This interview was first published on Beliefnet for Father's Day 2006.

Tim Russert
Tim Russert, with his father, "Big Russ,"
and son, Luke. Credit: Kelly Campbell

When newsman Tim Russert published a memoir about his father, "Big Russ and Me," he says he wasn't prepared for the huge number of letters and emails he received from readers eager to talk about their own fathers. He's now compiled some of the best of those responses into a follow-up book, "Wisdom of Our Fathers." Russert, the moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," spoke with Beliefnet about his father's reaction to the book, his own role as a father, and the place of prayer in his life.

Why do you think your first book resonated so much with readers and generated so much reaction that there was all this material for a second book?

When I first wrote "Big Russ and Me," I thought that certainly people I grew up with in the Irish Catholic neighborhood in Buffalo would want to read it. But as I went around the country and people lined up and said, "Make this book out to Big Mike and Big Mario and Big Manuel and Big Irv and Big Ahmed," I realized that no matter the geography, the ethnicity, the religion, people had perceived "Big Russ and Me" as an invitation to talk about their dad. People started saying to me, "You know, the most important thing I learned from my dad was not about expensive vacations or material gifts. It was about hard work and discipline and respect and accountability. It was the small words that made the big difference."

People began to inundate me with letters and emails--60,000 from across the country. I read them all. And as I read them, I felt that they deserved to be read and also be remembered, and that any parent would benefit enormously from the lessons that daughters and sons learn by watching their fathers’ actions, probably much more than his words. A friend of mine from Oklahoma sent me a note the other day, saying, "You know, you're exactly right. It's better to watch a sermon than to hear one."

There's such a truth to that. You can try to lecture kids and they sit there and look at you kind of glazed, but when they see you working hard, when they see you treating their mother with respect, when they see you doing the right and honorable thing, that's the behavior they want to imitate and emulate. And those are the lasting lessons of life.

Do you have a favorite story of all the 60,000 that you received?

There are so many. One of my favorites is William Murray, who wrote a note saying, "When I was the son, my dad was boss. And then I had a son, and my son was boss. When do I get to be boss?" He had some humor over it.

His favorite letters
Andrea DeFusco wrote a beautiful letter about her dad, Alfred, who worked hard. And he would leave her little notes in her lunch bucket or at the breakfast table, congratulating her on her spelling or her math work, and often had a little caricature of a duck. And then he died and, about 10 years after his death, she was over at his house cleaning up hedges and things. And she reached up to get the shears, and what came tumbling down were the shears and a pair of gloves and a pair of goggles. And the gloves smelled of Aqua Velva, the cologne her dad wore. And then inside the goggles, he had left a little note before he died, which said, "Beautiful brown eyes, please protect those eyes." And she realized 10 years later that her dad was still there in spirit protecting her. And that is particularly memorable.

I loved the letter from Kerry Bostwick, who was a stutterer. And her dad would reach across the backseat of the car and pull her close and squeeze her hand and say, "Kerry, it's okay." And it would help her get over her stuttering. And I can almost imagine her today, you know, squeezing her own hand and helping her through that difficult circumstance.

And on and on and on. There's just story after story, lesson after lesson.

And do you have a favorite story about your own father?

A memorable father-son moment
Well, so many. You know, my dad, after he read "Big Russ and Me," said, "You made a mistake." I said, "Dad, I didn't make a mistake. I vetted the book so carefully and I really tried to be precise and be accurate."

He said, "Yeah, you say I always call you and say you've got to eat." I said, "You do. You call me on my birthday at 7:00 A.M. and say, 'You've got to eat. You've got to eat. What are you having for supper?'" I said, "Dad, I haven't had breakfast yet."