Henry Winkler’s grandparents were deported to concentration camps, and he only heard about them through stories since he never had the chance to meet them.
Similarly, during his childhood, the performer heard his classmates speak about their parents taking them on outings and the enjoyable experiences they had with their families. However, this concept appeared unimaginable to him, and he was never able to experience to such an event.
Winkler’s admiration for his parents centered on one pivotal decision they made: to escape Nazi Germany in 1939 and start anew in America. He recognizes that his current lifestyle is made possible by their brave departure.
Although he acknowledges the benefits of his parents’ escape, he cannot overlook the emotional pain he experienced in his youth. He viewed his parents as toxic to his emotional well-being and felt that he was never truly listened to as a child.
The actor’s relationship with his mother was so distant that when his son Max inquired about his memories of her, he disclosed that he had only witnessed her laugh twice in his entire life, and those instances were years apart.
Having experienced a difficult upbringing, Winkler made a promise to himself to become a better parent than his own had been. While his parents had not shown an interest in his thoughts and feelings, he made sure to listen to his own children and be attentive to their needs.
Winkler took every opportunity to impart life lessons to not only his children but also their friends. He recalls instances where his kids’ friends would visit and confide in him about their problems. Although his kids may have preferred him to simply exchange greetings and leave, Winkler would take the time to listen and inquire about their worries.
If there was one thing he wanted to impart to his children, it would be the value of listening. Winkler noticed a common lack of listening in adult-child relationships, with grown-ups assuming that kids are too inexperienced to understand their struggles. In contrast, he firmly believed that this was not the case.
Winkler made every effort to create a nurturing environment for his children, removing them from the public eye and ensuring that they had a stable and ordinary family life. He also made a conscious effort to avoid repeating his parents’ mistakes, particularly their harsh and occasionally unpleasant behavior towards him.
As a child, the actor went to bed each night with the conviction that he would not become like his own father. He kept his word, never resorting to physical discipline with his own child, despite having experienced it himself with items like hands and hairbrushes during his own childhood.
Winkler was deeply affected by a childhood incident in which he leaned in close to his cereal bowl to hear the “snap, crackle, and pop” sounds, prompting his mother to explode in anger and chase him around the table. He remembers this incident vividly and has spoken about it in interviews.
Despite his successful career in California, Henry Winkler travelled to New York to take care of his ailing mother, who had been emotionally harsh towards him in his youth. Despite being criticized and called names by his mother, Winkler rearranged his schedule to become her caregiver during her time of need.
Despite his efforts, the actor still felt guilty when he couldn’t be there for his mother. Winkler did not believe in providing assistance from a distance, even on days when he had no other option.
He recalls seeing his mother lose her will to live during those moments. While he and his sister held onto hope for their mother’s recovery, she had a different perspective on her illness.
After his mother’s death in 1998, Winkler became passionate about stroke awareness and advocacy, particularly in the area of upper limb spasticity, which his mother had suffered from. He wanted to make a positive impact and help others who were going through similar experiences.
Recognizing that nearly a million people suffer from stroke annually and 7% experience upper limb spasticity, Winkler believed that raising awareness of Botox as an approved treatment option was worthwhile. He wanted to help improve access to effective therapies for those affected by stroke.
Winkler has frequently shared his admiration for caregivers, considering it a magnificent and honorable career that demands numerous sacrifices and sleepless nights. When it comes to advising caregivers in challenging situations, he encourages them to acknowledge and accept their feelings of hardship.
Winkler believes that it is important to be honest about one’s feelings as keeping everything bottled up inside can cause them to explode eventually.