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Life Lessons

Tops of the Pops

Some of our favorite people recall the lessons they learned from their dads.

Al Roker

Coanchor and weather reporter, the Today show
My father was a patient guy. Every now and then he'd lose that patience and break out "The Belt." I was around nine and I remember just before one spanking he trotted out the old bromide "This is going to hurt me more than it does you." When he said that, I asked him to do us both a favor then and skip the spanking. He started laughing so hard he sat down and said, "Get outta here, and don't tell your mother."

When I'm dealing with my children after a long day, I think about him. Eight hours driving a bus, dealing with New Yorkers, making change and small talk, then coming home and dealing with six kids and a wife who had been cooped up with those kids. Yet he played with us, talked to us, and listened to us. His was a rare gift.

Bonnie Raitt

Singer-songwriter
My dad [Broadway leading man John Raitt] lives very much in the moment. He has an innate ability to pick himself up from any setback or loss and just, as he says, "move on down the road." This deliberate focus is, I think, a big part of the reason he's continued to stay in such strong voice, such good physical and mental health, all these years, and surely why he seems much happier and less neurotic than most stars you find in the dodgy and mercurial world of show business. It took me some time to get the healthy lifestyle right, but I certainly admire these lessons of making every day and show count, of respecting the gift that is our talent and this amazing job we get to do for a living. [John Raitt, who was alive when his daughter wrote this, died in February at the age of 88. —Ed.]

Conan O'Brien

Host, Late Night With Conan O'Brien
I'm one of six children, and when you travel in a pack like that your early memories of your father all involve discipline. For the longest time my dad was simply a black-haired arm reaching into the back seat, trying to grab one of us. It always reminded me of the famous scene in King Kong where the hero is trapped on the cliff face while Kong is blindly reaching around, trying to crush him with his giant fist. My father believed in frontier justice. He'd say, "I don't know who broke the clock in the front hall, so you're all going to be punished." It seemed unfair at the time, but now that it has become the basis for our country's foreign policy, I'm starting to think my father was onto something.

Katie Couric

Coanchor, the Today show
One of my most moving memories of my dad is when he came to the hospital once when my husband, Jay, had to have complicated surgery having to do with his[colon] cancer. It was a hellacious time, and I was, needless to say, a basket case. I walked into New York Hospital and saw my dad waiting for me. He hadn't told me he was coming, and to see him, with his big set of white hair and looking so elegant in his suit—to have him there with me—made me feel so much better.

Television is such a showy profession. Some parents might brag, but mine don't believe in it. I remember one time my dad was at the garage getting his car fixed and someone asked him, "Are you Katie Couric's father?" He said, "No, she's my daughter."

 

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