Our Mothers Ourselves

Marsha Emanuel, mother of Ezekiel, Ari, and Rahm Emanuel

June 16, 2020 Zeke Emanuel Season 1 Episode 6
Our Mothers Ourselves
Marsha Emanuel, mother of Ezekiel, Ari, and Rahm Emanuel
Chapters
Our Mothers Ourselves
Marsha Emanuel, mother of Ezekiel, Ari, and Rahm Emanuel
Jun 16, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Zeke Emanuel


Katie talks with Zeke Emanuel about his mother, Marsha.

Marsha raised three incredible sons in the 1960s: Zeke, now a prominent physician and health policy expert; Rahm, President Obama's Chief of Staff and former Mayor of Chicago; and Ari, a famous Hollywood Agent.

Instead of Boy Scout meetings and Little League practice, Marsha Emanuel took her three little boys to Civil Rights marches and anti-war protests.

Zeke and Katie explore what it was about Marsha's out-of-the-mainstream approach to child rearing that helped shape him and his two younger brothers.


Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)


Show Notes Transcript


Katie talks with Zeke Emanuel about his mother, Marsha.

Marsha raised three incredible sons in the 1960s: Zeke, now a prominent physician and health policy expert; Rahm, President Obama's Chief of Staff and former Mayor of Chicago; and Ari, a famous Hollywood Agent.

Instead of Boy Scout meetings and Little League practice, Marsha Emanuel took her three little boys to Civil Rights marches and anti-war protests.

Zeke and Katie explore what it was about Marsha's out-of-the-mainstream approach to child rearing that helped shape him and his two younger brothers.


Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)


Natalia Linos :

It's so funny that when I switch languages, I switch completely the the word. The Greek word I would say is 'δίκαιος,' which is fair. So she's fair. She is just. And it's so strange because that was not the word that I would that I would use in English.

Katie Hafner :

Welcome to Our Mothers Ourselves, a weekly conversation about one extraordinary mother. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. Athena Linos has been called the Anthony Fauci of Greece. She's an MD epidemiologist from a small village. Her dad was the town baker and her mother Aleni was determined to give Athena the chance at academic success that she didn't have. For decades, Athena has been Greece's voice of calm and reason during public health crises. Athena is 68 now and all of her four daughters went on to become successful in their own right. Natalia Linos, Athena's third born daughter, is my guest today. Natalia is 38 and she's an epidemiologist like her mother. She's executive director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard. She's also running for congress in Massachusetts in the November election. This is a story of intergenerational determination on the part of two mothers to pay it forward for their daughters. Natalia, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about your mom.

Natalia Linos :

Thank you so much, Katie, of course.

Katie Hafner :

First, just out of curiosity, you were or weren't born in the United States?

Natalia Linos :

I was. And the funny story is that I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. My parents came to the US after they finished their medical school in Greece. My dad did his residency and my mom worked at the university. But by the time I was maybe 30 days old, my mom had gotten a position as an assistant professor at the university, at the medical school, in Athens. So we moved back to Greece. And actually she moved on her own with three little kids and my dad stayed behind to finish his year in the US, so she was, in many ways a single mom with three kids under three when she moved back to start her career in Greece.

Katie Hafner :

And she was born in Greece?

Natalia Linos :

She was born in Greece in a small village in the northern part of Greece called Katavita, she's the daughter of a baker. And she lived and grew up in the bakery. Upstairs was the home and downstairs was the bakery. And so she has wonderful stories about her job counting money and her math skills and how she became a perfect mathematician by by doing the change from the age of five at the at the bakery. I know the story is about my mother, but my grandmother will probably feature because she was part of growing up. She lived with us most of my childhood.

Katie Hafner :

Well, it's interesting you say that because one of the things that I want to try to do with the podcast is talk about intergenerational cycles of, of parenting, and particularly mothering. And so what do you remember about your mother's relationship with with her mother?

Natalia Linos :

That's a wonderful question. And I do think that my mother got a lot of her strength about her determination from her mother. And I was talking to her actually earlier today, telling her that we would be speaking. And one of the themes that my mother, my mother grew up in Greece at a time when Greece was very patriarchal. Where women did not really go to school. And she talked to me about her mother, and how she had always felt that her father, so my mother's grandfather, had mistreated her mom because she was one of nine kids, three were boys, six were girls. The three boys all got to go to middle school, to high school. And the smartest one went to medical school, but all the girls were pulled out of school in fifth grade. And my mother always talks about how that anger that her mom felt, was what pushed her and allowed her to be who she was. To really, you know, feel that she could achieve what she wanted.

Katie Hafner :

Hmm. And so, during this patriarchal time in Greece, what decades are we talking about?

