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"Physician, heal thyself!"
The Bible, Luke 4:23

A character is very good at his profession. He is completely unable to use this ability to help his own family. This is seen most often with therapists.

It may be justified in the case of therapists, because to analyze more effectively, a therapist has to be outside the problem. Think of it like a maze. Is it easier to see the path to the exit in the middle of the maze, or looking down from above? In fact, professional counseling and psychology organizations classify counseling those the therapist has an emotional attachment to as a "dual relationship." They are ethically questionable and always to be avoided in professional work.

Apparently, if Mental is to be believed, psychologists have a lot of trouble in relationships specifically because they overanalyze every facet of their partners' (and/or childrens') lives, and their partners don't appreciate psychological tricks used in arguments ("Oh, you're not really mad at me. You're just mad because your mother didn't love you as much." *slap*).

The same justification can be used for doctors (their emotional attachment can blind them to what's wrong with themselves or those they love, or make them unable to use a risky treatment), so many hospitals have policies that forbid doctors to practice on family members (the exception is when they're the only specialist available, e.g. a venom specialist whose family member just got bitten by a snake). For lawyers, it's not verboten, as it is a legal option, but they advise against it (as in the expression, "A man who represents himself in court has A Fool for a Client.")

If you happen to be wondering why emotional attachment would stop the cobbler repairing his children's shoes, that's not the reason. He's just too busy doing paying work.

Another name for this is "vocational irony", which is a form of situational Irony. This is the supertrope of one type of Preacher's Kid, a.k.a. "The Minister's Children Have No Morals".

Examples of The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes include:


Anime & Manga

  • Doctor Bombei, the greatest Choujin physician in the Kinnikuman universe, succumbed to a malignant tumor because he spent so much time watching other Choujins' health he didn't pay attention to his own.
  • Used and subverted in Black Jack, in the most literal manner. Twice, Black Jack himself is wounded. The second time, he has to have someone else operate on him, as even he cannot heal himself. The first time? He removed a parasite from his intestinal tract. Without anasthetic. In the middle of the Outback. Surrounded by wild dingos.
  • The history of Mr. Riddles in Zatch Bell, in the original Japanese, involves him as a surgeon trying to save his grandson, but failing, sending him into a depression that is only lifted once Kido arrives.

Comic Books

Film

  • Used in Batman Begins where Detective Flass steals money from a street vendor. The man says he has kids to feed, and Flass merely responds, "What? They don't like falafels?" Flass gets jumped and worked over by Batman five seconds later.
  • The premise behind Dan in Real Life.
  • The mother from the Freaky Friday remake also is a therapist, but the relation with her daughter isn't the best either.
    • The fun comes when it turns out her daughter is a better therapist when it comes to counseling parents, because of her subjective experience from the other side.
  • We are first introduced to Kevin Spacey's character in The Negotiator as he is failing to persuade his wife to come out of the bedroom in which she has locked herself. Summed up succinctly with this line:

  Sabian: I once talked a guy out of blowing up the Sears Tower but I can't talk my wife out of the bedroom or my kid off the phone.

  • Sophia in Shortbus is a sex therapist/couples counselor who's never achieved orgasm and has a marriage riddled with issues.
  • In Garden State, Andrew Largeman's therapist is his father. Another doctor lampshades the fact that his father becoming his therapist is a bad idea in general and highly unprofessional of him. This is strongly expressed by the fact that when Largeman was a child, he knocked over his mother in a brief moment of frustration over her depression, resulting in an accident which left her paraplegic, his father jumped to the conclusion that he had anger issues and he prescribed him lithium he didn't really need before eventually sending him to a boarding school.
  • Cruel Intentions begins with a psychologist who has written a book on the parenting of teenagers. Her daughter has been easily seduced and posed for nude pictures, which are on the web in a parody of her mother's book cover. When she phones Mom in distress, she is put on hold.
  • The Impossible Years is a 1960s play/film about the home life of a college professor and psychologist who writes materials on family relations. Specifically, on how to handle teenagers (authoritatively espousing a lax parenting style). But he has teenage daughters himself. You can see where this is going.... (And what was the word on the other side of that sign?)
  • In Traffic, the American Drug Czar's daughter gets addicted to cocaine right under his nose. He is fully aware of the (tragic) Irony.
  • The psychiatrist's family in What About Bob is highly dysfunctional.

