Published June 17, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

"Raising children," says actor Paul Newman, "requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. I had the energy, but not always the time." Time with the family is a precious commodity for famous dads like Newman, Bryant Gumbel, Richard Thomas and Gregory Hines. Each is raising his kids as best he can, and the one thing they have in common is devotion to their children. "I'm as much their friend as father," Hines says.

On this Father's Day, here's how they see themselves _ not as stars, but as fathers.

Bryant Gumbel

Today show anchor Bryant Gumbel believes that his wife, June, and their two children _ 11-year-old Bradley and 7-year-old Jillian _ suffer from neither loneliness nor neglect, despite his back-breaking regimen.

"My life with my kids is no different than the banker's children, except Daddy's not home for breakfast," says the 41-year-old host, who rolls out of bed

each morning at 4, works until 6 p.m., then bones up until midnight.

"It's true that Daddy's known," says Gumbel, "but there's never been a day when Daddy wasn't on TV _ so Brad and Jillian are used to it. And I'm hardly a stranger at home. I'm there every night for dinner and spend every weekend with the kids, taking Brad to his basketball game, cooking breakfast and dinner for the family, shopping for their clothes and helping them with homework."

Gumbel is a lot like his own father, a probate court judge whom he idolized: "My father never let his job dominate his life and never told us we were stupid. What you thought wasn't as important as how you articulated it. In the summertime, he'd give me a long reading list and test me. There was never a time he didn't have time. You've got to respect your children and treat them as little adults with legitimate thoughts and feelings."

But when the little adults misbehave, Gumbel doesn't hesitate to assume the role of disciplinarian: "I'm an extremely strict father and I expect them to behave. I believe in saying one time and one time only: Knock it off, that's not allowed. I will tell you once.

"I can't stomach parents who repeat the same warning continually. If it happens again, I hit my children. Spilling a glass of milk is understandable; sitting in a restaurant and playing with food is not. They've both been hit, on the butt or hand, but never in the face. Also, I'm extremely physical and hug and kiss on the lips and they're quite accustomed to hearing the words "I love you.'

"We also have a general rule in our house: No matter what you do, if you tell the truth about it, you won't get hit. Even if Bradley walks into his sister's bedroom and whacks her over the head with a roller skate, I won't hit him if he tells the truth, though he'll be punished _ losing bike and TV privileges."

"If I could give my children one thing," Gumbel says, "it would be self-confidence. But I don't know how. My son is very quiet, extremely sensitive, highly emotional and hurting in the confidence department. It breaks my heart when I take him to a party and he's the child off to the side. That's painful to watch. Jillian, on the other hand, walks into a room and takes over. She's gregarious, academically lazy, and doesn't have Brad's stick-to-itiveness. To watch Brad try is to break your heart.

"But I don't believe that kids are born happy or unhappy. They have to learn to be happy, to feel good about themselves, to understand what's worthwhile, and to mistrust quick fixes. There's no parent alive who doesn't want this for their children, and my Father's Day wish for Brad and Jillian is that they find happiness for themselves."

Paul Newman

When Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward recently returned home to their Fifth Avenue penthouse in Manhattan after finishing their latest film _ Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, due out this fall _ they cozied up together in one of their favorite rooms, an intimate study decorated with a carpet of wild tigers and assorted pillows.

"Live long enough to be a problem to your children," blares one embroidered cushion. "For a wonderful father," reads another.

The 61-year-old star, a wiry 145 pounds, father of six, is a modest, philosophic one: "I didn't have any talent to be a father," he insists. "That's an objective fact. I had no natural gift to be anything: not an athlete, not an actor, not a father, not a writer, not a director, not a painter of garden porches _ not anything. So I've really worked hard, because nothing ever came easily to me."

What could he have done better as a father?

Newman laughs: "Ask my children . . . they're all handcuffed to their beds just down the hall."

His children include Elinor (Nell), Melissa (Lissy) and Clea _ his three daughters with Joanne Woodward _ and, from his first marriage to actress Jacqueline Witte, Susan, Stephanie and Scott, who died in 1978.

"There are," he says, "about 180,000 liabilities having me as a father."

Susan Newman, who refers to the enduring sex symbol as "Old Skinny Legs," once noted: "It was pretty bewildering when we'd go out to dinner and 300 crazed women would approach our table."

"Some of my children have been more aware of the liabilities than others," Newman says. "One liability is that there's always an element of competition between children and their parents. It's unavoidable."

Scott Newman was an aspiring actor who died at age 28 from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. This is a family tragedy Newman does not discuss, though in his son's memory, he has established the Scott Newman Foundation, administered by Susan and dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse.

"Tell your kids," Newman advises, "that being a free agent, a responsible one, is what's cool; that you can get as much enjoyment out of saying "no' as from saying "yes.' Parents can't supply their children with utopia. But they can help them realize you can feel good without drugs."

Deeply committed to helping children, Newman has lent his strong support to Save the Children, adopted seven youngsters who continue living in their native countries, and donated all the profits from his spaghetti, popcorn, lemonade and salad dressing empire to more than 250 charitable causes.

His pet project is The Hole in the Wall Gang, a summer camp created for children battling leukemia and other forms of cancer.

"Being a good parent requires devotion to something other than yourself," Newman says. "If you're truly devoted, you're not looking in the mirror.

"There's nothing more touching than watching a mother or father embracing a child and seeing how totally unself-conscious they both can be. Selfless devotion is the thing."

