Though he turned over his anchor seat to Brian Williams in 2004, Tom Brokaw — one of the most famous faces in TV news — has remained highly visible. As NBC News special correspondent, he produces and reports his own documentaries — most recently on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 — and provides commentary when there is important breaking news.
See also: Excerpt from The Time of Our Lives.
He also writes best-selling books, notably The Greatest Generation and Boom! Voices of the Sixties. His latest, The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation About America, is, by Brokaw's own description, "kind of quirky and very personal." In it he weaves together stories about his own extended family with musings on how to restore a sense of national purpose. "I'm really trying to provoke a conversation," he says. "That's my objective." Along the way, he also tells amusing stories about the boldface names he's befriended, from Warren Buffet to Ashton Kutcher.
Brokaw and his wife, Meredith, who have been married for 49 years, live in a New York apartment (they're in the process of moving to a new one) and at a ranch in Montana. The Brokaws have three grown daughters and four granddaughters. The Time of Our Lives is dedicated to those girls — Claire and Meredith, Vivian and Charlotte — as well as to "grandchildren everywhere."
He spoke with the AARP Bulletin about his new book.
Q. In your book you talk about a new model of grandparenting. What do you mean by that?
A. The gap between grandchildren and modern grandparents is a lot narrower than it was when I was growing up — in terms of interests, popular culture and lifestyle, which includes wardrobe. My generation and the boomers have more of an eye-level relationship with their grandchildren and less of a top down relationship.
Q. You say in the book that a couple of your grandkids actually call you Tom.
A. That happened in part because they saw me more on television at the beginning of their lives than in person. But I also write about how the new generation of grandparents is trying to find nomenclature that suits them.
Q. You have three grown daughters, in addition to your four granddaughters. What's it like to be surrounded by women?
A. It's been the most instructive experience of my life in many ways, living with these strong, modern women who are fearless, who've now taken their place in the world but haven't abandoned or compromised their role as mothers. They bring real sensibility to whatever they're doing. I'm kind of in awe of that.
Q. Different from your own childhood?
A. I grew up [with two brothers] in a family that was very male-dominated, although it was my mother who brought civility to us and kind of kept everything moving in the right direction. She's now 93, and we've all been talking about what an enormous influence she was on us. Mother brought great humor [to the family] and kind of rode with the waves easily.
Q. In the book, you talk about "the fundamental incivility that courses through Washington these days." The country itself seems very divided. Does that concern you, in terms of solving some of the problems we face?
A. I don't mean to underestimate the difficulty of the times. But we have faced much more difficult times, even in my life: World War II, when the fate of the world hung in the balance; 1968, when we were at war in Vietnam, Dr. King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and we had riots in the streets of Chicago. [Everything] seemed to be unraveling, but we pulled together.
Q. And now?
A. There are differences now. We're living with more people, and we have competition [as a nation] that for too long was unanticipated: The Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, the Russians — they have their own ambitions and their own ability to compete in a world economy. We have not quite caught up to that. There's always been an assumption in America that because we're the United States with all our inherent powers, we'll be OK. So it's going to take imagination and a lot of hard work to get through this.