Control freaks are the unsung heroes of home and work

He or she is such a control freak. It's a common criticism, and it's usually directed at the crazy person running around barking orders. You know, the one who's about to bite your head off because you didn't do things exactly the way they wanted you to.

Nobody likes a micromanager, but did you ever notice that the people who like to criticize control freaks are usually the ones sitting on the sidelines? It's easy for them to get annoyed at the control freaks, because they're not the ones who have to be in charge.

But perhaps the control freaks aren't really the problem. Maybe the real problem is all those slackers out there who don't like being told what to do, and who don't like being held accountable for shoddy work.

A recent episode of the sitcom "Gary Unmarried" revealed what I believe to be the true cause of control freak behavior. The show is about a recently single dad, Gary, who works as a painting contractor, and his "controlling" ex-wife Allison, as they co-parent post-divorce. One of the recurring plot lines is Gary's slackness and Allison's uptightness. He's the fun parent and she's the strict one.

It's the usual bungling dad, smart snippy mom sitcom stereotype.

But last week's episode was different. Gary's rowdy half-brother came to visit on the weekend that the normally TV-watching, pizza-out-of-the-box, unscheduled Gary was charged with making sure his son finished a book report on Herbert Hoover. As Mr. Good Time Uncle kept the kid up late playing violent video games, took him on a road trip and otherwise ignored the pending deadline, Gary found himself acting more and more like his "controlling" ex-wife.

Ruining the fun of the all-night video marathon so his son could get some sleep, taking away the ice cream so that he didn't get hopped up on sugar, squashing plans to see a fun show and generally becoming an angry screaming wet blanket, Gary finds himself shouting, "Am I the only one who cares about getting this project done?"

To which the answer is, of course you are. We don't have to worry about deadlines or work, because we have you to do that. We can be as irresponsible as we want, because we know that you'll haul us back in line before things go too far wrong. Of course we'll resent you for doing it, but that's what makes it even more fun.

Needless to say, Gary came away from the episode with empathy for his ex-wife, and I came away with renewed faith in sitcom writers.

Here's the real deal, for every person whining about someone else being controlling, there's an over-burdened, over-worked, well-intended person wondering why they always have to play the heavy.

People tend to feel sorry for the "victim" of a control freak; but take it from someone who knows, being a control freak is no picnic either. You're responsible for absolutely everything, and no one seems to care about maintaining high standards except you.

So if there's a control freak in your life, I encourage you to pause, and say thank you. And if you found this article perched on the back of the toilet seat or taped to your desk, chances are that someone you know deserves some heartfelt gratitude.

Because when they're in charge, you don't have to be. And that makes things awfully convenient, doesn't it?

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.