est Family interview by Walter Cronkite's daughter
Posted by: ajinajan ()
Date: September 11, 2014 12:15AM

est Family interview by Walter Cronkite's daughter

Jack and Debby Erhard: The est Family, interview by Kathy Cronkite

May be of interest. Kathy Cronkite (Walter Cronkite's daughter), interviews Jack and Debby Erhard at the start of the 1980's:

Jack and Debby Erhard: The est Family, interview by Kathy Cronkite

(excerpted from book, On the Edge of the Spotlight, by Kathy Cronkite -- pages 207-217)

On the Edge of the Spotlight: Celebrities' Children Speak Out About Their Lives
by Kathy Cronkite
William Morrow and Company, Inc.
New York
ISBN 0-688-00326-5

Chapter 15: Jack and Debby Erhard: The est Family -- pages 207-217



Jack and Debby Erhard:

The est Family


"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass


My opinion of the est organization and the people involved in it improved considerably after my contact with Brian Van der Horst, the public relations director for est, and with Jack and Debby Erhard. I anticipated a conversation that would be almost unintelligibly confounded with est jargon and a hard-sell "why haven't you taken est" attitude. I was wrong. Although Jack's answers were echoes of est, Debby responded with her emotions. I felt a better rapport with Debby's open, communicative, down-to-earth sweetness, but found both of them very charming.

We met at Franklin House, Werner's residence and personal office, a beautiful Victorian San Francisco townhouse. Inside, it is immaculate, decorated in browns and beiges of largely natural materials, wicker and bamboo judiciously mixed with antique leather and wood. There were dried saguaro cacti reaching to the fourteen-foot ceiling and an ancient Buddha in the foyer. African, Haitian, and Portuguese statues and artifacts had been gathered here, among them centuries-old Philippine "talking vases" and a ten-foot-high fertility statue from Africa. The effect was at once comfortable and formal. Even the toilet tissue had its ends tucked into neat corners as in a fancy hotel, presumably by one of the many est volunteers who function as household as well as office staff.

We settled in the den, a book-lined room with antique desk, fireplace, and armchairs. I chose a big old wing chair, upholstered in denim. Debby and Jack sat opposite, with Brian unobtrusively to one side. Debby was dressed in a V-neck T-shirt and stylishly cut jeans. She gestured gracefully with her delicate, expressive hands as she talked and frequently had to brush her loose blond hair out of her unmadeup girl-next-door face.

Jack sat at the third point of the triangle. His thin face and dark coloring reflected his father's, but his hair is curlier and his face a little smoother. Both children share their father's clear eyes and slightly smiling mouth.

An est volunteer brought coffee and tea on a tray as we made small talk, feeling each other out.

Jack, who is nineteen years old, is the third child of Werner's first marriage. He is a sophomore at Claremont College, "leaning towards drama and literature." He has appeared as an extra in More American Graffiti, and when I asked him his plans, he said that he thought he'd like to be an actor. There is no doubt that part of the est mystique is due to Werner's flair for the dramatic, and, later in our conversation, Jack admitted that he may follow in his father's footsteps after all.

Debby, eighteen, is a freshman at Mills College, studying languages and interested in law and government.

"At one point in my life," she said, "I really wanted to be a trainer [for est]. Now my sense is that I won't, but it could change."

"I think that I have something to offer. I don't know exactly what it is, but it will in some way contribute to est or to what my dad's doing. I think my father has something up his sleeve for me already. I'll probably go into government and maybe in some way support est and my father."

Debby was six months old when Werner left his family and she grew up not knowing who or where he was. Although he had started est sometime before he returned to claim his children, they had never heard of Werner Erhard or his organization.

"My sense of my father was that he wasn't alive. That's what I had thought for all those years, and I never questioned it. So when I heard he was back, it was a total shock," Debby said.

"My reaction was totally different," Jack said. "I was very, very aware that he was alive. We'd heard all the stories about him leaving, and so when Mom said he was back, I thought, 'That creep!' For a little while, I operated off all the notions I had about him, the stories I had heard."

