Meant to Be

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For many years, Parade magazine's Walter Anderson, one of America's most admired editors, harbored a deep secret about his heritage and the circumstances of his birth. With the publication of this affecting memoir, he reveals the truth about his life and tells the inspirational story of his rags-to-riches career.

Anderson grew up on the "wrong side of the tracks" in Mount Vernon, New York, the youngest child of an alcoholic, abusive father. He escaped his situation by quitting ...

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Overview

For many years, Parade magazine's Walter Anderson, one of America's most admired editors, harbored a deep secret about his heritage and the circumstances of his birth. With the publication of this affecting memoir, he reveals the truth about his life and tells the inspirational story of his rags-to-riches career.

Anderson grew up on the "wrong side of the tracks" in Mount Vernon, New York, the youngest child of an alcoholic, abusive father. He escaped his situation by quitting high school at sixteen to join the Marines. Four years later, while on leave to attend his father's funeral, he stuns his mother with a question that has inexplicably haunted him since he was a small boy: Was the man who had so tormented him in his childhood his real father? Her answer: Walter was born of a wartime love affair between his Protestant mother and the Jewish man she loved. His mother swears him to secrecy, and he honors their pact for nearly thirty-five years, and then one day he meets an unknown brother — another son of his real father — who has lived a similar, nearly parallel life. Their secret, in ways large and small, defines the course of his life.

Meant To Be is a love story, a journey of self-discovery and spiritual reckoning, and a provocative challenge to commonly held notions about the role of heredity in our lives. Passionately told and deeply moving, Anderson's memoir is the mesmerizing story that he was always meant to tell.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
On the day of his father's funeral in 1969, Anderson, the longtime editor of Parade magazine and CEO of Parade Publications, asked his mother a question that had been on his mind for years: "The man we just buried... Was he my father?" She admitted Anderson's real father had been a Russian-Jewish man she fell in love with while her husband was fighting in WWII. Learning he was, in fact, not the son of the abusive, drunken man who'd raised him would change the course of Anderson's life, but he honored his mother's wish to keep her secret while his two siblings were alive. Thirty-four years later, his astonishingly honest account of his family history is bound to become a coming-of-age classic. Anderson's deft handling of his impoverished childhood in Mount Vernon, N.Y., bears no trace of self-pity. He doesn't gloss over the incessant beatings he suffered at home or the cruelty and taunting he endured on the streets, but he also manages to pay tribute to the neighborhood mother who took an interest in his education and the friends who stuck by his side. Although Anderson's account of his college years and early days in publishing are riveting, the pieces of his puzzle really fall into place when he finally tracks down his half-brother, Herbert Dorfman. The build-up to their first conversation is the stuff of blockbuster suspense and, when it finally happens, Dorfman says it all: "This is simply amazing." Agent, Jack Scovil. (Sept.) Forecast: Anderson's connections to Parade, which has a circulation of roughly 36 million, are enough to make this book a hit, but they'll be aided by blurbs from Elie Wiesel, Marlo Thomas, Bill Bradley and other luminaries. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Anderson had a real surprise when he returned from Vietnam; he learned that his real father was not the man who raised him but a POW with whom his mother had an affair. That didn't stop Anderson from becoming editor of Parade. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lean, readable, and sanguine memoir celebrating an adult rite of passage. In brief, briskly paced chapters explaining how he finally came to meet his biological father, former Parade magazine editor Anderson frequently pauses to interject Deep Thoughts and Philosophical Questions. "Why is God unfair?" "How can I marry Loretta?" "Elie [Wiesel] understands, Mom. This hurts more than I expected." (This last as he looks at his dead mother.) These literary public-service announcements interrupt rather than enhance a remarkable story. Only after his father died could 21-year-old Anderson finally ask his mother the question that had bothered him since childhood: who was his father? The man who had just died beat Anderson so often that the promising student left school early and joined the Marines to get away from home. He’d always sensed that he was different from his two older siblings, both in temperament and appearance, and his mother confirmed these feelings. His real father, she told him, was Albert Dorfman, a Jewish co-worker with whom she had an affair during WWII while her husband was fighting in Europe. Recalling his tough childhood in an equally tough neighborhood, his experiences as a sergeant in Vietnam, and the hardships following his return (protests against the war, he believes, made finding a job difficult), Anderson also details his alienation and anger during those years. Learning the truth helped; he attended college, found work at a newspaper, and married happily. Because his mother had made him promise not to tell his siblings about her affair, he only felt free to find his real father after they died in middle age. All ends well as families meet and bond, and Anderson, nolonger angry, finds meaning in his life. Self-help and grit vividly affirmed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060099060
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/14/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Anderson has been editor of Parade since June 1980. He is a member of the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Sciences, and he serves on the boards of Literacy Volunteers of America, the National Center for Family Literacy, the National Dropout Prevention Fund, Very Special Arts, the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and PBS.

