Monthly Archives: May 2018

Everyone Should Have a Spare

Bob Hope once said, “Aren’t mothers wonderful? Everyone should have a spare.” I have thought a lot about mothers lately. We just celebrated Mother’s Day. I had to speak in church on a mother’s worth. And I recently saw the movie, Tully,[i] about a woman trying to cope with the demands of motherhood. The movie illustrates the saying, to the mother of young children, there’s a time and place for everything – except rest. Because of a few twists in the film, I won’t tell you more, but if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do. It is a movie every mother should see, as well as every father. And talk about it afterward. Here is a short scene from the movie:

But back to Bob Hope. I have debated with myself whether I believe his statement to be true. Would I really want a spare mother? Mine was a very involved parent – often too involved for my liking. She wanted to know everything about my life. “How was school today?” “Tell me about your friends.” And so on. As a teenager, I had to be home by 11 pm. If I wasn’t home by then, Mom started calling my friends to see where I was, which didn’t go over well with them, or their sleeping parents. At dinnertime, our menu was like comedian’s Buddy Hackett’s. We had two choices, take it or leave it. Mom forced me to go to church every Sunday, even when I didn’t want to go and even though I argued that forcing me to go was destroying my free agency. And her frugality often embarrassed me. When we went to a nice restaurant, which wasn’t very often, we went to the same seafood restaurant where all of us had to have the same thing – fish and chips – which, of course, was the cheapest thing on the menu. And Halloween was never that much fun for me, as Mom would never buy me a costume like the parents of most of the kids at school. I always had to wear homemade costumes, which were often hand-me-downs of costumes worn by my older brothers or sister. When I finally graduated from law school, I had two job offers, one in Salt Lake City, and one in Denver. I took the job in Denver partly to put some space between me and Mom (although I admit the job in Denver paying me almost double what the job in Salt Lake would pay was a major factor in my decision).

My family growing up was mostly normal, although we had our share of quirks. We were not like most families depicted in movies, which are generally dysfunctional (which adds to the drama). But occasionally, I find a film that has a mom I wish I had. Here are four of those movie supermoms:

Mrs. Gump: Who wouldn’t love a mother like Forrest’s in Forrest Gump?[ii] In her folksy way (“Life is like a box of chocolates…”), she instilled in Forrest a self-confidence that led him to believe he could (and he did) accomplish anything he put his mind to, despite being born with some physical and mental challenges.

Rusty Dennis: Mask[iii] is the true story of Rusty Dennis, a biker and mother of Rocky, a teenager with a massive facial skull deformity. But despite his deformity, Rocky is warm, sensitive, and intelligent. And his mom, Rusty, will not put up with anyone who fails to give Rocky the same respect and opportunities as anyone else. With his mother’s help and her badass attitude, Rocky is able to overcome pain, pity, and prejudice to become a role model for all of us.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: In another true story, The Blind Side,[iv] Leigh Anne Tuohy welcomes Michael Oher into her family’s home. Michael is a homeless teenager who has been in and out of foster care. He has a learning disability, but a large, athletic body. With the help of Leigh Anne Tuohy, Michael overcomes his upbringing, his learning disability, and goes on to become an All-American football player and help the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl in 2013. Although not her real son (at least until she later adopted him), she provides him with every opportunity to succeed, from telling the high school football coach how to best use his skills, to hiring a tutor to help him improve his grades. I especially like this scene where she places Michael ahead of her relationship with the local society wives.

Helen Parr (a/k/a Elastigirl): Who wouldn’t want a superhero for a mother? Helen Parr, from the movie, The Incredibles,[v] and her family are undercover superheroes. All she wants for her children is for them to live normal, happy lives. But when danger calls, this mom will stop at nothing to protect her children.

