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Editor’s note: the brand new “by Steve and Kathy DoocyThe Simply Happy Cookbook” is not only filled with easy, delicious and stress-free recipes, it is also a family memory with heartwarming and sometimes hilarious stories. Here is one…
When I was growing up, my parents had a standard that they tried to apply to their five children. They wanted to treat us all the same, always. They didn’t want to compliment someone without complimenting everything from U.S. It probably seemed like a pretty thorough plan to them, but a child can never hear enough praise from their parents. This need for parental affirmation doesn’t stop at childhood – we crave it all our lives.
Now that my parents are both gone, I miss it very much, although I must admit that my father, Jim Doocy, was very close to expansive praise…once, when I was in my forties.
My mother passed away on Christmas morning 1997. Our whole family was a wreck for a very long time because her death was completely unexpected. I tried to comfort my dad (and myself) as best I could, phoning him at least once or twice a day. We were running out of things to talk about, but it felt good to touch, because we both knew that one day one of us wouldn’t be around to pick up the phone.
STEVE DOOCY: I TOLD MY DAD I WILL PAY FOR A TRIP ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. THIS IS WHERE WE ENDED
Kathy invited my dad to visit us in New Jersey for a week, with nothing on the agenda except a chance to hang out together. We were just drinking coffee, talking about the news, and Kathy was sending us both honey shopping for things I’d put off because I needed a second pair of hands. Dad was theoretically my assistant, but in reality he was the one who took on the tasks and I was his replacement, just as he had been when he was in his thirties and I was a teenager.
One day Kathy sent us to Home Depot and the housekeepers, then we had to go to the grocery store to buy some necessities. Outside the store, my dad pulled a single shopping cart out of a long line of chrome carts and stopped short.
I’d seen that look on his face before when he’d twisted his back, and I’d thought he’d pulled the cart too hard. “You OK?” I asked.
He does not say anything. He turned his head in my direction and pointed his arm like an Irish setter towards the front of the basket.
“Oh, that…” I saw what he was doing and I was a little embarrassed.
I hadn’t told him that on the front of shopping carts across the country that month was an 8×10 inch color advertisement with the “Fox & Friends” crew. He looked at me with the biggest smile and rhymed “Stephen, you’re the host…with the toast!”
Yes, in the photo, I was hoisting a piece of toast with cinnamon and raisins towards the camera.
I was a little uncomfortable; I might have a 6 to 9 job as a TV presenter, but when I’m in the real world, like at the grocery store, I like to be a little anonymous. But dad was about to make that impossible, because his dad’s bragging gene kicked in and he spent the next ten minutes doing double takes smiling at me and the cart, trying to point out only random buyers his son was on the front rack of every cart in the store.
I hadn’t told him that on the front of shopping carts across the country that month was an 8×10 inch color advertisement featuring the “Fox & Friends” team. He looked at me with the biggest smile and rhymed “Stephen, you’re the host…with the toast!”
Think about it: if you noticed an ad on a shopping cart, would you look closely enough to realize that someone in the ad is pushing the cart? Of course not.
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In the express checkout line, I quickly placed my items on the mat, the salesperson announced the purchase amount, I scribbled a check and handed it to him.
“Can I have your check cashing card?” I nodded and pulled out my car keys, which had the store card on the ring. But I had grabbed Kathy’s keys by mistake. “I have my wife’s keys,” I said, waving them in her direction. “Let me give you our phone number…”
“Sorry, sir, you need to see the manager in the convenience store booth,” he said, pointing to the other end of the store.
Embarrassed that this happened in front of my father, who thought I was a big star Barely forty-five seconds ago, the following words left my lips for the very first time: “You don’t know who I am?” We met eyes and he waited for me to say something, so I did. “I’ve been going to this store every week for five years.”
“I’m new,” he said as someone lined up behind us. ‘Cause it was New Jersey, I knew they thought, What’s taking so long? Come on, hop hop!
Then, out of nowhere, my father spoke directly to the employee: “Son, let my boy loosen up, he works here.
” Since when ? I never saw it.
“If he doesn’t work here,” Dad began, “then why is he on your cart?” He backed the cart up so the cashier could look at me, then the cart. Me, then the cart. Yes, it was me. He was speechless.
Then, much like a Vegas hypnotist, Jim Doocy said, “Now you’re going to take his check and we’re going to leave.”
I scribbled our phone number on the check and paid. As we walked to the parking lot, dad lifted the “Fox & Friends” advertisement on the front of three carts.
I could tell he was proud. . . but he didn’t say it out loud. Shit !
STEVE DOOCY: I PRAYED A DESPERATE PRAYER TO GOD AND THIS SHOCKING THING HAPPENED THEN
Fifteen years later, Kathy and I were at a ballroom in Topeka, Kansas, where I was recognized as the Distinguished Kansan of the Year. My father and my sisters were there with us.
“It’s official,” I said as I began my acceptance speech, “the State of Kansas is officially running out of people to award awards to.”
I gave a good-natured retrospective of my life growing up in Kansas, talking about going to a one-room school and how I had the best job in my town for someone who would one day make a living by speaking – I was a salesman in a men’s clothing store, where all day I struck up conversations with complete strangers.
I said to the crowd, “I’ve learned that it’s better to tell the truth than to make a sale. If someone asked if they looked fat in those pants, I’d say, Yes, you you look fat.” I was seventeen. It wasn’t until much later, when I got married, that I found out that I had been answering that question wrong all my life.
At the end of my comments, I told them that while this boy may have left Kansas, Kansas never left him. I recited the principles I had learned in my home country. “Always be humble, don’t brag. There are no shortcuts, get the job done. Enjoy every minute. Do the right thing, not the easy thing. And always tell the truth, unless it’s about whether someone looks fat in their pants.”
The last one was a joke, but each of those other principles was something I had learned from my father. I looked at him, and he had the most sincere smile on his face. I had seen that smile before, but the tears streaming down her face were new.
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As they presented me with a plaque — which hangs above my desk as I type this — a photographer asked if he could take pictures of me with my dad. I said, “Absolutely!” I pulled dad to the stage and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the real Kansan of the year.” And I meant it.
After the last photo was taken, Dad leaned over and said, voice slightly broken, “Stephen, you did well…we’re all proud of you.
Some kids wait a lifetime for this moment, and when it happened, I was so choked up that the only thing I could say was, “Thank you.”
The next day my family gathered for a big festive breakfast of steak and fried eggs with chicken, the perfect cap to a wonderful weekend. When we got in our car to go to the airport, I hugged my dad and told him I loved him, and then Kathy and I flew to New York.
It was the last time I saw him alive.
Two days later, my sister called me from the emergency room. Our father was in terrible pain, and they had no idea what was causing it – he hadn’t even been sick. Scans soon showed he had a bursting abdominal aortic aneurysm, which ultimately killed him.
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A year later, my sister Lisa sent me some of my dad’s belongings, including an album I had never seen. The paper was yellowed and the edges were curled after being opened and closed so many times. It was full of newspaper clippings that he had kept throughout my thirty-year television career.
Watching him was like a time capsule, conjuring up many memories of missions from long ago. I turned to the last page and it took my breath away. One of the “Fox & Friends” was registered on the page advertisements he had proudly pulled from a New Jersey grocery cart.
It was a fond memory of his son, the host with the toast.
Adapted from Steve & Kathy “The Simply Happy Cookbook.” Click on here to order your copy. Used with permission from William Murrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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