I got the opportunity recently to spend time with two of America's most talked about Dads: Jon Gosselin, of the "Jon and Kate plus Eight" television show and Richard Heene, the man behind the recent so-called Balloon Boy Hoax.
Let me just say: Long gone are the TV Dads like Fred MacMurray in "My Three Sons" or Hugh Beaumont from "Leave it to Beaver."
I went to court with the Gosselins in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania - twice - as they tried to hash out how to divide their quite substantial matrimonial estate. Both Gosselins professed to want privacy during their on-going divorce - odd, given that they've exposed themselves and their children (eight year old twins and five year old sextuplets) to TV cameras for the last five years. - but there they were in open court to publicly haggle over cash they'd both withdrawn from joint accounts. After court Kate refused to talk but Jon told me he was eager to settle so they could get on with the mutual business of raising their children. He spoke about the therapy sessions he was attending to learn how to build a life outside the spotlight and, more importantly, how to explain what was happening to his kids.
Half way across the country, in Ft. Collins, Colorado I came face to face with a very different TV Dad. Actor Richard Heene and his actress wife, Mayumi, had been featured on the program "Wife Swap." In interviews with several acquaintances it was clear the Heene's goal in life was to make it on TV in ever bigger and more visible roles.
Two men, in two completely different parts of the country, both bitten by a celebrity bug that made them lose all perspective. Caught in the middle are their children.
In Jon Gosselin's case it's clear he's trying to get out from under feeling trapped by a domineering wife and a public life that, while very lucrative, began to suffocate him; he's searching for his own identity.
In Heene's case the quest for fame and fortune seems motivated by something kookier and almost sinister. He's pitched several television shows such as "Storm Chasers" which feature him and his three young boys, ages 10 to 6, dangerously racing off into the path of violent storms. He fancies himself a scientist and has a fascination with UFO's, weather balloons and cardboard boxes like the one said to have been strapped to the silvery helium filled balloon that recently took off into the Colorado skies.
Countless Americans were riveted to the TV coverage of that balloon, ominously floating toward certain disaster because they were led to believe tiny 6 year old, Falcon Heene, was either trapped inside the balloon or had been in an attached box which had mysteriously fallen off somewhere along the line. His older brother was quoted saying he saw Falcon get aboard.
Of course we now know the boy wasn't really part of the balloon flight. It was all a hoax which began to unravel when Falcon admitted on national TV that it was done "for the show." Then, on a round of live television interviews with his family Falcon vomited, twice, during separate appearances. Apparently, the lying became too much for him to handle.
When I retrieved the original 911 call from Ft. Collins authorities and heard this mother/father acting duo, sounding panicked and crying about the fate of their son who was supposedly trapped in a life and death struggle in a balloon, I realized the lengths to which some will go for publicity and fame. And realize 911 was not Richard Heene's first call, he'd already phoned at least one local TV station and the FAA.
There are unconfirmed reports that an unnamed television production company offered the Heene's money if they generated a substantial amount of publicity for themselves. Even in this cash strapped economy who can condone forcing your children to lie to authorities?
The country may view both these families in the same light but here's how they're different. The Gosselins made a conscious decision to allow controlled filming of their life with eight children as a way to pay the freight for such a large family. While their road to divorce has hit some bumps they seem to be mature enough to ultimately find a way to move forward.
The Heene's, on the other hand, are on a much different path, one that could very well lead to a criminal prosecution on conspiracy, fraud and other charges. This couple was willing to offer up the safety and emotional well being of their minor children in exchange for getting their mugs on television.
Shame on them. And shame on any TV outlet that rewards them with their own reality show.
Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.net