In the Long Run: A Father, a Son, and Unintentional Lessons in Happiness

In the Long Run: A Father, a Son, and Unintentional Lessons in Happiness

by Jim Axelrod
     
 

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"Got an urgent ‘you've got to read this book' note from buddy Armen Keteyian, and I'm glad he was insistent . . . Good read, and some very good lessons." —Peter King, Sports Illustrated

It's 2008. Jim Axelrod—once among the most visible correspondents on network news, the first TV reporter to broadcast from Saddam International

Overview

"Got an urgent ‘you've got to read this book' note from buddy Armen Keteyian, and I'm glad he was insistent . . . Good read, and some very good lessons." —Peter King, Sports Illustrated

It's 2008. Jim Axelrod—once among the most visible correspondents on network news, the first TV reporter to broadcast from Saddam International Airport in 2003, and CBS's chief White House correspondent—is covering Obama's end run on the Democratic nomination. He's forty-five and thirty pounds overweight. He's drinking too much, sleeping too little, and scarcely seeing his family. He's just figured out that the industry that pulled him up the ladder is imploding as he's reaching for its final rungs. Then, out of the blue, Jim is sent his dad's New York Marathon finish times. At forty-six, Bob Axelrod ran a 3:29:58. With everything going on in his life, the best Jim can come up with is, "Can I beat him?"

So begins Jim's deeply felt, often hilarious, quixotic effort to run the 2009 New York Marathon. Along the way he'll confront his listing marriage, a career caught in the implosion of the entire television news industry, the most god-awful shin splints and the worst-timed kidney stone, and the shadow of a loving father, who because he repeatedly lost his way still has a lesson to impart.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A raw, penetrating and deeply moving look at the impact of fathers on their sons, the price of ambition, and the pressures on those in the professional world that lead to a false definition of success.” —John Ward, Huffington Post

“A poignant memoir about the nature of ambition and finding true happiness.” —The Daily Beast

“Got an urgent ‘you've got to read this book' note from buddy Armen Keteyian, and I'm glad he was insistent . . . Good read, and some very good lessons.” —Peter King, Sports Illustrated

“In the middle of life Jim Axelrod lost his way. The road forward was dark, every given (marriage, values, career) up for question. How did he find his way out? By running for his life. In the Long Run has all the elements of a hero-journey: risk, suffering and transformation. But, being a consummate journalist, Jim narrates all of it with pitiless objectivity. Readers will bond with him each step of his journey, from the opening sentence to the last exultant mile.” —Ann Arensberg, winner of the National Book Award

“Jim Axelrod has written a tender and searingly honest book about life as a television network news correspondent: the self-doubt, the occasional humiliation, the risks, and the irrational and disproportionate price that the family pays to pave the road to success. He writes with all the understanding and hopelessness of an addict. As someone who has spent almost fifty years mainlining, I can testify that Jim has it right.” —Ted Koppel

“Jim Axelrod writes with passion and compassion. As the son of a marathoner and father of a young boy myself, In the Long Run had me hooked from the first sentence and kept me thoroughly engaged to the last. A terrific read!” —Dean Karnazes, New York Times bestselling author and marathoner

“An inspiration to runners and non-runners alike--and a reminder that the love of a family has no finish line.” —Bernard Lagat, two-time Olympic medalist and American Record Holder

“If Jim Axelrod had written a book just about his years covering war and the White House for CBS News, that would have been enough for us. Had he written a book just about his ongoing relationship with his dead father, that would have been enough for us. Had he written a book just about his effort to run a marathon, that would have been enough for us. In the Long Run is an uncommonly rich and layered book about the mad pace of modern life and the secret pleasures of the ten-minute mile. I loved it.” —Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated

“A wise and wonderful story about fathers and sons, the price of blind ambition, and the redemptive power of finding your own stretch of the road.” —Mark Frost, New York Times bestselling author of The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

“A meditation on work, life, and love by one of America's leading television journalists, In the Long Run is perceptive, passionate, poignant, and wise. It's a must-read.” —Glenn C. Altschuler, Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies, Cornell University

“Axelrod has a novelist's gift for storytelling, and his father, Bob, is as vivid to us as he is in his son's memories. A fine memoir.” —David Pitt, Booklist

