By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
McGraw seems so resolute, so healthier-than-thou, you feel compelled to agree with him. But has he practiced in his own life the same accountability, responsibility, and honesty that he preaches in yours? When analyzing his past, two distinct portraits of the man emerge: one a brilliant expert in human relations who genuinely seeks to help others, the other a charismatic opportunist who developed a near-cult following and betrayed some of his own relationships.
But McGraw won't let up on Cheryl. "You tell him, 'No more, buddy!'"
"I can't allow you to do it to me anymore," she weeps. "My heart wants to feel loved, and I am not going to take anything less..."
McGraw turns to Ernest. "Look her in the eye and tell her from your heart. I am sorry for what I did to you and give me a second chance."
"I love you," Ernest says. "I never meant to hurt you. I don't want to lose you."
A single tear rolls down his face. It's the cue the audience needs to collectively forgive him. Cheryl wipes away the tear with her thumb, then gives her husband a hug. The audience applauds the couple's good fortune and McGraw's good work. The camera cuts to Oprah.
"When we come back, a woman who says her husband treats the horses he trains for a living better than he treats her."
From the start, Phillip Calvin McGraw has been full of guts and gumption, growing up fast and smart and hungry for money. Although one of four children, he practically raised himself. His mother believed he could do no wrong, while his father set out on a career path that would relocate his family more than a half-dozen times between Texas and Kansas.
By age 11, McGraw was spending his summers driving his grandfather's freight truck in Munday, Texas. At 12, he was flying planes -- without a license -- traveling with his father, Joe, to remote airstrips to deliver oilfield equipment. When his dad decided to become a psychologist at age 40, he left his wife and three daughters behind, but brought Phil along. There just wasn't enough money to do otherwise, McGraw says.
Like some motivational speaker who demonstrates how successful he has become by proving his po'boy credentials, McGraw recalls those days with his dad, first in Oklahoma City and then in Kansas City, as some of his most humbling. "We were so poor, we couldn't even pay attention." It didn't help that he was fiercely competitive, he says, and he lacked the clothes and the car to compete for girls. Football, however, became his savior. "I was Phil the Jock, and that was my currency."
After his father moved to Wichita Falls to begin his practice, McGraw remained in Kansas City, living his entire senior year home alone. "It wasn't what you were supposed to do," he says. "But I was pretty independent." Also, college scouts had begun to recruit him heavily, and he didn't want to jeopardize a chance at a scholarship by moving again.
His father had played football at the University of Tulsa, and McGraw would do the same, becoming captain of the freshman football team and starting at middle linebacker until an injury ended his career. He returned to Wichita Falls to convalesce and decided to delay his education to make some money. He worked at a health club selling memberships and wound up owning a partnership interest in that club and a half-dozen others. "That was typical of the way he did things," says Scott Madsen, who went into the building business with his future brother-in-law. "He is the smartest guy I ever met. A born leader. Even at a young age, he had the insight to figure out how things work."
Others took a more damnable view of his business practices. "I didn't know of anyone who had a business deal with Phil at the time that felt they came out on top," says David Dickenson, a former friend of McGraw's from Wichita Falls. "It's like playing golf with someone who moves the ball around all the time."
Recalls Eldon Box, at one time a close friend: "I put Phil in a couple of oilfield deals, and everyone pays me but him. Phil is a smart, smart, smart son of a bitch, but he's only out for one thing, and that's Phil."
McGraw denies he owed Box money or was ever in an oil deal with him.
After three years in business, McGraw returned to school to study psychology, first at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, then at the University of North Texas. College was something he both excelled at and had little patience for. "I almost quit every day," he says. "The faculty just jacked with you all the time...I remember telling one professor, 'Either kick me out or get off my ass.'" He certainly had a better relationship with the North Texas professor who mentored him through his doctoral program, Dr. G. Frank Lawliss, who to this day says he considers him "by far the most brilliant psychologist [he has] ever worked with."