Debra Weiner is interviewing 100 newsmakers, thought leaders and other people who’ve made an outsize difference about the most valuable thing their parents taught them. Following are excerpts from a few of those stories, edited and condensed.


The author of more than two dozen books for adults and children.

Credit…via Reeve Lindbergh

My parents, Anne Morrow and Charles A. Lindbergh, were aviators and authors and very well-known throughout their lives because of my father’s famous 1927 flight from New York to Paris, which had not been done before. He and my mother flew together afterward — she was his co-pilot and navigator — and established air routes for the airline industry all over the world.

I think they had an absolutely wonderful time doing that. He was the knight in shining armor and brought her into the world of action and adventure. She was the inner explorer and greatly influenced his life and writing.

Then she was not happy. In a marriage, even if you don’t know it consciously, you know when there’s a secret. You know when there is elusiveness or a disconnection. He traveled all the time, and I think she knew there was something wrong.

In 2003, when I was in my 50s, I found out my father had three other families, six other children, with women in Germany he’d met following the war. Two were sisters. The third was their friend. None of them ever married. He was their husband or the father of their children, or whatever it was. He would visit, be there for two or three weeks, send them money for support.

I was astounded. How could he do this? Create all these children then keep it a secret? It’s not fair. But nobody stopped him. These women loved him. It was workable for them.

I know my mother thought about leaving him in the early ’50s, when she was in Florida for six weeks and wrote her most famous book, “Gift From the Sea.” She told her sister she had gone there to write her way out of her marriage. Instead she wrote her way back in.

And that really connects with what my mother taught by example, which is to be open to life, the good, the bad, the scandalous, the scary.

I lost a child — a sweet, smiling, darling little boy — just before he was 2. He’d had infant meningitis and it’d left him with cerebral palsy. My mother, who also lost a child, very tragically and very violently, a baby who was kidnapped, happened to be with me. We put my son down for bed, and when I came in in the morning he was dead.

After I screamed and yelled and did whatever one does, I asked her, “What happens after this?” And she said, Well, you die. You die with them. And then you are born again and start over.

When my father was dying in 1974, my mother was there for every bit of it. I thought it must be terribly difficult to watch him become so weak; to be the one in charge. But she just said, “I am equal to my life.”

I’ve tried to incorporate that, and I think it was why I went to meet my half-siblings in Europe.

I had learned from my mother that there’s a way of responding to life, a kind of openheartedness to whatever happens, that is more interesting than closing down, that’s more nourishing. And it’s all so valuable.


The San Francisco Arts Commissioner, conceptual artist and Emmy-winning documentary producer.

I was 12 years old when my father, who was in his mid-70s, got full custody of me and my younger sister. My mother was his second wife, 31 years his junior, and he had to prove her incompetent.

My father had been a partner at Goldman Sachs and later president of a big insurance company. But he moved us to Seattle, where one of my older half-siblings lived, in case he died. I was pretty screwed up from this ugly divorce and went through periods of being a wild child, self-medicating by smoking pot all the time. But I knew my father loved me and was going to be there no matter what.

He was there for everyone in my family. His sister died and he put all her kids through school. During the Vietnam War, one of them escaped the draft and he helped him in Canada. A family member was an addict. My dad put him into rehab. Another got AIDS and Dad helped him. My father was born in 1900, so I’m sure all this stuff was shocking to him. But he never judged. And that really stuck with me as the kind of person I want to be — someone you can count on, who you can trust — because that’s the way my father was with me.

When I was 17, I was dating an older guy who was a fisherman and drug dealer. He was certainly not the kind of boyfriend my dad would have chosen for me, but my father never criticized our relationship. Then our housekeeper found a condom in the wastebasket in my room. My father sat me down, talked about his values and ethics, then said, “You’re going to have to make a choice. I can’t have that behavior in my home.”

My boyfriend had this great house, so I said fine, and moved out. My father was hugely disappointed but he didn’t cut me off. We continued to have a relationship. He continued to help support me. I think his attitude was, “I believe in her and trust she’ll turn around.”

I’d been gone for probably six months when I had a dream that my dad was going to die. It was April, right before Easter break, and I said to my boyfriend, “I’m going to stop doing cocaine and move home.” And I did.

That first night back, my father opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate my return and to toast that I’d been admitted to his alma mater — he thought I hadn’t even applied to college — and we had these incredible conversations. A couple of weeks later, he went into the hospital and died — right before I graduated from high school.

Today when I’m dealing with difficult issues, I think about what my father would do, what he would say. I still feel like he’s here for me. I feel very imbued with him.


A former senior editor of National Geographic who traveled to 80 countries while writing for the magazine.

My father was a traveling salesman. In the 1960s, in department stores and even five-and-dimes, there were lots of little sewing things — zippers and bobbins and threads. That’s the kind of stuff he sold out of the trunk of his car. He drove from town to town calling on customers and living in motels. As with a lot of men in his generation, his job was a poor fit. I mean, he’d been a college football player and a Marine in the Pacific in World War II in some of the bloodiest, most horrific fighting of the war. After we dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, his battalion was sent in to police the city.

He never talked about what he saw, ever, but he was just 23 and I’m sure it was tough for him. Then the war was over, and this big, feisty, hot-tempered, busting-out-of-his-skin Scots-Irish type was making his living by chatting up little Southern ladies in J.C. Penney stores and had to contain himself. He did it to support his family, and I salute him for that.

But when he got home on weekends, he was ready to blow, especially when he’d had a few too many. My dad was a serious golfer and after his rounds on Saturday and Sunday, he always hit the 19th hole, hard. So there was always a lot of yelling in our home, a lot of doors slamming and fists pounding on the kitchen table. Our house smelled faintly of Scotch. By the time Monday morning rolled around, we were happy to see him go.

I remember watching him pull out of the driveway and my sister and brother and I, and my mom too, going, “Whoo hoo, we survived another weekend.” Then as the week wore along, Thursday turning into Friday, we’d all dread the moment when his car pulled back into the driveway, and it was time to take cover.

But there was a turning point in his life, and in our life as a family. My mom came down with Alzheimer’s at age 60. Dad was 65, and after being this raging weekend alcoholic all those years, he stopped drinking, gave up golf, and devoted his life to my mom, to the point where we kids were like, “Dad, you have to take care of yourself. Go hit golf balls. We’ll pick up the slack.” He made a few efforts, but his heart wasn’t in it. He really just wanted to be home taking care of Mom.

That, to me, was his finest hour. After putting up with his temper all those years, my mother needed him. We all did. And that’s when he revealed his sweet and generous side, the true-blue character hidden underneath all his craziness. Even at his worst, my father was nuts about my mom. But I didn’t realize how much until that final chapter. I learned a lot from my dad about what not to do, how not to cope with stress and anger. But I choose now to look past that and think of him only as he was during those seven years when he was taking care of my mom.

He showed me what it really means to love somebody. It’s not necessarily expressed in words or in displays of affection. But when the chips are down, you step up. You fight for the people you love. You do the right thing.