“In this well-written, honest memoir, Axelrod, a national correspondent for CBS News, describes the dramatic effect of receiving an e-mail with his deceased father's New York City marathon times, which inspired him to train for the 2009 New York City marathon in the hope of beating the race time his father achieved at the author's age, 46. Of course, such an undertaking is a manifestation of larger issues, and Axelrod lays his midlife crisis bare while recounting the ups and downs of his training regimen. Jumping back and forth between the present and past, Axelrod explores his relationship with his father, a complex man who took to running to deal with his confusion about how to handle his fatherly and social obligations. A father and husband himself, Axelrod, who left to cover the Iraq War when his wife was pregnant, has his own domestic issues, mostly due to his traveling incessantly and listening to his father's advice to ‘never say no' to his employer. Like the mirrored relationship of Axelrod and his father, the book's other stories have a pleasing symmetry, as can be seen in the parallel accounts of the author's physical ailments, like a painful calf injury, and his emotional problems that culminate in a bout of ‘acute stress response' brought on by a near-death experience while working in Iraq.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Kirkus Reviews

A CBS News national correspondent reassesses his priorities after 12 successful years in the ruthlessly competitive TV news business.

As this polished memoir opens, the 46-year-old author is covering the 2008 Democratic primaries and fighting to win the air time that will guarantee his continued rise in network news.At the time, however, he was beginning to feel ignored and marginalized by new bosses, and he was also reminded of his father's race times at age 46 in the New York City marathon. So Axelrod decided to get in shape, run in the 2009 marathon and beat his father's best time. In alternating chapters, the author describes his arduous training for the big race and his relationship with his successful trial-lawyer father, a troubled charmer with few friends who escaped the pressures of life, marriage, and fatherhood through running. Axelrod's desire to outrun his father fits nicely with his driven ambition to provide handsomely for his family—a wife and three young children whom he rarely sees during months of constant travel. Following one of his workaholic father's rules for success—"Never say no"—Axelrod accepted assignments to cover the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, hoping that his bosses were finally coming around. But he failed to consult his pregnant wife, and his marriage became badly strained. The author eventually realized that his quest for fame and money was clouding the fact that he was obsessively focused on work that he did not really enjoy. He resolved to curb his ambition and settle down, in all respects, with his family.

A candid story that will resonate for many midlife readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809057528
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
05/08/2012
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the Long Run

A Father, a Son, and Unintentional Lessons in Happiness


By Jim Axelrod

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2011 Jim Axelrod
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-19211-2



CHAPTER 1

FEBRUARY 2008


My BlackBerry started buzzing on my right hip just as the crowd got its first glimpse of Barack Obama. I'd put it on vibrate, since I knew I'd never hear the ringtone once Obama appeared on the floor of the Toyota Center in Houston. The roar was immediate as he glided into the arena from a corner tunnel, and grew louder still as each of his loping strides carried him into fuller view of the crowd. By the time he jogged gracefully up the stairs to take the stage, I couldn't hear a word of the instructions my cameraman was yelling at me from four feet away.

I was standing on the media riser — a plywood platform set six feet off the arena's concrete floor, atop rickety scaffolding concealed by rectangles of rough royal-blue fabric. A dozen TV reporters were crammed together, each provided with a four-foot-wide broadcasting space marked off by electrical tape.

As chief White House correspondent for CBS News, I'd been assigned to cover Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary campaign. I'd loved getting the assignment, seeing it at the outset as just the kind of validation I'd been looking for from a new set of bosses. In the last year of his increasingly unpopular presidency, George W. Bush wasn't going to generate enough interest to get me on the evening news regularly. Lame ducks never did. So the White House was not the place to be.

When the assignments for the campaign had been doled out three months earlier, Obama was intriguing but still a long shot. Clinton was clearly the plum. Covering her positioned me not just for a short-term supply of lead stories but also for another few years on the biggest beat in TV news if she went all the way.

But since then, Obama's strong performance had raised the possibility that I hadn't landed the plum after all. I'd grown eager to see him live on the campaign trail. The breathless descriptions I'd been reading of the raw emotion Obama generated in the crowds hadn't set any standards for journalistic objectivity, but the reporters who wrote them hadn't oversold.

