This past week I read through Big Russ and Me, an autobiographical tale from the late Tim Russert, one of the last genuine journalists in America. Although a self-described Democrat, he made an effort to present unbiased and competitive material on Meet The Press, heralding an era of media practice which has long since ridden off into the glorious sunset. Unsurprisingly, his book is filled with exceptional anecdotes and lessons in wisdom from both himself and his father, so I decided to recount some of them in this post.
On Meeting People
“Dad insisted on a firm handshake, and he worked with me until I developed one. ‘When you meet somebody,[…] you want to make them feel that you’re proud and happy to know them. So don’t put a wet fish in their hand. Give that hand a good shake, snap your wrist, and look them in the eye. People are people, and if they like you, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated.’”
On Family Honor
“All I’m asking—wait, I’m not asking, I’m telling you—is, Don’t do anything to embarrass our family name. If you embarrass yourself, you embarrass all of us. We all make mistakes, but if you go out there and do something you know you shouldn’t be doing, that’s a tough one.”
On The Role of a Father
Russert talks about growing up in Buffalo, New York during the 50s and 60s, when most men held two or three jobs to make end meet. This was simply the way of life, although I’m sure it might seem like a anathema to some of the manosphere. He sums it up as follows:
“The primary obligation of a husband and a father was to provide for his family, and if it meant working two jobs, that was what you did.”
On Identity Politics
During the 1960 presidential campaign, Russert describes the excitement among Irish Catholics over the ascendancy of John F. Kennedy. His father’s friend Edwin Dill asks him about this:
“Timmy, why are you for Kennedy?
“Because he’s Irish Catholic,” I replied.
“And if there was a barber who couldn’t cut hair, and he was Irish Catholic, would you go to him?”
On Weak Parenting
“In this respect, I believe that parents of my generation have often failed our kids. We are so eager to be understanding and sympathetic that we end up being too lenient, even as we further undermine the already diminished authority of teachers, coaches, and principals.”
On Buying a Luxury Car
After Russert made it big in the news media, he offered his father any luxury car he wanted as a gift. “Big Russ” asked only for a Ford Crown Vic, with the following explanation:
“Do I think it’s a better car? No, of course not. But If I came home with a big fancy Cadillac, do you know what people would say? ‘What happened to Tim? He’s showing off. He got too big for us. His kid made it and how he’s driving a Cadillac.’ No, I can’t do that. A Mercedes? A Lexus? Can’t do that either. We beat those guys in the war. This is what I want: a good American car. This is who I am, all right?”
On Student Loans
His father had an interesting idea of student assistance for college which makes a lot of sense in principle when we think of the national debt problem:
“If you can’t repay those loans, that money won’t be there for the next kid.”
“The sooner you pay them off, the sooner that money will be there for somebody else.”
On the Vietnam War
‘’We can be for peace without supporting the enemy. We can be against the war without rooting for the other side.”
On Human Loss
After a childhood friend of his died, Russert’s dad attempted to comfort him:
“Would it have been better if Paul’s family had never known him? Or should they be grateful, even in their grief, for nineteen years of love and memories? Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence had suffered a terrible loss, but if they had been offered the possibility of having Paul in their lives for nineteen years, they would have taken the deal without question.”
On Advice For His Son
“You do, however, owe this world something. To live a good and decent and meaningful life would be the ultimate affirmation of Grandpa’s lessons and values. The wisest commencement speech I ever was all of fifteen words: ‘The best exercise of the human heart is reaching down and picking someone else up.'”
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