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Scott Turow
The best-selling author of Presumed Innocent and,
most recently, Personal Injuries, has deftly balanced
a writing career and legal work. Here he talks kids

A 1975 graduate of Harvard Law School, Turow was a lead prosecutor in several high-profile Chicago trials during the 1980's. Dadmag sat down with the author in the Chicago office of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, where he practices law. Turow lives in suburban Chicago with his wife Annette and their teenaged children. We imagined that could present a challenge to a man who made a career of prosecuting errant behavior.

Dadmag: What kind of values do you try to instill in your kids?

Turow: Like all parents of teenagers, I've been arguing with them, especially with my 17 year old. In a fit of pique, I told him I'd be really mad at him if he grew up to be an asshole, which probably defines my values as well as anything. Naturally I'd like them to be decent human beings, respectful of other persons and also respectful of themselves, capable of being happy. I think they've been raised in a house where concern about other human beings has been pretty clear.

Dadmag: What do you do about outside influences? Are there any dangers lurking at school, at parties or on tv?

Turow: My principal concern about "outside influences" is the television set. I'm also really concerned with my 13 year old about the music she listens to. I have said that to her a number of times when I listen to her favorite radio station, which shall go nameless. It pushes the celebration of diversity a little further than I care to take it, to have rap music broadcast anywhere, especially within the earshot of young women. I turned to her and said how can you listen to this stuff, it's so degrading to women. Listen about the way they're talking about women. I said you don't want anybody to ever talk about you that way or think about you that way, and certainly not to put it on the radio. She says I don't listen to the words. I think as a parent, I've been relatively unprudish, but I am concerned especially about the kinds of messages that get sent to young people, especially her age. For young women it is an unbelievably confusing world. I don't think anybody's going to turn my children into racists by what they see on TV, but sexuality is a subject where the boundaries--between parent and child, largely because of our incest taboos-are firm. That's an area where outside influence can be greatest.

As far as drugs, I've got the usual problem that people my age have, which is that there was a time in my life when I didn't behave in an exemplary way. My kids know that, and I try to explain to them that we really did not recognize how hazardous a lot of this activity was. If I had that to do over again, I probably would follow Dr. Drew's advice and just try to avoid saying anything.

Dadmag: Plus the drugs can be a lot more dangerous now.

Turow: I have at least one close friend who really burned his brains out on LSD and I mean literally lost a highly functioning intellect to drugs, and I had my own bad drug experiences.

Dadmag: But at least we were relative adults.

Turow: I was a hell of a lot older then. The 13 year old, I don't worry about. I don't think she's interested in that. The 17 year old is in a suburban high school where the drug and alcohol culture is frankly, frightening. It's epidemic. I don't think the school does enough to combat it, nor as a community of parents have we done enough to combat it. One of the ways the kids have beaten us by the way, is that they are relatively responsible about not driving. That takes away the main argument that you can endanger other human beings. Instead they're just imperiling themselves, which is of course, the God given right of teenagers always.

Dadmag: But there's been so much written recently about the dangers of ecstasy and other club drugs that are passed off as ecstasy. When you're dealing with stuff in a pill in large quantities, you don't know where it came from or what's in it.

Turow: It does scare me. I mean the pharmacist tells you to throw away anything on your shelf that's over a year old and you got it from him. Can you imagine just taking pills that somebody hands you at a party. There's no reasoning with youth.

Dadmag: When you talked about the incest taboo, you said it put a wall between you and your children. What did you mean by that?

There's a limited amount I want to know about my kids sex lives, and I certainly don't want to instruct them about their sexuality. I'm not interested in giving them pointers. That means that I don't want to talk to my oldest child about who she has or hasn't slept with and it makes it hard, therefore, to influence their thinking about sexuality. I mean when you have this weird stuff that just seeps out of a culture, suggesting that everybody ought to be fucking at any age, and that it's a form of entertainment like mall shopping, it's frightening. It's really frightening. I don't think the magic or the mystery will be lost, but I think it's a far more powerful experience than that, and I don't think kids understand that.

Dadmag: Sexuality can be taken so causally. Is there a danger in its being downgraded?

Turow: Absolutely. And the suggestion on television that sex is entertainment is something that really bothers me.

Dadmag: Do you think the government or the state or federal has any obligation to do anything in these areas?

Turow: No, I don't. If I'm afraid to try to regulate my children in this area, I certainly don't want the federal government doing it. I mean it does bother me, it really does. Next to the rap music, the junkie sitcoms where there are constant sexual innuendoes, bother me. There are television shows where I think it's appropriate like Friends. Friends is about young single people who are clearly concerned about issues of mating and that's fine. Those are appropriate jokes, and if I don't want my kids watching that, then I would be unsuccessful, but I have ways of trying to regulate it. At the other extreme, there was Tim Allen's show which I thought avoided most of this, and it didn't get cheap laughs with cheap tricks. There's just a whole lot of stuff in between.

Dadmag: What kind of discipline do you believe in at home?

Turow: I truly can count on one hand the number of times that we hit any of the three. Obviously our son got it a little more often than the girls, because anybody who has raised little boys know that they bounce off the walls. I wasn't spanked very often either. I guess with young children who are unreasoning, I've seen places for it. They can just make you insane and more important, they can be insane, but generally speaking, I think it's a lousy idea. As a lawyer it's one of the things that has bothered me over the years doing pro bono work. You're dealing with a young person who is accused of a crime of violence and the very well meaning relatives will show up in court--they come with their babies--and the next thing you know somebody's making noise and wham, caught it right across the face and the kid's screaming and it's bedlam in the corridor. More than that you're saying this is not a good example, I can see how this happened.

