Friday, October 26, 2007

My Grandfather's Son Website

The official website for My Grandfather's Son has recently been updated and expanded to include a lot of resources and links. Here are some useful items that I found there:

1. An account of Justice Thomas's recent visit to Texas:
* * * On Oct. 23, 1,560 people gathered in a large ballroom at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas to listen to a lunchtime chat by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who is on tour promoting his recently released memoir titled “My Grandfather’s Son.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank that believes in limited government, free enterprise, traditional values and a strong national defense, and the Federalist Society, a conservative legal network that believes in the principle of judicial restraint, sponsored the event, which according to the Heritage Foundation was the largest event it has staged outside of Washington, D.C., in its 34-year history.

Among the assembled were Texas Supreme Court Justices Nathan Hecht and Dale Wainwright, former White House Counsel and former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, and 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Priscilla Owen. * * * Then Thomas and former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont took the stage and seated themselves in high back chairs for what was designed to be an informal interview session— that is, with du Pont asking the questions (something Thomas is loathe to do from the bench) and Thomas answering the questions (something Thomas did quite comfortably and candidly). Thomas dealt with some preliminary questions about how cert petitions are granted. There was nothing conspiratorial about it, he said -- and convincing another justice to actually change his or her mind regarding a legal issue was “almost a Smithsonian moment.”
2. A link to Justice Thomas himself reading the introduction to My Grandfather's Son.

3. A link to an interview with Human Events:
I got to read your book in manuscript months ago, under a promise of secrecy. And it’s just been killing me because it was such a great book that I wanted to tell everybody all these stories about your grandfather.

Oh, he’s a great man.

Apparently he was an amazing person. . . . The first question I wanted to ask was, essentially, about the hardships that you went through. . . . It really comes through in the book that there’s a way in which the fact that your life was hard made it possible for you to accomplish things that you might not have been able to accomplish otherwise.

You know I have often said to my wife and to others, and certainly to young kids, that I was fortunate to have had misfortune in my life. One of the things it does for you is that it gives you -- it helps you build the kind of character traits you need to go on with your life. For example, you have a challenge that really seems almost impossible. But then you work through that challenge, and it sort of does something to you; it teaches you how to stick to things; it teaches you persistence; it teaches you patience. And if you don’t achieve what you want, or if something doesn’t happen and you have disappointment, you learn that you don’t always get what you want. That’s just a part of life. So I think misfortune -- when you survive it, and when you learn from it, and grow from it, actually turns out to be a benefit.

Now, part of what you lived through was segregation and poverty, terrible things . . . but part of what you lived through was that your grandfather was really tough on you. The stuff about how he really didn’t let you play with the bigger kids; he had you working hard all summer; he didn’t let you go out for sports. Today, somebody raising a kid like that, people would say, “He’s very controlling. Why is he so hard on those children?” Did he have to be that tough on you?

Well, you know, none of us would ever know that. How would we know? It was what it was. There were people who criticized him for being so hard on us, even in that time. And the thing that I dislike is when people say he was harsh. He was not harsh. But I want you to think a second about his life.

He never had a father. His mother died when he was nine. He went to live with his grandmother, who was a freed slave. She died when he was twelve or thirteen. He then goes to live with an uncle, who already has a house full of kids. He’s just another mouth to feed. As he always said, and I know I mentioned in the book, he was handed from pillar to post. And so he had a hard life. He had to make his way in the world and by the time he was a grown man, he could not write his name. And he eventually learned how to sign his name and learned how to read a little bit -- enough that he could barely function. And so think of the life that he had and how he had to make his way through the world. So it was a hard life and in turn he had to be a hard man.

But he was never harsh. And what is he leaving his grandsons? Or his boys, as he always called us. He sees a world that is very difficult on a lot of levels -- race, or just a part of human existence, he sees the need for education, the need to learn how to work, the need to have certain character traits that he learned from “Mother Wit,” as he always said, and so what’s the honest thing to do with two boys you care about -- you love -- when you know that the life ahead of them is going to be full of these challenges?

You teach them how to deal with it. And so I think in his own way, he was saying, “I am going to devote myself to teaching these boys.” And all these other things -- “this foolishness,” as he called it, playing sports, playing around, etcetera, has to go by the wayside.

Now I want you to contrast that -- if you look in the book, you’ll see that with my own son and his great-grandkids, he was a total pushover. He did whatever they wanted him to do. And how does he differentiate? He said that Jamal, my son, is “not my responsibility.” He said he’d already raised us. Jamal was my responsibility, not his. He could have fun with Jamal. But the way that he had to express his love for us was to discharge his obligation to raise us and prepare us for a life full of challenges. And so in his world, the way he was raised, what he saw ahead of him, yes, he had to do what he did.

And you know what? My brother and I -- and we’ve had, my brother and I had many conversations about this -- we were both grateful. And our bottom line was, how do you argue with success?

It is hard to argue with how it turned out. It seems like if the proof’s in the pudding, then . . .

Yeah, when my brother before he passed away, he just turned fifty, he was the president of a real estate management company.

I didn’t know that.

Oh, yes, my brother was, I mean he and I were very, very close. And eight years ago he passed away. He’d just turned 50 years old, and of course I was 51, and we were always, I mean you can see how close we were in age. And just to see your brother die. God. . . . He was there in New Orleans. There’s this cotton mart or something downtown, and he did the condos there. Then I think there was a Hilton Garden Hotel that they also did the -- he oversaw the development. That was one of his ideas; that was his brain child. That was my brother. . . . I don’t even know if it’s there after the flood, but he worked on all that. He was a genius when it came to that. And he also was a prodigious, prodigious worker. Where’d that come from?

So it really worked -- it rubbed off on you guys?

Oh, my goodness, that’s the whole point of the book. I titled my own book. I learned that lesson . . . I was toward the end of the manuscript when I came up with this title, My Grandfather’s Son, because I realized through it all something that my mother and relatives had been saying to me: “You’re just like your grandfather. You’re his son.” And that’s it.

* * *

So now that you have been a father, and you’re trying to give -- you know, people say, how much ever your mother loves you, she can’t really teach you to be a man -- you need a father to teach you to be a man, like your grandfather did for you. Does raising boys today give you some kind of perspective on what your grandfather did? Do you think it’s easier today, do you think it’s harder in current conditions? Do you think things have changed, or do you think it’s the same job, whenever?

Well, I think it’s probably, for everybody, raising kids has its challenges. But I think there was so much more back then that reinforced what he was trying to accomplish, and what our obligations were. You know, the nuns were very clear. They reinforced what happened at home. [Parents] didn’t have to come and fight with the teachers at school if they were doing something inconsistent with the way that they wanted us raised. The neighbors could tell us to go to the store and watch over us and discipline us and go and report on us, etcetera. So the society around us recognized, reinforced, and made sure that we complied with a certain way of living our lives.

It was kind of a united adult front?

Exactly. And I don’t think we have that kind of common culture or community today that we had before. And certainly -- maybe that’s a little too broad; we don’t have that kind of cohesion and coherence that we had before in outlook, where everybody’s on the same page almost. And some might be a little tougher than others, but they were generally all singing from the same sheet of music. So I can’t tell you whether it’s tougher.

My son, as I say in the preface, my son was always a better son than I deserved. He is a good guy. I mean, he was always compliant, and you know you had your challenges, but he did his homework, you could set your clock by him. He was independent. And today, he is such a good man.

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