Eight Is Enough: A Father's Memoir of Life with His Extra-Large Family

Eight Is Enough: A Father's Memoir of Life with His Extra-Large Family

by Tom Braden

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The true story behind the classic TV show: A father’s delightful account of raising eight free-spirited children in 1970s America.

Tom Braden had a colorful career: He parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, directed the CIA’s covert operations program during the early years of the Cold War, ran for public office, owned a newspaper, served as executive secretary for the Museum of Modern Art, and cohosted the CNN show Crossfire. He counted among his friends David Brinkley, Robert Frost, Kirk Douglas, and Nelson Rockefeller. But Braden considered fatherhood both his most important job and his biggest adventure. No wonder; he and his wife, Joan, a State Department official and Washington society hostess, raised eight children during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.
In this diverting family memoir, Braden shares a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes—from the time his youngest daughter’s pet sheep interrupted a dinner party with a Supreme Court justice to the telegram US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sent after the birth of the Bradens’ eighth child: “Congratulations. I surrender.” (The Kennedys had seven children at the time). With wit and wisdom, Braden also addresses some of the most serious issues, including drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex, faced by parents in an era of deep distrust between generations.
When ABC proposed adapting Eight Is Enough for television, Braden found the idea so preposterous he sold the rights for one dollar. The award-winning series starring Dick Van Patten and Betty Buckley ran for five seasons and launched the Hollywood careers of many young actors, including Willie Aames and Ralph Macchio. A celebration of the joys and tribulations of fatherhood, Eight Is Enough speaks with warmth, humor, and compassion to parents and children everywhere.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504045353
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 06/20/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 173
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Tom Braden (1917–2009) was an American journalist best remembered as cohost of the CNN show Crossfire and as the author of Eight Is Enough, which became a popular television program. A graduate of Dartmouth College, he joined the British Army and fought with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He was later recruited by the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, and parachuted behind enemy lines into Nazi-occupied France. He and his OSS paratrooper compatriot Stewart Alsop published the book Sub Rosa about their experiences.

Braden joined the Central Intelligence Agency upon its inception and in 1950 became head of the International Organizations Division (IOD) of the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination, the “covert action” arm of agency secret operations. He left in 1954 to become a newspaper owner in California, later returning to Washington as a newspaper columnist. He also became a prominent political commentator on radio and television.

Read an Excerpt

Eight Is Enough

A Father's Memoir of Life with His Extra-Large Family

By Tom Braden


Copyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4535-3


How I Resigned as a Father

It gives me great pleasure to look back upon the time that I resigned as a father. Solemnly, I handed the eight children what remained of their eight airline tickets. Solemnly, I bade them farewell.

We were nearing the end of that ghastly Christmas trip to the Caribbean, and I had had plenty of time to think the resignation through. So there was nothing angry about it; no bluster, no threats, no demands.

But I have never been able to decide which event in that whole series of events, each more exasperating and demeaning than the last — which event was it that forced me to the final step. And how did it start? Did it start, as resignations so often do, with doubt? Was it the sinking doubt I felt as I heard my wife say, "I'll pay the difference"?

Joan frequently offers to "pay the difference," and it is a sincere and generous offer because Joan is a sincere and generous girl. She buys her own clothes with the money she earns and always has some left over to be generous with. But what she has left over would be spent ten, nay a hundred, times if she indeed were required to pay the difference as she so often says she will.

Joan never worries about money. She is constantly and quite genuinely astonished that I should be worried about it. In moments of deep gloom, when I predict poverty or ask how she thinks we're going to live when we're old, she replies, "How do you know you'll be old?"

So when it comes to something everybody in the family wants to have or to do, I'm the one who says, "We can't afford it," and Joan is the one who says, "I'll pay the difference." Usually I reply with an appropriate snort. But sometimes, as on this Christmas occasion, I relent.

We were having an argument about taking eight children to the Caribbean for Christmas. Joan thought it would be a bargain. To stay at home and have Christmas presents for everyone, she contended, would cost about the same as to take everyone to the Caribbean, with the understanding that the trip would be the present; no others to be purchased; no others to be anticipated.

To buttress her position and to give it authority, as well as class, she had consulted, over a cocktail and a wafer, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Arthur Burns, or at least she told me she had. And I didn't doubt it, for Joan and Arthur Burns are friends, and Arthur Burns, a kindly and pleasant man, might well have agreed with Joan that she could do whatever it was she wanted to do.

