Psychologist, author and regularly televised expert Dr. Jeff Gardere‘s latest venture is VH1 Dad Camp, in which he takes on the challenge of preparing six young men headed down the road to deadbeat fatherhood, for a responsible, involved approach to parenting. Dr. Jeff will be checking in with us every week to comment on each episode of Dad Camp. Below are his thoughts on Episode 6, including sex in a reality TV house, the couples’ dates and Candace and Austin’s early departure.
Instead of fathering, per se, the lessons of this episode focused more on the dads-to-be getting along with the moms-to-be.
This goes with what I’ve always said: being a better parent means respecting and being able to show love to your partner, whether it’s romantic or co-parenting love. I just felt that these guys were carrying a lot of issues between themselves, and this was a great opportunity to work through a lot of these issues and connect on a more intimate level. The other part of that is I felt that these couples had been through a lot. We had segregated them physically and I thought it was important for them to take a break and reconnect and let the romance be the fuel to help them get through the rest of the program.
Would you typically use something like belly-painting in therapy?
It’s not a typical therapeutic tool. There are more products out there that allow mom and dad to connect more. For this, though, whether the babies responded or not, the important thing was that these guys and their moms thought that the babies were responding. That in itself told me that they really wanted to be more connected with the babies.
You mentioned them being segregated, but in the episode, you talked about the importance of sex even when you’re pregnant. We can pretty much assume that they were not having sex while they were on this show, right?
Exactly. We’re assuming that they are not having sex. They were not supposed to be having sex in the house for 30 days because we wanted it to be more of a pure experience. We didn’t want the sex, especially while they were so conflicted at the beginning of the program, to further complicate issues or be self-medication. We didn’t want, “Well OK, sure I scream at her all the time, but we made up last night by having great love-making.” That’s just a band- aid on the wound.
What did you think about the love/in love debate with Brian and Christina? Isn’t it worrisome that they’re this far along and he’s “working up” to being in love with her?
Yes it is. One can say either Brian is a saint for hanging in there with Christina even though he might not be in love with her – that he’s doing this in order to be a better parent and even trying to put together a family unit to benefit his child. Or we could say how really off base are these two that they continue to be together and go through all of these exercises through Dad Camp and through life and they don’t even know if they love one another. It was an “oops baby” and it continues to be an “oops relationship.”
Were you kind of worried about them at this point?
I was always worried, because I didn’t know what was keeping them together. I do know even if you want to do this for the child, it may not be the healthiest situation if there’s no real love or connection at least between the two of you.
You talk about them both using sex as a weapon in different ways. That’s a common phenomenon in relationships, right?
Absolutely. We use what we know best and sometimes we can’t even help ourselves. Whether it’s using sex aggressively or denying sex, we use whatever leverage we can that we may feel is right or may not even be right at the moment, but that’s at our fingertips.
I wondered if the romantic-date exercise was inspired by the fact that Brian had never taken Christina out, as discussed in the aforementioned therapy session.
No it wasn’t inspired by that. It was something that I felt really was important for all the couples, but I also felt that it was extremely important for Brian and Christina because of this whole issue of they’re basically just having sex in the back of a car while they’re traveling on sales calls or while there’s another roommate somewhere next door.
While watching the dates go so well, it seemed like all the couples were getting along really well at this point.
It seems like they were starting to get along better. They are seeing what these guys are doing and these guys are really trying at this point, despite all of their personality flaws. I think whether these women want them to help raise the child, whether these women want to keep these men in their lives or not, at least they see these guys in their own crazy, stupid, sometimes half-assed ways are actually making an effort to be a father and also a better partner.
Did you have any thoughts on the photo shoot that you had the women take part in?
I was more concerned about Elliot. Elliot not only has anger issues, but I think can be a little bit controlling. Because he has so many emotional issues regarding the past, I was afraid there might be a problem with a male photographer taking a picture of Tiffany for him. I thought having a woman photographer would make sense for all of the couples.
Were you worried about Candace when it was announced early in the episode that she was being admitted to the hospital?
I was worried that she would have the baby in an unfamiliar surrounding. I just think it’s important that people be able to have their babies the way that it was planned with the doctors, nurses, midwives, medullas that they wanted or that they trusted, instead of just having it in a place that may not be familiar.
It eventually was announced that Austin and Candace had to leave the show. The last we saw of them together before she went into the hospital was in therapy, when she said she didn’t feel Austin respected her and his selfishness was being examined. Were you worried about them leaving at that point?
I was, because I didn’t know what the follow-up would be for them. They did not complete the program, and I worried about them leaving half-cocked, you know?
Did you keep in touch?
Yes, I always kept in touch. That’s the thing that folks at some point need to know: I made a promise to them at various points of the show that they can always call me. I told them I would always be available, basically their therapist for life and that’s exactly what happened.
I know that we’ll get an update on them by the end of the season, but for now, can you give us a thumbnail sketch of an idea of how they’re doing?
They continue to struggle.