As a child Arsenio Hall performed magic tricks at weddings. At age 32, he became the first African American to host a national late-night talk show. Two decades after walking away from The Arsenio Hall Show, he and the same-named show are back on syndicated TV.
When I was a kid, I watched Johnny Carson and thought, "I want his job when I grow up." After school I would stage talk shows in my basement. My musical guest was Junior Brown from down the street; I'd interview my friend Meatman on how he was going to compete in the Olympics. I grew up in a tough Cleveland neighborhood; my older brother was in jail. My drive to be in show business saved me from ending up in the cell next to his.
Knowing When to Walk
I got my own talk show in 1989. For five years I was doing what I'd always dreamed of, but it was a constant battle — for ratings, against the network. When I left in 1994, it was out of a desire to have more meaningful personal relationships. Becoming a father was one thing I didn't want to leave the earth without doing.
A Sense of Timing
My son just turned 14. I was there for every PTA meeting and Little League game. One day we were watching football, and I said, "Let's grab some wings and watch another game." It hit me: He knows I'm successful, but he's never seen me grind. I don't want him to grow up thinking this is easy. That's when I knew it was time to go back. My new work schedule takes me away from him a bit — but the relationship we've built carries us through.
The Power of Persevering
When I decided to get back in the game, nobody thought it was a good idea. I had to keep searching until I found one executive who believed in the project. That's another thing we need to teach our kids: If you really want it, keep knocking on doors until somebody says, "Come on in."
It Takes a Village
My son's mother and I split up when he was little, and we share custody. She knows it's important for Arsenio Jr. to have that time with me, but she's always been there as a parent herself, though she's got a life, too. My mother helps out with child care. Nobody loves my child more than his mother and his grandma. I couldn't get through this without both of them.
Doing What You Love
When I was still in Cleveland, I worked for the division of Water Pollution Control. They call it that because nobody's gonna apply if you call it the Sewage Department. I remember how hard it was to get out of bed, put on those rubber pants and jump on the truck. I had to set an alarm, and still somebody had to snatch off the covers and make me roll onto the floor. That job may have been somebody's dream, but it wasn't mine. These days I wake up without an alarm clock, because I'm doing what I love.
Your Kids Keep You Young
When I'm in the car with Arsenio Jr., I'll play "My Valentine" by Paul McCartney, and he's like, "Is this an old Beatles song?" I tell him, "No, it's new. You've got to listen to these lyrics, man." He says, "Have you heard 'Bad' by Wale?" We put it on, and he says, "Dad, you gotta see the video, too." So I watch the clip when I get home. My son keeps my ear to the street.
Kenneth Miller is a freelance writer.