Dadmag: Kind of a cultural divide.

Turow: Yes, there's a huge cultural divide, often in areas like guns, tobacco or spanking your children.

Dadmag: Where do you stand on guns?

Turow: I have absolutely no use for them. I mean I have a firearm owners card, because I inherited some guns from my father, but the town I live in banned the possession of hand guns and God bless them for that, they're right. I do not see any use for hand guns except killing other people. For those people who think that Freud was full of it, I suggest they consider the gun debate in this country, then ask yourself why people get so volcanic about having their gun taken away. It's just -- I don't have that kind of attachment.

Dadmag: As a parent, what do you do if your kids go play or hang out at another house where you know there are guns? Do you ask ahead of time?

Turow: We were just talking about this. Certainly if I came into the house and saw a gun in the house, I would be concerned as a parent, but I don't think I'd intrude on another parent by asking do you have guns in this house. We had a friend for years who was in law enforcement and a very dear friend who would come into the house armed, and my wife Annette would literally make him take off his gun and put it on top of the refrigerator.

Dadmag: But that's in your house.

Turow: Yes. My kids went there to play and there were plenty of guns in that house. I assume that any person who I'm going to trust enough to let my child in their house is not going to have guns accessible. I would regard that as a profound offense.

Dadmag: On the subject of government intrusion, what did you think of the ruling that limited the rights of grandparents to visit.

Turow: I have to say that I was happy to see the Supreme Court of the United States say forthrightly that parents have the right to determine what happens to their children. Obviously spousal and child abuse need to be recognized by the courts. But assuming that a parent is not violating those basic bounds of decency, I think people have a right to bring up their children.

Dadmag: You're a very successful lawyer and writer. Have you steered your children in any particular career direction?

Turow: I got a lot of pretty intrusive career advice from my parents. My father was a doctor and my parents desperately wanted me to be a doctor, and so I've tried to be hands off. Now, with my youngest, of course, I found that I do have my limits. She is a child after my own heart in the sense that for much of my time in school I hated it. I can remember being a sophomore in high school and looking at the clock, watching it get to 12:01 on Wednesday, and thinking it's half over. I actually had a pretty good time my junior and senior year, but sophomore year was just unbearable. Anyway, my child does not like school and I did say to her --you have nine more years of it, period, this is not open to debate. You are going to college, period. Beyond demanding that they get an education, I have to let them find their way. I hope that they will enjoy getting out of bed in the morning to do what they have to do as much as I do. That would be a real blessing for all of us.

Dadmag: It's one of the delights of young children, isn't it? A three-year old just can't wait to start the day.

Turow: You don't want to ever lose that. I read an article in the New York Times in which somebody defines the term, deep play. I found that really striking, because both of the things that I do are forms of deep play, both practicing law and writing. They engage me that way. I think play is an important part of life and I hope my children find their own forms of deep play. I think they're going to.

Dadmag: As a parent and with the hindsight of experience, would you do anything differently?

Turow: We're in a suburb that is not as diverse as I would like and this was a fairly significant decision. I don't know how I feel about it at this juncture. My son came up to me recently and said, Do you know I don't know any black people well? Which by the way is not something his little sister would say. By whatever bit of luck, she's managed to have a number of close friends of color. Anyway, I said yeah, I do know that, and I said it bothers me. He said well what are you going to do about it? I said I'm not going to do anything about it. I suggest that you look carefully at where you go to college and see the way people of different colors deal with each other, because maybe you'll have a chance there. So that's one issue. Then there are personal limitations, especially when somebody's got as much to do as I do. It's the hazard of being a writer, but I live inside my head a lot, and all three of my children learned to scream at me to get my attention. Now, there is a piece of me that is very regretful that they had to scream. There is also a piece of me that is very proud that they felt free to do it. Because obviously the response was seldom to scream back, but rather to say okay, you guys have a point here, there must be something you need from me, what can I give you? I have plenty of character failings that have manifested themselves in the way I parented, but I really tried hard. I mean I tried really hard and I think my kids know that.

Dadmag: In juggling careers you've spent a lot of time doing your work. Do you feel you put in enough time with your children?

Turow: I actually think that being able to practice law part time was an extraordinary blessing for my family. Several years ago I had a study at home and that was where I was writing. Eventually because I had people working for me, I couldn't keep doing this at home. Now the place that I work is nearby and it's easily accessible to the kids. They can find me in a minute, but they were upset that I was going to move out of the house to work and I took that as a relatively good sign. I think I've probably had more time with my kids than many working parents get, and especially working fathers. By the same token, my years as a trial lawyer were very hard. I remember when our son was about six months old I was on trial. I had gone on trial when he was about a month old and I had been on trial ever since, and finally Annette said the children have not seen you, they have to see you, when can they see you? So she called a family meeting for 5:30 in the morning and we literally were all up together at 5:30 in the morning. She put the baby down on the floor and I said my God, he's sitting up. I thought that was the pits, I really did. To be away so much that you miss that much. I really think it was one of the great ancillary benefits of my literary success, to be able to be around more. Now paying attention, of course, is a different thing.

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