Literature

  • In L. M. Montgomery's Anne's House of Dreams, Gilbert, being a doctor, is very solicitous about Anne's health, explicitly wishing to refute the proverb "Cobblers' wives go barefoot and doctors' wives die young."
  • The above-quoted proverb from The Bible makes this trope Older Than Feudalism.
  • In Charles Dickens's Bleak House, Mrs. Jellyby is heavily involved in charity work for poor children, but neglects her own large family.
  • In one story about Sherlock Holmes, he and Watson break into house of blackmailer Milverton, which goes horribly wrong. After that Holmes comments, that for all years where he looked for criminals based on small clues they left, he still didn't manage to cover his own tracks.
  • In Carolyn Mackler's The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Virginia's mother is a supposed "expert" on teen psycholoogy. However, she has a tenuous relationship (at best) with her own teenage daughter, treating her like the Butt Monkey of the family simply because she doesn't share her parents' or her older siblings' interests or goals. She also frequently verbally berates Virginia for her weight, among other things. In a particularly shameful move for a psychologist, both parents try to block Columbia from prosecuting their son after he date-rapes another student.
  • In one of James Herriot's books, he describes how the kid singing their Drill Sergeant's bawdy song loudest and with the most enthusiasm turned out to be the son of an archbishop.
  • The Dresden Files' Molly Carpenter is an extremely sexually active young woman, with multiple piercings and a certain amount of emotional tumult, such that she spends a good portion of the first few books living away from home. Her dad is a devout Catholic, and Knight of the Cross, and takes orders from the archangel Michael. He is rather worried about the direction Molly is going in. She turns out to be a witch.
  • Quoted in Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis by an adult Bobby Garfield. He is a carpenter, yet admits his own roof leaks in a good rain.
  • Rachel of Tish Cohen's Inside Out Girl edits a parenting magazine, but when she tries to apply her advice to her own kids, it comes off as cheesy and fake.

Live Action TV

  • In The Complete Guide To Parenting, George Huntly (Peter Davison) is a professor of child psychology who is absolutely useless at parenting his seven year old son.
  • Being a psychologist, one would figure that Frasier Crane would be able to deal with his curmudgeonly father and persnickety brother and to find a woman who would make him happy, but noooo...
    • Eventually, Frasier actually does seek therapy from his Harvard professor/mentor, after the man demonstrated that Frasier couldn't help himself by having him roleplay calling in to his own show as himself.
  • An episode of How Clean Is Your House featured a professional cleaner whose own house was the dirtiest Kim and Aggie had ever seen.
  • The therapist on the HBO series In Treatment has his share of parental issues, as well as being recently divorced.
  • The overarching plot of the short-lived series Miss Match was that a woman who was both a matrimonial attorney and a professional matchmaker couldn't handle her own relationships well.
  • Adrian Monk's therapist, Dr. Kroger, on Monk has a terrible relationship with his son.
    • Similarly, Monk often does not understand things on going around him (like what a tie on a doorknob means), but when it comes to The Summation, he's an expert.
    • Closer to the gist of the trope, Monk solved many, many cases, but was frustrated that he couldn't figure out who killed his wife.
      • The finale revealed that Monk was unable to solve the murder due to a lack of evidence. And once he did solve the murder and get all the dangling threads of his life cleaned up, his OCD became less excruciating to bear.
  • Emerson Cod, from Pushing Daisies is a very competent Private Investigator, even when he doesn't have a certain pie maker helping him. He still isn't able to find his missing daughter, though.
    • In the series finale, the Narrator reveals that Cod's daughter comes to him, and it is suggested that she found him after reading his pop-up book, "Lil' Gumshoe", which he wrote for that specific reason.
  • Tony Soprano's therapist on The Sopranos is divorced and goes to therapy with her ex-husband and college age son. (This actually makes a lot of sense; dealing with other people's problems constantly must make you want to unburden yourself as well. Apparently, a lot of therapists do this.)
  • Brenda's family and therapist parents in Six Feet Under, although arguably half their problems are caused by the fact that they are constantly psychoanalyzing each other.
  • The team in Criminal Minds are brilliant criminal profilers, but have massively messed-up personal lives. In fact, the two members of the team who are probably the least messed up? They're the two who aren't actually profilers. The team do have a tendency to profile each other, but even so they often can't really resolve any of their issues.
    • Probably justified, as a profiler's specialty consists of comprehending others' psychology, not treating psychological problems.
    • It's not that they can't resolve them, some tend not to recognize them--the point being that while they're great at deconstructing other people's behavior, they miss the emotional signs of those around them. Hotch was unaware of his wife's growing displeasure with his absence from her and their son's life, though it was quite obvious.
  • Ben in My Family has a recurring problem with treating his own family, as seen in this hilarious conversation with his assistant:

 Brigitte: I think it's a disgrace you can't make any time for your children. It's like the story of the cobbler's children who had no food.