We met him at my grandmother's house, and on the way over I realized that all that stuff no longer held any ground at all. It was like he'd never left. Yeah, I was jumping for joy."

"That was in 'seventy-three. January thirteenth. I will never, ever forget that," Debby said in a soft voice. "I have a very clear picture of the first time I ever laid eyes on him." She stopped for a moment, remembering the scene as tears filled her eyes. "Getting me choked up," she murmured. "We came out to California to visit every summer. We moved out here -- two years ago?" she asked Jack. "No -- three summers ago."

"No," Jack corrected her. "Four summers ago."

"At what point did you take the est training?" I asked.

"I did that the first summer I came here. I took the teen training," Debby responded. That was the summer immediately after her father had returned.

"Did you take it at the same time?" I asked Jack.

"No. I held out," he said. "I had absolutely no dislikes or regrets or resentments toward the training or anything that went on in it, and then they told me to do it.* And I said no. Just out of the fact that they told me, not because I didn't like the training or the way people were that came out of it. So I didn't do the first summer; I did it the next."

[* It should be noted that in the est philosophy, the conjunction "and" is preferred over "but."]

"What changed your mind?"

"Dad asked me, instead of telling me to do it," he said simply.

In 1977 and 1978, one could scarcely pick up a magazine or attend a party in California without being confronted with controversy over Werner Erhard and est. I wondered how Jack and Debby reacted to the swirl of sometimes negative conversation. Were they ever tempted to turn around and set someone straight?

"Yes," Debby started to say, "I remember --"

"It's never malicious," Jack interrupted, as he did frequently to assure me that the world is full of nice people who think only the best of Werner and est. "I've never come across anyone who was hostile about it; I think it depends on the rumors they've heard."

"Sometimes you're with someone for a while before they make the connection, and then they definitely shift in their approach to you. Most people in est are awestruck: 'Produce a miracle! Levitate! Something!' People outside of est, particularly if they've heard some things they didn't like about est or Dad, are a little more calculating about observing what you do and how you dress. Checking you out, making sure. But they're pretty good about it. I don't' think I've ever run across a person who wasn't acquainted with it."

"I have one thing to add," Debby said tentatively. "A couple of years ago, I felt that people didn't love me for me; they love him. You know, that Werner's my dad, and that's all they care about. I think I've grown out of that and into taking it as an opportunity, to bringing people closer to him. That's the difference now -- people don't have the really big shift in the way they rap to me, because I'm more centered. I'm more clear about my relationship to him and what that means."

"What contributed to your ability to see it a little bit better?" I asked.

"For one thing, just the growth of the relationship with my father. I have always felt inferior to my dad, that he knew everything and I didn't know anything. I've grown, and now I can actually sit with my father and have a discussion with him and feel that I'm equal to him."

I told Debby that I had gone through exactly the same thing, only ten years later. She and I have fathers who are looked up to as fountains of knowledge and wisdom, whose every word is taken as gospel. My God! Who wouldn't grow up feeling inferior? There is a traumatic moment in everyone's life when they realize that their parents are not, after all, infallible. But when your father is Walter Cronkite or Werner Erhard, this common discovery takes on the proportion of cataclysmic heresy.

I remember vividly the first time I knew he was wrong. The dinner conversation had somehow worked around to dolphins. I had studied them recently yet sat silently picking out the flaws in Dad's discourse, afraid to dispute them openly. Millions of people in the United States believed his every word; who was I to question it?

Dad wasn't the cause of my silence; my own self-doubt was. That barrier fell away when I began to believe in myself and rely less on his approval, when I had enough self-assurance to be able to risk challenging him and to risk being wrong.

We converse as peers now and learn from each other, although perhaps I am still disproportionately thrilled when he responds with, "Why, I never thought of that," or, for example, when he called me to ask my opinion of newspaper reporting versus the electronic media for a speech he was writing on that topic. I'm sure he was pleased to learn that I am now acquainted with both.

