Henry Winkler Swore Not to Repeat His Parents' Mistakes While Raising His Kids — Inside His Fatherhood

Karabo Baloyi
May 03, 2022
11:30 A.M.
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Actor Henry Winkler amassed success from the late 1970s. However, his childhood in New York was not as charmed. Despite his childhood challenges, he worked hard to become the best father he could be. 


Henry Winkler, most famous for his role as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli in "Happy Days," was born on October 30, 1945. He was born in Manhattan, New York, to Jewish immigrant parents who fled the Holocaust.

His father, Harry Irving Winkler, was an international lumber company president. His mother, Ilse Anna Maria, worked alongside his father. Winkler struggled academically through school. 

A photo of Henry Winkler as a child


Winkler was unable to meet his parents' academic expectations for him. They expected him to work in the lumber company, but Winkler had other plans for his life.

Winkler wanted to become an actor from a young age. But he couldn't participate in some of the middle school and high school plays because of his grades. 

Although Winkler gained immense success and wealth through acting, his childhood was far from the glamor that other celebrities experienced as children.


A young Henry Winkler on the set of "Happy Days." | Source: Getty Images


Winkler's parents were strict and expected him to do well at school. His parents believed in education so much that when Winkler didn't excel, they were not pleased. He said: 

 “They believed in education. They thought I was lazy. I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential.”

Winkler tried hard to improve his grades. He didn't want to be called stupid. But his parents would ground him for long periods. His parents believed that if Winkler remained at his desk for six weeks at a time, he would eventually succeed.

Henry Winkler and Ron Howard on the set of "Happy Days" in 1980. | Source: Getty Images


"They were very critical and sometimes cruel. Their pet name for me was Dumm Hund (dumb dog)," Winkler said. These cruel nicknames affected his self-esteem negatively. 

Winkler reflected on one day when he was eating breakfast cereal. He put his ear near the bowl to hear the "snap, crackle, and pop." But his mother saw him and chased him around the table. 

He admired his parents for escaping Nazi Germany, but he also remembered how emotionally destructive they were at times. Winkler felt that his parents never heard him as he grew up. 

Henry Winkler and Stacey Weitzman are seen at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on October 07, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images


He also added that his sister, Beatrice, remembered his parents completely differently from him. This baffled him. But Winkler remained resilient and graduated with an MFA from Yale in 1970. 

 “I think one of the most important things in being a parent is seeing your child in front of you as who they are — not who you want them to be. If you do that, it solves about two million problems right off the bat.”

Winkler was 31 years old when he was finally diagnosed with dyslexia. He realized that he needed a diagnosis when his stepson, Jed, was being tested as well. 



Henry Winkler acting on "Happy Days" in the episode titled "A Woman Not Under the Influence" which aired on September 28, 1982. | Source: Getty Images

While growing up, Winkler went to bed every night and thought he would never be like his parents. He ensured to keep his promise to himself when he became a father. 


He said that a parent's job was to ensure that a child's self-image didn't plummet. When radio host Hoda Kotb asked if Winkler's parents kept his self-image up, he said, "No. I swore I would not make that same mistake."

In a previous relationship, Winkler's stepson, Jed, was born to Winkler's wife. Both Winkler and Jed were diagnosed with dyslexia at the same time.

Henry Winkler attends "The Paley Center For Media Presents An Evening With Henry Winkler" at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on February 12, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images


Winkler shared more thoughts on parenting with "L.A. Parent." He said that parents' job was to keep their children safe and encourage them as much as possible. 

He added that every child was different, and parents needed to let children grow in their unique ways. He also said:

 “I think one of the most important things in being a parent is seeing your child in front of you as who they are — not who you want them to be. If you do that, it solves about two million problems right off the bat.”


Max Winkler, Henry Winkler, Stacey Winkler, Zoe Winkler and Jed Weitzman honor Henry Winkler as he receives the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Lifetime Achievement Awards at Sportsmen's Lodge on January 29, 2016 in Studio City, California. | Source: Getty Images


Winkler had two biological children. Zoe Emily Winkler was born in 1980. She graduated from Loyola Marymount University and chose a different path from her father. 

Zoe chose to become a nursery school teacher. She also co-founded an organization called "This Is About Humanity." The organization aims to raise awareness about separated and reunited families.

Max Daniel Winkler was born in 1983. He chose to pursue a career in Hollywood. Max is a screenwriter, director, and producer. He worked on popular shows like "New Girl" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."

Jimmy Kimmel and Henry Winkler photographed on the set of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" | Source: Getty Images


In a previous relationship, Winkler's stepson, Jed, was born to Winkler's wife. Both Winkler and Jed were diagnosed with dyslexia at the same time. Jed is the manager for the musician Morrisey, and he lives on his own. 

Winkler and his wife, Stacey, have been happily married since 1978. They met in the 1970s while Winkler was shopping for a sports coat at an L.A. clothing store. 

The store was coincidentally one of Stacey's PR firm's clients. Winkler asked Stacey for help choosing the right coat. When he returned to pick the jacket up, he asked Stacey out, and they began dating. 



Henry Winkler and his wife Stacey attend the 25th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 27, 2019. | Source: Getty Images

Winkler and Stacey love being grandparents. He said he thoroughly enjoyed himself as a grandfather and spoiled his grandchildren with love. He reflected on one of his grandchildren recognizing him from "Happy Days:"


“My wife and I babysat our four-year-old grandson, who is allowed to watch one show before he goes to bed. He has Happy Days on his DVR. He turned to me, he said, ‘That’s you. Your hair was different. You were skinnier then'”

Winkler added that his grandchildren were too young to recognize that he was famous. They only know him as "papa." Winkler has written many children's books over the years, reflecting his love for parenting and being a doting grandfather.