Ga., native Bruce Feiler is a storyteller who finds
source material in the streets of Cairo or in his own
is best known as a chronicler of the places where
ancient religious texts and modern political trouble
overlap, from his biblical travelogue "Walking the
Bible" to the Arab Spring narrative
"Generation Freedom." Feiler dove deep into an
interior, dark adventure in 2008 when he received a
cancer diagnosis with "The Council of Dads,"
about the men he asked to help raise his daughters
should he die.
cancer-free for five years, Feiler has entered the next
phase of living ó raising a family ó and, true to
form, heís found a way to make a book out of it.
"The Secrets of Happy Families: Surprising New
Ideas to Bring More Togetherness, Less Chaos, and
Greater Joy," the writer seeks answers from Green
Beret soldiers, Mideast peace negotiators and other
unlikely experts, to find out how to make the nuclear
family a more loving and less radioactive place.
spoke to him at the Brooklyn home he shares with wife
Linda Rottenberg and their twin 7-year-olds, Tybee and
Youíre pretty good at turning your life into a book,
Thatís something Iíve been doing for a while.
Why this book?
I get frustrated. I go looking for answers, sometimes I
donít find the answers that I need. Thereís a lot of
stuff about babies and breast-feeding and napping, and
actually thereís a fair amount of stuff about
teenagers ... but thereís not a lot of stuff out there
about how to build a family culture.
You said your favorite bit of advice came from Marshall
Duke, a psychology professor at Emory University, who
said parents should tell their kids family stories.
Those guys at Emory gave kids a simple ĎDo you know?í
test. They asked things like ĎDo you know where your
grandparents were born? Do you know where your parents
went to high school? Do you know something bad that
happened to them?í And the kids who scored the highest
had the greatest sense that they could control their own
lives and the highest self-esteem. This Ďdo you know?í
test was the single biggest predictor of emotional
health and happiness.
Telling stories about the old days when your grandfather
was young sounds about as square as "Father Knows
Best," doesnít it?
The biggest insult people say about "Secrets"
is that itís corny. But the corny thing Iím trying
to do is make my family stronger. Thatís radical. Thatís
not going to make me cool on Twitter. Itís not going
to get me Facebook fans. But itís going to help me
with the thing I care about most, which is equipping my
children to have a happy life.
Why are so many self-help books so ineffective?
Part of the problem is thereís not enough Ďusí
help. We need less Ďmeí and more Ďwe.í ... Whatís
the number one thing weíve learned in the self-help
movement? Itís that happiness is other people, that
happiness is relationships. And the relationship that
matters most is our family.
You draw ideas from business strategies such as the
Agile system of software development to help the family.
What can you learn from Agile?
Flexibility. Change all the time. Thatís Agile. But
thatís life. You think, ĎIím a parent now, Iím a
dad. Iíll make three rules and Iíll stick to them
and Iíll make my children do what I say.í But every
parent discovers that you can tell your children over
and over the same thing and it doesnít work. Or you
can say "I canít predict whatís going to go
wrong, Iím going to come up with a system that will
change and react over time."