The Role of a Lifetime

Michael Douglas, USA

Actor, producer and UN Messenger of Peace

(Submitted by the author and originally published in 'The Art of Living')

It’s hard to balance work and family. I work in an industry that has a relatively short window of opportunity, extremely long hours and can take you away from home for months at a time. The rewards can be fantastic: fame, wealth, artistic gratification, never standing in line for a table at a restaurant. But the guilt of shortchanging your family can gnaw away at you.

Hard work or being compulsive is something you may learn from family. My father has made 90 films. He did four to five a year when I was growing up. I missed him, and he was guilt-ridden for not being around. Today he’s 90 years old, having just published his ninth book. I am filled with love and admiration for what he’s accomplished. Not just in his career but in the way he has conducted himself in the third act of his life.

I’m going to be 63 this month. I’ve been married for seven years to an extraordinary woman 25 years younger than me, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. We have two children, a daughter, 4, and a son, 7. To say my priorities have changed would be a gross understatement! My life is centered around my family’s schedule. Our daughter, Carys, just started kindergarten and our son, Dylan, began the second grade last week. They are at a precious age, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. Like all parents, I labor to keep them on schedule, and try to teach them how to think positively and to work through daily life. I also strive to be sure they have fun. Carys is at the stage when she’s discovered ‘dress-up’: purses, high heels - anything pink. Dylan is a big climber - rocks, mountains and trees. He loves the outdoors. I read with my kids every night. That has become a favorite for me.

We’ve moved to the island of Bermuda, where I spent a lot of time as a kid (my mother is Bermudian and still has a large family there.) I adjust my schedule to my wife’s, since she is in the prime of her career. The school year tells us when we are going to travel. The kids know what Mommy does for a living, but they have never seen Daddy’s movies (they’re too young), so Mommy makes movies and Daddy makes pancakes! I don’t really cook, but I am the take-out and home-delivery expert. I enjoy it. It’s all given me great satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong. I still go to work, but now only on projects I really care about. I have a new movie coming out called “King of California.” We filmed it in only 31 days, not like some of the 90-day shooting schedules of the past.

I play a father who reconciles with his 17 year old daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood. I understood and identified with the role. My oldest son from my first marriage, Cameron, who is 28, did not benefit from my new priorities. He was short-changed. Nevertheless he understands now, and he knows how much I love him.

I love being home. That feeling is based on a good marriage and having the time to spend with the kids. Age gives you experience to nurture a relationship. Not long ago, my father gave me some great advice. He loves giving advice now. He pointed toward Catherine and said, “When it’s all over, all you really have is your wife. You can dote on your kids all you want, but they’re going to grow up and leave you someday. Then it will be just the two of you.” Many times people make more of an effort toward strangers than the people closest to them.

There is so much to learn in raising a family. So where are you going to find out how to do it, especially if you didn’t benefit from proper role models? When I went to college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the 1960s, you could graduate with a degree in home economics. It was eventually disbanded largely due to politics and the power of the women’s movement. I’m happy to see that “home ec” is currently being revived at some colleges.

I’ve reached an age when I start getting those questions - What do you want for your children? What do you see as your legacy? Oh, oh, mortality! I have good role models in my father and mother. Basically, you want to try to leave this earth having given more to it than having taken away. That makes you a good citizen of the planet. If I can pass this on from generation to
generation, that’s as close to immortality as I can hope to get.

Kindly offered for publication in 'The Art of Living' by Michael Douglas. From Newsweek, September 17th, 2007. © 2007 Newsweek, Inc.



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