It was a rare moment on the charity circuit--a talk-show host publicly giving advice to a dinner guest.
But it happened last week when more than 800 participants at a benefit for Childhelp USA were invited to shoot questions at Laura Schlessinger, popular KFI-AM (640) family counselor.
One brave guest rose from her ballroom chair at the Hyatt Regency Irvine and told 'Dr. Laura' that her 16-year-old stepson was goofing off while attending school in England. "He's spending time in pubs," she wailed. "What's a parent to do?"
"Not much. This is a hands-on life situation," said a stern Schlessinger. "Wish I had a miracle for you. But the miracle is being there."
Replied the young woman: "All right. We'll bring him home!"
Such is the power of Schlessinger, who was in town to receive the Children's Friend Award from the Orange County Chapter of Childhelp USA.
Dr. Feelgood she's not. Five days a week, on her internationally syndicated show, Schlessinger, 49, tells listeners to stop blaming others for their unhappiness, to take responsibility for their life choices.
On Friday, she was honored for her work on behalf of children. "She teaches us to make children our top priority," said Patti Edwards, Childhelp chapter president. Childhelp is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment child abuse and neglect.
During the pre-gala reception, Schlessinger--accompanied by her 10-year-old son, Deryk, and her husband, Lew Bishop--schmoozed with Childhelp supporters in the hotel's Ciao Mein restaurant.
She said she was honored to be receiving the Children's Friend Award, a bronze sculpture of a boy and girl.
"But they already gave me an award tonight," Schlessinger said. "It's a white paper covered with [Childhelp] kids' handprints.
"What can I say? When it was given to me, I started to cry."
She began to cry again. "Shhhhhhh, don't tell anybody," she whispered, forcing a smile.
She was choked up because "you like to think you're going to do something meaningful in your life," she said.
"I guess when you find out you are, it's just very moving."
While his mother received congratulatory handshakes from guests, Deryk spoke of her work on behalf of children.
"I'm really proud of her," he said. "She is helping children, and I think that is really good."
The best part of being Schlessinger's son was "coming to these benefits, seeing how my mom is helping people," he said.
Among those at the reception was Julie Furra of Newport Beach. "I listen to Laura whenever I can," Furra said. "I got hooked on her show when I heard a woman complaining about never having time for herself, that she spent all of it on her husband and kids.
"Laura told her no one forced her to get married--so to stop whining! I loved that!"
Among friends sitting with Schlessinger at dinner in the hotel ballroom was Larry Metzler, who orchestrates the music on her talk show. After commercial breaks, Metzler spins music with lyrics relevant to the previous caller's plight.
If a caller is in agony over an impending divorce, for example, Metzler might play a cut from "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?" or "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do."
"There are hundreds of songs I can play for broken hearts," he said. "I'm no musician, but I have a good ear for lyrics.
"When someone calls, I listen, get a sense of what it's about, then come back with lyrics that are serious or satirical. I started with 80 cuts. Now I have almost 600."
His favorite? "Carly Simon's 'You Are the Love of My Life,' " he said. "I use that for mother-child relationships."
Benefit guest Alisa Langevin of Newport Beach couldn't wait to introduce herself to Schlessinger.
After dessert, she approached the talk-show host and reminded her of a fax she had sent.
"I'm the one who faxed you that A-to-Z list of your sayings," Langevin said. "Remember? You read it on the air!"
Privately, Langevin, 32, said Schlessinger is her role model.
"I listen to her every day from noon to 2," she said. "I have earphones at my office, and my boss knows not to interrupt.
"She will say things that I find inspiring, and so I jot them down. One of my favorites is 'Apologies are meaningless unless they are followed by a change in behavior.' "
Langevin removed her gold wedding band. "Look at this," she said. "I have the words 'commitment,' 'conscience' and 'courage' engraved inside my ring. Those words are the three required elements for a successful marriage. I learned that from Laura."