He received a 1994 Hortio Alger Award, for which he was nominated by the late Norman Vincent Peale, and the Jewish National Fund's Tree of Life Award, which he received from Elie Wiesel. He lives in White Plains, New York, with his wife Loretta. They have two children.

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First Chapter

Meant To Be

Chapter One

I immediately recognized the blue suit. He had bought it years before from Mr. Freeman, a salesman who sold clothes and shoes door-to-door in our old neighborhood. This suit -- the only one he owned -- had seen some weddings and retirement dinners in its time, but mainly it had been worn to funerals. And now it had arrived at its last funeral: his.

The morticians had carefully dressed him in the old blue suit, a white shirt and a blue tie, then placed his body inside a polished wood casket, arranging his forearms so that his right hand crossed neatly over his left. It was on his face, though, where the craftsmen of the Burr Davis Funeral Home in Mount Vernon, New York, had proved their craft, accomplishing a remarkable feat: The late William Henry Anderson seemed serene -- his eyes closed, his expression neutral, as if he were enjoying a deep and peaceful sleep.

Where is the rage now? I wondered.

A few hours earlier, my brother Bill had given me a copy of the obituary that had appeared that day, February 7, 1966, in the local newspaper, the Daily Argus:

William H. (Whitey) Anderson Sr., 56, a retired troubleshooter for Con Edison, died yesterday at the U.S. Veterans Hospital in the Bronx. Mr. Anderson, son of the late Henry W. and Edith (Heikkela) Anderson, was born April 23, 1909, in New Rochelle. A Mount Vernon resident for 35 years, he was a volunteer fireman in Engine 2 and company captain for 14 years. He was a World War II veteran. Surviving are his wife, Ethel (Crolly) Anderson; two sons, William H. Anderson Jr. of Mount Vernon and Sgt. Walter H. Anderson, a U.S. Marine; a daughter, Mrs. Carol Gennimi of Yorktown Heights; a sister, Mrs. Dhyne Seacord of Elmhurst, L.I.; and five grandchildren.

I remembered his boast: "When I go, they'll all be there!" And they were. The funeral parlor was filled. Dozens of firemen who knew him from his days as a volunteer filled the rear rows. Former co-workers from Con Edison, relatives and family friends from Mount Vernon, Saratoga, New Jersey and Long Island had found seats or queued in the side aisles.

My sister, Carol, was seated in the front row next to my mother. My brother, who had been an Engine 2 volunteer himself but was now a paid firefighter, finished greeting his fellow firemen, then joined me standing in the rear.

"I don't see any of the Cheatham brothers," I told Bill. "Aren't they coming?"

From the age of five until I quit high school at sixteen to enlist in the Marines, we had lived in a tenement on the corner of Eleventh Avenue and Third Street -- directly across from Cheatham Brothers Moving and Storage Company.

"No," Bill said. "The Cheathams won't be coming. Out of respect. Mom told me they called her."

Strange, I thought, that my brother didn't say the words "colored" or "Negro" or "black." He knew that his father's best friends, his favorite drinking buddies, were absent because of their race, that they must have decided their presence would cause discomfort or be unwelcome.

I guess I was still mulling this contradiction after the eulogy began, because the minister was well into it before I realized that I didn't recognize the man whose virtues he was praising: "Loved and loving"? How about "feared"? "Kind"? How about "rough"? "Respect for the Scriptures"? Where did that come from?

"Who the hell is he talking about?" my brother whispered. "The old man would not go for this."

"Amen," I said.

