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February 20, 2012

Jeffrey Zaslow on Daughters

by Anne Paddock

A few months ago, I bought tickets for my daughter and I to attend an author forum featuring Jeffrey Zaslow, who I knew of from his column in the Wall Street Journal and as co-author of “The Last Lecture:”  a life lesson story of a Carnegie Mellon professor named Randy Pausch who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and wanted to leave a lasting message to his young children. My daughter was not exactly thrilled with the idea of going to see an author she never heard of (she would have preferred Suzanne Collins, author of “The Hunger Games’) and spending the evening with a bunch of middle-aged readers but she begrudgingly went along.

Jeffrey Zaslow spoke to a full auditorium and was an entertaining speaker that night. He talked about his books (The Last Lecture, The Women of Ames, and Highest Duty) but was at his most humorous when talking about his wife and three teenage daughters. One story in particular had the audience vacillate between laughter and sincere empathy.  He recounted the story of his daughter being asked to go to the prom and the subsequent preparations that he and his wife arranged: the purchase of “the dress,” the hair and nail appointments. This was the prom – the social event of the year – and his daughter was excited at the prospect of attending her senior prom with a date.

The night before the prom, his daughter’s date called and said the group of guys decided they didn’t want to go to the prom (“it wasn’t cool”) and instead planned on hanging out at a friend’s house.  His daughter was devastated but she went along with the other half-dozen “dates” who donned their new dresses and hung out at the friend’s house on prom night.  Zaslow was upset because he felt peer pressure won out over doing the right thing but being a parent of a teenager requires keeping your mouth shut at times so he held back, at his daughter’s insistence.  But, Zaslow was bothered and decided to get his revenge (all in good humor) by writing about the boy’s decision in his newspaper column – Moving On – in the Wall Street Journal.  He wrote the story called: Some Date:  How Homecoming is Losing Out to Hanging Out”  about boys skirting their responsibilities; asking parents to intercede and teach their sons that it’s not ok to ask a girl to a prom and cancel the night before.

Last year, Zaslow published a book called “Gabby:  A Story of Courage and Hope” about Gabrielle Giffords and her struggle to come back after an assassination attempt. In January, 2012 he published his newest book:  “The Magic Room: A Story About The Love We Wish For Our Daughters.” The title refers to a room (actually a bank vault that was converted into a mirrored dressing room) in a bridal shop called Becker’s Bridal Shop in Fowler, Michigan where prospective brides try on dresses, realizing their dreams and imagining the future that awaits them. But, the stories are not really about the bridal shop so much as the individuals: the owners of the store, the brides, and their families. The book unfolds in chapters exposing lives, decisions, and the “love we wish for our daughters.”

Last week on his way home from a book store appearance on a snowy night, Jeffrey Zaslow, 53 years old lost control of his car and hit a semi tractor-trailer, killing him instantly.  He leaves a wife and three daughters, ages 22, 20, and 16. How befitting that Zaslow’s last book turned out to be a “Last Lecture” to the daughters he adored.  We should all be so lucky to have had a father like Jeffrey Zaslow.

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