Natalia Linos :

So my mother grew up, she was born in '51. And so in the 50's and 60's, she went to a school, where in first grade, there were a hundred kids in her class. So it was a single classroom with a hundred kids and she was brilliant. My mom is very, very smart, but very understated. And girls were just not expected to, to continue academically. So by middle school, the elementary school was mixed girls and boys together, and by middle school they would split them into girls' school and boys' schools. And the boy's school had a lot more math and science. And the girl's school had a lot more Ancient Greek and literature. And so my mom petitioned to go to the boy's school, and it was rejected. Her petition to go to the boys' school, it was her and one other girl petitioned because they they wanted to, to study more science, more math. But it was her mother who, and this is the story I was trying to allude to before. Her mother's feeling that it wasn't fair that and coming from a very small village, this village... of the two hundred students who graduated only two went to medical school. At the same time, of the girls she said only 20% of the girls her age graduated from high school. So it was a very abnormal thing for her not only to graduate but also to be accepted at the medical school in Athens.

Katie Hafner :

So what do you think it was about your mother's mother that pushed and encouraged her?

Natalia Linos :

You know, I don't think I can can really know what it was. My mother explains it as a determination as she felt that girls and boys should be treated equally. She had wanted herself, my grandmother had wanted to go to school and she had been prevented because she was a girl. So it was kind of this maybe commitment to not doing that to her daughter. And it's interesting because that I think, has traveled down. I don't know how much I should be sharing about my siblings, but all of them... My sister, Katarina is a full professor at Berkeley. My sister Eleni is a full professor at Stanford. Elizabeth is a professor at also Berkeley at different programs. And I'm the executive director of a center at Harvard. Like, obviously, academia is something that was instilled in us, and that there was some, some value placed on on academic excellence. And I think that does start with my grandmother. And my mother obviously, continued that. But my grandmother was very quiet and understated. She didn't leave the house much. She had lost her husband when I was just two years old, so she was pretty young. And I don't know if you've seen pictures of Greece, where old ladies wear all black. That was my grandmother. The sign of mourning when you lose your, your spouse is that you wear black. And she wore black for life. I had never seen my grandmother not wear black. She only left the house rarely, just to go to church on Sundays. And then she was really just at home with us. Cooking, and making sure we were studying, and, you know, maybe go into the grocery. You know, she was very homebound and yet my mother was the one working and was enabled. I mean, I my mother was able to work outside the house was able to be an epidemiologist. Was able to travel internationally and be an excellent professional in part because my grandmother was home. My grandmother was there when we got home from school and you know, there was green beans on the table and lentil soup. Another thing you might want to know about Greece is in religious households, and my my household was quite religious, we follow Lent. I am no longer. I do not follow that sort of religious diet anymore, but growing up it was Wednesday and Friday was lentil soup and bean soup. And then for forty days before Christmas, fifty days before Easter, fifteen days in the summer. So my grandmother was just kind of always in the home, doing what you would imagine a traditional women's role, and yet encouraging her daughter to be out there. To be studying. And also us, the granddaughters, because we were four girls before a boy. So she must have been, my grandmother must have been a very strong woman to both take on those roles, but not try to impose them on us in any way.

Katie Hafner :

I wanted to ask you if you know what it was like for your mother in medical school, given that it sounds like it was and in many ways still is a pretty sexist culture. And she graduated at the top of her class at the top medical school in Greece, is that right?

Natalia Linos :

Yes. That is the top medical school. Now, she was one of the top students. There must have been a series of challenges. She wasn't born and raised in Athens, she was probably more religious than the average student, definitely less wealthy. Her mother had only gone to third grade. And that was probably not the case for other medical school students. So I'm sure my mother felt maybe felt like she had a lot less going for her. My mom was just learning how to speak English. And she tells a story about when she came to Harvard and she was a student of public health. Epidemiology. And her English is still not, she does not have a very good accent. It has a strong Greek accent, but at the time I imagined her English was much worse. And she talks about how at Harvard she had asked, on the first day of class, like what does epidemiology mean? Epidemiology is a Greek word, but the professor was saying it with the American pronunciation and so...

Katie Hafner :

What is it? How is it pronounced in Greek?

Natalia Linos :

Epidemiologia. 'Epidemia,' epidemia means an epidemic. 'Ologia' is like anything biology, you know, the the studies. So she obviously you know, it's a Greek word, and it's an American professor saying epidemiology and she raises her hand and asks, what does that mean? Because it's her first time living in the US. She doesn't really speak English all that well, and he humiliated her. He said, If you don't know what that means, you shouldn't be here. Obviously, the professor was judging her because this is a foreign medical student. She doesn't speak English well, and he is telling her you don't belong at Harvard. And she still talks about that humiliation. I think my mother has fought, has always felt like an underdog. And actually, that probably is what makes her fight for the underdogs. She has been one of the strongest proponents on all tarps of social justice movements in Greece. It's interesting because, you know, we, we, myself as well as my sister. went and studied at the Harvard School of Public Health too and...

