March 21, 2013

“I’m not going to be here forever and I want Zac to know me”

Roger Ailes on his looming death and the mementos he's collected to leave his son.  Excerpts from the new book, Roger Ailes Off Camera by Zev Chafets

One day in his office, Ailes showed me a photo of Zac in a school play. The boy was made up as Teddy Roosevelt, in a suit and a fake mustache. Ailes studied the picture wistfully. The most painful fact of Ailes’s life is that he isn’t likely to see his son as a grown man. “I never really knew much about my father’s life, what it was really like,” he says. “I’m not going to be here forever and I want Zac to know me.”

Since Zac was four, Ailes has been putting things away for him in memory boxes; there are now nine, stuffed with mementos, personal notes, photos, and messages from Ailes to his son. They are meant to be opened when Ailes is gone. I was curious to see what Ailes was leaving behind. He was reluctant to show me, but he finally brought one of the boxes to his office. I had been expecting an ornate trunk, but it turned out to be nothing more than a large plastic container stuffed with what appeared to be a random assortment of memorabilia. There was a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution in which Ailes had written, “The founders believed it and so should you”; photos of Zac and Ailes’s wife Beth on family vacations; an itinerary of their trip to the White House Christmas party; and a sentimental 14th-anniversary card from Beth (“It’s important for him to know that his mommy loved his daddy,” Ailes said), on which he had scrawled a note to Zac: “Your mother is a beautiful woman. Always take care of her.” I saw a printed program from a Fourth of July celebration in Garrison in which father and son had read patriotic texts aloud, a few articles and press releases about Ailes’s career, and a couple of biographies of Ronald Reagan. Tossed in with the other stuff was a plain brown envelope that contained $2,000 in cash and a note: “Here’s the allowance I owe you,” which Ailes said was an inside joke sure to make his son smile. There were also a few symbolic gold coins, “just in case everything goes to hell,” he told me. “If you have a little gold and a handgun, you can always get across the Canadian border.” Zac is still too young for a pistol, but he sometimes accompanies his father to the shooting range at West Point for target practice.

At the bottom of the box there was a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War with paternal advice inscribed on the first page:

Avoid war if at all possible but never give up your freedom—or your honor. Always stand for what is right.
If absolutely forced to fight, then fight with courage and win. Don’t try to win … win!
Love, Dad

“This is advice Zac might need to hear from me in 10 years and I won’t be here to give it to him,” Ailes said as he closed the box. “I’ve told him, if he has a problem or he feels he needs me, to go off to a quiet place and listen, and he will hear my voice.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at March 21, 2013 9:43 AM | Permalink