Tim Russert, internationally respected political analyst and moderator of NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” died unexpectedly and prematurely at work at age 58 on Friday June 13, 2008 - the day preceding the Father’s Day weekend.
Mr. Russert likely best will be remembered as the longest-running host of one of television’s most intensely incisive political interview programs. In my view, however, he should best be remembered as a son, father, and one of the most positive exemplars of and advocates for fathers and their importance in children’s lives.
Mr. Russert was born on May 7, 1950. By historical and social chance, his life spanned the golden years of fatherhood beginning in the decade of the 1950s - when fathers and married family life were portrayed in the most positive of lights - and continued through two-score and eight years during which fathers increasingly were depreciated, demeaned, marginalized and deemed irrelevant both to children and to society.
Blowing against the ideological winds of his adolescent and adult years, Mr. Russert wrote two best-selling books which, should his own wishes be granted, will be his most positive and long-lasting legacy. “Big Russ & Me - Father and Son: Lessons of Life” was published in 2004. From the dust jacket: “I have learned so much from Big Russ, and I feel so grateful to him, that I wanted to write a book about the two of us, and also about the other important teachers in my life, who have reinforced Dad’s lessons and taught me a few new ones. … I hope this book will encourage readers to think about the things they learned from their father. Whatever we achieve and whoever we are, we stand on their shoulders.”
The responses of sons and daughters everywhere to this book were overwhelming and these spoken, scribbled and written commentaries about their own fathers became the foundation of his second book published two years later: “Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons.” Of the many quotable quotes here are three from the Introduction: “By writing a book about my father, I was affirming not only his life, but the lives of many other fathers as well”; “Thank you for talking about your dad in such a positive way, because that was my experience too”; and “If real estate is about location, location, location, fatherhood is about time, time, time.”
In a life by all accounts well-lived, Tim Russert represents a man who not only talked the talk in two best-selling books but also walked the walk in his relationships with his own father and son. May the written word outlive the spoken and may his books influence not only fathers and children today, but also society for generations to come.
Entombed in “Wisdom of Our Fathers”is Mr. Russert’s own obituary:
“When my life is over, I know that the most important thing I’ll be judged on is what kind of father I was.”
Gordon E. Finley is professor of psychology at Florida International University in Miami.