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Sunny Funny Al Roker
The Today show weatherman writes a witty
heartfelt bible for dads

Interview by Paige Egan

Although Today's genial Al Roker goofs around for 6 million people five mornings a week on NBC, his new book, "Don't Make Me Stop This Car! Adventures in Fatherhood" (Scribner) is no laugh riot. "People were surprised it wasn't funny," Roker told dadmag, "Even my wife. I thought I should start out with the serious stuff, then, like the Eleven PM News, end on an optimistic note." The book's early chapters trace Roker's bumpy road to fatherhood, first adopting Courtney, now 13, during his first marriage, later battling infertility with current wife Deborah Roberts, a correspondent for ABC News' 20/20. By book's end, though, there's a happy outcome and Roker delivers on his promise in the introduction to "share dadhood with fellow fathers. I think I've always wanted to be a father," he confesses. "It was what I was born to do."

"Don't Make Me" is a paean to domesticity in general and wives, parents, widely extended family and kids in particular. "My dad made fatherhood look so appealing to me," says Roker. "He was and continues to be the consummate father--teacher, buddy, disciplinarian. He always made time for each of his 6 kids and there were no favorites." In case you're wondering, the title refers to Al Roker Sr's (and countless other dads') warning to his brawling brood on weekend outings in their l967 Country Squire station wagon with wood trim. A Manhattan bus driver who took additional odd jobs to meet expenses, Al Sr. never let irascible NY passengers or wild kids pop his cork. "My father was a saint to put up with us," says Al Jr. "He developed a maneuver--the left turn hard--and we would come sliding across the faux leather seat--WHAM!"

As the eldest child, Al Roker played surrogate dad to three biological and three foster siblings. "Ordering your kid brother and sister around was a definite perk. Having them pick up after you, get you a cold soda from the fridge." With hands-on experience and a role-model father, Roker gained real wisdom that makes him an ideal (never didactic) advice-giver. "If you want to be a dad, hey, I know what that's like," he confides modestly in the book's introduction. "I've been there. I enjoy being a dad but it took awhile before I was able to be one."

Infertility: Al and his "problem boys"

While humor leavens Al's account of "assisted insemination's" medical and emotional toll--a miscarriage, the agonizing decision to start "trying" again, minding Courtney's feelings about another child--Roker minimizes the anguish. "I knew that 'my boys' had problems," Al kids in the chapter titled The Baby Boys. " They don't swim well at the deep end of the pool and even if they get to the end, there aren't that many of them." Roker knows Deborah bears the brunt of the process--injections, hospital stays, mood swings, painful probings. "In the pregnancy process I have come to realize how much of the burden is on the female partner," he says, "She's got a construction zone going on in her belly." And, remember, all this happens while Al and Deborah are juggling high profile careers complete with impromptu trips and weird hours. When Leila arrives at last, Roker's joy and magnanimity are boundless. "They wrapped her up like a baby burrito to show to Mom," he recalls. "Here were a mother and her daughter and I love them both so much. I couldn't wait for Courtney to come to the hospital so I could have all my women together." Holding his newborn babe, Al thinks: "My maternal grandmother Leila Smith died on November 17, l974. Leila Ruth Roker was born 24 years later on November 17, l998. Grandmother Smith was a loving warm woman who loved life. Her great grand-daughter has brought love and warmth into our lives."

In the very next chapter, this sensitive dad flashes back to l985 for Courtney's adoption at 5 months, his "amazing gift." When the adoption agency finally calls with good news, Roker and ex-wife Alice dash out to shop. "We had exactly 4 days to outfit a nursery and had no baby stuff. Whereas other people have several months and a couple of baby showers as preparation." On their way upstate, Al insists on picking up stepson Gregory, a student at his alma mater (Oswego State College, Oswego, N..Y.) for a "gastronomic trip down memory lane before we continued our journey towards our baby." At his old college haunt, dad and stepson dig into roast beef subs with extra mayo just like Al had 'em in the old days.

But Al's no Pollyana

"Courtney has seen me fly into a fit of rage," he told dadmag, ":when a taxi cab driven by an African American or someone from India or Pakistan won't pick us up and I yell,'What do you have to do to be accepted in this country?'" In the chapter titled The Way It Is (not was, by the way) Roker recalls painful years growing up in a mostly white housing project and meeting his first college roommate. "He greeted me with a shocked silence followed by, 'So. . .you're black.' I asked him if he ever hung out with black guys in high school and he said, 'Well, no. They always had these angry looks on their faces." "Who wouldn't look ticked off having to deal with nitwits like him,"

Driving Courtney home from school one day years later, he hears, "Daddy, what's a nigger." "A nigger," Al calmly replies, "is a name some really mean people use to describe black people," then races home to blast the mother of the white classmate who used the N word. "I get bitter, angry and disbelieving," he told dadmag, "and I tell my kids there a lot of idiots out there. I also want them to know that being successful is not the real world--that their parents get treated better because they're on TV."

And don't call him a Babysitter

Al Roker also abhors prejudice against dads. "Here's one of the things that drives me crazy," he writes in the chapter called I'm A Dad Not A Babysitter." "I'm walking with Leila through Central Park on a lovely spring afternoon. Birds are chirping, sun is shining, my daughter is smiling at me. Some woman comes up and says, 'So, you're babysitting this afternoon, eh?' In our society leaving baby with Daddy is just one step above leaving the kids to be raised by wolves or apes." While he admits some fathers "wouldn't know the business end of a diaper," he knows moms are like that too at times. Al Roker Sr. showed his son how to cook, clean and be good people. Al Roker Jr. regularly takes his kids to NBC--just as he sat behind the wheel of a 20-ton bus with his father.

So, dads everywhere, keep it real, suggests Al Roker. "When Courtney's mother and I first separated I tried to be Disney Dad, showering her with gifts, trips. . . Then I snapped out of it." Use common sense, in other words. "You don't have to try to impress your kids. If they're not getting what they need from you," he told dadmag, 'they will let you know."

Paige Egan lives in upstate New York and writes frequently about television and celebrities

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