Bill Geist, longtime television correspondent on CBS "Sunday Morning," and his son Willie, co-host on NBC's "Today" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe," share a passion for journalism, but their real common ground lies in appreciating the hilarious, absurd and just plain odd situations in the world around them. They might have skipped the requisite father-son talks while Willie was growing up, but they're finally getting around to them in their new book, Good Talk, Dad.
What inspired the two of you to write a book together?
Willie: When my Dad announced nearly two years ago on CBS “Sunday Morning” that he has Parkinson’s Disease, he had a longer and deeper conversation with his audience than he’d had with his own family. We stopped and wondered why, despite a great relationship, we were averse to those big talks. We then realized we hadn’t had any of the big father-son talks, really: the Birds and the Bees, the dangers of drinking, how to grill a steak and play poker. So we thought it would be funny to go back and have them retroactively. Trust me, they’re even more awkward today than they would have been back then.
Bill: My revelation to Willie and my daughter Libby that I had Parkinson’s Disease after hiding it for ten years led to our realization that we hadn’t had any of the Big Talks fathers and sons were supposed to have. So, through the back and forth of this book, we had them.
What was the most enjoyable part of the writing process?
Willie: For me the most enjoyable part of the process was sitting down with my dad, my mom and my wife and hashing through the best stories of our lives together. What a cool gift to be have the time and the space in a book to collect your family’s greatest hits and have then in one place on a shelf forever.
Bill: Recollecting all of the great family times we shared—most of them humorous. I will say that seeing all these bizarre stories in one place is rather disturbing.
What is your favorite, shared sports memory or experience?
Willie: I have so many great memories of my dad coaching little league and biddy basketball, or being the lone voice in the stands screaming at the refs during my high school games.
We’ve had fun cheering on the teams we love. I was raised in New Jersey as a University of Illinois fan (my parents met there), and my Dad and I went to the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis, where the Illini lost to North Carolina in the national championship game. We went to the 2002 Sugar Bowl where the Illini got whacked by LSU, and the 2008 Rose Bowl where they were blown out by USC. The losses didn’t bother us—it was the trip and the time together that made them great memories. My dad also swung us tickets to Games 1 and 7 of the 1986 World Series where we watched the Mets beat the Red Sox. I was 11, and I’ll never forget it.
Bill: Willie was co-captain of his high school football and basketball teams and my favorite sports memories all involve him. He loved basketball so much; I was thrilled when he scored 16 of his team’s 24 points as a fifth-grader playing his first game. His team won.
Willie, do you plan to have The Talk with your son? Or would you prefer to skip it like Bill did?
Willie: I think I’ll do better than my Dad and I did – but that’s not saying much. I’ll definitely talk to my son about the Birds and the Bees, and trust Google to fill in the blanks.
Bill, was there anything Willie revealed in writing the book that really surprised you?
Bill: I think it was his telling the complete story of his time at what his mother and I considered a great, traditional summer camp. I find out now that the counselors were rehabilitating street gang members. There were gang fights and slashed tires and much more, all in the book.
Do you have any special Father’s Day traditions?
Willie: I think our only real tradition is spending time together on Father’s Day. These days, we’ve got my dad, me, my two kids, my sister and her two kids, so my dad gets a lot of fatherly love.
Bill: Nothing special. Traditionally, I receive either a bad gift or a good gift that someone else in the family desired and eventually takes possession of.
Willie, what one piece of advice from your dad do you most want to pass along to your own kids?
Willie: I hope I pass on my dad’s good humor, work ethic and lack of self-seriousness. Our house was always a fun place where you’d get knocked around quickly if you took yourself too seriously.
What’s the most embarrassing moment the two of you have shared?
Willie: I’ll be interested to hear what my dad says on this one. For me, it was probably when my parents finally took me to Disneyworld. By the time they granted my long-standing wish, I was 13 and not so interested anymore. They took me to the Character Breakfast where I sat, a big, lanky teenager, with the small children as Mickey, Goofy and the gang came around to the tables dancing and taking photos. I was as big as Goofy at that point. It was pretty embarrassing for me, but amusing I suspect for my Dad.
Bill: Willie suffered a multitude of continual embarrassments growing up: a plastic life-sized cow in our front yard; a bust of Elvis on a plant stand; large posters of Steak n’ Shake meals on the dining room walls; municipal-sized fireworks displays on our sidewalk; Elvis birthday parties; the list goes on and on.
What is your favorite quality and biggest pet peeve about the other person?
Willie: Favorite quality is sense of humor and skeptical eye about the world. Biggest pet peeve is when he opens the big potato chip bag by tearing all the way down the side, instead of by conventional means at the top. The Bill Geist Method means the bag cannot be resealed, and the chips go stale unless they are scarfed down in that first sitting. They typically are.
Bill: His immense talent, his sense of humor, his ability to dunk a basketball, to talk about foreign affairs with experts on “Morning Joe”, his work ethic, writing ability, thoughtfulness, humility, parental skills and on and on it goes.
My pet peeve is all of the above.
What’s your favorite thing to do together?
Willie: Sit on the back deck in Shelter Island with a drink while my kids and my sister’s kids play in the backyard below.
Bill: Get together and laugh about the absurdities we both see the same in the human condition.
Author photo by Deborah Feingold