Bookstores have been gearing up for Father's Day for some time now,
lining their front displays with titles dad is sure to enjoy:
sports, grilling, amusing how-tos. Pretty standard stuff. But once
in a while a book comes along that supersedes the silly.
BIG RUSS & ME, by Tim Russert, is one of these rare
Russert, the popular host of NBC's "Meet the Press," wrote this
tribute to his father, Tim Senior, a member of what has become
known as "the greatest generation." A hard-working, spiritual and
devoted family man who served his country during World War II, the
elder Russert represents the millions of fathers (and mothers) who
sacrificed to make their children's lives better.
The Russert family grew up in a blue-collar section of Buffalo, NY,
where Tim Senior instilled in the author and his three sisters the
qualities of discipline, respect, honesty and faith that, for
whatever reason, are sometimes lacking from parents today.
In the minds of younger readers, Russert might as well have written
his book a hundred years ago. Imagine having to walk to
school, including "sir" or "ma'am" when addressing adults, or
having to do chores. It wasn't punishment --- it was expected and
not open to discussion or bargaining.
Writers of a certain age often recall a time and place in which
television shows were broadcast in black and white, no one locked
their doors, kids always had friends to play with and people
watched out for one another. Compare that with today's omnipresent
security alarms, motion detectors and play-dates.
Russert writes fondly of his Jesuit education. Its extension of
discipline helped him focus on excelling in college and law school.
He worked hard to put himself through school, not just because his
parents could ill-afford tuition and other expenses. As Big Russ
said, you appreciate it more when you earn it yourself. The era in
which he grew up was difficult: the assassinations of John and
Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had profound effects on
his circle, as did the social unrest of the sixties. Through it
all, however, he remained close to his father while many of his
contemporaries rebelled against their parents' values.
Russert is not a name-dropper. He was fortunate enough to know
several people who were very influential to his maturation, and he
mentions these relationships (his chapters on Daniel Patrick
Moynihan and Pope John Paul II are especially warm) more in
thankfulness than to inflate his own ego. His self-effacement ("I
have a face for radio") seems genuine, not put-on, which makes BIG
RUSS & ME even more enjoyable.
The saying goes (approximately): "When I was a teenager I thought
my father didn't know anything. It's amazing how much smarter he
became once I got older." This is definitely not Russert's credo.
Indeed, he has always sought his dad's advice and opinions; even
now, in his high-powered capacity as host of one of television's
venerated staples, he is not satisfied until Big Russ gives his
feedback. (Not to psychoanalyze, but one doesn't get the impression
that Russert, Jr. is in dire need of Senior's approval.)
Being "men," it's not unusual that expressive feelings exchanged
between fathers and sons are underplayed. This is one reason why
BIG RUSS & ME is so welcome. And the love and respect between
the generations continues through the author's son, Luke.
Relationships, especially for today's parents, seem much more
difficult, thanks in no small part to the myriad distractions and
competitions for their kids' attention that simply didn't exist
fifty years ago. All vie for the child's attention and some can be
very seductive, especially when the folks want him to do something
that isn't cool, like get good grades or clean up his room.
Russert's apotheosis is a wonderful gift to Big Russ, an expression
of love and gratitude that makes all the hard work seem worthwhile.
It's even better that the old timer is still around to enjoy the
accolades the book will no doubt engender.
So, what did you say you were doing for your dad this
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on December 22, 2010