Braving the contrary opinion of Burns, I tried arithmetic. "Ten airplane tickets at one hundred and fifty is fifteen hundred. Plus, say, five hundred for the motel. Have we ever spent two thousand dollars on Christmas presents?"

"Closer to a thousand," she admitted, "but you're not counting the tree and the decorations and a big dinner and guests and bringing in help. Anyhow, I'll pay the difference."

I recall a sense of foreboding, not only about what the difference would be, but about Joan's ability to pay it. Was that the first ingredient in the amalgam of anger, weakness and inability to cope which resignation implies?

Or was it Pan American Airlines? "We won't be able to get all of you on," said the man behind the counter as I handed over the ten tickets shortly before departure time. My jaw dropped. "What?" "That's right, sir. We have seven available seats but I may be able to find one more." He was businesslike. "Just wait till I finish counting." He bent over a huge chart. "Jim, did you say 230 or 231?"

My mind raced back over the morning: the five-thirty rising, the cup of coffee brought to my wife in bed by her namesake child, Joannie; the two taxis; the fourteen bags; the enforced jettisoning of the inevitable odd paper bags full of gum and dolls which always turn up at the front door whenever we go any place; the resultant tears; the trip back to the house because six-year-old Nicholas had to go to the bathroom; the airport; the tips; the fourteen bags again.

And now, what had the man said? "We won't be able to get all of you on." I was thunderstruck. Before my mind's eye, there flashed a picture of my friend Stewart Alsop, the Newsweek columnist, practicing his technique of a "puce face." Confronted by outrageous conduct on the part of those who are engaged in the business of serving the public, Alsop would inhale deeply until his lungs and cheeks were fully extended. He would then hold his breath while at the same time jumping in place, on both feet. The sealed-in air, combined with exertion, caused the face to turn bright red and the eyes to bulge. The room clerk who had sold out his hotel reservation, or the ticket agent who had presided over the surrender of his seat often assumed that he was dealing with a man about to have a stroke. Often, he would yield. I thought of making a puce face.

But Joan had beaten me to the tactic of demonstration. First, she screamed; then she began to cry. It was not going to do any good. The man behind the counter adopted that air of wounded patience so necessary to employees of airlines which regularly oversell their space and seldom get caught except at Christmas. "Take the seven seats, Mr. Braden, or I'll have to put the standbys on."

Behind me a sea of faces pressed forward eagerly, eyes estimating the chances if I should decide to spurn an offer of less than that to which I was entitled. Joan was still crying and I could hear sentences between the sobs. "I made these reservations two months ago; I reconfirmed them yesterday." The moment had come. Quickly, I counted off the children according to age, separated the baggage according to ownership, and ordered seven — Joan and the six youngest — across the barrier. The two oldest and I would arrive a day late.

It was maddening; it was abject; it was unfair; it was more than inconvenient; it was destructive of joy and of the pride of family. It was also fate, proving that I was a fool ever to have consented to this nonessential, expensive and exhausting expedition. But it was not a moment of resignation. I did not flag or fail. I sat in the airport all that day and halfway into the night and tried to be cheerful the while. It never occurred to me to bug out.

In fact, I do not believe that the thought of bugging out actually crossed my mind until Christmas was over and the trip home was well under way, and we were at an airport again and I had counted the fourteen bags again and handed the ten tickets over again, and the man had said, "Go right on board, Mr. Braden," and I looked around and five of the party weren't there.

I was panic-stricken. There was no time to lose. "They went to the restaurant with Nancy," one of the loyalists volunteered. Quickly, I strode through tables and chairs; quickly, I collared Nancy, who is sixteen and has long blond hair and blue jeans; quickly, I dragged her and her fellow deserters aboard. People looked up from their eggs. "It was embarrassing," Nancy said later, and I suppose it was. But I found her defense maddening. "After all," she explained to her mother, when she found her seat and the engines were starting, "I was spending my own money."

The other children sided with her. And Joan said she could see two sides. Two sides! Maybe that was the moment of decision. But if I was maddened, irritated, angry at Nancy's "own money" or at my wife's seeing "two sides," the last straw, the thing that drove me up the wall, was the remark about the platoon leader.

