Ask Me Anything: Charlotte Pence
The vice president’s daughter publishes her latest book, Where You Go: Life Lessons from My Father, this month. Here, Charlotte Pence opens up about reading her dad’s negative press, his furrowed brow, and that awkward Hamilton moment.
Your new book steers clear of politics almost entirely, focusing instead on your family’s private experiences. Why did you take that approach?
I wanted it to be a book a lot of people could relate to. Obviously, it’s a story about a political family, so those themes come up. But I didn’t want it to be a politically charged book. It’s about following your dreams and taking those you love with you.
In the book you mention your father’s love for the free press, but he has been a lightning rod for criticism there. How do you react to reading negative things about your dad?
It’s difficult for anyone to read negative things about the people they love. But over the years, my dad taught me to acknowledge that there’s a free press and that’s a good thing. I love the story in the book about protestors being outside our house at times, and dad saying, “That’s what freedom looks like.” I’ve learned not to take it personally.
Your dad is known for his determined glare, which he exhibited when he visited the North Korean border. Can you recall a time when you were on the receiving end of that at the dinner table?
[laughs] No, I think he comes across a little more intense in pictures than he is in real life. He has that furrowed brow look sometimes. But he was always very loving, even when we were disciplined. I was never afraid of him.
You write in the book that your father encouraged you to form your own opinions, and that you don’t always agree with him. What are some of the issues the two of you debate?
It changes from year to year, depending on what the hot topic is at the moment. When he was preparing for the vice presidential debate, I helped him work on his language about women’s issues. But I don’t want to get into my personal political opinions.
Given the way that every element of your life is scrutinized by the Secret Service, I imagine that Where You Go had to pass through several layers of approval. How many people had to read the book and sign off on it?
We had a couple of people from the vice presidential team read it, but the most important readers were the members of my family. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misremembering events like where we were on a particular date. It was more about getting the facts right as opposed to writing about something I wasn’t supposed to write about.
What was your dad’s initial impression of it, and what advice did he offer?
He read it for the first time on a very long plane ride, and my mom sent me a photo of him doing so. Most of his markings were smiley faces. I honestly don’t think he had major editorial notes.
How is being the daughter of the vice president different from being the daughter of the governor?
I’m at a different stage of my life, so that affects things. While he was governor, I was in college, so I wasn’t at home all the time and was a little removed from it. When he became vice president, I worked from home for a year and lived in the vice president’s residence, so it was part of my everyday life. I wouldn’t say I felt constrained, but I’m kind of an introvert, so having people in the house all the time took some getting used to.
One of the few negative moments in the new book is your experience seeing Hamilton on Broadway, when the cast came out to challenge your dad after the show. How did you feel as you were walking out of that theater?
I wasn’t angry at the cast. They have the freedom to do that. But I had grown up going to Broadway shows with my dad, so I was surprised. There were people standing and clapping for us as well as booing, so I felt a range of emotions. You don’t really know how to react in that situation. One thing I realized: We’re at a new level now.
You write about the other children of presidents and vice presidents you’ve met over the years. Which ones have you stayed in contact with?
Mary Cheney reached out to me when President Trump chose my dad, and she gave me some great advice. She told me to go on as many trips with my parents while this lasts, because it won’t be forever.
Your first children’s book, Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President, was a hit. And I’ve read that you purchased John Oliver’s parody book of it, in which your pet rabbit is gay. Why?
I heard that the profits of the Oliver book were going to a few charities, so I purchased it to support those charities. I wasn’t offended by it. You have to take everything with a sense of humor. Sure, it was a parody of our book. But in a way, that’s a form of flattery. I’ll just think of it that way.
You’ve been writing stories since you were a girl. Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite writer is probably C.S. Lewis, but growing up I really liked Madeleine L’Engle. And I’ve started reading more nonfiction lately, including a lot of theology.
Yes, I hear you just began a graduate degree in theological studies at Harvard University, a place known for being extremely liberal. How do your fellow students react to learning your last name?
For whatever reason, I tend to live in a lot of places that are fairly liberal. I went to college in Chicago. I was working in L.A. last year. So it doesn’t deter me from going after my dreams. I don’t go into any situation assuming that people will have a preconceived notion about me. But I don’t always bring it up right away, either.