PW: Has your father read your new book [Big Russ & Me]?

Tim Russert: Big Russ wants to wait until it comes out as an actual book. Naturally, he's very curious, somewhat amazed that he's done anything that anyone would want to write about. He believes he lived such a simple, middle-class, American life. But that's what I want to share. I've already spent 12 years interviewing the great and powerful. My son, Luke, read it, though.

PW: What did he bring to the process?

TR: Until the scene I described in the opening chapter, I tended to see my father as a veteran, as an active member of the American Legion, an organization which brought so much to my childhood. Then when my son turned 18, I realized he was the same age as my father when he was sent off to war. I suddenly saw my father as a mere boy aboard the Queen Mary, going off to fight in a war he didn't understand.

PW: What kind of grandfather is Big Russ?

TR: Very doting. He wasn't what you'd call a doting father. He loved us, sure, but when I was growing up, when my father reprimanded me for something, forced me to rake the leaves, told me to drive either sober or not at all, I had no notion that was love. But Luke and Big Russ just love each other's company. They talk about baseball, about girls, all those things my dad and I didn't often talk about.

PW: Where does the optimism of Buffalo, N.Y., your hometown, come from?

TR: Walking backward to school in the snow. Everything after that is easy. You know, Buffalo was such an important steel and manufacturing town in the '50s and '60s, and when those industries declined people decided that was the end. Many people left, going to places in the Sun Belt in search of employment. But they always came home, and a lot of them returned for good. Sure, there's December, January, February. But you have skiing in the winter, farm country in the spring and harvest, Canada, boating and Indian summer. Thank God February is only 28 days long.

PW: How might New Frontier idealism be rekindled for your son's generation?

TR: When Kennedy ran for president, there was a feeling in our Irish, middle-class neighborhood of "Isn't this great? He's one of us." I saw some of that in 1984 with Jesse Jackson. And we'll see it again when a major party has a woman for its nominee. My son and his peers did learn a lot from the struggle in the courts after the 2000 election. Before then they and a lot of people had never thought about the electoral college. They wondered what athletic conference it was in.

PW: What about this year?

TR: We have even more access to real-time information. We're very aware for such a large, unwieldy democracy, especially now, knowing that one percent can make a difference. A lot of people come up to me, and their analysis is as perceptive as anyone I talk to on my shows. I hope people read and watch everything. The Daily Show, the papers, whatever. Let the debate begin.

PW: What has the reaction been to your book so far?

TR: One surprising thing is the number of people, friends, strangers, all telling me and writing me about their own dads. Some talked about strained relations, some mentioned how they never had a chance to thank their dads. I would love it if this Father's Day people get into a dialogue with fathers or about fathers.