The more I think about, the more I realize that, like Mrs. Gump, my mom taught me some great life lessons and instilled in me a system of values and a self-image that led me to believe I could accomplish great things. Fortunately, I was not born with a deformity like Rocky Dennis, but no one was a better nurse or more caring when I was sick or hurt than my mom. Mom, like Rusty Dennis (although not quite so badass), would not let anyone push her around when it came to her family. We did not enjoy the same economic status as the Tuohy family, but like Leigh Anne Tuohy, regardless of background, social status, or the number of digits in your bank account, family always came first. And Mom did everything she could to make sure I had all the opportunities I would need to succeed. Admittedly, Mom was not a superhero, but just like Helen Parr, there is nothing my mom wouldn’t do to protect her family.

Maybe Mom was not so sorry after all. Robert Browning once said, “Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” My mom had her share of quirks that often annoyed me, especially while growing up, but she was the perfect example of what Browning was talking about. When she asked me a million questions about my day, my friends and my thoughts and fears, she was telling me that she cared about me as a person. When Mom wanted me home by 11 pm and called my friends when I wasn’t, she was telling me that she cared about my safety – and taught me responsibility at the same time. Although my mom was not all that generous when it came to fancy restaurants and Halloween costumes, she never shortchanged me when it came to providing a roof over my head, home-cooked meals, visits to the doctor when needed, and educational opportunities.

As I graduated from high school, we went to our favorite seafood restaurant again. As the waitress worked her way around the table, all my family ordered fish and chips. When she came to me, I looked at my mom and asked, “Why do we always order fish and chips?” Mom replied, “You can order anything you want. You always could. I just happen to like fish and chips.” When she said it, I felt like she was being like what Tenneva Jordan said about mothers: “A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” I ordered shrimp creole anyway.

After that day, during my college days, Mom and I would often eat lunch together, and she let me pick the restaurant. Those were some of the most enjoyable times I spent with her – not because of the food, but because of the one-on-one time we shared together. And I began to realize, that, while only five feet tall, Mom was a giant of a woman because of the size of her heart.

None of our mothers are perfect, including mine. I agree with Sydney J. Harris, who said, “The commonest fallacy among women is that simply having children makes one a mother—which is as absurd as believing that having a piano makes one a musician.” Fortunately for me, Mom become a mother – and a good one at that.

I am grateful that I had a mother that loved me unconditionally. Looking back, everything Mom did that annoyed me growing up, she did because of her love for me. And we can never get too much of that. So perhaps Bob Hope was right. We could all use a double dose of a mother’s love.

William Ross Wallace said, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Thanks, Mom, for rocking my world. I am grateful for everything you did for me, but especially for your love. I only wish I had the chance to tell you that again.

[i] Tully

  • Production Company: Bron Studios, Right Way Productions, Denver and Delilah Productions
  • Director: Jason Reitman
  • Screenwriter: Diablo Cody
  • Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass
  • Release date: May 4, 2018

[ii] Forrest Gump

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriter: Eric Roth (based on the novel by Winston Groom)
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise
  • Release date: July 6, 1994

[iii] Mask

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures
  • Director: Peter Bogdanovich
  • Screenwriter: Anna Hamilton Phelan
  • Starring: Cher, Eric Stoltz, Sam Elliott
  • Release date: March 22, 1985

[iv] The Blind Side

  • Production Company: Alcon Entertainment, Left Tackle Pictures, Netter Productions
  • Director: John Lee Hancock
  • Screenwriter: John Lee Hancock (based on the book by Michael Lewis)
  • Starring: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw
  • Release date: November 20, 2009

[v] The Incredibles

  • Production Company: Disney
  • Director: Brad Bird
  • Screenwriter: Brad Bird
  • Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter
  • Release date: November 5, 2004