It was two-thirty in the morning and I was standing outside the elevator on the eighth floor of a hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport. I had supervised the loading of the fourteen bags from the conveyor belt and helped carry them to the bus and into the lobby, and now they were scattered in front of me and I was mentally trying to assign them and ten people into three double rooms with cots in two. "Dad," said my daughter Mary, with that air of supreme superiority which only college sophomores attain, "You act as though you were some kind of platoon leader. Don't you think running things as though we were all in the army is a little bit, shall I say, old-fashioned?" Her eyebrows arched and her lips pursed the final words.

That was the moment; that must have been the moment. "How else?" I said to myself, "how else do you get ten people to the Caribbean and back? How else do you hassle their baggage, count their tickets, parcel out their passports, pay their head taxes, get them out of restaurants and onto airplanes? How else, but by being a platoon leader? An honorable post, platoon leader. I have been a platoon leader once in my life and at no time during my tenure in that office did I have to put up with this kind of thing."

It was about nine that morning that I resigned.


How Everything Became Unwieldy

Probably I should never have had eight children. It seems odd to reflect that as recently as ten years ago, large families were not frowned upon. My mother was one of seven; my father the youngest of thirteen. Today, according to the Census Bureau, the average American family has 2.2 children. It is not only no longer fashionable to be polyphiloprogenitive; it is considered a positive crime against the environment. I understand this. I agree with the felt need, and I remember very well when it first occurred to me that eight was, if not too many, at least enough.

We were lying in bed in Oceanside, California, where I ran a newspaper, and Joan was nursing Nicholas, our eighth child. First we had had a boy, and then we'd had five girls, and though I never admitted to myself that I had a sex bias, the arrival of Elizabeth, the fifth girl, had seemed, at the time, redundant.

But an odd thing happened. Elizabeth turned out to have red hair, which made her very different. And then had come Tommy and then Nicholas. Stub Harvey, who was my golfing and touch football partner as well as the family doctor, pronounced the odds: "From now on you'll have boys."

Anyhow, on that morning the mail had come, brought to us in bed by one of the children, and Joan, opening it, paused over a telegram and laughed out loud. "Wonderful," she said, passing it on to me. With the tolerance due a mother with a newborn son, I refrained from remarking that it was addressed to me.

It was signed by the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy. "Congratulations," it read, "I surrender."

I was amused and proud. How many did the Kennedys have? Seven? But then a horrifying thought struck me. How much money did the Kennedys have? Somewhere I had read that each of the children of the Attorney General's generation had been made several times a millionaire. What was I doing accepting congratulations from a Kennedy on having more children than a Kennedy? Eight, it seemed to me at that moment, was enough.

It was, as I recall, my first major doubt and as it grew into decision, the Kennedys remained helpful. For example, I remember one summer in Aspen, Colorado, where we used to take the children from time to time, camping high. One morning, before the expedition was to start, Susan, who was ten, came into the motel bedroom bearing coffee for her mother and a copy of the Denver Post. I noticed that she was excited as she watched over the brimming cup she held in outstretched hand. "Mom," she said, "a terrible thing has happened. The Kennedys have caught up."

There it was, a small squib on the front page. "Number Eight for Ethel." Unanimously, the children urged that I do something about it at once. Joan thought it was funny. I pretended to laugh, but inwardly, I had made a resolution.

Was this joke about rivalry with the Kennedys transformed, in the minds of the children, into real rivalry, even animosity? On a subsequent summer, the Kennedy family also turned up in Aspen, and Bobby and Ethel and Joan and I all went out to the movies, leaving the Kennedy and Braden children in a rented house. When we came home, we found that the Braden children had locked themselves inside the house and were holding it as a fort while the Kennedys stood outside in the dark, some throwing rocks as cover while others made periodic assaults in an effort to storm the doors.

Looking back now, I'd like to pretend that it was all very friendly, which was, of course, what we pretended at the time. But it was not friendly. Those rocks were real. Do large families develop intense tribal loyalty and more than average consciousness of turf? Are they, therefore, inclined to be quarrelsome and aggressive when as a tribe they are placed in proximity to another tribe of relatively equal strength or self-esteem?

I had not liked that moment in the dark with the rocks flying. Too many rocks. Too many children.