Katie Hafner :

And was that guy still there?

Natalia Linos :

I don't think he was still there. She actually didn't tell me who it was. And obviously, I don't have a Greek accent. I can pass. I'm a, you know, I'm a US citizen by birth, so I don't have to feel those insecurities. But she told me that story. Like never, never let anyone make you feel like you're not good enough.

Katie Hafner :

Let's talk about your childhood in Athens, and your mother, and what you remember. Your earliest memories of her both as a working mother and as a mother-mother.

Natalia Linos :

So let me talk first about my working mother. And I remember, I remember her traveling a lot. Maybe when I was in middle school, she did a... I mean, I think it was an amazing program. She worked with a monastery in a part of Greece where women, again, the the theme of sort of patriarchy is quite strong. Women were not getting pap smears. They were not getting real sexual and reproductive health kind of services because husbands didn't really want their wives, or fathers didn't want their daughters, going to see male doctors. So she set up a program in a monastery, so that the women basically could go get their care there. And so my mom was running that program, and every month she would go for a week. And obviously, as a child, I missed her. But there was a level of tremendous pride. And as a mother-mother, she was strict. She was strict. She didn't allow us to have sleepovers. We weren't allowed to sleep over at people's homes. I think she was worried about something happening to us. And that's very different from American culture here sleepovers seem to be the norm. But in Greece, they weren't really the norm and she thought it was a risk. So we weren't allowed. We had curfews. We were going to church. We were quite conservative in some ways, but so liberal in other ways. She traveled with us. So you know, I talked about her Greek travels, but she would have international conferences. I remember when I was maybe twelve or thirteen she was going to Florence for a trip. She took me with her, and she let me roam the city of Florence because I was really into art at the time. And she would treat us like an adult. I didn't speak Italian. She just said, you know, "Go. Go explore the museums." But that level of ... she really believed in us she believed that we were responsible and able.

Katie Hafner :

Well, it sounds like a bit of a disconnect. Because she was worried, she wouldn't let you have sleepovers in Greece because she was worried about what might happen to you. But when you went to Florence, she let you wander all over the place.

Natalia Linos :

Yes. It was a little bit paradoxical, I would say. But she definitely instilled in us a level of confidence in our ability. But discipline also. I mean, as a parent myself, you know, it's hard to balance. Like, where do you give, and where do you put rules? And what I think in her mind, it probably was that Florence is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for someone like me. I was really into painting, I was thinking I would become an artist. So she maybe thought that the benefits outweighed the potential risks.

Katie Hafner :

And what did you understand as a little girl about what she did, and what did she do?

Natalia Linos :

Yeah, so my mother was an epidemiologist. I didn't quite understand what she did. You know, public health is around prevention. So one summer I remember, we went from island to island in Greece, the whole family, and we were distributing pamphlets encouraging tourists to put on sunscreen. And she would have town halls with the locals and talking about skin cancer. And I remember, it was a lot of fun. But what exactly it meant I wasn't sure. My older sister once joked that my mother was a doctor for mice because she had visited her at the lab. My dad, who was a surgeon, had much more of a concrete job that we could understand. We all, all the kids had this sense that my mother was kind of the brains in the family. I can tell you a funny story of my brother, who is ten years younger than me. When he was five, he was learning some very basic math. It was something like five plus two. And my mom was cooking. And he kept on asking her to explain it to him. And she said, "Just go talk to your dad," and my brother turns and says, "As if he'd know!" So it was a very funny, kind of the the gender dynamics in our households where there was a very strong matriarchy. My grandmother, my mom, the four girls, and then my dad and my brother were sort of left. So I definitely grew up in a feminist household. In Greece that was not the norm.

Katie Hafner :

Was your father very accepting of the fact that she was viewed as the one with the brains in the family?

