hated ‘Scissors.’ The first time seemed fun in a way but the game took on a terror over time. Sarah hated it too. Mom hated it the most. Who could blame her? Most parents would be upset if someone tried to drown their children between their legs. I guess it is different since my own father held me under the water, his shins clenched around my skinny body. My skin and bones couldn’t begin to squirm from those vices. Plus you had the innertube keeping you afloat, there was another advantage. By the grace of God, you’d let me up with just enough time for me to take a gulp of air before you sent me under again. My eyes burning from the chlorine and my lungs afire.
I think I hated to hear the announcement before your legs locked around me. A hellish bellow, decreeing the game would commence without consent.
Those final words before the water deafened my ears and the muffled movements and faint laughter from above the surface. I could hear mom’s voice screaming, yelling, pleading, denigrating you.
“Tanny, stop that! You’re going to drown them. They can’t breathe.”
You did it for show, didn’t you? Whenever Uncle Yeti came over, the little brother, who didn’t try and drown his kids. Or maybe it was to bug mom and Aunt Tat. You loved to push their buttons and raise their blood pressure for some sociopathic reason. What did you think when you held me under?
“Look how cool I am, Cry Baby Dave.”
What pre-adolescent insecurity were you trying to feed?
You almost drowned me once.
Uncle Yeti and Aunt Tat came over to the big house with Isaac and Stephen. Maybe Abby, I’m not sure. There could have been some other family members there. You can ask them if I’m lying.
I was in the shallow end and happened to swim by. You floating in a massive, black innertube in the shallow end and I wanted to go to the rock waterfall. Maybe Isaac who was 4 or so at the time hung out on the ledge and I thought I would try and be a good cousin and play with him.
Then I heard it.
My body jerked back, water splashing around my face and then those bony legs snatched me around the abdomen and the low afternoon sunlight turned blue. Bubbles encircled me and rose up to the surface. I watched them scatter as I stared up from the bottom of the pool, struggling and prying at those hairy legs and yellow toenails. Water flooded my sinuses. A slow seep of cool water snuck into my ears. My eyes, burned and blurred by chlorine, watched at the helplessness of my own hands. I kicked and writhed.
Then your legs brought me rushing up and I surfaced, sucking in a breath of air and water splashed around me before my body was forced under again. Again, another shallow breath and I lived in a memory. My lungs screamed deep in my chest. Air crept out of my nosee and mouth in bubbles without even knowing it. Mom’s muffled yelling reached me somehow. I continued to fight, but only exhausted myself.
Another rush and a chance at air but I missed it.
Back under, there seemed nothing left for me to breathe. Empty lungs and no energy left to claw, kick and scratch my way out of your grip. With one last pry, I lunged and kicked but remained at the bottom of the pool.
My eyes still see how the surface of the pool waved and rippled, almost in a peaceful undulation and mom’s frantic voice faded out and I thought to myself, at 10 years old:
This is how I’m going to die.
And I stopped fighting. My limbs floated and I stared up, lungs beyond sting, waiting for the moment they would take in the water.
Then you let me go.
I know mom, Tat, even Yeti were yelling at you. I think you said, “What? I was just playing around?”
The air hurt when I breathed it in. Almost as much as without it. No strength remained in my arms and legs and the water seemed to carry me to the shallow ledge where I could sit.
I sat by myself for awhile, half-submerged. Mom asked me if I was alright. I didn’t know what to say. I felt one with the water in a frightening way.
Criteria #5: Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
Of all your personas, Church Dad sickened me the most. The rhetoric, dripping with inauthenticity, poured from you even outside of the church. Among the congregation, you roamed as if superior to the ushers, children’s workers or any other subservient position. You lived within your own Christian caste system.
But Church Dad pushed the rhetoric into full throttle when the pastors came around. The highest members of your caste system received your full attention and your professed love of God vomited all over them.
“Good morning, pastor. The Lord has been good lately.”
“I’m just putting my faith in God.”
“Thank you, Jesus!”
Then the terrible jokes came. Do you remember the trip to see the Kings and Warriors play? We brought my pastor. You bombarded him with blatantly terrible jokes so devoid of humor, I can’t even recall what they were. The forced smile on my pastor’s face still rests in my mind and I would shift the conversation away from you. But you could only focus on the upper caste.
