INTERVIEW: Tom North, author and businessman
September 5, 2013
Meet Tom North, a successful businessman from Carmel, California.
Tom grew up in a big family of 8 children. When he was 6 years old, a horrible tragedy hit the family – Tom’s father, a pilot working for the US Navy, died in a military jet accident.
Tom’s mother married again, to a man who was raising… 10 children of his own. Together, they had 2 more kids, taking the combined family total to 20 children. Now, this number alone was a public interest story in the 1960’s America. The story was featured in magazines like Times and Life, then finally picked up by Hollywood, the factory of dreams sniffing a sweet commercial success. In 1968, a movie titled “Yours, Mine and Ours“ – starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda in the roles of the mother and father – celebrated the ‘true story’ of a big happy American family.
The reality, however, was much darker than the light and sentimental fairytale on screen.
45 years after the movie, Tom North has published a book called True North: The Shocking Truth about “Yours, Mine and Ours” – a grim story of a family repressed and abused by a violent father / step-father, a portrayal of a home where stress-levels were constantly ‘off the charts’.
Yet despite its gallery of human cruelty, this is ultimately an uplifting story. Not one of the Hollywood kind, but in the way life itself creates happy endings: through inner transformation. With the daily help of Transcendental Meditation practice, Tom North is leading by his own example.
We put some questions to this man of great heart and wisdom.
Interview with Tom North
The Hollywood movie, “Yours, Mine and Ours” was released to critical and commercial success in 1968. You were 14 years old at the time. In what ways did this national event influence your life?
Tom North: As a 14-year old, I found it exciting to experience the magic of Hollywood and see the family story turned into a movie. The attention from the public was at the same time thrilling and confusing. Seeing the movie portray my family in a heart-warming context is something that I could only wish was true. It was not. Henry Fonda played the part of Frank Beardsley as a warm, wise and loving man, but the real Frank Beardsley was violent and abusive. The contrast between the movie and the real experience created difficult, conflicting emotions, especially when confronted with a public image that was false. I was expected to support a lie in public when all I wanted to do was scream the truth, and to escape.
You have said that yours is a “story of tragedy and inspiration“. What are the key moments, the most vivid snapshots that illustrate this journey?
Tom North: There are too many moments to recount that fall into the category of tragedy. Chapters 1-11 of True North-The Shocking Truth about “Yours, Mine and Ours” chronicle the difficult and sometimes tragic early years of my life. The inspirational snapshots begin in Chapter 12, when I began to practice Transcendental Meditation. That was the turning point in my life that started my recovery.
Why did you decide to write this very personal and candid book, True North: The Shocking Truth about “Yours, Mine and Ours”, so many years after the hurtful events in your youth?
Tom North: In chapter 26, I write about the family therapy sessions which took place in 1989. After these sessions, several of us (Norths) decided to never publicly support the fantasy/lie of “Yours, Mine and Ours” again. In subsequent social conversations, I was asked if the movie reflected real life. When it was appropriate, I would share the real story. People would invariably respond that this was a book and that I had to write a book about this story!
I dismissed this suggestion, but several people over the years told me that they had been inspired by my story to resolve issues in their own lives and had been successful. I realized that my story was helping people. I thought that perhaps there were more people that could be helped if I did write a book, so in 2008 I began to write what became True North – The Shocking Truth about “Yours, Mine and Ours”.
What factors do you see as essential for your healing process – the transformation from defensiveness, low self-esteem and bitterness to a more relaxed, open and loving state of being?
Tom North: The most important factor in my recovery has been and continues to be regular contact through meditation with Silence, the Absolute, the essential nature of each of us. It is this silent Bliss that replaces stress and disorder in the physiology and in the psyche and is responsible over time for the transformation I and many others like me have experienced.
When and how did you come across the practice of Transcendental Meditation?
Through a series of fortunate encounters, a friend of mine introduced me to Transcendental Meditation in 1975. I learned to meditate on February 22, 1975.
Numerous academic studies have shown that the technique of Transcendental Meditation has a powerful effect of stress relief. Speaking from your own experience, from a psychological vantage point-why do you think meditation has this outcome?
Tom North: In my own life, the practice of Transcendental Meditation has been the most powerful influence in replacing darkness with light. Transcendental Meditation has such a powerful transformational effect on people because it connects them to their own essential nature, which is Bliss. Regular infusions of Bliss during meditation change the physiology and the psychology of the individual and literally makes for a happier person. I speak from personal experience.
