Competition Freaks: Tom and Susan

"For my husband, Tom, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," says Susan, who has been married for 18 years. "He will kill himself to come ahead of you." Susan says that Tom thinks he is better at cooking, driving, working out and bike riding. "Tom thinks he's a better parent, a better person than other people."

 

"It's very important to be competitive," admits Tom. "I have a quote that there is no such thing as second best."

 

Susan says Tom's competitiveness carries through even to activities that are supposed to be fun. "When we go to the bowling alley, Tom is

happy as a clam when he's winning. When he's losing, it's a different story; he's miserable," she explains. He is even competitive when he plays poker with Susan's 72-year-old mother. When she wins, "he gets very upset. He thinks that she is putting the malooch on him, which is the Italian curse."

 

Tom explains himself. "The competitiveness takes me through life, through my job, through my opportunities to be a better person ... I don't think there's anything wrong with winning all the time," he says. "I get angry at myself for failure."

 

Susan worries because she sees their 9-year-old son, Jake, modeling Tom's behavior.  "When his little friend is over here playing and Jake's losing, he'll make his friend

leave because he doesn't want to play the game anymore," she explains. Another example is when they go bowling and Jake isn't doing well, he will hang his head and kick the equipment.

 

"My dad says, 'You always have to win,'" Jake shares.

 

"I think it's great that he's emulating me," Tom says. "It will make him a much better person when he gets older."

 

Susan says that their 13-year-old daughter, Autumn, also has become fixated on winning all the time. "When we go to cheerleading competitions, if she does not get first place, she will not accept

second place trophies. She goes, 'I don't want that crappy trophy,' and then she's mad the rest of the night," Susan reveals.

 

"If I get a B on my report card and I have to tell my dad, I get really upset inside," Autumn says. "All he wants me to do is get straight As."

 

Tom doesn't worry about the effects on his children. "I think it's very good for me to push my children," he says. "They should be number one. They should be the best at everything."

 

Susan disagrees. "I think the effect that he has on them could hurt their self-esteem because if their best isn't first, then they might not even want to try anymore," she says. "Dr. Phil, please help my husband understand that nobody wins all of the time."

When Dr. Phil asks for his thoughts, Tom says, "I don't like to see my children upset or anything. I don't have a college degree. I've always been competitive since I was younger. I've had to push myself harder. I

was an only child, always wanted to impress my parents ... I basically think that winning basically prepares you for life to be a better person and that's what I'm trying to instill in my children."

"You say when you lose you get mad, you throw things, sometimes you won't talk to anybody," Dr. Phil says. He gives an example of when Tom was playing poker with a female friend of Susan's, and when he lost, he yelled at her and told her to leave.

"It humiliated me to the [point where] I didn't talk to him for two days," Susan shares. "I couldn't contact her for two days because I was so embarrassed."

"And you want your children to emulate that?" Dr. Phil asks Tom.

 

Tom says that his children didn't see him acting like that.

 

Dr. Phil points out that they have seen it other times. "They do really have problems if they don't win all the time," he says, noting that Jake sends his friends home when he's not winning a game. "Sometimes we worry that our kids don't listen, but what we should worry about is the fact that they are always watching," he tells Tom.

Dr. Phil notes that earlier in the show, Tom mentioned four times that he didn't have a college degree. "That's obviously a big deal to you,"

he says.

"I just feel that I've had to push myself harder," Tom explains.

Dr. Phil explains that a lot of research has been done on success-only learning. One study made the steps small on a teaching machine and the kids never missed anything. Then the kids were put in the real world and took tests, and when they came to something they didn't know, they freaked out and had emotional meltdowns because they didn't know how to cope. "Learning to lose graciously and learning to win graciously is a very important part of it," Dr. Phil tells Tom. "You have two beautiful, intelligent children. I would hate for them to become so externally defined that when they lose, they feel worse as people. Their self-image goes down, their self-worth goes down, their value goes down to the point that they'll withdraw. They say, 'If I can't win, I won't play.'"

 

Dr. Phil continues. "Your self-worth should not be tied up with external validation of some game or some career activity," he says, pointing out that Susan has said Tom is a wonderful, loving, caring devoted father who loves his children. He's a great husband and a great provider. "She doesn't care about whether you win or lose in some competition, what she knows is that you're a good man and a good father," Dr. Phil says. "You are a winner. You don't need that external validation. What you need to do is tell yourself that, and let your kids know, 'Son, I am so proud of you for getting out there.'"

 

Dr. Phil notes that when his son, Jordan, finished a competition, the first thing he asked him was, "Are you proud of yourself for the way you played?"  He explains, "I wanted him to be proud of himself first, then let him know that I was proud of him second. Because I don't want him externally validated, even by me. I want it from the inside out. Give yourself that gift. Your children will bask in it, I promise."