Standing in front of the camera making my last-minute preparations before I went on, I looked to my left and saw an African American man in his mid-thirties hoist a boy onto his shoulders so the kid could get a better look. The man's face was pulled tight in a severe smile, astonished to be sure but cautious as well, as if he wasn't quite sure he could trust what he was seeing. The expression on the face of the five-year-old was simpler: innocent, undiluted joy. Even if the boy didn't fully understand the meaning of the moment, he was on his daddy's shoulders. That alone was apparently reason enough for his ear-to-ear grin.

Houston might have seemed like an odd place for Obama to be on February 19, 2008, given that it was primary day in Wisconsin, but he was already looking ahead to the Texas primary in two weeks. I checked my watch, which I kept on New York time no matter where I was to stay synchronized with CBS headquarters in Manhattan. It was 9:15. At the bottom of the hour, I would update my report with a live shot for the West Coast feed of the CBS Evening News.

If, as some grizzled cameraman once told me, TV news is "hours of boredom, moments of terror," the live shot is the moment of terror. Not only can your whole day go to hell in an instant; your whole career can. There's a gazillion ways to screw up the shot — technical screwups, editorial screwups, going blank just when you're supposed to speak to seven million people — and every member of the live-shot team spends the last fifteen minutes checking and rechecking potential trouble spots to prevent TV tragedy.

On the media riser in Houston, Rob the cameraman and Giovanni the sound tech checked cables and lights while Chloe the producer linked up with the control room in New York. Inside the TV truck parked just outside the Toyota Center, the satellite operator made sure we had a steady broadcasting signal. As the correspondent, my obsession, naturally, was with myself. In my fifteen-minute run-up to the live shot, I flitted from applying a new layer of powder on my forehead to checking my tie knot, from smoothing the wrinkles in my suit jacket to making sure my earpiece fit snugly. Then I took a moment out of tending to the cosmetic touches and barked at the ever-calm Chloe to double-check the facts of what I was about to report.

Most of my two-minute story was a preproduced video spot running roughly a minute and a half and providing an overview of what was at stake in the Wisconsin race. That gave me fifteen seconds to introduce the spot live and fifteen seconds on the back end to add a final thought. The whole idea was to provide a way for me to update my story if anything had changed from the 6:30 East Coast broadcast. Good thing, because a few minutes after 9:00, we received word that Obama had been declared the winner in Wisconsin. Harry Smith, substituting for Katie Couric in New York, would handle that headline in his toss to me. My job was to seamlessly weave a reaction to Obama's win into my live intro.

Blowing the live shot would ruin the rest of the night and most of the next day, until I had another chance at one. Forget a thick Rolodex of sources or a finely honed ability to bang out sharp, urgent copy under deadline pressure; network news reporters are judged first and foremost by their ability to flawlessly deliver a four-sentence live introduction to a pretaped story with an insouciant air of command to millions of viewers. In the minds of the executives who run the network news operations, a single "um" or "uh" can undermine a reporter's credibility. And God save the correspondent who actually breaks eye contact with the camera to look down at his notes.

Over the years, I'd wrestled the live-shot demons to the ground. Somewhere between a live bungee jump on the local news in Syracuse and a live battlefield report under missile fire the night the war in Iraq started, I'd reached an accommodation with the pressure. Like learning to play the piano, speak French, or hit a nine iron, it was all a matter of repetition. In Syracuse, Raleigh, Miami, Dallas, Skopje, Brussels, Riga, and Amman, I'd figured out how to cleanly negotiate all the dangers and threats a live shot could present. I wasn't Edward R. Murrow, but I rarely flubbed. I still got butterflies when a director's gruff voice would urgently cue me, but hundreds of successfully negotiated live shots over the years had liberated me from the thought of a spectacular flameout recirculated in perpetuity on YouTube.

Or at least I thought it had. In the last few weeks, I'd grown less able to ignore the thoughts of failure. CBS News, my professional home for the past dozen years, had been through a violent shake-up. My new bosses were unfamiliar with my rock-solid live reports from the Iraqi battlefields. Not only were all the executives long gone who'd watched me go live flawlessly for ten minutes at a time, under fire, in the triple-digit heat of the Iraqi desert without a single "um," but so was Dan Rather, whose favor I'd earned and protection I'd enjoyed. Lately there'd been hints that my Clinton coverage had caused my stock to fall with the new executive team, but I wasn't sure. It could've easily been my paranoia, honed, like every TV reporter's, to museumgrade quality. Then came a meeting with my boss, CBS News president Sean McManus, which confirmed my suspicions with brutal clarity.