You now earn your living as a businessman, a practical and hands-on profession by its very nature. Many people think of meditation as an esoteric undertaking, something distant and detached from the events ’on the ground’. What is the relationship between your working hours and your meditation practice?
Tom North: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, always reminded listeners that meditation is preparation for action. This has been my experience. I don’t go out into the “events on the ground” in my daily activity without first preparing by meditating. Maharishi used to say, “Twenty minutes in the bank; a full day in the marketplace.”
You lead a busy life. How often do you miss your daily meditation sessions these days? Does it unsettle you?
Tom North: I don’t miss any daily meditations. It is a matter of priorities for me and nothing is so important that it can’t wait. I always meditate, twenty minutes twice a day. I don’t ever skip my meditations, so it never unsettles me!
The story of a lobster
One of Tom’s favourite pastimes is being out in the nature, on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. In a recent interview to Cynthia Fernandes from the local Simple Life Radio, Tom described an incident which is a moving metaphor of the power of transformation:
“Sitting in the sand was a decrepit looking lobster that was about 4-5 pounds in size. All of its legs were broken off. One of its antennas was completely missing, even the base of the antenna was missing. It was covered with barnacles. I thought it was a molt or a shed, because lobsters shed their exoskeleton every year as they grow. They will continue to shed and grow, shed and grow – effectively forever, until some natural predator or parasite kills them and ends their life. Theoretically, no one really knows how long lobsters can live; there have been lobsters who have been measured to be 150 years old. So I thought it was a shed, it was in such a bad shape – I went over to look at it. And as I approached it, the remaining antenna moved. I thought, ‘Oh, you poor thing! You’re still alive!’ I wasn’t so sympathetic because I’m collecting these lobsters to eat them. So I thought, ‘Well, I’m sympathetic but not sympathetic. I’m gonna put you in my bag!’
So I took it home. I’ve always wondered: when a lobster suffers an injury, how long does it take to recover from that, to grow a new appendage? They grow everything, you know. So I wondered if that takes one molting cycle – about a year – or is it two, or three? I have a home aquarium. I put that lobster in there just to see if it would survive, and how long would it take to molt.
Two weeks later I came home. The lobster was upside down, clearly dead. I thought, ‘Oh, you poor thing! You didn’t even have enough energy to molt…’ So I got my little forceps and I pulled it out, and I realized… it was a molt! And I looked on the other side of this rock in the aquarium, and there was this brand new lobster! It was transformed, from a victim of some violence to a brand new lobster – with two antennaes and all eight legs… Everything was renewed.”
Excerpt from the book
True North: The Shocking Truth About “Yours, Mine and Ours”
“I was walking near the ballpark one day and a little girl commented to me, “It must be wonderful to have such a big family! And to have all the attention you get from the movie!” I just stared at her and then moved away mumbling something incoherent like, “Yeah, sure.” How could I tell her, or anyone else for that matter, that my mother had made the biggest mistake of my life? That the man she married was a tyrant, that living in his household was like living in a war zone, and that I was never sure when the walking landmine named Frank would go off or who the casualties would be.
Someone once said that children’s minds are like wet concrete – everything that lands there leaves a permanent impression. A lot of negative tendencies developed in my attitudes and persona as a result of living in the “get tough or die” environment of the Beardsley home. The emotional energy and psychological conditioning that my siblings and I received was a continual barrage of insults, name-calling and abusive taunts. It was common for Frank to get my attention by addressing me as “Hey stupid” or “idiot.” The currents running through the family were so negative that I lost most of my sense of self-worth and self-confidence in the first few years. I began to display a tendency toward being sullen, sarcastic and withdrawn.
When I was in first and second grade in Oak Harbor, Washington, I attended the Department of Defense Grade School which was provided for the military families who lived on or near the Navy base. One of my teachers at that time later came to visit us in Carmel. When she got to the house, she asked to see me. I had withdrawn so much that she was shocked by my diffident behavior and reserved, frightened demeanor.
“Do you remember me?” she asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Well, I was your first grade school teacher. I remember you because you were the smartest pupil in my class.”
I looked at her suspiciously. “That’s not true,” I answered. “I’m stupid. My new dad tells me how stupid I am all the time.”