We first loved him as Alex P. Keaton, the conservative teen in the 80s sitcom Family Ties. Now we love Michael J. Fox as a devoted family man – he’s been married to actress Tracy Pollan for 21 years with four kids: Sam, 20, twins Aquinnah and Schuyler, 15, and Esmé, 8 – and advocate for medical research (he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991).
The beloved Back to the Future actor, 48, opened up to Reader’s Digest about his new book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned, and some of his greatest advice.
On his best parenting advice: “Always be available to your kids. Because if you say, ‘Give me five minutes, give me ten minutes,’ it’ll be 15, it’ll be 20. And then when you get there, the shine will have worn off whatever it is they wanted to share with you. I’ve never gotten up to see something one of my kids wanted to show me and not been rewarded.”
On having four kids: “Is it only four? It feels like five sometimes.”
On if the secret to a successful marriage is finding the right person: “Obviously, that’s fundamental. But the key to our marriage is the capacity to give each other a break. And to realize that it’s not how our similarities work together; it’s how our differences work together.”
On if he believes in not sweating the small stuff: “Yes. How worth it is this to get crazy about. When people say about someone, ‘If they only knew!’ -well, they can’t know. Because they’re not you. You have to take it in stride and realize that someone can care for you and still not understand your every motive, emotion, need, and desire.”
On negative people: “I think the scariest person in the world is the person with no sense of humor. So that’s a test. If you have doubts about someone, lay on a couple of jokes. If he doesn’t find anything funny, your radar should be screaming. Then I would say be patient with people who are negative, because they’re really having a hard time.”
On any upcoming acting gigs besides his recent stint on Rescue Me: “No. I haven’t done anything in a while. The Rescue Me gig was a unique opportunity to play a character-a misanthropic, angry guy-who was so contrary to how people think of me. If another opportunity like that comes up, I’ll grab it. But in the meantime, I’ll let Tracy do the work.”
On quitting drinking: “I want to be really careful not to violate some of the principles by which I became sober. I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle. I’d rather drink battery acid than have a beer right now. But I would say that I picked up tools that helped me with Parkinson’s. And I say in this new book: There’s no better lesson in loss of control than to have Parkinson’s. Because you learn very quickly what you can control and what you can’t control. The only answer is to accept it. I do practice those principles every day: acceptance and gratitude.”
On forgoing medication before you addressed a Senate subcommittee to advocate for Parkinson’s research: “I couldn’t understand the backlash. I thought, Wait a minute-I have some kind of public obligation to hide my essential being? In the years since, I’ve come to realize that when I’m symptom-free on the medication, that’s not my natural state. My natural state is trembling and halting and having difficulty talking. So I enjoy the reprieve, but I’m not fooled by it. And if I’m in public and I am symptomatic, it has no bearing on who I am or what I’m trying to get done. Not to get too Zen about it, but if I stand apart from the moment and say, ‘In this moment, I’m struggling and I can’t do what I want to do,’ not only have I not had a good moment, I’ve missed the moment completely, just by standing outside it and judging it.”