Dear Father, Dear Son: Two Lives...Eight Hours

Larry Elder discusses his new new book about his dad that will touch your heart in unexpected places.

Editor's note: Larry Elder will be speaking at the Wednesday Morning Club at The Four Seasons in Los Angeles on January 30, 2013. To get more info, click here.

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Larry Elder, a New York Times best-selling author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host. He is the author of the new book, Dear Father, Dear Son: Two Lives... Eight Hours.

FP: Larry Elder, welcome to Frontpage Interview. It is an honor and privilege to speak with you.

Elder: My pleasure.

FP: Congratulations on your new book. It was an amazing read. I couldn’t put it down and it touched my heart in so many places. Thank you.

Let’s begin with what inspired you to write it.

Elder: I wanted to write something about the importance of fathers. I could use studies and stats. But to bring it home the point, I decided to talk about my own father -- and perhaps more importantly my dad's father, and how his abusive "father" affected my dad as a parent.

When we talk about Sandy Hook, is that really the face of gun violence in America? No it isn't. It's a Hispanic little girl, age 6, fatally shot on her front porch last March, one of five persons shot in one hour in Chicago. Most gun violence takes place in urban areas, most of it gang-related. Why do kids join gangs? Answer: No fathers in the house. In the case of blacks, 72 percent of black are born outside of wedlock, 53 percent of Hispanics, and 36 percent of whites.

FP: Give our readers a little picture of what this book is about.

Elder: Heard of Tiger Moms?
 I had what I call a Junkyard Dog Dad. He was a Marine in WWII, and I mistook his coldness and temper for lack of love. We had a fight for reasons I explain in the book -- and I did not speak to the man for ten years. From the time I was 15 until 25 years old, I did not say a word to him.

FP: What are some of the factors that made you finally go and talk to your dad?

Elder: Luck. Chance. As I write in the book, I spent time with an uncle who influenced me. After law school, I moved to Cleveland where I worked for a big law firm. Uncle Thurman -- my mom’s brother -- just happened to live there. I had met him once or twice before, but he had nothing to do with why I moved to Ohio. Turns out he knew my dad before my dad even met my mom. Not only that, but Thurman actually roomed with my father for about a year.

Thurman and I became friends. I told him about my disdain for my father. He was shocked and told me I had misread my dad. I didn't feel I had. But Thurman at least made me want to take a few minutes to tell the old bastard what I thought of him. I figured dad would say something equally harsh -- and that would be that. Instead, as the book title suggests, my 10-years delayed conversation with my father lasted eight hours.

FP: Tell us about some of the reactions you have received about the book. Did they surprise you?

Elder: Yes, I knew many people -- boys and girls -- had issues with their fathers. But I was shocked by how many people read the book and say, "That's exactly how my dad was." Or, "I only wish I had sat down -- like you did -- with my father before he died." Others have written and told me they reached out to their estranged fathers -- and were pleasantly surprised.

And remember, but for the chance job offer in Cleveland, and then getting to know my uncle, I don't know that I would have reconsidered what I thought of my father. I don't want others to have to wait for a chance encounter. What's the downside of picking up the phone, shooting an email, using an intermediary, whatever? Dads matter -- even if he was irresponsible. He might want to apologize. And that can have an effect on how you feel about yourself -- and therefore on how you treat others.

FP: You worked very hard for your dad in his restaurant for many years. How do you think that shaped you?

Elder: Nothing's harder than working for your father. But it toughened me.

FP: In the book, you recall a time in your youth when you were put in jail for eight hours for “mouthing off” to a police officer when he reprimanded you for illegally crossing the street in Hollywood -- something you infer you did frequently. Looking back now, what are your thoughts on that incident? Did you have an attitude? Perhaps it was a justified one?

Elder: Yes, I am child of the ‘60s. Of course, I had an attitude. Was it justified? Well, had I not been a smartass -- over something trivial -- I would not have spent hours in jail. I respect cops -- dealing with wiseasses like me.

FP: There was a young lady, Doris, who lived with your family for a while when you were young. You describe one occasion when you snuck into her closet to watch her undress, because she dressed in the closet. But you say you chickened out in the end and kept your eyes closed. Did you really keep your eyes closed? Now is the time to fess up in this Frontpage Interview.

Elder: No, I did NOT take a peak. What did Clinton say about marijuana, he tried it but didn't inhale? Sort of like that.

FP: H-mmmm. I am gonna invite you back for another interview. Please be prepared for much tougher questioning on this the next time.

Let's move on for now:

In many respects, how hard your father worked his entire life, and his views on life, influenced your own views about the Left’s policies on welfare, race, affirmative action, etc. Can you talk a bit about that?

Elder: My father despised welfare, felt it made people lazy. My father was a Republican, my mother a Democrat. Sparks flew during the Watergate scandal, as my Dad defended Nixon better than any of his lawyers: "Even if he ordered the break-in, so what? What, throw a president out over something ain't nobody going to remember in 10 years anyway?" BUT one thing Mom and Dad agreed on was their opposition to unmarried women "going on the county" -- aka welfare -- and the feeling that it allowed the fathers to abandon their moral and financial responsibilities.

FP: Share with us your thoughts on the importance of a father being in a person’s life and what this might mean about some of the problems in black America today. How come the Left is so reluctant to discuss this issue?

Elder: Loads of studies, including those by government, establish a link between fatherlessness and social problems like dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, crime, and welfare dependency. Charles Murray wrote about this is "Losing Ground." Rapper Tupac Shakur, a source the left will find hard to impeach, said: "I know for a fact that had I had a father, I'd have some discipline. I'd have more confidence."