Those below you only served a purpose if they marveled at your accomplishments, spoke of your generosity, your thriving business. You spoke the language they wished to hear and the jargon every good Christian should know. But the only person you truly cared to associate with was the man behind the pulpit.
Did you feel like you and the judges who sentenced you belonged in the same caste? Greatness can only identify with greatness, right?
Criteria #6: Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
Mom always killed it in our Academy Awards competition. She researched on entertainment websites, watched the news, and seemed to always come out on top in February. Early on I gave her a run for her money but that ride at the top was short lived. However, the Oscar bracket belonged to our family.
The first Oscar bracket after mom died, we sat at Sarah’s house on the couch. The girls ran around, laughing and screaming, while we suffered through the self-aggrandizement of film celebrities. The Oscar challenge never really meant much to anyone on some grand, ontological level, but, in 2016, it carried a somber tone. You spent most of the time on his phone, a past-time you did often during family gatherings and sent updates of the score to all of us even though we sat five feet from you. Not seeing mom’s name felt vacuous, but you inserted a new name. Your girlfriend’s name. The name of a woman we had never met and urged you to take it slow, not rush into anything. I mean, mom just died four months before.
But you shoved her name into mom’s space. No longer mom but her name sat on that list among your grieving children and their grieving spouses while your grieving grandchildren played in the bedrooms. I saw that name, inserted without cause or permission, and my jaw tightened. At first, we said nothing. We figured you were grieving and coping in your own way. You texted us. Also texting her love notes. Irrelevant scores where her name help a score not equal to mom’s. Each text shuddered in my hands. I looked at Sarah or my wife and we said so much to one another without a sound. A betrayal filled the room but your infatuation never noticed. In fact, you never noticed unless the focus, the attention, the praise turned toward you.
And you continued to text and read the scores, oblivious to our pain. Our silence spoke volumes but you wouldn’t listen. Or maybe you didn’t care to listen.
Best Actress in A Supporting Role? I can’t remember.
Best Adapted Screenplay? Who cares?
Best Picture? A final image of mom’s dying body and robotic, failing breaths pumping until the heartrate dropped to zero and the scream of the flatline penetrated everyone’s soul in that intensive care unit.
But I can also picture you, crushing into the cushions, absorbed in your conversations with some ersatz mother while your son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law sat swallowed by your indifference.
Even after crying about how your indifference wounded us, you stared blankly back at us? How a parent may look at a child who screams and thrashes because you gave them the wrong colored spoon. Part bafflement and incomprehension. And your only response to how your decisions affected your children?
“It’s my life.”
You married her without Sarah even meeting this new woman a few months later. But by then you had already moved on to your new family and settled into your mansion in Land Park which was “close to us and her kids” but not really. Had we lost our value?
When the truth of the credit cards and bank loans and the debt in our names, we realized we had indeed served our purpose.
And you moved on to the next family.
Criteria #7: Taking advantage of others to get what you want
Revised Victim Impact Statement
People vs. George McQueen
Case ID #17FE005856
Sacramento County Superior Court
September 6, 2017
I do not hate you, dad. But I am disappointed in what you have become. The reality is you have built a life out of lies and half-truths and so imbued your very being with fallacy, you do not know who you are. You wear different masks for different people because your identity does not come from above or within, but from others. Due to your lack of identity, you have wandered your entire life, unable to comprehend truth because you resist it though it calls you. The fruits of your willfull ignorance have been stealing from your own children, your grandchildren, your clients and everyone who has ever loved you. Fruits of manipulation, greed, and pride. We are the collateral damage of your avoidance of the real issues in your life. The depth of your confusion and fear manifested in you stealing $68,000 to pay the restitution for the money you stole from us. The weight of lies must crush you when you lay down at night.
