Parade's Walter Anderson Reveals the Secret of His Success

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Walter Anderson just retired as chairman-CEO of Parade Publications, and he's already accepted a new job.

His employer is the Jonathan Daniel Anderson Imagination and Construction Co. and his title is grandpa. His 9-year-old grandson is president, and the company makes workbenches -- Jonathan designs them, and they both put them together.

Like any good company, it has rules. "For instance," Walter told me in a video interview, his grandson "can't use a tool unless he can tell me what the tool is, how to handle it properly, and tell me what it's used for. So he knows every tool, and sometimes it can be rather fun. He'll be with an adult, and quite innocently he'll say, 'Excuse me, Uncle This or Mr. That, that's not the proper tool for the job; this is what you need.'"

If the workbench market bogs down, Walter will still manage to keep fairly busy. He's an author and playwright, and he has a play going into production called "Johnny's War," produced by Julian Schlossberg. And there are a couple of more in the works, including a musical.

Actress Marlo Thomas once called Walter a "gutsy, tough warrior" for a book he wrote about his search for his real identity. He quit high school when he was 16 and spent almost five years in the Marines. When he came back his father died. "After the funeral, I was alone with my mother," he wrote. "And I said to her, after we talked quite a bit, 'Mommy, the man we just buried. Was he my father?' And there was an instant of shock, and then she said, 'No.'"

I asked Walter why he asked that question, and he told me that's why he wrote his book, "Meant to Be: The True Story of a Son Who Discovered He Is His Mother's Deepest Secret." He wrote the book to learn for himself why he asked that question.

Walter always had a sense he was different. "I had a very strong feeling. It wasn't so much the physical. . . . It it was more of who I was. It just didn't feel right.

"And it turned out that my mother, a German Lutheran married to a Finnish-American, had an affair during World War II with a Russian Jew. And I was the product of that. And she kept me a secret for all of those years. She made me promise not to disclose [the secret] to my brother or sister, because she was very embarrassed, and she didn't want to hurt them. And so, as long as they lived, I would not disclose [it to them], nor to anyone else."

Walter's sister died at a young age, and his brother passed away in 2000. He told his mother, "Mom, I kept the promise all these years." She replied, "You're free to tell anyone. You're free to tell the children." So he did, and his son wanted to find out if they had other family. Walter hired an investigative reporter to work with his son, and they discovered Walter had another brother, Herbert Dorfman. Herbert was also a writer and eventually became producer of NBC News.

When he met Herbert, his brother had a manila folder with pictures of their father. "One of the most difficult things I've ever had to do was to open that folder, as much as I wanted to see it. And I opened it up, and I saw my face. On the cover of the book, most people think it's me in the upper corner. It's actually a picture of my real father."

When Walter's mother told him he had another father, his real father was dead. "She didn't find out that he had died until all of this." And his mother, before she died, got to meet Herb. "Now we are a larger, more extended family."

Walter believes that real success "is to live with dignity. And the most important dignity is to be yourself." After his search to find his true self, I'd say he's a man who lives with dignity -- even when he's making workbenches with his grandson.

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