Jeffrey Zaslow was the co-author of “The Last Lecture” and of memoirs with Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman from Arizona who was recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, and Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the pilot who safely ditched a damaged airliner on the Hudson River in 2009. His current best-seller is“The Girls From Ames.”
He passed away last weekend in a car accident on snowy roads on his way to his Detroit-area home, returning from a book-signing event in northern Michigan.
He and I emailed periodically and he was always supportive of what The Good Men Project was attempting to do because he was the father of three daughters. As the NYT writer and close friend to Zaslow TARA PARKER-POPE wrote in her recollection:
Despite his success as a memoir co-author, Jeff’s true labor of love was his latest book, “The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters.” Dedicated to his daughters, the book focused on a bridal shop in Fowler, Mich., as a way to tell a story of parents’ hopes and dreams.
Mr. Zaslow’s role as a father was a common theme in his work, one he loved to talk about. Once when a boy canceled plans to take his daughter to a homecoming dance, Mr. Zaslow said he thought to himself, “What can I do for my sad daughter?” He decided to embarrass the boy in front of millions by writing a Wall Street Journal column about the lessons parents should be teaching their sons.
“The lesson of the story — and of that night — is to teach your sons to be chivalrous, and your daughters not to take it,” he said in a 2009 interview. “My daughter was not thrilled. And the boy was not thrilled. But you know what? The next time you want to take my daughter to the dance, follow through.”
Below is the interview I did with Zaslow just as the GPM was getting started.
1.) Who taught you about manhood?
The usual suspects: my dad, my older brother, the movies, seeing what girls thought was manly and trying to fit the bill.
2.) Has romantic love shaped you as a man?
Sure. I wouldn’t say I’m overly demonstrative, but I’m not afraid to say, “I love you.” I live in a home with four women–my wife and three daughters –and they’ve taught me about romance, affection, etc.
3.) What two words describe your dad?
4.) How are you most unlike him?
5.) From which of your mistakes did you learn the most?
I didn’t always think of other people first. But I learned that when you do that, at least a lot of the time, things seem better all around.
6.) What word would the women in your life use to describe you, and is it accurate?
Busy. And yes, it’s accurate.
7.) Who is the best dad you know, and how does he earn that distinction?
Having worked with Randy Pausch on the book The Last Lecture, I watched him prepare his young children for a life without him. It was a brave, selfless, and extremely inspirational act. Randy died of pancreatic cancer in July 2008.
8.) Have you been more successful in public or private life?
I’d like to think I’ve been successful in both. But, of course, I recognize that public acclaim isn’t worth much if your private life is in shambles. So I’ve tried to find that balance. My kids seem to like me, so I’m grateful for that.
9.) When was the last time you cried?
I’m not big on tears. But I’ve choked up a bit in movies…even at the end of The Blind Side!
10.) What advice would you give teenage boys trying to figure out what it means to be a good man?
Follow your instincts. Study your father and grandfathers. Don’t let the media define you.