Natalia Linos :

He was. And also as the decision maker. I mean, my grandmother, so I mentioned that my mom would travel so my dad would come home excited. He was the playful one, you know, he'd say, "let's go, let's go to a movie." And then my grandmother would say, "they haven't done their homework yet. They're not going anywhere." And he would be like, "okay, okay." You know, like, even within his household, he would sort of defer to my mom as number one, and to my grandmother as number two. Actually another funny story. My sister Eleni has married a gentleman called Pete. And when Pete proposed to Eleni, he decided that he should also ask my father for Aleni's hand. It's a traditional man asking the father of the bride you know, "Can I, you know, I love your daughter, can I ask for her hand?" So he called my father and my father picked up the phone and Pete says, "I love your daughter Eleni, is it okay? I would like your permission, your blessings, to marry her." And my father got nervous on the phone because he's not used to making decisions without my mom. And his response was, "Can I call you back, Pete in five minutes? I need to discuss this with Athena." So it's a wonderful, my mom, of course, laughed at him and said, "That was a rhetorical question! He wasn't actually asking you, they're getting married. Call him back and say, of course, congratulations!" But the fact that my father paused and wasn't even able to, you know, he felt that no decision in the house could be made without my mom's green light.

Katie Hafner :

Amazing. And do you um, do you know why she wanted to become an epidemiologist?

Natalia Linos :

You know, I'm not sure. I haven't asked her, but she finished medical school and she did her Master's in Public Health. And then she continued to do her PhD and do research. She did some cutting edge research in the US on rheumatoid arthritis. She was young and very successful. She loves numbers. I mean, if you talk to my mom, she goes to an opera house, and my dad loves the opera. And my mom really is not interested in the music. So she spends her time in the opera house counting the people in the room and creating different statistical combinations. How many women? How many men? How many over sixty? How many children? And just creating ratios in her head. And that's what she says she does for the entire performance because she's not interested in the music, but she's loving creating these, you know, combinations. So my mom is, uh, is different. I could imagine that epidemiology just caught that love for numbers, and then she has a deep, deep, deep commitment to social justice and equity. And I think public health, as compared to medicine, is about everyone. Medicine is very individualistic. You treat the patient, you see them get better. But public health about what percent of the population is suffering? And how can you make that percent a smaller percentage? And so my mom is maybe a big-picture thinker.

Katie Hafner :

And what do you think are the most, as you were growing up, were the most important values that she wanted to instill in you?

Natalia Linos :

I definitely think public service and this idea of giving back. And not, I think, because she talked so much about feeling kind of inferior, humiliated by kind of the social structures. I mean, she is brilliant. She's so smart. But she always felt that people were judging others. So there was a level of empathy. And I don't think it's surprising that my siblings were all in some way in public service. And we, we do academic work, but we've always kind of had this in and out. That that the role of academia, the role of research is to make things better, that there is a purpose. So that was partly her religious side, I think, but also partly just a moral. Very, very strong values around what is right and what is wrong. My mother, you know, we grew up in a pretty wealthy household, not very wealthy. Some Greeks are very, very wealthy, you know, the ship owners and you know, the Onassis family that you hear about. But you know, they were doctors. They were well off. But every summer she sent us to camp. And it was a camp that cost $2 a day. It was the most affordable camp that was available and it was mostly for, to allow for all kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds to go. And, and it was a religious camp. So in part she probably sent us there for the religious aspect. But more intentionally, she sent us there because she didn't want us to feel like we were different or better. So she always ensured that her children did not feel that they were better than others. And, I don't know, I'm sort of rambling here because I haven't thought about that enough. But it has influenced I think how I'm raising my kids. So my kids, my twins are three years old. And my husband is Lebanese Palestinian. And I intentionally put the children in a Jewish daycare. To put our children in a space where there has to be a better understanding across cultures and across, kind of, the biggest, the Palestinian Israeli conflict being one of them. I wanted my children who are, you know, half Palestinian or a quarter Palestinian to know, to have good friends who are Jewish American and some Israeli American. I think it is something that my mom did instill in us. This desire to, to not be isolated in our bubble. My mother during the economic crisis that Greece has just just barely recovered from, and sadly may be pushed back into because of COVID. My mother was very aware. She does a lot of different types of studies. But one of her biggest worries was food and security for children because of the economic crisis. And she set up the biggest school feeding program for the country. And now with COVID, I mean, my mother, again, is thinking about who is most at risk, who is potentially going to suffer the most. And, you know, the country has done superbly well. Greece, as compared to the US, acted much faster. They put in place social distancing measures, they close down schools with only a few cases. Greece is considered one of the best examples in Europe. And my mother has been at the forefront, now as more of an external expert, and she's the calming voice.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah, I've heard that she's the Anthony Fauci of Greece?

