Veteran newsman Lester Holt has been helming the NBC Nightly News desk since 2015, but a younger crowd is bound to recognize him as the host of NBC Nightly News: Kids Edition, where the journalist swaps his suit and tie for a more casual outfit as he tackles the pressing topics of the day, from the coronavirus to spelling bees.
Holt credits his 'intuition" as a family man for helping him break down often heavy topics in a way that's "palatable and understandable" for children.
"I'm a father and grandfather and I often would speak to my kids about events in the news, some of which were unpleasant and unsettling," Holt, who shares two grown sons, Cameron and Stefan, with wife Carol, tells Yahoo Life.
"When they were little we'd often sit around the dinner table and talk about things in the news," he says, "and they always wanted my opinion and I would keep trying to push them back to really develop their own opinions and to understand all the things that go [into that]. So for example, if you're talking about raising taxes to achieve a particular goal, what's the impact of that? And I would try to walk them through it and help them understand. I'm a big believer that — and I say this on Nightly News Kids Edition from time to time — knowledge is empowering. The more you know about something, the more you can understand, how it affects your life. Is there something you should be afraid of or concerned about, or not? And I try to approach the stories in that manner."
It's a strategy that appears to have worked not just for Holt, but for his sons, now in their 30s. Son Stefan Holt has followed in his father's footsteps, working as an NBC anchor based in Chicago. He's also made Holt a grandfather — or "granddude," as the journalist is known to grandsons Harry and Sam. A third grandson is due this fall.
Here, the Dateline NBC host opens up about life as a grandparent and what covering news for kids has taught him.
Did you come up with the title "Granddude"?
I take full ownership of that name. My daughter-in-law, when she was expecting her first child, she said, "Well, what do you guys want to be called?" She's a planner. I immediately glommed on to the name "Granddude." I like it because it acknowledges that I'm a senior — that I'm the "grand" — but "dude" is kind of about the fact that hopefully I've still got a little gas in the tank.
You've had two sons and two grandsons, and there's another baby on the way. Are you ready for a girl?
We found out it's another boy [laughs[, so there's definitely a pattern developing here. But would I love to spoil a little girl at some point, if that happens? Yes, of course. But we're just thrilled for them. Their family is expanding and they continue to include us in their lives. They're in Chicago now, so that means getting on a plane, but that's OK. They can't keep me away. We're very excited.
The pandemic made it difficult for a lot of grandparents to see their grandkids in person. How did your family stay connected?
We did a lot of FaceTime, as we continue to do now. I sometimes wonder how we would have all gotten through this just 20 years earlier. We would've figured [something] out, we would've gotten on the phone or whatever, but certainly technology has brought us all closer together. It's made my job possible in ways that would have been really difficult a couple of decades earlier. But yeah, a lot of FaceTiming, and we did get to see them on one occasion during the pandemic, with a lot of precautions and that sort of thing. We still have to acknowledge the fact that they're both under 12, so of course there's no vaccine available to them right now. So it's not entirely out of the woods, certainly, when it comes to our children, but we're hopefully getting there.
What's your favorite part about being a grandparent?
People have always shared with me that you get to spoil them, you get to love them and hug them and all that stuff, but when the hard work comes, you get to make an excuse to make your exit [laughs]. Seriously, it's all great. It's fun to see a little bit of your child's personality come through in these grandkids. Sometimes, even my son doesn't necessarily see what we see. But it's just fun to watch them grow. It's also fun to see your child really take on the role of parent and watching them instill values in their children. It's very special.
Do you have any advice as a grandparent in terms of doing the fun stuff but also acknowledging certain boundaries?
I think it's truly to take the cues from the parents. Your child and their spouse this is their child they're raising, and hopefully with strong values. It's their household, and I think it's really important to respect that and ask, "Is this OK?" Occasionally I'll post something with the grandkids, but it's always proceeded by a quick text or a conversation. "Are you OK if I put this out there?" I think it's just a matter of respect all the way around.
Your sons are now both in their 30s. What are you most proud of in seeing them as grown men?
I think it's just that they're terrific young man. We were very lucky when they were growing up. There was frankly never any drama. There was no trouble — that I knew of [laughs]... They were good boys and they're really solid, good men. They're friendly, they have a strong work ethic, they're running their own way in life and as a parent, you really couldn't ask any more.
Have you noticed any major shift in parenting norms from when you were raising your boys compared to now, as you watch your son be a dad?
No. Obviously the technology in childcare has changed a lot. There's lot more doodads and stroller things that we didn't have, but in terms of raising kids, it's basically the same. You know what is possible and you work from within that. We were not afraid to take our kids out at early age to restaurants or to travel with them, and I'm seeing the same thing with my son Stefan and his family. I can't think of any changes — they're still little people and they need us. I think as they get older, they'll navigate an area that we didn't really have to deal with, with how children can incorporate social media in their lives in a healthy way. It's they're certainly part of all the generations now that are coming in, and I suppose that will be a challenge. Right now at [age] 4 and 2, it's not a big deal, but you know, it will be.
Your job involves meeting very influential and famous people. Who could you meet that would impress your grandsons?
I'm sure it would be a Sesame Street character [laughs], or whoever wrote "Baby Shark." They're really at that age where I don't know if they would be impressed by anyone. You may have seen [a video] I posted a couple of months ago. I was thrilled that the youngest one was impressed by his granddude when he finally recognized me on TV one night. He started screaming "Granddude, Granddude, Granddude!: So I guess right now me and his father are the only celebrities in his life.
What are your favorite things to do with the boys?
I like reading. Reading was a part of my life: My mother reading to me as a child and I loved reading to my boys before bed every night, and I love reading to my grandkids. In fact, at one point during the pandemic, I brought out my video camera and my tripod and my microphone, and I set up and I read a book on video for them and then sent it to them. So that's something that is a very special event and there's nothing more special than holding a child and they fall asleep for naptime or nighttime.
Any favorite books that you guys love?
Goodnight Moon. I'm a big The Little Engine That Could fan. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel... most of these are ones I read growing up. It's fun to watch them turn the page and begin to sound out words for themselves. And it's such an enriching moment, not only from the reading and the words, but also just that close time with a child is really amazing.
It's been such a heavy news year. Does the more approachable tone of Kids Edition feel like a relief at times?
It's a way to kind of break things down, and sometimes as we're doing it, I'm thinking, you know, we can all benefit from taking some of the big words out of the equation and just kind of break down stories. Stuff's coming at us a million miles an hour every day and jargon — political jargon especially — gets out there and acronyms and things like that, and you're really not quite sure what it all means. And I think I take a little bit of lesson from this program that sometimes we do have to pause and back up and not to talk down to the audience, but acknowledge that not everybody's an expert in these things. Not everybody knows what conciliation means in terms of passing a bill in Congress or whatever. Just slow down a little bit. That's what we try to do on Kids Edition: not talk down, but really slow down and really kind of enlighten them about stories on a level that, hopefully, is appropriate.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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