I recently watched an episode of TV’s Dateline where members of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team discussed the sexual abuse they suffered at the hand (pun intended) of team doctor Larry Nassar. Ultimately, almost 200 victims testified that Dr. Nassar “fingered” their genitals under the guise of medical treatment. Dr. Nassar ultimately pled guilty to sexual assault charges dating as far back as 1997. Amazingly, more than 20 of the victims said there was a parent in the room during the abuse. How could such a thing happen and go on for so long? Gymnast Aly Raisman gives one explanation: “He does touch me, and I know he touches some of my teammates inappropriately, but he tells us that it will heal certain parts of our bodies, so we think that it’s okay.” Jessica Howard, who was the U.S. national champion in rhythmic gymnastics from 1999 to 2001, adds, “He started massaging me. And he had asked me not to wear any underwear. And then he just continued to go into more and more intimate places. I remember thinking something was off, but I didn’t feel like I was able to say anything because he was, you know, this very high profile doctor.”

Although minors, like these gymnasts, are the most vulnerable, all of us, at any age, are not immune from being deceived, especially by those in authority and by those we trust. Magician and escape artist James “The Amazing” Randi, in the documentary, An Honest Liar,[i] summed it up this way: “I know how to deceive people, and I know how to recognize when people are being deceived. I can cheat you countless different ways, and you won’t know, you won’t catch me…. Don’t be too sure of yourself. No matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived.”

As captured in An Honest Liar, Randi spent the first half of his life entertaining people with his tricks and escapes, and the last half of his life exposing frauds who, for their own monetary gain, took advantage of people who trusted them. Here is the trailer for the documentary. It can be found on Netflix and is worth your time to watch it:

To me, the most frightening part of the documentary is when Randi exposed televangelist Peter Popoff’s faith healings as a fraud, but his victims didn’t seem to care. Randi and his investigator discovered that Popoff got his “revelations” not from God but from his wife (she spoke to him through an earpiece Popoff wore, providing him information that his “victims” had put on prayer cards before the show). These disclosures led many TV stations to drop Popoff’s show, eventually forcing him into bankruptcy. But Popoff rebounded by making faith-healing infomercials. These informercials reportedly brought in donations of more than $23 million in 2005 alone from viewers sending in money for promised healings and prosperity.

My profession is one that deals with gray areas when it comes to deciphering truth from deception. Before witnesses can testify in a lawsuit, generally speaking, they must experience what they intend to testify about. Witnesses must see it, hear it, feel it, taste it, or smell it. They cannot rely on the experiences of others; that’s called hearsay. But evidence, even that which we physically experience, is almost never pure and undefiled. We filter it through our biases, experiences, physical limitations, culture and beliefs. One of my favorite illustrations of this is the classic story about the blind men who, after feeling different parts of an elephant, try to describe what an elephant is. Each witness is right, as far as his limited experience goes, but each is also dead wrong considering the elephant as a whole.

My family lived in Austin, Texas, for about seven years and Lance Armstrong was not only the local hero but the nation’s hero. He overcame cancer to win biking’s most prestige race, the Tour de France, not once but seven times. I even wore one of this “Live Strong” wristbands for years.

When a teammate alleged he was doping, few of us could believe our hero was a cheater. Here is a scene from The Program,[ii] which sums things up well how so many of us responded when we first heard the allegations of Armstrong’s deception:

In addition to letting our personal filters color how we see and remember things, we can deceive ourselves merely by how our brains work. When it comes to our experiences, the human mind tries to do two things. First, it fills in the gaps. We want to know how a person or a situation got from Point A to Point B. If we don’t know, our brains make something up. And we consciously don’t even recognize this fabrication. Second, we try to make sense of things. We want to be able to say that everything happens for a reason, whether it does or not.

