Henry Winkler's Parents Treated Him So Cruelly. He Made A Promise That He'd Never Do That When He Had His Own Kids.

Henry Winkler's Parents Treated Him So Cruelly. He Made A Promise That He'd Never Do That When He Had His Own Kids.

Going from not being to able to read, forgetting his lines, Winkler has become an icon in both the film and the children's book industry.

Talking about parents is always a touchy subject. On one hand, they made us who we are but on the other hand, they did make us who we are, sometimes deeply hurt and flawed. For actor and author, Henry Winkler, it feels the same, which is why he pledged to be a different parent to his children than his parents were to him, he tells Guardian

Winkler was born to two german parents who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, which is why he says, “I'd describe my parents with admiration on one hand – escaping Nazi Germany in 1939, starting a new life and, in doing so, giving us a wonderful life.” However, it is their struggles that pushed them to put Winkler through a grueling childhood. “On the other hand, I'd say that they were emotionally destructive,” he mentioned. “A heard child is a powerful child, but my parents didn't listen to anything. I never felt heard. My sister, Beatrice, remembers them completely differently – and to this day I'm trying to figure out who the hell she saw.” 



It didn’t help that Winkler had dyslexia, a condition he wasn’t able to get diagnosed with until he was 31 years old. “It wasn't until I was 31 that I realized I wasn't stupid,” he starts off. “We were having my stepson, Jed, tested for dyslexia and it was, like, "Ding!" and I thought, oh my gosh, that's me. All three of my children are dyslexic. Fortunately, we found out early, but if you don't catch it early, a child's self-image plummets, as mine did.” His parents valued education, but when your child doesn’t do well in school, it causes some tension. He talked about how his parents viewed this difficulty, “Education was really important to my parents and, of course, the thing that was most important to them was the most difficult for me. They were very critical and sometimes cruel. Their pet name for me was Dumm Hund (dumb dog).”



And if that wasn’t enough to crumble Winkler, this would have, “They thought I was lazy. I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential.” He added, “They thought if I stayed at my desk for 6 weeks at a time, I was going to get it and they were just going to put an end to the silliness of my laziness. That was going to be that.” While he decided to be a different parent as a child, he found himself going into the same patterns as his parents. While his son Jed had to write a report about the trip to visit the Hopi Indians. “He wrote two sentences.  He erased a hole right through the paper,” he recalled, for the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity



“I sent him back to his room and said everything to him that was said to me: ‘come on, live up to your potential, you’re so verbal, this is silly that you’re not doing this.  You cannot listen to Duran Duran, you can’t listen to your records, television is out—until you write your report.’” However, once he came to terms with his stepson’s diagnosis, he was able to look at his own experiences through a different lens. And it is always about using the right voice to say what he wanted to say. “My father would always say to me, ‘The tone makes the music,’” he mentioned. “At the time I never quite understood what it meant, but as an adult, I've realized that how you sound, how you present your ideas, will massively affect how the other person hears it.”



He tries to “impart life lessons all the time.” Even to his kids and to his friends' kids. To young kids, he says this, “You don’t have any idea how powerful you are and what you can achieve.  You literally cannot give in to your fear.  You literally have got to walk over it, step on its face and keep moving toward where you want to go and eventually if I can get there, there’s no reason you can’t get there.”





Cover Image Source: Henry Winkler speaks onstage during the 2020 Writers Guild Awards (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)