Archived Opinion

Empowered by Dr. Phil to entertain Jack

I’ve become hooked on Dr. Phil. Don’t ask me how it happened because I don’t know. He caught me unawares, I guess, creeping up on me during my fall break while I was innocently trying to feed my son, Jack, some mashed up fruit out of a tiny jar with a tiny spoon, desperately trying to find something to keep him distracted enough to sit still and actually eat his breakfast. I tried a couple of cartoons but quickly learned that Jack, at the age of nine months, would just as soon watch ESPN Sportscenter, The Price is Right, or The Discovery Channel as any cartoon. He’s pretty much OK with anything as long as there are images moving around on the screen and sound coming out of the television.

We started watching Dr. Phil because of Tammy, who TiVos and watches the show every day and would no more miss an episode than I would miss a Carolina Panthers’ game on Sundays. One morning, she suggested that I at least give old Dr. Phil a try. Sure, why not? Jack was particularly restless that morning, jerking and writhing around so much that changing his diaper was like trying to put lipstick on an alligator. Once I got him stationed in the high chair, I had tried about three spoonfuls of pears and missed each time, leaving dripping dollops on his chin and cheeks.

“Please, yes, let’s turn on Dr. Phil,” I said.

And you know what? It worked. Jack sat straight up and paid strict attention to the lumbering former football player turned psychologist as he confronted a trembly woman and her oafish, recalcitrant husband, who had been cheating on her and treating her like a misbehaving pet on top of that. I soon came to learn that this is the basic formula for the show — women who will not or do not know how to stand up for themselves and their oafish, recalcitrant husbands or boyfriends who appear to have been imported from another century and must either be paid very well to appear on the show or do not mind being exposed as fools as long as they get their 15 minutes of fame.

Viewers are given a background of each case with footage demonstrating exactly how these women are mistreated at the hands of their men with accompanying sounds of disgust from the studio audience. Dr. Phil will then shake his head and give the couple an incredulous look. Then come the catch phrases.

To the woman, explaining why she deserves better: “You are a beautiful, vibrant woman.”

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To the oaf, who swears he doesn’t really treat his wife that badly and that the footage is somehow misleading: “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.”

To them both: “I may be just an old country boy, but ...” or “This is not my first rodeo ...” or “All of this is clearly explained in my book, Family First.

To anyone, in general, about anything: “I want you to take control of your life. Today is the day.”

Dr. Phil has written several books, which are regularly hawked on the show and has a Web site, which is also mentioned at least a few times. If the answers to life’s most perplexing problems are not made clear enough on the show, they are surely available in one of these resources.

I would not be surprised if Jack’s first word comes out of Dr. Phil’s self-help lexicon: “Ownership,” “Empowerment,” “Boundaries,” or “Denial.”

For those who may need a quick fix at work or before bed, there is now a Web site called “The Dr. Phil Random Quote Generator” at Just click on the link and up pops a piece of wisdom from the man himself. A few random examples:

“You don’t need a bear trap to shock the monkey.”

“You don’t need feelings to head butt a priest.”

“You don’t need clam chowder to fondle a donkey.”

OK, maybe satirical, but so close to the homespun wisdom our hero dispenses in each show that you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. I have seen enough episodes now that I can almost always anticipate not only what advice Dr. Phil will give his guests, but even the catch phrases he will use. Tammy likes to tease me, assuring me that I am a lot more like Dr. Phil than I care to admit, that our philosophies on relationships, on child-rearing, on life in general, are strikingly similar. Well, I am in favor of self-esteem. I am in favor of raising your children, instead of relying on others to do it. I am in favor of treating your partner with respect.

But mostly I am in favor of finding a way to entertain Jack so I can get him to eat his breakfast. He’s a beautiful, vibrant boy, but he cannot change what he does not acknowledge.


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