Russert Revisited

You do not need to read Yo Mama anymore to learn about life’s values; go listen to the audio book of “Big Russ and Me” by Tim Russert.  I traveled up to New Jersey this weekend and was awed for five hours listening to this wonderful book, of course narrated by Tim Russert himself.  Russert’s words reinforced my own belief that by living a life based on tried and true values, you are setting the groundwork for and propelling forward a caring and responsible path for our next generation.

Big Russ is Tim Russert’s dad, who outlived his son and is still alive.  Tim Jr. wrote this book in honor of his father and the wisdom he so plainly passed down to his son.  Of course, his son was always listening.  Equally awesome to me beside the life lessons, was the era of which Tim wrote.  He was born about 9 months before I was.  When he wrote about his childhood and young adulthood in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, he evoked a real deja vu of what growing up during those times was like.  It was eerie.

His father served in Europe during WW II, but NEVER spoke about his wartime experiences.  My father was a paratrooper in Europe also, and we could never get him to open up about his time over there.  Just as Big Russ finally opened up to his son about the war, my Dad did relate some stories, but only to his son and son-in-laws.  Just as Tim broached the subject with his Dad when he saw a scar on his back, so did I when I noticed a scar on my father’s back.  His only answer was “I got it in the war”.  Unlike Big Russ’s scar which resulted from a near fatal plane crash, my Dad’s scar was much less valorous: he received it during a bar brawl in France.  Nevertheless, the similarities of our fathers being WW II veterans and their reticence about their experiences astonished me.  Whether their purpose was out of modesty or embarrassment, that generation seemed to not want to discuss their military service.  It was almost like a badge of honor.

From very early on, Big Russ always taught his son that to dishonor himself was to dishonor his entire family.  Tim was to monitor his own behavior because any violation from the right path could smear his entire family’s hard work and dedication to living a responsible, hard-earned existence.  A child must always remember and uphold what his parents stand for.

Tim also brought up some characteristics of childhood that I remember very vividly.  Back in the 50’s, we children had much free time.  Our every minute of every day was not planned and filled with extra-curricular activities.  Additionally, television watching was maybe for an hour in the evening and video games and computer activities were thankfully non-existent.  We went outside to play and had free rein to roam the neighborhood.  In this way, we had time to think and develop friendships on our own, and to create shared memories between our young selves and OUR OWN world.  Tim talks about, in retrospect, how important that walk to school was.  Like Tim, I also walked (or rode my bike) to school about four times a day, as we went home for lunch.  Those daily walks are as vivid in my mind today as they were back then.  I even remember some of the wildflowers I passed along the side of the road as if it was just yesterday.  These walks to and from school also instilled in us a responsibility and discipline, very early on, to get to a place on time.  The burden of timliness was squarely placed on us and, if we dallied and were late, there would be consequences.

Tim writes of the honor his father not only passed down to his son, but also lived by himself.  Big Russ worked two jobs, his main employment being for the Buffalo Sanitation Department.  Upon retirement, Big Russ had accumulated 200 sick days: he had never taken a sick day in all of his decades of working.  He said, in response to Tim’s plaint that those days were his to take, “No, Sir.  I was not sick, so why should I take those days off?  That would not have been honorable.”  Big Russ always knew what he required in order to live with himself.

As Tim grew up, he learned other important lessons from his teachers at parochial schools and mentors at work.  However, his father’s advice was just as pertinent and correct.  Tim loved baseball, and quotes a mentor of his, referring to a baseball,  as saying, “If you can’t catch it, knock it down.  Don’t let it get behind you.”  This was great advice for a baseball player, but even greater advice for dealing with life.

In relating stories about the Prefect of Discipline at his high school, who told Tim that wherever he was, as long as he was a student at that school, he was a representative of all his school had worked to attain over the years and that his behavior had better reflect that hard-earned reputation.  His demeanor was required to show the responsibility to that institution of learning or else there would be “consequences”.  There must always be accountability.  In a similar vein, Big Russ could never understand the taking of long-term welfare benefits or the declaring of bankruptcy.  Sure, everyone had hardships, but only temporarily.  Responsibility, preparation, accountability and consequences.

Tim goes on to write about the Kennedys, a section that was so evocative of a tempestuous era, his employment with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Governor Mario Cuomo, and certainly his days in journalism and broadcasting.  His story is not earth-shattering.  It is beautiful, meaningful and poignant in its simplicity.  Tim’s last entry, a letter to his own son Luke, was especially touching in light of his own early, sudden death last year at the age of 58.

After Tim died in June, I wrote two posts about him, on 6/15/09 titled “Russert and So Much More” and on 6/18/09 titled “The Blank White Board.”  I knew I liked him but something bigger hit me about his passing, even though I did not know much about him.  Yet I was hit hard, mainly on an intuitive basis.  After listening to this book, my feelings were correct: Tim was an outstanding person in life and his death created a huge void for all of us who enjoyed his endeavors. The fact of his timing, of being in the same Boomer generation as me, was just as relevant to me as his incredible values.  This combination of common sense, of being well grounded, with the commonality of being born at the same time made this book quite an awesome experience for me.

The other gift, besides his words, that he offers is hearing him read his life’s lessons aloud.  Forget the book and get the audio tape.  Thus, I will ease up on my value lessons, but ONLY IF you promise to go out and purchase and then listen very carefully to Tim Russert’s reading of “Big Russ and Me.”

One Response to “Russert Revisited”

  1. lou Says:

    Read the book a while ago and also loved it. Those of us in western NY especially miss Tim. Go Bills!!!

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