Ben: No, it's the story of the cobbler's children who had no shoes.

Brigitte: That makes no sense, their dad was a cobbler.

Ben: Let me tell you the story of a dental assistant who had no job.

  • Lost subverts this in a very odd way. Jack, a spinal surgeon, needs his appendix removed... on a desert island... with the bare minimum of equipment (they have chloroform and ether on hand for anesthesia, and they use sewing thread for stitches). He has a dentist and an OB/GYN to help him who could do the surgery for him, but he fervently believes that he should be awake and do it himself. He ends up in so much pain that they knock him out and do it for him.
  • When the medical officer on the spaceship Pegasus in Space Odyssey: Voyage to The Planets develops cancer, he refuses to undergo chemotherapy because he doesn't want the toxic byproducts excreted in his urine to contaminate the ship's water supply. See the show's article for problems with this premise.
  • Similar to the above, in the Poorly-Disguised Pilot Virtuality, the ship's medical officer discovers he's in the early stages of Parkinson's disease.
  • On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow's mom cites many statistics and social movements related to young people, but seems unable to view her own daughter as an individual unique from anyone else.
  • Emma from Glee is the extremely OCD high school guidance counselor... who can't come to terms with her own mental disorder.
  • There was an episode of What I Like About You in which Val was trying to get a client for her PR firm, a woman who had written a parenting book. Of course, inevitably, when Holly meets the woman's own teenage daughter, she has just bought a box of home pregnancy tests.
  • On ER the treatment of Mark's father causes a temporary rift between himself and Elizabeth. Elizabeth does not think Mark should be treating his own father and Mark wants his father to live at home rather than go into a hospice. Mark's father doesn't want to stay either but has mixed feelings about palliative care anyway. In the end, Mark prevails and his father dies at home.
  • Leonard's mother on The Big Bang Theory is a brilliant and world-renowned psychologist and parenting expert...who treats her son very, very badly. He confesses to Penny in one episode that he built a hugging machine when he was a child just so he could feel like somebody loved him.
    • It's not just Leonerd that suffers from this trope. Her other children also suffered from the lack of affection/birthday celebrations/Christmas celebrations etc. and whenever one of their accomplishments, personal or professional, is brought up she doesn't express any pride or joy because they aren't her accomplishments. Then there is her husband who borrowed the aforementioned hugging machine and was mentioned that the only times in the marriage that they had sex was to consummate it and for reproduction, granted that he has never actually appeared but his having an affair would indicate that this arrangement was largely her choice and then the likely lack of affection that plagued the rest of the family. It is all played for laughs but all evidence indicates that she was/is EXTREMELY emotionally abusive and/or neglectful to her entire family despite being a world-renowned psychologist and parenting expert.


Newspaper Comics

  • In Zits, Jeremy Duncan's mother is a child therapist, but much of the strip's humor revolves around her inability to get her teenage son to communicate with her.
  • Discussed in Peanuts when Peppermint Patty and Marcie debate about how the judges for a skating contest can be qualified if they themselves can't skate.

  Marcie: The world is full of unmarried marriage counselors.

Theater

  • In Footloose (the stage version at least) the main character lampshades this by quoting the phrase in reference to the behavior of the local pastor's daughter.

Video Games

  • In Zone of the Enders: Dolores, i, James runs into the author of the fatherhood book that's helped him get back together with his estranged children (more or less), just in time to see him have a panic attack as his own son busts out of jail looking for him.
  • Common problem in MMO games, the healer gets so focused on keeping the other characters alive that they forget their own health, often resulting in someone repeating the page quote.
    • Even more common in MMOs where the healers and buffers don't even have the ability to heal and buff themselves. But in that case, it's expected.
    • This is somewhat averted in the Cataclysm expansion of World of Warcraft, where holy paladins gain a talent that causes them to automatically heal themselves whenever they heal any single target.
    • It also happens in RPGs where you can tell a healer to automatically heal other characters. As a result the AI focuses on the others first and neglects their own health.
  • In Fire Emblem, healers (clerics, monk, sages, druids, bishops, etc.) couldn't use their staves to heal themselves. This was fixed in Radiant Dawn, where units equipped with a healing Staff automatically recovers hitpoints each turn.
  • In Persona 4, Sayoko Uehara develops past her nurse side after a former patient of hers dies. Unfortunately, she develops into a Workaholic instead. After she collapses, one of the options you can say to her is the page quote.
    • In addition, the one case Detective Ryotaro Dojima is unable to solve is the identity of his wife's killer. He feels wracked about it as the incident totally broke his daughter.
  • Hugh Darrow from Deus Ex Human Revolution, the man known as the "The Father of Tomorrow", inventor of modern human augmentation, author of countless books about transhumanism and one of the most powerful, influential and beloved people in the world... has to walk with crutches, as he of all people suffers of an extremely rare genetic condition that causes his body to violently reject augmentations. There is just something so tragic about seeing an old man forced to watch all of his dreams of a better humanity coming true and knowing that he would be the only one not to enjoy the paradise he has created.
    • It becomes less tragic, or at least less sympathetic, when he tries to kill off a good chunk of the world's augmented population out of jealousy.
  • If team shrink Kelly Chambers survives the events of the second Mass Effect game, she shows the most trauma of the NPC crew. When she shows up in the third game, she's still too traumatized to consider returning to the Normandy. A therapist with crippling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Web Comics