The Left cannot discuss this -- except in the context of demanding more aid and more programs -- because this is what 50 years of liberalism has wrought. You're asking leftists to stop being leftists. That's like asking Obama to suddenly realize that his policies are bringing us sluggish 2 percent growth. "Gee, maybe I should apply the same free-market approach Reagan did." Are you kidding?

FP: What lessons are ridden in your decision to talk to your dad and what came out of it?

Elder: Don't assume the worst. He probably wants to talk, too. And this generation that survived the Great Depression and won WWII -- the one Brokaw calls "the greatest generation" -- did not carry their emotions on their sleeves. My father was not Ward Cleaver -- and it was unfair of me to have expected it.

FP: What do you think would have happened if you had never gone that day to talk to your dad?

Elder: I would not have had the comfort and security I feel from knowing he was there -- and, in his way, was a loving father all along. It probably gives me psychological security that I'm even unaware of.

FP: Who was your dad? How did he make you who you are?

Elder: He was born in Athens, Georgia. Never knew his father. His mother was illiterate. Born in a rented room, he never knew his true birth date, not uncommon for black people at the time. The man whose last name is Elder later became his mother's boyfriend, one who was in my dad's life the longest. The boyfriend was an alcoholic who was physically abusive to him and his mother. At age 13, Dad had a fight with his mother's then-boyfriend. The mother sided with the boyfriend -- and threw my dad out of the house at age 13, never to return. We're talking about a black boy, a year or two before the start of the Great Depression, thrown out on his own in the Jim Crow South. His life makes my own complaints puny -- and I use my dad's life to boost me whenever I even hint at complaining about my workload.

FP: I am very sorry about the passing of your mom, Larry. From the book, we see that she was an incredible woman. You write that, from a young age: “Mom made me feel that I could spit lightening and make bullets bounce off my chest.” Can you share a few words about her to our readers and how she also profoundly shaped who you are?

Elder: She was a tough, strong, Southern black woman. She was born on a family-owned farm in Huntsville, Alabama.  One of six children, she had a year's worth of college, the equivalent of a Ph.D. for a black woman of the time.  She was "educated." My father was not. She believed in education. She was feared by the kids in my neighborhood. I even think that on some level, my dad was afraid of her. I used to tell her, "Mom, if you’d gone into politics, you would have been governor. If you had gone into crime, you would have been the Boston Strangler."

FP: I am very sorry about the passing of your brother Dennis. You describe a vicious beating you put on him one time when he was cursing at your mom and that he never cursed at her again after that. What are your thoughts on that fight today? What if your mom had not stopped you? You paint how Dennis was a very troubled person. What are some of your thoughts about him today? What do you think he was trying to express?

Elder: Yeah, if Mom hadn't pulled me off him, I’d probably be finishing up a prison stint by now. My little brother was really affected -- more than my other brother Kirk and I were -- by what we all thought was lack of love and compassion from our father. I love Dennis, and I wish I had been more aware of what he was going through and why.

FP: You invited your parents to Cleveland one time and a little miracle happened: you heard them sitting up in bed and talking with each other one moment. Tell our readers why that was special and what you think caused it. What lessons do we take from that magical moment?

Elder: My father and mother slept in separate rooms for years. When I finally got them to visit me, they had to stay in the same bed. I knew they would not like that, but I lived in an apartment with not much room. Early in the morning, I heard them talking and laughing almost like children -- something that I NEVER heard before.

It kind of reminds me of the movie out now, "Hope Springs," where Meryl Streep tries to jump-start a dying marriage by taking a trip. The first part was to get him to go. Same thing here. It was a helluva time getting dad to come to Cleveland. But he did.

FP: What do you hope this book will achieve?

Elder: First, I hope it will encourage people to appreciate their dads -- especially if you had one like mine -- who was really there all along. It's for men and women who falsely assume their dad's demeanor means "I don't love you." Second, what happens when there is no dad? Who is your "role model"? Well, my father didn't have one. But he believed in the value of hard work and that "if you treat people fairly, they will do right by you."

FP: Was it tough for you to write the book? Did the experience change you in any way? Anything happen while writing it in your own soul and mind that surprised you?

Elder: Easy to write. Remember, my dad and I reconciled when I was 25. That was a long time ago, and we had many years to grow close. It was a labor of love, a 247-page apology to the man. After I wrote it, I felt that Randolph Elder had gotten the apology, the applause and the gratitude that he earned and deserves.

FP: Final toughts?

Elder: This book is also for daughters and mothers. Non-existent dads hurt women, too. They grow up not trusting men, thinking men are untrustworthy. I've seen things turn out one of three ways:

(1) A young woman will respond to anyone who can fog up a mirror and shows her affection.

(2) Or, if she's got a strong foundation--good mother, supportive relatives and friends--she'll make good choices and won't write all men off.

(3) Or, as with all if us, she will have bad experiences in a relationship.  But if she grew up without a father, these bad experiences only serve to "confirm" her distrust: all men are bad and untrustworthy.

Sadly, these are some of the women society would benefit most should they decide to become mothers.

FP: Larry Elder, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. And thank you so much for writing this book; it is impossible that it will not touch the heart of each person that reads it.

Thank you.

Elder: Thank you for asking me. Do I have to write another book to be asked back? You don't call, you don't write...

FP: Haha... you definitely don't have to write another book to come back. Whenever you have time to come back on Frontpage Interview, you just say the word and I'm there.

Once again, it is a great honor to speak with you Larry Elder.

And to all of our readers: you absolutely HAVE TO read Dear Father, Dear Son: Two Lives... Eight Hours. I was spellbound while reading it -- and it stays with you in a profound and powerful way. BUY IT!!

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