Most network news correspondents worked on three- or four-year contracts. The executives negotiated your next deal based on how often you'd been on the air during the last one. The system had been good to me over the years. I'd pushed for and received high-profile assignments — Afghanistan, Iraq, the Kerry campaign — to guarantee me an ever-increasing supply of exposure and airtime that I was able to redeem for big raises at the end of each of my three-year deals. But less than two weeks earlier, for the first time in my career at CBS, I'd pushed for a shot at a big job coming open and had the door resolutely slammed shut. Waiting on that riser, I felt some extra pressure. I needed to nail the live shot to see if I could wedge that closed door back open just enough to let a sliver of light through.

I could feel a film of sweat on my palms. Since that meeting with Sean, I'd been shaky going live, like a professional golfer suddenly unable to make a three-foot putt after twenty years of sinking them without a second thought. In golf it's called "the yips," a dreaded condition indicating that after years of battling the pressure, your nerves are shot. I was fighting a sinking suspicion that I'd contracted the broadcasting yips.

Which explains why at 9:28 New York time, I was standing on that platform in Houston, attempting to shut out eighteen thousand delirious voices chanting "Yes we can" by reciting the new copy I'd just dashed off about Obama's win. I needed to set it in my frontal lobe. I'd have one chance, and the slightest sense of panic could throw me off and cause me to go blank. Like a supplicant quietly chanting a prayer to ward off evil, I rehearsed my first line over and over, hoping to ensure a smooth start to my live shot when it was for real.

"Right now Barack Obama is riding a surge of momentum that the Clinton campaign would do anything to stop." I paused and took a deep breath, like I was between sets of bench presses. "Right now Barack Obama is riding a surge of momentum that the Clinton campaign would do anything to stop." I stopped and collected myself again. "Right now Barack Obama is riding a surge of momentum that the Clinton campaign would do anything to stop."

I couldn't decide where to put the emphasis: "a surge of momentum" or "a surge of momentum." I kept repeating it both ways, hoping one would sound better than the other to my ear. What the fuck was wrong with me? Forty-five years old, two Ivy League degrees, the chief White House correspondent for CBS News, and I was paralyzed with indecision about which of two words my bosses would want me to hit hardest.

The buzz I felt on my hip as Obama took the stage snapped me out of the inane debate I was conducting with myself. I pulled my BlackBerry from its holster. I had no time to check the e-mail beyond the basics — sender, subject heading — just to make sure no one was forwarding any last-second development that would change my story. A quick look told me it could wait:

From: Moughalian, Dave
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 9:48 PM
To: Axelrod, Jim
Subject: pretty cool


It was from my buddy Dave, who had a habit of sending me e-mails just before broadcast time, usually to vent some impassioned hatred of George W. Bush. I loved Dave, an in-it-for-life friend since we'd been ten years old, but his timing often sucked.

We'd grown up three blocks apart, ran track together, dated the beautiful Parisi sisters in high school, and were roommates for a year after college. His mother was my high school English teacher, a wise and enchanting Armenian who immigrated to America when she was thirty-two and proceeded to teach a generation of kids in our small New Jersey town how to write. In a soft voice dipped in honey and rose water, Mrs. Moughalian had drilled into us a three-word guiding principle: Show, don't tell.

Ever since I'd met him on the first day of fifth grade, Dave had been a calming presence in my life. He took in the chaos of my parents' home — four kids; a demented Hungarian sheepdog with a thick, matted white coat and ceaseless, paint-peeling bark; and my force-of-nature father — like a kid watching a pack of agitated chimps at the zoo. He was curious and intrigued, drawn to something in the overflowing passion of the Axelrod family. Perhaps it made him feel better about the stark stillness in his own home. My father spun through our house like an F-5 tornado. Dave's father, an engineer who was often gone for months at a time on business, would return to brood deeply about his lost old-country life amid stacks of metallurgy journals. I'd always thought Dave needed the roar of the circus to balance the soft voices of the library.

