Father's Day: Univision's Jorge Ramos on Fatherhood

At some point, every parent wonders if there's anything else they can do to better prepare a child for the road ahead. Could they have spent more time together, been more honest about the issues many families tend to face, or simply said, "I love you" more often? Jorge Ramos, a bestselling author, anchorman for Univision's nightly news and father of two, found that he kept asking those questions of himself. What he came up with were a set of letters-and lessons-he wrote to his children about all the things every parents means to say, but doesn't always get around to saying. NEWSWEEK's Jessica Ramirez spoke with Ramos about "The Gift of Time," a book that compiles those missives for other parents and the most important individuals in their lives—kids. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What did your kids think of the book?
Jorge Ramos:
My daughter Paola, who is 21, she read it and was very surprised to get to know me in a different way. There were things about me that she didn't know and that was precisely the purpose of the book.

What sort of things did she learn about you?
For instance, she didn't know that when I was young I played the guitar. Or, that I trained in the Olympic team in Mexico and my dream was to go to an Olympic game, but because of a back problem, I simply couldn't do it. Also, when she was 2, she went to live with her mom in Madrid. We separated when she was very young, and she didn't know how tough it was for me to try to be present in her life. I remember sending her gifts and trying to talk to her on the phone. There was no Internet so I would send her letters and faxes. I would try to go to Spain [from Miami] as often as possible just to be a father. I think to be a father or a mother; the most important thing is to be present. All those things, she didn't know.

You wrote that you actually thought that in not sharing your feelings you were shielding her, specifically from the painful aspects of the separation. How did that influence her, and your relationship with her?
It was very, very tough for her. I remember very clearly that when she was living in Madrid she would always ask, "Why don't you come and live with me?" She would tell me, "There are a lot of television stations and newspapers in Spain." What she was saying was, "I want you to be here." That was the toughest thing because I was just starting my career in the United States. I got my job as an anchorman when I was very young, and I was completely divided. But I think, as a result, we learned to be very honest on the phone and in letters. The most important lesson we learned was that when we are together we must appreciate those moments.

How did your son Nicolás react to the book?
What we've done the last three or four months is read from the Spanish version of the book every night. And he's learning about his grandfather and grandma and my life in Mexico and my experiences here as an immigrant.

One of the life lessons you discuss is fear. What have you learned from fear that you have then taught your kids?
When you're in a war zone—I have covered five wars—and you survive, you come back as a different person. Sometimes it's just because you didn't die, and you become stronger. It's interesting because my daughter Paolo, while learning French, had to give a speech in French in front of her class. Around the same time, my son Nicolás was in a spelling bee contest at school. They both had fears. They both were facing something they were scared of and interestingly enough, my experiences in war helped me guide them in how to confront their fears. The three of us now have a breathing exercise we do to get rid of the butterflies before facing something. So my experience in war has actually helped the three of us face challenges together.

In one of the letters, you write that your greatest fear isn't dying, but dying before you've told your children everything they need to know. What is the one thing you hope they really take from reading this?
That they have to follow their passion. The example I give them is my father. My father was an architect, but he was neither a very successful nor a very happy one. However, he had always wanted to be a magician, and he learned to do some magic tricks, and he was fantastic. When he was in that role of magician he was very intense, very satisfied and completely fulfilled. He didn't fulfill his dream of becoming a magician and believe me he would have been a very good one. But he, for many different reasons, did not have the courage to give up architecture. That's the example I give to my children. That they have to follow their dreams, and if they want to be magicians and not architects, that's exactly what they have to do.

You actually dedicated one of the letters to your father.
The most emotional letter of them all is the one I write to my father even though he died almost 10 years ago. Probably because I never had the chance to say goodbye to him. He died in Mexico and I was in Miami. So I think the purpose of it was twofold. One was to say goodbye. It's amazing how it takes so many years to do that. No matter how old you are, you're never ready to lose a parent. The second purpose was that I wanted my kids to know as much as possible about me. In these father-son, father-daughter relationships, there are often so many gaps. There are so many, many things that I don't know about my father, and I didn't want my children not to know me.

How has your relationship with your father shaped your relationships with your own kids?
It was very important. My father's generation, at least in Latin America and specifically Mexico, thought they had to impose their authority and that was more important than to show their emotions and their love for [their kids.] I grew up in opposition to my father and the father that I am now is completely the opposite of what he was. He never played with me. I played all the time with my kids. My father and I had only a few intimate conversations. I constantly talk to my kids about sex, religion and politics. My father was a distant figure. We had a very tense relationship while I was a teenager and even after I left for the United States when I was 25. It took us nearly 20 years to make peace. Funny, the way we did it was through TV. He would watch my newscast every day. I would call him immediately after the newscast and ask him what he thought of some specific piece of news. He would say, "I don't know about that. I just turn on the TV to watch you."