I asked Debby if her father could learn from her as well as she from him.

"Oh, yes. Dad's business is people, and I'm sure he's learned a lot about how people get their stuff together in relating to us kids. He's got quite a variety to learn from -- a whole range of ages and a lot of different personalities."

Jack has worked for est every summer since his father's return. Although he told me earlier that he planned to be an actor, he admitted, "After I do my thing my way, I'll probably be a trainer."

Did he think it might be difficult being a trainer and Werner's son?

"No, actually it makes it a lot easier. When Dad and I stand next to each other -- when I have my hair cut a little shorter -- we look exactly the same. I think people like it that I look a lot like him. It brings them a little closer to him and gives them a deeper experience of who he is. It enhances our relationship."

"Don't you think that if you were to become a trainer, people would tend to put a little halo over your head that may not belong there?" I asked.

"For sure. People do it all the time now. But I can usually represent my family fairly well. I've never had to worry about disappointing him or anything like that. It's fun. It's a challenge."

Neither of the Erhards worried about disappointing their father. "I know that my dad wants me to be the best that I can be," Debby explained. "He doesn't ever want me to let me down. I think the only way I've ever let him down is by letting myself down. I've definitely done that."

"Jack, you said earlier that you think you look a lot like your father. Are you a lot like him in other ways?"

Certainly, that's the direction I'm moving in. I don't see a role model that I would prefer over him. Since he is where I'm looking to be, I feel that it's a good idea to imitate him. At one point, all I did was imitate Dad. It began as imitation; it actually became a context of my life."

"Isn't there anything you'd do differently?"

"No," he answered. "Absolutely not."

While Debby agreed that her father was a model of what she'd like to be, she admitted that for a long time, like many people, she has struggled with whether to do things her own way or to accept her father's guidance.

"Now," she said, "in my relationship with my father there is a basis; it's not my way or his way. It's just The Way. I trust him absolutely to guide me, because I know that I don't know where I'm going or what I want to do. And, yes, I'd definitely like to be able to contribute in the way he does.

"The main thing is to tell the truth. It's not always easy. In fact, I spent the last week really getting clear about what it is that I haven't told the truth about. Today I discovered the only withhold I have from my father. And I'm communicating that to him. It totally empowers me when I tell the truth."

"To become his partner is the way," Jack interjected. It's silly for us, his family members, not to be his partners. If he's got to deal with all the 'Did you get A's, did you do this, did you get all this stuff done?', if all the energy is spent there, then we're always at zero. Like if I get B's, that's a negative point, and then, every once in a while, we get to go above the line, nurturing and empowering.

"I'm very aware of where my relationship is at. I'm very aware of what condition it is in. If it's about cleaning it up, or about nurturing each other and making contributions."

Although I cannot accept the need to keep score on a relationship, still, I admired Jack for even being aware of his relationship with his parents at all. Most teenagers merely tolerate their parents. Even after those early tumultuous years, how many of us really consider our relationships with our parents? How many of us work at those relationships, keep track of whether they are working well or are cluttered and difficult, and put some thought and energy into how we can make them better?

"That's what I can see that we as children do," Debby said. "To share that with our friends."

"I did a family seminar down in Los Angeles about a month ago about teenagers and their relationships with their parents," Jack said. "A lot of my friends, if I can get them to start talking about their relationships with their parents, they become very clear that that is what their life is about. And they become their parents. They're very clear that they love their parents and that they want to have a relationship with them that works."

One of the common complaints of children of well-known people is that they don't feel free to express their sometimes negative feelings about their parents in public, or even to their peers, for fear of tarnishing the parent's image. Jack and Debby avoided this problem by having nothing negative to say. But I still wondered whether they felt pressured to keep up a front.

Debby said, "I think the public demands that we fit their pictures. I would think they'd expect Werner's kids to have integrity, to look nice, and to tell the truth and be open with people; and I want to fit that anyway."