Finally, Newman pooh-poohs telling children there are prescriptions for happiness.

"I don't even think about it, nor should they. Life is not a recipe."

Richard Thomas

Best-known and still loved by many as John Boy Walton, Richard Thomas is now the 38-year-old father to his own bustling brood _ identical triplets Gwyneth, Barbara and Pilar, now 8, and Richard Jr., 14.

Together with his wife of 13 years, Alma, Thomas & Co. have frolicked in Minute Maid juice commercials, though real life isn't quite so effervescent:

"I'm not a "superparent,' and fatherhood makes me frazzled," says the actor, overseeing his daughters in the kitchen of their Hollywood Hills home as they gleefully make "poisonous cookies," from Play-Doh.

"Keeping track of the girls is like trying to make the biggest bed in the world .


. as soon as you get one side tucked in, the other falls out. I console myself by saying there probably have been worse parents on the face of the Earth."

Although Thomas describes the birth of triplets in 1981 as "the happiest moment" of his life, havoc ruled the household with non-stop burping, bottling, diapering and feeding _ "every 90 minutes, each one for 20 minutes at a time. Nobody slept," he moans.

"The first thing we did was color-code the girls with earrings _ sapphires for Barbara, rubies for Pillie, emeralds for Gwyneth _ because it was impossible to tell them apart."

Their personalities, Thomas notes, are as diverse as their colors: "Barbara has a cheekier, cow-eyed face than the others. She's the first-born and the instigator _ bossy, a mother hen, very fragile. She's like a house of cards; if you blow on her, she falls apart. She loves to read.

"Pilar, much more oval-faced and Latin-looking like her mother, is very demure, and can fall asleep anywhere. She's quiet, yet dramatic. She loves to tap dance.

"Gwyneth has a smaller face, more pixyish, and she's the pragmatic one, and very stubborn. She loves to draw."

The girls move as a unit: "It's impossible to overstate how strong the bond is between them. When they're playing together, it's almost impossible to break into their force field. You have to jam their airwaves to interrupt them, because they're so powerfully connected. I hear them talking seriously about remembering being in the womb together _ who was crowding whom _ and they're serious."

Not surprisingly, Richard Jr. gets short shrift in attention, "and he treats all this as a divine practical joke," Thomas grins. "They refer to him as big brother and he calls them my girls. They're always kissing and hugging him _ and slapping him too!"

As for discipline, "in our house it's crowd control," says Thomas. "Sometimes I line the triplets up nose to nose to get them to listen to me. We make the punishment fit the crime _ usually no television, no video games, no telephone. I hit them on occasion, usually across the bottom, though every now and then our young man takes one across the puss if he talks back to his mother. There's nothing wrong with hitting a kid when they deserve it.

"Nag and slap is the backbone of parenthood," Thomas says, "and I don't believe in psycho-babble like "bonding' and "interacting' when it comes to raising children. But I also tell them I love them at least twice a day _ always."

Gregory Hines

Long before Gregory Hines shone on Broadway in Sophisticated Ladies or on the screen with Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights, the 44-year-old tap dancer-turned-actor was part of a family team: Hines, Hines and Dad. At 3, with his brother Maurice, Hines was tapping away at nightclubs in the Catskills, guided by the steady hand of his father, Maurice Sr., a jazz drummer, whom he adored:

"In the '50s and '60s," says Hines, starring this fall in Eve of Destruction, "when it was difficult for a black man to feel self-respect, my dad commanded that respect. He set a great example by always being honest with me and by fighting back and speaking back, even when it got him into trouble. I felt what he was feeling. Self-respect, not settling for injustice, is a great thing to teach your children.

"Although he wasn't strict, he wasn't too physically affectionate either. That came later in life. I, on the other hand, love to hug and kiss my kids and do it all the time."

Together with his wife of nine years, Pamela, and their 7-year-old son, Zachary, Hines has created what he calls a "dynamic sharing" with 19-year-old daughter Daria and 17-year-old stepdaughter Jessica.

"When I was divorced in the '70s, my former wife, Patricia, and I were looking for experimental ways to co-parent. I wanted to be a father, but didn't want to live in the same house with Patricia. Daria wound up living with me three months, then Pat three months, and ever since she's gone back and forth. Same thing with Jessica and her father. If parents can agree on co-parenting in a relaxed way, children are very flexible and naturally get into it.

"My wife Pam is like a second mother to Daria _ someone she can bounce ideas off . . . and that's the kind of relationship I have with Jessica. I'm her auxiliary father. She may call me "Greg,' but she definitely feels like my "real' daughter. And when I discipline her, she takes me seriously."

But like his own father, Hines is not a strict one: "My dad hit me only once in my life and didn't put much into it. He didn't need to hit me or even sermonize. That's because he was a jazz musician and when he spoke, it was like jazz."

Have any of Hines' children inherited his talent? "When I'm taking Zach to school, I do a little tap dance in the elevator and he imitates me perfectly. It's scary. But he hasn't asked for lessons and I follow rather than lead the kids in their hobbies. In the meantime, he's mechanical-minded and can manipulate those toy transformers that turn from robots into trucks or planes better than anyone.

"But," Hines adds, "Zach makes me feel great when he says, "You know, Dad, you're the best tap dancer in the world!' "

1990 New York News Inc. Distributed by Tribune Media Services