Natalia Linos :

It's not that she's the Anthony Fauci of Greece, but the public feels really assured by her. They trust her. They trust her expertise through, you know, many crises. She has been on television and you know, speaking about public health for decades. She's also calm when people are panicked and scared. My mom is very understated. Whe doesn't wear makeup she's, she's not very tall. She has striking blue eyes, which is very rare for a Greek woman, but she's very understated and very calm. She does not panic during crisis. So during COVID, she has been the voice of reason, calm, and what I'm most proud of is that she's also been the voice of equity. She has said, you know, we're doing really well and she congratulates the government for taking action fast, but she's also called out the injustice of, for example, what's happening in refugee camps and that there was not enough attention to the refugees and what their needs were. So my mother is both calm and educated voice on COVID, but also a strong advocate of equity and an equitable response. So that's something I've been working on in the US context. So it's been, you know, I'm an epidemiologist now, too. So it's quite amazing to get on the phone with her and talk about ideas and talk about, "What are you doing on prisons?" Because at the center at Harvard, where I work, we were talking to the advocates around making sure that prisoners were being released if they weren't a threat, because they were at risk if they stayed in prisons. And I would call my mom and say, "What are you doing in Greece with the prisoners?" And she said, "You know, they're not doing enough. They're not doing enough and I will speak to this." And it's been a wonderful... I mean, it's been such a difficult time, COVID, but it's been wonderful for me now being in the same space on the same topic. It's wonderful.

Katie Hafner :

Okay, I have two more questions for you. First of all, I'm just such a sucker for Greek food. What would your mother cook for you guys?

Natalia Linos :

Oh, so Greek food takes a very long time to make. And part of the anti anti sexist sort of upbringing was that she never taught us how to make Greek food because she thought that that was a waste of time. My grandmother would make delicious, like dolma. Which requires you to have vine leaves, you put meat and rice, and you roll them up, and then you cook them for hours. The same with mousakka. So my grandmother was the one who would cook, My mom would do much faster meals. And she would basically say, "You need to work. You need to do your homework. Don't spend the six hours that it takes to make a Greek meal." So I'm grateful for her for not sort of instilling in us that the role of the woman is in the kitchen, but I'm also a little resentful that I actually don't know how to cook real Greek food.

Katie Hafner :

And then my other question is what one word would you use to describe your mother?

Natalia Linos :

Persevering? Is that a word, Katie?

Katie Hafner :

You know, we'll have to look it up.

Natalia Linos :

Let me, let me think one more second about the one word for her.

Katie Hafner :

And if there were a Greek word, what would it be?

Natalia Linos :

You know, it's so funny that when I switch languages, I switch completely the word. And the Greek word I would say is 'δίκαιος,' which is fair. And it's so strange because that was not the word that I would that I would use in English. But I think, it may be, dikaiosýni in Greek has a stronger, kind of, like a notion of fairness and justice. So dika. So she's fair. She is just. She's, you know, it captures a little bit of the values. But fair doesn't quite do it in English. That's funny.

Katie Hafner :

What's also interesting about that is that maybe when you think of her in English, her American persona. She was, she had to persevere.

Natalia Linos :

Yes, that is so interesting. But when I switch to my Greek, that isn't persevere. It was the fairness and the justice. And that is what she's been fighting for in terms of school feeding programs for the poorest Greeks. And now COVID with an equity. And so this equity is what is... Wow, that is very interesting. I didn't realize that language shifts your entire image of another person when you switch languages.

Katie Hafner :

I can't resist asking you one more question. What do you think she wants most for you?

Natalia Linos :

So I'm running for Congress. And it's a last minute entrance because I really think that COVID is going to shape the future. In terms of, if we get it right we can save lives. We can actually do something about the deep inequities of this country. I think she wants to see me take on this public role. She has not said to me, "What about your seven year old and your three year old twins?" She has said, "As soon as the borders open, I am there to take care of them." Even though she works full time. She is really committed to allowing me to become kind of a leader and I think it's modeling, my grandmother having been in our house and raised us. But my mother and my grandmother are very different women. My grandmother didn't have to give up a job in order to come and support my mom's career, whereas my mom is sort of implying that she would give up her career to come and support mine. Which obviously, I will say no to. But she is... That sense of giving, that sense of, "I am here to basically support you my, you know, my career doesn't matter. It's you, your career, and your sisters' careers." There's a tremendous generosity. But I think she wants, I think she wants us to be happy. But she does link happiness to, you know, professional success.

Katie Hafner :

Smart. Well this has been great. Thank you so much for talking to me about your mom.

Natalia Linos :

Thank you so much, Katie. It was a pleasure. It was a lot of fun, actually, to think through those questions and the answers.

Katie Hafner :

And that's it this week for Our Mothers Ourselves. Our theme music was composed and performed by Andrea Perry and Paula Mangin is our artist in residence. I'm your host Katie Hafner. Have a great week and stay safe. [[This transcript was proofread by Benjy Wachter.]]