From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Every family seems a bit dysfunctional when you get to know it well. No one seems to think his or her own family is “normal.” So if we are all a bit abnormal, then that becomes the new normal. Every family has its unusual members—the ones who make holidays so interesting, who make funerals a minefield, who have to be “managed” at weddings, and so on.

Family matters. And there are always lots of family matters to discuss in any modern family, especially mine. In my sixty years, I have sure experienced a lot of family, and my family is the most important, most rewarding, most challenging, and most wonderful part of my life.

I have had my share of family ups and downs, including the loss of my brother at age eighteen, but I am happy about the journey I have taken. My childhood was happy and in my adult years I’ve been married three times and I have ten children. The most exciting thing in life and the most difficult thing in life is family. With ten children, it does get complicated! Not only do I have to deal with being a husband to a strong and accomplished woman, but I also have to deal with the massive personalities of the children. When you’re dealing with this many people your life is very full. Dealing with a large family and large personalities makes the decathlon look simple.

It is amazing how different each kid is. There is a debate about genetics versus upbringing. The kids in each family were brought up the same way as each other and yet they are all so different. I believe that it’s genetics that really determine who we are, with a little sprinkling of “upbringing” on top.

With my first wife, Chrystie Crownover, I had my first son and my first daughter. Burt, who is thirty-two, has grown up to be one of those kids who is going to do it on his own. I respect him for that. He is not afraid to work but only if it is for himself. He only lasted three months in the one office job that he had, selling telecommunications services over the phone. At least he learned not to take rejection personally, which is great because this hardworking kid has now combined his love of auto racing and his knowledge of the Internet in a new business that he has been working on for years. In the meantime, being an entrepreneur, he pays the bills with his dog training and boarding business. His sister, my beautiful and very smart daughter Casey, is thirty, and is married to a great guy she first met at Boston College. They gave me my very first grandchild, Francesca Marino, who is a year old now.

With my second wife, Linda Thompson, I had two more sons. Brandon is twenty-nine and has the most talent in the family. When he was a teenager he banged himself up on a Motocross bike so he decided to learn the guitar while he was recuperating. It turned out he was really good. When he quit college in his junior year to pursue his passion, music, I was okay with that. I believe that you have achieved success when you can’t tell the difference between work and play. Brandon is one of those kids who doesn’t tell you anything as he goes along. Even though I am a pilot, he didn’t tell me that he was getting his pilot’s license until he already had it. He did the same thing with his music. One day he casually mentioned to me that he was performing his first live gig at the Malibu Inn. I didn’t even know he had a band. It was one of those great nights as a father. Brandon got up there and sang and played his own songs and he was phenomenally good.

Now Brandon and his girlfriend, Leah Felder, whose dad Don was the lead guitarist for the Eagles, are engaged, and are recording their first album for Warner Bros. Brandon grew up with a recording studio in his house. His stepfather was producer David Foster, an icon in the music world. Brandon and his brother Brody, who is twenty-seven, appeared with their mother in an early family reality show called The Princes of Malibu, which featured them living with their stepfather. The show didn’t last long but it is funny that my two sons were in a reality show about family long before Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It must be in our genes. That early TV exposure launched Brody’s career on MTV and he is now on the reality show The Hills, and is also well known for dating beautiful women!

Now with my new bride of twenty years, Kris, I have an even bigger family and I have had to learn a new set of rules—how to be a stepdad. Being a stepdad is very difficult. You’re living with the stepchildren more than with your biological children, but you’re not their real dad and they don’t let you forget it. Although I got along very well with Kris’s first husband, Robert Kardashian, my oldest stepchild Kourtney had a hard time accepting me as her stepfather in the beginning. She wore black for the first year of our marriage! Kourtney, who is now thirty-one, was just entering adolescence at that time, which helps explain it, although she continues to be tough and stubborn about what she wants. As time went on, Kourtney and I developed a very good relationship and it has improved even more now that she is a mother. We welcomed a new grandchild into the Kardashian side of the family almost a year ago, Mason, who is the son of Kourtney and Scott Disick.

These three Kardashian girls are very smart businesswomen like their mother, and I look forward to them all out-earning me. Kimberly, who is twenty-nine, is the most motivated of the three. She never stops working. She was a little younger when I became her stepfather and she and I have always had a good relationship. Khloe is the youngest, at twenty-six, and she was so young when I joined the family that we always got along really well.

That leaves one more Kardashian to discuss, Rob, who is twenty-three, and who we finally got out of the house recently, although he moved in with Khloe and her husband, Lamar Odom. That kid has lived a very cushy life with a doting mother and three older sisters. But he is very smart, and majored in business, and I expect him to do very well with our business partner who is teaching him the ropes as they develop the family’s PerfectSkin line of personal care products. Rob was devastated by the sudden loss of his father to cancer in 2003, at only age fifty-nine, so he is still overcoming that. And he is quite a perfectionist—he lines up his shirts by color—so we’ll see who he ends up with.

