Henry Winkler’s parents expected much more from him which caused a rift in their relationship. The actor reflects on his time as a child often, recalling some negative memories that shaped him.
Henry Winkler is a name most people are familiar with because of the iconic roles the actor has portrayed in his long career. Most notably, Winkler is known for his role of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli in “Happy Days,” a character that is still highly referenced in pop culture today.
But Henry’s on-screen confidence was not something he mirrored in his real life as a child. The actor recalls the self-doubt and humiliation he often faced because of his learning disability that finally got diagnosed in his 30s.
When Henry Winkler was a child he was often berated by his parents for not being good enough. Born on October 30, 1945, in Manhattan, New York to Jewish parents who had escaped the holocaust, Winkler had high expectations placed on him.
The actor’s father Harry Irving Winkler, was the president at an international lumber company. His mother, Ilse Anna Maria, worked with his father in the same company.
As a child, Henry Winkler faced immense pressure to achieve academic success. His parents expected a lot better from him but Winkler always struggled with his school work.
He knew he wanted to be an actor from a young age even though his parents wanted him to join their company when he grew up. But in school, he was unable to participate in some school plays because of his low grades.
Winkler’s academics suffered and his parents were not pleased. They wanted academic success from their child and when he could not deliver, they became upset.
He recalled, “They believed in education. They thought I was lazy. I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential.”
Winkler did everything in his power to improve his academics but was unsuccessful. As a result, his parents would often ground him as they were convinced that if Winkler was at his desk studying for 6 weeks straight, he would be able to succeed.
Winkler recalls painful memories of his parents and their cruel remarks about him. He even shared their nickname for him which was “Dumm Hund” (dumb dog).
He talks about an incident that has stayed with him since his childhood. As a curious child, he had put his ear near his bowl of cereal to hear the famous “snap, crackle, and pop,” when his mother saw this, she became angry and chased him around the dinner table as a result. He still doesn’t understand what was so bad about his actions to prompt that reaction from her.
Winkler always maintains how much he admired his parents for escaping Nazi Germany and providing their children with such a good life. But he also says that they were emotionally destructive. According to Henry Winkler, his sister Beatrice recalls their parents completely differently which confuses the veteran actor.
However, despite the adversities he faced in his childhood, he graduated with an MFA from Yale in 1970.
Winkler has been married to his wife since 1978. The couple met in the early ’70s when Winkler was in search of a sports coat and asked Stacey Winkler for help in making a decision. They began dating shortly after.
Winkler was not diagnosed with dyslexia till he was 31! The actor’s step-son was being tested for possibly having the learning disability and only then did it click in Winkler’s brain that he too, might have the condition.
As a child, Winkler says he went to bed and told himself he would never be like his parents, and that is exactly what he did. All three of Winkler’s children have been diagnosed with dyslexia and he treated them all with kindness and patience, getting them the early intervention and help they needed to thrive.
The actor ensured that, unlike his childhood, his children would not let their diagnosis impact their self-image. Winkler said he knew it was a parent’s job to keep their child safe and encourage them, this is exactly what he did with his children.
He said, “I think one of the most important things in being a parent is seeing your child in front of you as who they are — not who you want them to be. If you do that, it solves about two million problems right off the bat.”
While in his three children, Jed Weitzman is his step-son, he went on to have two biological children, Zoe Emily Winkler and Max Daniel Winkler.
Jed Weitzman is a manager for the musician Morrisey. His daughter Zoe Emily Winkler graduated from Loyola Marymount University and became a nursery school teacher. She is also the co-founder of “This Is About Humanity,” an organization aiming to raise awareness about separated and reunited families.
His son Max Daniel Winkler decided to follow his father’s footsteps into Hollywood and is a writer, director, and producer working on popular productions such as “New Girl” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and more.
The actor is also an author of the popular Hank Zipzer series for children. The series is loosely based on Winkler’s own childhood experiences as a child with dyslexia. The long-running book series reiterates the same message; that academic success is not the only measure of intelligence.
Winkler and his wife adore being grandparents. Winkler never got to experience a bond with his grandparents since all of them were taken to concentration camps during the holocaust and hence cherishes the relationship he has with his grandkids.
He told an interviewer about one of his grandchildren recognizing him from television. He said, “my wife and I babysat our four-year-old grandson, who is allowed to watch one show before he goes to bed. He has Happy Days on his DVR. He turned to me, he said, ‘That’s you. Your hair was different. You were skinnier then’”
He said his grandchildren were too young to realize that he was a famous actor and to them he was merely their doting grandfather “Papa” which was good enough for him.
After the heartbreaking childhood Henry Winkler had, he wanted to make sure his kids never felt that way. As a parent, he has gone above and beyond to ensure both his children and grandchildren know they are good enough as they are.
The actor’s approach to parenthood is beautiful. Share Henry Winkler’s philosophy on raising children with your friends and family!