Elizabeth Loftus[iii] is a psychologist who specializes in false memories or how we can deceive ourselves into believing something that didn’t happen. She tells the true story of Steve Titus who police arrested for the rape of a female hitchhiker. The arrest came following a report that Titus’s car “looked something like the car the rapist was driving.” Upon his arrest, police took a photo of Titus and put it in a photo line-up with those of other men. The victim pointed to Titus and said, “That one’s the closest.” But by the time the trial came around, the victim testified that “I’m absolutely positive that’s the man.” How did the victim’s memory change from he’s the closest to absolutely sure? Perhaps the suggestions of the prosecutor or law enforcement changed or at least influenced her memory. Perhaps her mind, working alone to find certainty, convinced herself of Titus’s guilt. In any event, based on her testimony, and despite his credible alibi, the jury convicted Titus of the rape. Subsequent events led an investigative journalist to the real rapist, who ultimately confessed. Police also tied him to at least 50 other rapes in the area. Loftus, who worked on the Titus case, explains that we often allow suggestions to create a false memory, which we ultimately adopt as the truth. Studies back up Loftus’s statements. In one study of 300 people convicted of crimes that DNA evidence later proved they did not commit, at least 75 percent of those convictions were due to faulty eyewitness memories.

In short, Loftus believes, when you feed people misinformation about an experience they had, whether stressful or not, you can distort or even change their memories. She concludes, “Just because somebody tells you something and they say it with confidence, just because they say it with lots of detail, just because they express emotion when they say it, it doesn’t mean it really happened.”

Often, people or institutions we trust intentionally feed us misleading or false information to retain their preeminent position with us. A political consultant calls this spin. Psychologists refer to this technique as gaslighting. Technically, gaslighting is a form of mental abuse where information is twisted, spun or omitted, or false information is presented, with the intent of making victims doubt their memory or perception, or even their sanity. The term comes from the 1938 stage play, Gaslight, which was adapted as a movie in 1940, and again in 1944. In the film, a husband murders his wealthy Aunt twenty years previously and hides it from his wife by convincing her she is going insane through his manipulation of her memory. This scene from the 1940 version of Gaslight[iv] will give you the idea:

So what happens when we see or hear something that doesn’t fit into our current understanding of the truth? If it is a single event, we often consider it an aberration and dismiss it, or at least set it aside. But if we keep getting those same or similar messages, we often then change the narrative so our brains believe the altered memory is what happened all along. And if we take the use of these false memories to their logical conclusion, the result is mind control to the point where we can turn loyal soldiers into assassins of even their fellow soldiers, without remorse and perhaps even without any recollection that such atrocities occurred, as illustrated by this scene from the remake of The Manchurian Candidate:[v]

Someone once said, “If you succeed in cheating someone, don’t think that the person is a fool. Realize that the person trusted you much more than you deserved.” I hope we don’t find pleasure in deceiving anyone, especially if we are in a position of trust to the person we have taken advantage of. In many ways, we would be no different than Dr. Nassar taking advantage of Aly Raisman, Jessica Howard, or any of his other numerous victims. But as important, we need to constantly guard ourselves against harmful false memories, deception and the abuse of gaslighting.  And remember someone’s definition of stupid: Knowing the truth, seeing the truth, but still believing the lies.”

[i] An Honest Liar

  • Production Company: Left Turn Films, Pure Mutt Productions, and BBC Storyville
  • Directors: Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein
  • Screenwriter: Tyler Measom and Greg O’Toole
  • Starring: James Randi, Deyvi Pena, and Penn Jillette
  • Release date: November 2, 2014

[ii] The Program

  • Production Company: Anton Capital Entertainment, StudioCanal, and Working Title Films
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Screenwriter: John Hodge (based on the book by David Walsh
  • Starring: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, and Jesse Plemons
  • Release date: March 18, 2016

[iii] Watch Elizabeth Loftus’ Ted Talk at

[iv] Gaslight

  • Production Company: British National Films
  • Director: Therold Dickinson
  • Screenwriter: A.R. Rawlinson (based on the stage play by Patrick Hamilton)
  • Starring: Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard
  • Release date: June 25, 1940 (UK), November 10, 1952 (USA)

[v] The Manchurian Candidate

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions, Clinica Estetico
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • Screenwriter: George Axelrod (based on the novel by Richard Condon)
  • Starring: Denzel Washington, Live Schreiber, and Meryl Streep
  • Release date: 2004