In 2018, California Gov. Gavin Newsom told Rolling Stone, “A lot of people talk in colorful three dimensions about their childhood. For me, so much of it is blocked out. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It’s just blocked.”
That doesn’t quite line up with the off-publicized narrative about this high-profile politician. He has been described as someone who was born with connections, which is somewhat true, but he was also raised by a single mom who was sometimes on food stamps. His father, attorney Bill Newsom, ran in wealthy circles and had a close relationship with the famous Getty family. However, Gavin emphasized that his dad, while an “extraordinary man” and a “huge influence,” isn’t the person who raised him.
During a 2018 interview with KQED’s Political Breakdown with Scott & Marisa, he revealed that he would typically see his dad during the summer, when they’d participate in adventures to support environmental causes. The majority of the time, he lived with his mom, the late Tessa Newsom, who got pregnant as a teen before dropping out of college. “She came from no wealth whatsoever, and she struggled her entire life, and she had quite literally two jobs — two full-time jobs — and often a part-time job as a bookkeeper,” Gavin said.
When asked how he “reconciles those worlds,” Gavin said the “real privilege” was having two admirable, yet very different, parents in his life. However, succeeding in politics meant overcoming a number of severe childhood obstacles.
Gavin Newsom tries to 'block out' some childhood memories
Gavin Newsom grew up with a foot in two very different worlds after his parents split. His mother, Tessa Newsom, “worked three jobs and took in foster children to help pay the rent,” The New Yorker reported. His father, attorney Bill Newsom, “who administered the Getty trusts — occasionally swooped in to take Gavin on vacation with the Getty family: polar-bear watching in Hudson Bay, safaris in Africa.” Sounds fun, right? Not so much.
“When he returned from these jaunts, his mother would say, ‘Hope you had fun!’ and storm off to bed,” Gavin told The New Yorker. “The guilt,” he said. “She made me feel horrible.” Gavin said he still has vivid memories of his “mother yelling and screaming at [his] dad because he wasn’t able to help us financially, because he was very close to bankruptcy.” Though his dad ran in wealthy circles, he reportedly “didn’t care about money.” Gavin’s takeaway: He didn’t want to struggle financially. “I never wanted to be in that position.”
“I remember those crying nights listening to my mom talk to my dad on the phone,” the California governor told KQED. “Those are Indelible moments and you do try to block those things out.”
Gavin Newsom's mother hid his dyslexia diagnosis
Gavin Newsom’s second wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom (pictured), told The New Yorker that he was bullied as a child because he had a lisp, a bowl cut, and leg braces. “Going from that to being treated like a god made him very uncomfortable,” she said.
Gavin remembers his mom telling him: “It’s O.K. to be average” — a sentiment that did not comfort him at all. “I said, ‘No! That’s not going to work for me!'” he recalled. “That may have been the most damaging thing she ever said to me. It gave me all my drive. I hate her for it — but I love her for it.”
Those words lit a fire in Gavin, but unfortunately, it would be many years before he understood why he was struggling so much academically. Speaking to The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, he revealed that he was diagnosed with the learning disorder at age 5, but his mom decided not to tell him because she didn’t want him to use it as a crutch. Gavin struggled to understand why his younger sister excelled in school while he floundered. “That was more difficult than you can imagine,” he said. Gavin reportedly found out that he had dyslexia in the fifth grade when he discovered papers mentioning his diagnosis in his mother’s office.
Gavin Newsom's biggest struggle became his 'greatest gift'
Gavin Newsom may have blocked out big swaths of his childhood, but he remembers the trauma of his school days. During an interview with The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, Gavin described reading out loud in class as “the most humiliating” experience. He recalled sitting in his fifth grade classroom “with my heart just sinking and pounding, hoping that that period would end and we’d get the hell out of there, and then getting up and starting to read and having everybody in the class laugh. That’s when I basically gave up on any reading.”
His problems worsened when he hit high school, admitting that he’d pretend to be sick to get out of classes. Thankfully, Newsom’s athletic abilities earned him college scholarships. He majored in political science, and that’s when his course began to shift. “All of a sudden I got good grades, because I loved the subject matter,” he said.
Gavin clearly found his way, learning how to navigate the world with dyslexia and how to find creative ways to learn and communicate. To this day, he admits, “You rarely see me read a speech and if you do, you can tell.” During an interview with KQED’s Political Breakdown with Scott & Marisa, the California governor described his disability as “the greatest gift that ever happened” to him.
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