This brings me to my little angels, Kendall, who is turning fifteen, and Kylie who is thirteen. Kris and I had children with people we didn’t even want to be married to anymore, so it made sense to have kids together. These girls are really growing up in the public eye, between the TV show and their other activities. Kendall is already modeling for the Wilhelmina agency, and Kylie is waiting for her turn, but I told her she has to wait until she’s fourteen, which doesn’t make her happy. I’ve learned not to take her displeasure personally—I’m a professional father when it comes to young women and their hormones. But Kylie has a closer personality to Kourtney than anyone else because of her tough independence, so she will be fun to watch.

They are all fun to watch. And I know many of you enjoy watching them too. Kris and I have been starring on the ultimate family TV show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, on E! for the last four years, along with all six of Kris’s children and guest appearances from my older children. Many of you have been watching the ups and downs of our very colorful lives. By the way, it is all true. We really do act that way!

I think I am viewed as the stable guy in this mix of families and ex-wives and children. The Jenner/Kardashian household certainly swirls around me every episode, with so many bizarre events that you can see why that old adage “truth is stranger than fiction” is so wise.

Being in the show does not affect how the family operates. We really are who you see. We love each other, fight with each other, and stick up for each other. The bottom line is we all love and respect each other. We are a tight family and we have been through a lot together—divorces, the controversy over the OJ Simpson trial when Robert Kardashian undertook OJ’s defense. His attitude was that someone had to represent him, no matter what he thought of his guilt or innocence, and Robert had been his friend in college. Robert’s death was a terrible blow to the family. And then there is all the media furor. The show has actually made the family tighter. It’s not really a show about three crazy girls running around and having high-profile lives, but about a real family… a tight family. You see that at the end of every episode—the show always ends with the family making up and enjoying each other once again.

Everyone makes mistakes as they grow up. As a parent you just have to keep an open mind, lead by example, and give kids room to grow up. Kim, for instance, snuck off to Las Vegas when she was just nineteen and married some guy and then didn’t tell anyone. Kourtney figured it out after a while and went online and found the marriage record in the Las Vegas court. That marriage lasted a couple of years and ended badly. And just to show you that kids do listen to us, back then I told Kim that it was okay to get this first marriage out of the way while she was young and she told me I was an idiot. Then Khloe, who we thought was the least likely to get married, met Lamar and married him in two weeks, and I overheard Kim telling Khloe that it was good to get the first one out of the way while young! By the way, Khloe’s marriage seems to be working well, so we’re happy about that.

Khloe, who is so sweet, made her own mistake recently, had a couple of drinks with friends and then drove home. She was pulled over and got a DUI. It has been a year and a half of hell for her, between the media and all the consequences for this in California. It was a big mistake, but it was a good mistake: no one was hurt; there was no accident; and she learned a valuable lesson. I wasn’t mad, although she would have a problem with me if she did it again.

It could have been a lot worse. Three months after I won my gold for the United States in the Olympic decathlon in 1976, my younger brother Burt was killed in an auto accident that was his fault. He was only eighteen. You never get over something like that. I still have two sisters. Pam is older than me. She was always perfect—a great student and athlete who studied seven hours a night. She married a tax attorney and they live in Florida and Wyoming, having quite a nice life. Lisa is sixteen years younger than me, so we didn’t really grow up together, but she and my mom live in Idaho now so I see them there. My mom, by the way, is in her eighties, and she got remarried a few years ago to a ninety-year-old guy. So now I have a stepdad too.

Growing up, I was dyslexic and had low self-esteem. Everyone could read better than I could. So sports became my refuge, a place where I could excel and where I could bash into smart guys on the football field. My parents never encouraged me to do sports—they were just there for me. Back in those days, parents didn’t routinely attend their kids’ sporting events the way they do today. But I would look over at the stands during a basketball game and the only parents in the stands would be mine. My dad was a real hero. He was in the Fifth Ranger Battalion and landed on Omaha Beach. He got a Purple Heart and is buried at Arlington. He was a great example for me. I try to be a good example to my children as well. Kids watch everything their parents do.

Family is what really counts in our lives. My life is all about my family, first and foremost, so when I was asked to write the foreword for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters, I jumped at the chance. No matter what hurdles your family puts in front of you, no matter how tough the ups and downs, no matter how unpleasant the discourse they throw at you, raising a family and being a part of a family is a race worth running. Chicken Soup for the Soul has always been a great source of inspiration, comfort, understanding, and humor about family life, and I loved their first book on this subject, Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family. This new volume of stories that you hold in your hands really resonates with me—the stories are so funny, so outrageous, and so real. I hope you will enjoy these great stories as much as I did. They certainly rival the ones I live every day.

~Bruce Jenner

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