  • In Something Positive, Jason's father is another psychologist who can't relate to his own family. Or in this case, he apparently tried to relate to them by using his knowledge to manipulate them into acting the way he wanted, if Jason is to be believed.

Web Original

  • There are dozens of articles online titled things like "Reasons to Date a(n) X," with different occupations. One such, entitled "20 Reasons to Date a Writer," annoyed an actual writer so much she actually took to her blog to shred the whole idea, citing this as a reason, namely if a writer is getting paid to write, he or she's not going to waste good material on you for free. Similar articles exist citing such things as a chef not wanting to cook when they get off work and the like.

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons, Reverend Lovejoy's daughter Jessica is a bratty, manipulative hellion who steals from the church collection plate. Near the end of the episode Jessica keeps mentioning things she did ("Remember the glee club brawl?!") in a baldly obvious attempt to win her father's attention, as he tries to ignore her by covering his ears and singing "Bringing In the Sheaves" loudly.
  • In As Told by Ginger, both of Macie's parents are therapists so naturally she has to make appointments to see them, they forget her birthday and don't even know how old she is.

Real Life

  • Historical example: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) wrote a lot of material on innovative ways of child-rearing and education, mostly centered around the concept of the child as an unspoiled creation of nature who should not be tainted by science and reason and civilized norms, but allowed to develop naturally. Also, he had five children (with a woman he did not marry), all of whom were immediately after birth placed in an orphanage and never heard from again.
  • Charles Schulz, who went on to create Peanuts, was said to have very bad haircuts as a kid, in spite of the fact that his father was a barber. The reason for this is said to be that he could only get a cut when the barbershop was empty, and when a customer came in he had to get out of the chair and wait before his dad could finish working on him.
  • Children's author Enid Blyton wrote books about children in warm, loving families while (allegedly) neglecting her own two daughters at best and abusing them at worst. Her own daughter said of her: "The truth is Enid Blyton was arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct."
  • The Preacher's Daughter is a trope of her own (as immortalized by Lynyrd Skynyrd); it's a stereotype that the children of a religious official are wild.
    • One of the theories behind this is that the child of a church man isn't exposed to small temptations as often, so they're more likely to go for the big one when it eventually does happen. An alternative is that it's just the natural way to rebel against a straight-laced father.
    • Or the sadly funny reality that many parents who care a lot about other people's kids often neglect their own children.
    • Some of the members of the German communist/terrorist group RAF also were kids of Protestant priests.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche's father was a Lutheran pastor, as, was his maternal grandmother. He came to be not only an atheist, but a sharp critic of religion. "Gott ist tot" indeed.
  • The wife of 2010 FIFA World Cup Final referee (and police officer by profession) Howard Webb has said (albeit light-heartedly) that in the family home, he's useless at upholding discipline: "He can't take charge of his own children. I don't know how he manages it on a football pitch."
  • Madalyn Murray O'Hair was an infamous atheist activist, whose efforts resulted in the removal of compulsory Bible reading from the public schools of the United States. Her son converted to Christianity and became a preacher.
  • In the Australian code of ethics, mental health professionals are obliged to seek treatment for any psychological issues they have themselves, whether the issue be an actual disorder, a drug addiction, or just a very high stress level.
  • One aversion, Rachael Ray actually does enjoy cooking, and she frequently does cook for her husband, despite many assuming she'd suffer from burnout after all the cooking she does for work (she's been known to put in 100-hour workweeks.) Chefs and professional cooks might be one of the most typical aversions, since they will frequently test gourmet meals on friends and family before trying them out on the public.
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