You know you weren’t a great father. No one is a perfect parent but they try. And I don’t doubt you tried to be a good man, a caring father, a protector. But since you’ve wandered, unable to find identity in yourself or in faith, you could never fulfill that role for Sarah and I nor could you find identity simply being our father. Nor could you fulfill the role of a good husband. In your confusion, you tried by giving us extravagant presents, lavish vacations, big houses and other, useless stuff. Trying to buy our love in part to alleviate the guilt you probably felt for being gone all the time and the cycle of empty promises you found yourself in. When the truth is we only wanted our dad to be there. But you tried sometimes. And I remember those times where you tried. Hours swimming in the pool where you taught me how to dive. Playing HORSE on the blacktop. The tickle monster who chased us down and pinned us to the ground while we screamed in laughter. Those times I miss and I break that my daughters will never have even those memories with their grandfather.
Speaking of my daughters, your choices have affected them in ways children should not have to endure. And it is Christina and I who have to bear the burden. You don’t have to hear them cry when they miss grandma and then cry even harder when they think of Tan Tan because he loved them so little, he would victimize their family in such a way. You don’t have to hear them pray to God that Tan Tan will make good choices and stops stealing. You don’t have to answer questions like “Does Tan Tan love us anymore?” or “Why did Tan Tan steal from us?” You don’t have to read handwritten letters to God pleading for him to help Tan Tan because he is doing bad things. In their short lives, they’ve endured the loss of their grandmother and, now, the abandonment of their grandfather. This, also, is my truth.
I just wonder when the line disappeared for you. The moment when you crossed the boundary and lost the fragments of identity you clung to. When those minor roles of father, brother, uncle, grandfather and husband faded and the lies consumed you, supplanting your ego above everyone who ever loved you and stuck by you the first time. When you would treat your children and grandchildren to trips to the circus but purchased those very tickets with the money you stole from them. When you paid for dinners, disregarding our protests to let us pay for our own food, but used the same stolen funds with the pretense of your altruism. When you could look at us and tell us you loved us with the knowledge you held 15 credit cards in our name in your bulging wallet.
I want you to know it pained me to have to turn you in to the police. A position no son should have to face regarding their father. Yes, I had to protect my family and my finances, but, most importantly, I had to do it for you. When mom died, you lost the threadbare tether leading you back to moral ground. You wandered into immoral territory you could never find your way out of on your own. Without guidance, you would continue to meander down roads leading deeper into caverns and briars that would swallow you whole and, I fear, you would never return.
So here we are again. Eleven years ago, we sat in a courtroom like this and supported you, regardless of the backlash and the struggles you placed on us. And our reward for our grace was to be victimized as easy targets. This is the truth. The reality of where we are now. You inflicted hardships on me and my family in deeply painful ways on a variety of levels, but God has shown up in miraculous ways, providing at specific times and being the provider, protector, you don’t know how to be.
The heart of the matter, for both of us, is truth.
My truth is I want to hate you but I can’t bring myself to do it. Yes, I get angry sometimes when I think about what you’ve done. But, mostly, my heart fractures in multiple levels. The loss of a father, a grandfather, a friend. The looks of friends and family who hear about who you are and what you’ve done. Abandoned and discarded for another family. My truth is I miss watching the Warriors together and seeing you read in goofy voices with my girls. I miss those moments where you figured it out, even for the briefest of moments.
You may hear all I am saying and interpret my words as an attack on you and, as you have always done, bring your guard up, and shift the blame onto unforgiving children bent on your demise. But I can’t blame you for these thoughts because, inside, you are that 12 year old boy on that camping trip, still violated, damaged and scared and trying to escape from your sleeping bag but you don’t know how because you don’t know who you are. Instead, you prey upon others to alleviate your confusion, to gain control, to feed the narcissism you’ve developed in response to that night. There is a good man somewhere in that sleeping bag but he doesn’t have the tools or the courage to escape. The courage to confront and stand up against the demons who hold him down.
You can’t buy your way out of it. You can’t be promoted or win awards to escape. No amount of praise or respect will remedy what torments you. You know the way and when you figure it out, I will listen but with skeptical ears for the road ahead is not an easy path.
So the ball is in your court now and it’s not too late.
I leave you with a quote from the artist Thornton Dial and I hope it penetrates into your spirit and starts to guide you on new paths:
“All truth is hard truth. We’re in the darkness now, and we got to accept the hard truth to bring on the light. You can hide the truth, but you can’t get rid of it. When truth come out in the light, we get the beauty of the world.”
Find the truth, dad, and you will find the beauty of the world.