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Father & Son

Frigid football, plastic cows, trunk busting—the origin of Geistian proverbs

The new book by Bill Geist and Willie Geist

You know Bill Geist from CBS Sunday Morning, Chicago Tribune and the NYT. His son, Willie, is co-anchor of the news program Morning Joe and NBC’s Today. In their book, Good Talk, Dad, they let us peek behind the headlines and cameras. Written as epistolary exchanges, the book shows that growing up Geist is laugh-out-loud funny. On the eve of its release and an appearance at WSHU’s “Join the Conversation,” here’s what they told us. 

Bill, this book could be a checklist for a happy, messy family. Sounds like your house was well known on the street? “Taken together between book covers, it’s actually rather disturbing: the life-sized plastic cow in our front yard; an Elvis bust on a pedestal in the dining room, which was also adorned with an advertising photo of a meal from our favorite burger joint; municipal-grade fireworks launched from our front sidewalk; the precision lawn mower drill team; TV camera crews quite frequently outside or inside the house…”

Willie, a lot of memories in this book. Any surprising or suddenly illuminating? “My dad and I got to sit around and kick around our best family stories for this book. As we did, new details were unearthed. The full story of the Christmas afternoon, for example, when my Dad and Uncle Herb took a sledgehammer to the locked trunk of my Dad’s company car to access gifts is only made worse—and much funnier—with additional fresh information. The statute of limitations is up on most of these tales, so the truth comes out. The biggest revelations came in the chapter he wrote about his tour in Vietnam. It was something we’d never talked about in my thirty-nine years.”

Bill, can you explain the Geistian talent for embracing quirky without ever mocking? “Well, when I began writing a column for The Chicago Tribune on life in suburbia, my first three pieces did more than a little mocking. But I soon realized that I liked these idiosyncratic people and places and happenings—far more than I liked the majority of people who lived ‘normal,’ by-the-book lives, never venturing outside the lines.”

Willie, was bringing your daughter to the Columbia-Harvard game an initiation to that Geistian trait? “I think you’re probably right. Of the many genetic gifts passed from my Dad, the enjoyment of things that kind of suck is chief. It’s hard to explain why I was dying to take my daughter to freeze with me while we watched Harvard beat Columbia in a nearly empty stadium. Have you ever tried keeping a four-year-old occupied for four quarters of Ivy League football? Exhausting…and one of the most fun days I’ve ever had.”

Bill, how did becoming a father change you? “Not enough, obviously. I am now a grandfather and remain the least mature member of our family.”

Willie, how about you becoming a dad? “A life that had been focused almost entirely inward turned, in an instant, outward forever. It made me more sympathetic to what people go through in their families every day. It made me realize that every parent is fighting for the same thing: a good, happy life for their children. And that it’s a heartbreaking truth that many children don’t have that. It made me infinitely more grateful for my own parents.”

For the Record:

Bill: I want my children to know…“that we love them beyond measure and, yes, I would allow an eighteen-wheeler to run over my foot to prove it.”

When they make a movie about me, it will be about…“five minutes long.”

One interview question to avoid is…“Who are you again?”

Moms are…“the most important parent. By far.”  

Willie: Best advice my dad ever gave me…“don’t go into television. Go work on Wall Street.”

When stressed out, I…“hang out with my kids. They have no interest in my concerns. I love that.“

Moms are…“superheroes. My already exalted view of my wife has grown every day since the birth of our first child. Where do these powers come from? Where is the wisdom stored before it leaps out of her from the moment of delivery? There is nothing in the world like a mother. Especially the ones in my life.”

Talk & Book Signing
Sat., June 7: Bill and Willie headline WSHU Public Radio’s “Join the Conversation” at IKEA New Haven, 11 a.m. For tickets, which includes a hardcover copy of the book, go to wshu.org.

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