Then my mother -- to the genuine surprise of my brother, my sister, me and probably everyone else in the room who knew her well -- began crying hysterically, pleading, "Willie, take me with you!" Before we left the parlor, my sister, brother and I did our best to soothe her, and we must have succeeded, because she was relaxed when we got her home.

Two days later, the pastor spoke only briefly at the Beechwoods Cemetery in New Rochelle. My sister, her husband and I then drove to my mother's one-bedroom apartment in Mount Vernon, where I was staying on emergency leave from the Marines.

"When are you going back to San Diego?" my sister asked me.

"I have to return to the base by Saturday," I told her. "Meanwhile, I'll stay with Mommy, so she won't be alone."

"Now that Daddy is gone, are you still planning to stay in California when you're discharged?"

I knew that really wasn't meant to be a question. Carol was persistent. Now that I had returned safely from Vietnam, my sister wanted her little brother to come home forever.

"California's my future," I said, and in an attempt to quickly close the discussion, I added, "I'm going to go to college there."

"They have colleges here, you know," Carol persisted.

"Thanks," I said. "I knew that."

She made a face. This was merely the second or third round of Carol's campaign, I was sure. I could count on more discussions over the next couple of days before I returned to San Diego.

About an hour later, after my sister and her husband had gone, my mother and I sat alone in her living room. As we spoke, I could see her demeanor change dramatically. She was at ease now, talkative, even lively.

I encouraged her as she reminisced, and I listened closely as she again repeated in detail the circumstances surrounding her husband's death, which had been caused by a cerebral hemorrhage. She described the funeral, who had come, what they had said. She recalled for me the best times of her marriage, then the worst. It was as if she had an overpowering need to express herself. It was a bursting dam. Finally the flood subsided, and she sat quietly ...

Meant To Be. Copyright © by Walter Anderson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Book Description

This true story begins when Anderson, a 21-year-old Marine sergeant recently returned from Vietnam, stuns his mother with the question that has inexplicably haunted him from his earliest years: Was the alcoholic, abusive father who had so tormented him in his childhood his real father? Her truthful answer: Walter was born of a war-time love affair between his German protestant mother and the Russian Jewish man she loved. He keeps their secret for nearly 35 years -- until the day he meets an unknown brother -- another son of his real father -- who has lived a similar, nearly parallel life.

Meant to Be is a love story, a journey of self-discovery and spirituality, and a provocative challenge to common notions about the role of heredity in our lives.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Walter Anderson attributes his drive and eventual career success to his mastery over his childhood difficulties. Is there a correlation between ambition and overcoming hardship?

  2. Walter confronts his mother about a secret she has kept for so many years. Are children entitled to know their parents' pasts?

  3. Walter finds out that he is the biological son of a Jew. What are Walter's responsibilities to the faith of his father?

  4. Walter lived with the secret of his parentage for years. How does living with a secret affect intimate relationships?

About the Author:

Walter Anderson is chairman and CEO of Parade Publications and an Advisory Board member of Literacy Volunteers of America and National Center for Family Literacy. A high school dropout, he is a national spokesperson for GED and directorof the National Dropout Prevention Fund. Additionally, he is a member of the board of advisors of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and the National Council on Economic Education. Anderson is also the creator of a series of filmed discussions with prominent Americans called, "It's About Time" and was the 1994 recipient of the Horatio Alger Award.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2004

    Excellent story of how life can deliver the unexpected.

    Mr. Anderson has allowed us a glimpse of life that reveals the unexpected and unusual that can befall us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2003

    real lives, real world, real book

    I have trouble with 'professional' reviewers when they review memoirs or autobiographies. How does one get inside someone else's head, heart or soul and then 'review' that person's life? That said, your book was sensitive, honest and brave. It takes grit to relive it much less put it down on paper and share it. I read it in one sitting on a dreary autumn afternoon. The weather suited your description of your emotional trip to Russia. Although, I was deeply touched with your story as a whole, your 'speech' to Ivanko was stellar. I wish you well and continued happiness with your 'new' family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2003

    I can relate!

    Mr. Anderson I can relate with you I never knew my real dad either and I had abusive step 'fathers' one physically and one mentally so I can relate to both sides of the spectrum and this all happened to me before the age of 12 but I'm now 15 and doing good thanks for writing this book!

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