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The Haysbert Principle

Vaulted into stardom by his role as President David Palmer on "24," Dennis Haysbert brings his trademark integrity to new role.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Haysbert, Nov/Dec 2006

(continued from page 6)

He is, he hopes, a good dad. "I get them every other weekend and any other time that I can muster. I love them freely and unconditionally, [but] I can also be firm. If something's not done [or] done right, or they're being lackadaisical in some really pertinent way, it's incumbent upon me to tell them and let them know that.

"See, I have a theory about parenting. There's an old saying: 'If you watch your pennies, you don't have to worry about your dollars.' Well, if you watch your kids when they're younger, you have less to worry about when they're teenagers. You just give them the attention that they need and deserve, and love them.

"I think it's all about love. When you say to them, 'Look, I'm saying this and I'm doing this because I love you and I want to see you survive your teenage years, I want to see you live fully,'" says Haysbert, "it's from love. I have friends say to me, 'I don't know how you do it,' but I have two of the most bright, polite, good-natured kids you'll ever find."

The discipline that he offers them, Haysbert admits, also has to apply to himself. When teased about eating some fried chicken being offered by craft services during a lunch break, even after having espoused the importance of eating healthy earlier in the day, he doesn't bat an eye. "You have to understand that I rarely, rarely eat something like this, but if I want a little of something I'll have it. A little. That's it. I don't 'jones' for things I know I shouldn't have…I just don't have them."

What Haysbert does have from time to time is a cigar, usually, he says, after a great meal ("a big, fat steak maybe, with some great wine") or when hanging out with close friends. He prefers Cohibas and the Fuente Fuente OpusX line, dark cigars with strong flavors that go well with two fingers of The Macallan single malt at the end of an evening. Haysbert also admits that perhaps part of the camaraderie on "24" came from many of the cast and crew hanging out in the "cigar room" on the set where, says Haysbert, a little male bonding would occasionally happen over a cigar, a hand of cards and a Scotch. But even that, he implies, comes with responsibility, moderation and discipline.

"When I knew that my son, when he was little, would smile like me, would posture himself like me, hang on to my every word…from that moment on I learned that that's a great deal of responsibility. Everything I do, these kids are going to look at and emulate, just like a son emulates his dad shaving. And now for my daughter, it's the women I date…"

Ah, dating. Haysbert is discreet when talking about his romantic life but, after pointing out that his parents were married for 51 years before his father's death, he admits that, after two divorces, he wants the complete package in his next serious relationship.

"I've seen a lot of women and men get married for some interesting reasons, and not all of it," Haysbert pauses for a second, "or I would say, very little of it, really, has to do with love. It has to do with what one can gain, whether it's financial security or they've got someone on their arm that is beautiful.

"I also hear some guys say, 'You know, things are good,' but it's the exception, and I want that exception," he says. "I don't want things to change [in a romance] just because of marriage. I want someone that I can laugh with. Someone that I can have a discussion with, that even if you disagree with each other, that you are together, you have each other's back. That you love and respect one another. That you can enjoy each other's company, that when they're sick you react as though they were your child.

"You know," says Haysbert, smiling, "I've had my children's projectile vomit on me, but it never changed how much I love them. You just stroke their head, put a cold compress on them. That's what I want…that unconditional love."

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