“He got his diploma in the mail only after taking the same geometry class eight times in a row over the course of four years, during the summers and regular school semesters, and finally passing with a D-.
“All of that humiliation, and all of that frustration, and all of that lack of self,” Winkler recalls. “I thought, ‘What, am I the only one who’s not getting this? This is crazy. It means nothing in my life.”’
Thanks Atlantic Monthly for a great interview with Henry Winkler, should we say Sir Henry Winkler as he received an honorary Order of the British Empire in 2011.
Excerpt: “Henry Winkler: First, let me just say that I don’t even know what it is in my life that [made this possible]. This has fallen out of the heavens, and all of a sudden I’m part of a writing team, all of a sudden I’m doing what was one of the biggest fears in my life growing up. I didn’t read books, and here I am writing books that kids are laughing and identifying with. That’s already a mind blower.
[Lin Oliver and I] met through a mutual friend, who had suggested to me to write books about my learning challenges for kids. When it first happened [in 2002], when it was first suggested that I write books, I said, “That’s crazy—I’m stupid, I’m a terrible reader, I was the worst student. I can’t write a book!” And I dismissed it completely. About a year later [my friend] suggested it again and said, “This time I’ll introduce you to Lin Oliver.”
Wong: At that point, already in your late 50s, you were still convinced you were stupid and a terrible reader?
Winkler: There’s one of the first lessons that I have learned along this journey: We as adults cannot joke with kids about, “Ah, don’t be a moron,” “Ah, act your age,” “Ah, you’re so stupid.” If you do that when the child is young enough and you do it often enough, the child starts to wear it, wear that name-calling like a sweater. And, see, if it fits, sometimes you just imprint it on yourself—for the rest of your life until you work it out … We have to teach children how they can learn, not what we think they should learn. That’s another thing that I have learned on this journey…
I tour around America, England, Italy … And I’m telling you—the children, they laugh at the same jokes, they are the same. And when I ask them, “Anybody know what they’re good at?” every child knows what they’re great at. They raise their hands as if their arms are going to fly out of their socket: logarithms, soccer, painting, horseback riding, math, spelling, being a friend … I wrote a book when I was [in my 50s] because I was so scared of all the words inside the covers. I’m telling you, the potential that we knowingly just leave behind, just let drip on the floor like water from a faucet, is shocking to me…
I live by two words: tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity gets you where you want to go, and gratitude doesn’t allow you to be angry along the way.
Winkler: My first son [and I], we went to visit the Hopi Nation [in Arizona] … When we got home after all these wonderful experiences, my son had to write a report. And he wrote, like, three lines smudgy. And I said everything that was said to me: “Go back upstairs. You didn’t put any time in it. You’re being lazy. You’re not concentrating. You’re so verbal, you’re so funny, I know you can do it put your mind to it.” He couldn’t write the report. We had an occupational therapist test him—and when we went in for the result everything that she said about our son was true about me. And I thought, Oh my god—I’m not stupid, I’m not lazy … And all of that grounding, yelling, stress was for nothing. Because I wasn’t going to get it. And my son wasn’t going to get it.
Winkler: I am so angry at myself that I wasted so much time not doing now what has become a passion—only because I said, “I can’t” instead of “You know what? I’m just going to try. Then I know whether I can do it or not.”
Beautifully said, Henry.
Thanks to Spoken Layer for the audio version of the article below.