Once I saw Dave's name on my BlackBerry screen, I knew I could wait until after the live shot to open the e-mail, and I returned to preparing for my imminent moment of terror. In my earpiece I heard the music that signaled the start of the broadcast. I reviewed my newly tweaked live top one more time, took a deep breath, and waited for the toss from Harry Smith.

"Jim Axelrod joins us now from Houston. Jim, a big night for Barack Obama ..." I took it from there. All the prep work paid off. I nailed the shot, integrating the new information without a single "um" and emphasizing "surge." The control room cleared me, and I was done for the day. I unhooked my earpiece and microphone, careful to keep an impassive expression fixed on my face. I wanted to project a business-as-usual demeanor to mask the elation produced by my clean kill. Relief oozed warmly through my system. There was no better salve for the welts raised during that meeting with Sean twelve days earlier than the hope that I could still turn it all around.

I looked down at my BlackBerry again. There was nothing from New York. On the one hand, that was good news; no rockets launched about some screwup. On the other hand, while I didn't expect any "attaboys" for a job well done — a mistake-free live shot was what they were paying me to deliver, after all — I worried that the bosses had all gone home after the East Coast feed and missed my folding in the new information without breaking a sweat. I needed my new bosses to see what the old ones always had and begin to thicken the ice that had started to feel remarkably thin beneath me.

I might've been done for the day, but Obama wasn't. While he raised the roof delivering his stump speech, I walked off the arena floor and into an outer lobby, looking for a corner that might shield enough of the noise so I could call my wife. I checked in with Stina twice a day, bare minimum, once when she woke up and again just before she went to bed, and tried to catch her several other times so I could talk to our three kids as well. I could tell from the four rings before she picked up, and her sleepy voice once she did, that she'd fallen asleep reading to Bobby, our four-year-old.

"Hi, honey," she said, her voice trailing off. She sounded so worn-out. Sure she was tired of raising three kids alone, with me gone for months at a time, but this was more than fatigue. She was worried. This had nothing to do with her husband's new bosses and a change in his professional standing. In the eight years since my father died, she'd watched me head off to cover two wars, suffer enough post-traumatic stress to require several months of therapy, then allow my unrestrained ambition to lead me to an intensely demanding job at the White House. Until his death we'd been walking a path together, holding hands. Then suddenly I'd dropped hers and veered off into some thick woods, chasing something I couldn't catch. The easy joy Stina had always found as a wife and mother had started to leach from her home.

"That's okay, Stina," I told her. "Back to sleep. I'll talk to you in the morning. Love you." I hung up feeling hollow and detached. The balancing act I'd worked out long ago between my scampering up the career ladder and remaining connected to my wife and kids had started to feel badly outdated.

Wandering back into the arena, I climbed the stairs up to the media riser, pulled out my BlackBerry, and scrolled down to Dave's e-mail. I hit Open and saw a chart:

YEAR FIRST NAME LAST NAME AGE TIME
1980 ROBERT
AXELROD 44 3:42:43
1981 ROBERT
AXELROD 45 3:39:59
1982 ROBERT
AXELROD 46 3:29:58


It took a moment for me to realize what I was looking at, and just a split second more for my nose to wrinkle and my eyes to fill. Dave, who loved to tool around on the Web, panning for whatever nuggets he could find from our pasts, had found my father's race times for the three New York City Marathons he'd run in the early 1980s.

The tears were no surprise. I'm a world-class weeper. Since she was five, my daughter, Emma, has proudly declared, "My dad cries more than most men." Funerals and weddings are for amateurs. I've lost it at the end of Charlotte's Web. But nothing brings the tears more reliably than thinking about my dad.

His was one of those deaths that left everyone shaking their heads and scared the hell out of the men in the neighborhood. Never mind the three marathons he'd run in his forties. He'd eaten right and hadn't been much of a drinker. His parents had been ninety-one and eighty-nine at his funeral. And my mom was a health-food nut who'd made my dad the first guy on the block to mix wheat germ into his yogurt. He bubbled over with vigor. If they could've figured out a way to harness his energy, he could've lit Cleveland for a decade. All that, and he'd died at the age of sixty-three in January 2000, following a nine-year battle with prostate cancer.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from In the Long Run by Jim Axelrod. Copyright © 2011 Jim Axelrod. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jim Axelrod, a national correspondent for CBS News, previously served as chief White House correspondent.

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