September 29th, 2009
I have a love/hate relationship with Dr. Phil. I feel like he’s lost something since we first saw him on Oprah so many years ago. His version of keeping it real seems watered down now. Although maybe that’s less about Dr. Phil and more symptomatic of everyone trying to ‘keep it real’ and thus I’ve become desensitized in the face of so much in-my-face reality. Keeping it real seems to be a catch phrase for ‘Hold on, I have no tact, and I’m about to be an asshole.’ It doesn’t have to be that way, I appreciate honesty, pretty sure most of us do, but ‘brutal-keeping-it-real-honesty’ is a bit like when I was a kid and my brother used to take my own hand, smack me in the face with it and then start chanting ‘Stop hitting yourself!’ Technically he was right, it was my hand – but it also hurt like hell and was nothing I would have done of my own volition.
I get suspicious of people who practice brutal honesty. Usually, not always, they tend to be much more comfortable dishing it out than hearing it, even in small doses.
In any case, Dr. Phil had a woman named Maria Housden on his show this week. Housden wrote a book called ‘Hannah’s Gift – Lessons From A Life Fully Lived’. I fully admit I have not read it, so I can’t speak to the quality or content. But Housden wasn’t on the show to promote her book so to speak. She was defending the creation of it. Evidently, Housden gave up custody of her children in her divorce to her ex and took off to travel and write. She did what many men do in the case of divorce, she became a part-time mom, traveling back and forth, spending weekends and Christmas Break, but the full time – in the trenches parenting was left to her ex-husband.
As a parent, I can’t imagine anyone willingly relinquishing custody of a child. But I’m also not sure she should be getting the ‘keeping it real’ smack down by Dr. Phil either. After all, if he devoted show time to questioning fathers as to why they were able to walk away from kids in a divorce, that’s all he’d ever have time to do. It’s considered normal to men to be weekend dads, summer break dads, or in a lot of cases, disappear almost completely.
The part about this show that really irked me was that Housden kept defending her decision because she said she had to express herself and be a writer and follow her dream. This is where I think the smack down should have been inserted. The idea that you need to be completely abandon personal responsibility in order to be creative is a flaming pile of bullshit. Lots of writers, artists, singers, musicians, and actors have somehow found a way to balance creativity with wiping up mac and cheese off the floor.
I think Housden’s real motivation was the urge to chuck it all, destroy her Lego castle. There’s a great monologue in Donald Margulies’ brilliant play ‘Dinner With Friends’ where he explores this urge we all have to destroy all the happiness we’ve built up in our lives. Margulies compares this to kids building Lego castles and then delighting in smashing them to the ground. We can’t handle the uncertainty and impermanence of life so we smash our castle to the ground before it can start to crumble. We break up with our lives before they can dump us.
The problem of course is that this theory only works in our heads and when given practical application, doesn’t solve anything. Dumping someone just because you’re pretty sure they might dump you doesn’t mean you were any happier then or now. It just means you were too chickenshit to take the chance.
Easy for me to say, I suppose – I have a pretty good Lego castle going. Maybe in a few years I’ll get twitchy and start picking at the edges, tearing down the towers and remodeling the drawbridge. But right now I’m so overprotective that if anyone comes within twenty feet, I start hucking boiling oil at them.
Maybe I’m the one who needs Dr. Phil……