As soon as the political season is over, Brokaw will head back to his favorite small town, Livingston, MT, just north of where he and Meredith, his wife of 46 years, have a place they love. He tells me that one of the reasons he left the “Nightly News” was his desire to spend a lot more time there. His great passions include fishing and hunting Hungarian partridge and grouse. “It’s a birthright,” he says unapologetically. “I grew up in South Dakota. If you couldn’t shoot, you were kicked out of the state.”
His friend the novelist Carl Hiaasen recently bought a place nearby, and another close friend, novelist Tom McGuane, has been a neighbor for years. McGuane, a former counterculture hero and now a justly revered gentleman of letters, also makes an appearance in Brokaw’s book Boom!: Talking About the Sixties: What Happened, How It Shaped Today, Lessons for Tomorrow published in hardcover last fall and now out in paperback from Random House. In it, the author casts himself as class president of a “virtual reunion” of “graduates” of the ’60s, a memorable group of folks who tell about what they did then, how they’ve fared since and how they feel about that tumultuous decade. It is a fascinating read, which I highly recommend to all our readers. Buy the book, and in the meantime, check out some of the questions, below, that I asked him specifically about Boom!
JULIA REED: In the book, you describe Meredith as the love of your life. And, as you point out, you got married in 1962, before the ’60s were really the ’60s. A girdle was part of her trousseau — you had never spent a night together. Do you think we’ve lost something important in losing that old-fashioned courtship that went out the window with the advent of “free love” and the pill? Or does it matter?
TOM BROKAW: I’m not sure that sexual freedom does affect the basics of love and marriage. Our two married daughters grew up in a different time and yet their courtships and marriages were not unlike ours — except, of course, for the sex-before-marriage part.
JULIA: To what do you attribute your long and happy marriage?
TOM: Meredith and I have often talked about why our marriage has worked out so well. In a way, we won the emotional lottery because our early love matured at a rich, steady pace. Moreover, as we rocketed upward — from small town South Dakota to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New York — we were in the same cockpit, each moving at the same speed. Meredith always had an independent life and career, which made it more comfortable for her to deal with my more public life. When people would ask how Meredith adapted to my anchor status, I would laugh and say, “Hell, when I get home at night I’m just grateful she remembers what I do for a living.” Finally, we’ve always given each other a lot of space and concentrated on the big issues while letting the little disagreements die a natural death.
JULIA: In your section on Judith Rodin (the first female president of an Ivy League university, the University of Pennsylvania), you quote her as saying that women can have it all, just not all at the same time. Later you also talk about how Meredith did just that — spread out having it all by raising children first and then embarking on multiple careers. But when we talk about “having it all,” it’s almost always in the context of women. It’s implied that men already have it all. But don’t you think that’s misleading? As traditional chief breadwinners, men miss out on a lot of quality time with their young children. We talk so much about the cost of women’s choices and the struggle to find balance — and there is a lot of great discussion on this topic from so many of the featured voices in your book. Will you address your own life — the costs of your career and your own attempt at finding balance?
TOM: I think you’re right — we don’t pay much attention to the quality of life and balance in a man’s life. A few years ago our eldest daughter gave me a quiet lecture on those years when I was a White House correspondent racing around the world and later, as the chief correspondent for “Today.” It wasn’t a hostile dressing down. She just wanted me to know that my preoccupation with career didn’t go unnoticed. I didn’t disagree with her and I took some comfort that our relationship was so strong she could raise that with me. I also reminded her I didn’t remember her complaining when the whole family would go to Vail at Christmas so I could cover President Ford’s holiday!