"Absolutely," Jack agreed. "Being appropriate. As long as I'm appropriate, I have nothing to worry about. Though sometimes my ideals are not appropriate."

"Raz [Ingrasci, one of Werner's assistants] was talking to me about having a character instead of being a character. Like I'm a jar, and the character is a marble in the jar, instead of me being the jar, being the character. Okay, and having a character, you can develop and change it."

"At one point, I would wear very vogue clothes, scarves, and all my collars and sleeves were turned up. That was inappropriate."

I didn't see why it was inappropriate to be stylish.

He tried to clarify. "People look at me and see my clothes and forget that there's somebody there. My clothes would accentuate who I am; I shouldn't have the clothes out there. It should be me out there -- nicely dressed and well groomed."

I decided to change the subject. I asked how Werner's public persona differs from the way he relates to his family at home.

"Dad's in the public eye a lot," Debby said. "He's got his way of being in the world; none of it's a front or anything. It's just that he doesn't lay himself totally wide open. So when he's into the family, I think it takes awhile for that to disappear."

"He's out a lot. I've gone on trips with him. When we come back and we're doing things that just daddy and daughter do, there's a shift. I've only experienced it a few times. That's exactly when I'm his daughter. There's giggles and playing, and it's just outrageous. It makes being the person a lot easier. You know, that's like the spice, the sweetness in life."

Jack leaped once again to his father's defense, asserting that his father "really gets real" with people and "has them become a part of him." He did, however, point out one of the differences between public and private appearances that I had never thought about before.

"There's a bit more variety in the things we talk about," he said. "There are things you just don't talk about in public. People get offended."

I suspect that this is true whether or not one's family is in the limelight. Certainly, it is true in my family. Neither the intimate affection and playfulness nor the boisterous zest which comprise the best of our family occasions would suit the evening news, to say nothing of the political discussions, dirty jokes, gossip, and off-the-wall humor that are also a part of our daily private conversations.

"I don't derive a whole lot of pleasure out of the typical father-son relationship," Jack went on. "I mean, there seems to be a little bit of, pardon my language, shittiness in father-son relationships. You know the typical thing, the understanding that your father won't call you on your act and you won't call him on his act."

"I love being around my dad, and we have a great time. I love to go sailing with him, and flying, and things like that. I like being around him when he's around other people, because it gives me more of an experience of who he is and how he's relating to other people."

Like Debby, I have always felt that there is a special sweetness in the father-daughter relationship that is not experienced between men and their sons. I can only guess at the reasons: that the power struggle inherent in that male relationship constricts the affections; that men feel more comfortable expressing their tender side to their little girls; and that macho pressures are less. I do not presume that these are necessarily the factors affecting Jack and Debby, but we talked about the differences between each relationship.

"There's something that I think is only true with daughters," Debby said. "I don't think that Dad could share with Jack what he shares with me. That's not to separate him, that's just the way of the world."

"Do you think fathers have more expectations of sons than of daughters?" I asked.

"Oh, no," she asserted. "Not this one. He expects everything from all of us."

"From everybody," Jack added.

"See, I just want to make sure that my experience of my dad came across," Debby said. "I know there's a lot of room in my relationship with him to expand. I think that our relationship could become something very positive and something very powerful in the world."

"I have this fantasy that I could be able to learn what it is that makes our relationship so great and be able to communicate that to my friends and to other kids, to let other people know that you can actually have a relationship that isn't full of terrible things. I just want people to know that all they need to do is be honest and say all those things that they don't want to say. I told my mom horrendous things that I thought I'd never tell her. And after all that stuff is gone, there's just lots of love and lots of time to play. You can go out and do what you have to do; you don't have to worry about all that other stuff."

"I just want to say, I love my father a lot. As much as you can, I guess."


Jack and Debby Erhard: The est Family, interview by Kathy Cronkite

(excerpted from book, On the Edge of the Spotlight, by Kathy Cronkite -- pages 207-217)


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