But that was in 1963. It was not until late in 1966 that resolution turned to embarrassment and that I realized I could be charged with being an over-consumer of the world's goods.

"You're his type of guy," Kirk Douglas had said, speaking of Charlton Heston. "He ought to come in for at least a thousand." Douglas was having a fund-raising party, and the funds were for me because I was running for lieutenant governor of California. Kirk had been a stalwart in my campaign and that afternoon he had packed his house with friends and acquaintances and made the money pitch. Then, while the hat was being passed, Kirk brought Heston over to a corner of the room for a private chat; just Heston and me. Heston broke the ice with the subject of planned parenthood and we never got off it. He was, it turned out, an ardent advocate, a committed committee man. He told me how he had enlisted in the battle against population growth. The figures which proved the soundness of the cause came readily to his mind. Sometime during the conversation, he pulled out a check and wrote on it, holding it against the wall, and when he departed, he handed it, folded, to me. Not until I had turned it over to Kirk and saw the disappointment on his face did I remember that at one point the conversation had taken a personal turn.

"A hundred dollars," Kirk announced flatly. Then, "What in the hell did you say to him?"

"He only asked me one question," I replied. "I told him I had eight."

I still do have eight. I was reminded of it only yesterday. I had to write a column, get started on the income tax, do a radio broadcast, and have lunch with the Indian Ambassador. In addition, there were a lot of telephone calls. About 7 P.M. I settled into a brown leather chair to have a drink with my wife and review events. The following had occurred:

1. Joan had been called at her office in the early afternoon to be notified that Elizabeth was at the police station.

2. Mary had not eaten since her arrival from college for a brief vacation three days previously. Joan explained that she had become a Buddhist and was fasting.

3. Tommy's teacher had called to say that he was doing well at baseball but paying no attention to classroom activity and would we please exercise influence?

4. There was a nice letter from David, who was traveling around the world and had reached Afghanistan. The mail also included a notice from the American Express Company acknowledging the loss of his traveler's checks.

5. Joannie had backed the station wagon into the stone pillar at the end of the driveway. Estimated damage: $150.00.

6. We had an inconclusive discussion about what to do about Nancy, whom Joan described as "in a state of rebellion." Would we confront her, risking defiance? Or should we leave her out of family plans and hope she cared?

The problem of Elizabeth and the police station had been solved. At least, she was now in her room. It had been a warm day; she had skipped school and gone window shopping and a policeman had noticed. Should I go to her now, while I still think it's serious, or should I wait and risk revealing that I know she's not the first truant in history?

As I say, Joan and I were discussing these problems when Nicholas skipped excitedly into the room. "Dad," he said, "tonight's the finals of the basketball tournament and you promised to watch with me." I looked shamefacedly at Joan. She broke the news. "Daddy and I have to go out to dinner."

When Nicholas had left, I remarked gently, "Maybe we have too many children."

"You're wrong," Joan replied, "we just don't have enough time."


Why We Had Eight

I know how I had children. The same way everybody has children. But eight is different. And the difference was Joan.

The first time I ever saw the girl, I was sitting in the outer office of Nelson A. Rockefeller, waiting for an interview. I had been teaching at Dartmouth College, and one day the President of Dartmouth, an ebulliently kind and interested man named John Dickey, asked me if I would like to talk to his friend, Nelson Rockefeller, about a job at the Museum of Modern Art. I don't think John Dickey was trying to get rid of me. I think he thought I was too much interested in too many things to be interested forever in teaching English to college freshmen.


Excerpted from Eight Is Enough by Tom Braden. Copyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.

Table of Contents

  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • How I Resigned As a Father
  • How Everything Became Unwieldy
  • Why We Had Eight
  • How to Have Babies
  • How Not to Have Babies
  • Animals I Have Known
  • Castles They Have Known
  • Dad Shouts Too Much
  • Mother’s Rule
  • Our Rules
  • The Non-Conformists
  • Facing The New Morality
  • Security Blankets
  • The Love Affair
  • The Anti-Saloon League and Me
  • Unpoor and Unrich
  • The Good Life
  • The Garden of Eden
  • It’s Not My Fault
  • The Go-Girl
  • Help
  • Mrs. Clark Goes to Africa
  • So Help Us, God
  • Fathers Can’t Resign
  • About the Author

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