Fame rests easily on the shoulders of Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson, the Baltimore neurosurgeon who stunned the world when, in 1987, he led a team of more than 70 specialists in a groundbreaking operation to separate Siamese twins who were joined at the head.
Since then he has authored three books and spoken at more lecterns than he can count. And he can expect a new wave of celebrity with the Feb. 7 airing on TNT of “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” a new biopic about his extraordinary life.
But in a recent interview that touched on issues ranging from gay marriage to the election of President Obama, one key issue dominated and directed his thoughts — an all-abiding commitment to faith and family.
The doctor said he prays every day and always before performing surgery because his aren’t the only hands that are gifted.
“There are so many challenges that one faces on a day-to-day basis,” he said. Everyone needs to be grounded or run the risk of “rocking side-to-side like a boat on the waves.”
Dr. Carson, 57, said he worried that the traditional values of faith, family and civic duty have atrophied in the face of society’s anything-goes attitude.
“We as a nation have to understand that tolerance and acceptance works in all directions,” Dr. Carson said of the growing acceptance of gay marriage and nontraditional families.
“It’s not just one way. … It includes traditional things. … What alternative families have done wrong is tear down those things that have worked so well for the millennium. … Children need two parents … and nurturing.”
Dr. Carson speaks from personal experience about the tragedy of broken homes. He was 8 when his father abandoned him, his mother, Sonya, and his brother, Curtis, to an uncertain future in rough-and-tumble Detroit. His mother moved the family to Boston, only to bring them all back to Detroit in 1960.
Taunted as the “class dummy” and suffering from poor vision that prevented him from reading the lessons on the chalkboard, Dr. Carson had become an angry young man by the time he and Curtis were teenagers.
Ben, or Bennie as he was called, started getting into arguments and fights. At the age of 14, he stabbed a friend with a knife — at least he tried to. Instead of sinking into the other boy’s gut, the blade struck his friend’s belt buckle.
Ben ran home, locked himself into the bathroom, and began sobbing and praying to God for help in changing what he now calls his “pathological” behavior. His tool was the Book of Proverbs, he said, as he replaced the father who had left him with God.
The ensuing years of the Ben Carson story were filled with Yale, the University of Michigan, marriage to Candy, three sons (now aged 22, 24 and 25), Johns Hopkins, three books and speaking engagements in far-off lands that the “class dummy” had never imagined. His latest trip was to Lagos, where he spoke to tens of thousands of Nigerians about the power of the human brain and its link “to one’s own destiny.”
“You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure that out,” he said.
Dr. Carson was asked about the difficulty of raising three sons at a time when so many of their peers were falling victim to drugs, crimes and other forms of pathological behavior.
“The brain is extraordinary,” he replied. “Young people look for an identity, someone to emulate.” If they don’t find role models in a “loving, caring and intact family,” they look elsewhere for the concern and interest they crave.
“Youths who don’t have a deep sense of who they are and what they can be” are most susceptible to jail, the welfare rolls and failing in school, he said.
“Peer pressure doesn’t have the best interests of the child in mind,” he said, adding that for his sons “it was different in the sense that they got to choose their friends more than I did [because they weren’t] stuck in an inner-city situation, an inner-city school, inner-city gangs. There were associations that were forced upon me.”
The entry into the White House of Mr. Obama, first lady Michelle, daughters Sasha and Malia and “First Granny” Marian Robinson offers new hope and new role models for families everywhere, Dr. Carson said.
He said he is elated to see a first family that reflects God’s design that “families be the social, educational and moral foundations upon which” individuals build their lives and upon which the world is built.
“I am absolutely delighted that a highly functional, intellectual” family is in the White House,” Dr. Carson said. “The Obamas are role models for everyone.”