Ed was asked about Karen (“a superwoman,” Ed said), corporal punishment (he doesn’t believe in it), Amy Chua’s tough-parenting manifesto Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (he hadn’t read it), and The Social Network (“If I sat back and looked at it as a movie and not as a story about my son, it was a tolerable experience”). The transcript was obtained by the Associated Press and quickly repackaged and chewed over by countless websites. “Zuckerberg Doesn’t Have a Tiger Daddy,” read one headline.
“Look,” Ed Zuckerberg tells me, remembering the fuss, “you have successful kids, and people are going to want to emulate your formula. But we don’t profess any special child-rearing skills.” He frowns. “The best I can say is that as parents, you can engineer the life you want your kids to have, but it may not be the life they want to have. You have to encourage them to pursue their passions. And you have to spend more time on them than you spend on anything else.”
Today, all four Zuckerberg kids live on the West Coast—Arielle close to San Francisco and Mark, Randi, and Donna in Palo Alto. Arielle is a product manager for Wildfire Interactive, a marketing company. Donna, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton, is finishing her dissertation on Euripides and Aristophanes—and running Sugar Mountain Treats, a food blog. After years working at Facebook, most recently as marketing director, Randi has launched her own social-media firm, R to Z Studios.
Last year, Randi gave birth to Asher, her first son with husband Brent Tworetzky, who works at an e-textbook company. Around the same time, Ed and Karen bought a house in the San Francisco area, in order to be closer to their children and grandchild. Ed Zuckerberg estimates he’s traveled out west and back twenty times in the past twelve months, good enough for Diamond status on Delta. “It’s cumbersome,” Zuckerberg says of the cross-country shuttling. “Really cumbersome.”
But back in Dobbs Ferry, their profile remains relatively low. “This is a town where people can do that—just drop under the radar,” says Timothy Lamorte, the editor of the local tabloid. When Facebook was first gaining momentum, Lamorte attempted unsuccessfully to reach out to the family. I ask him how many articles the paper had run on the Zuckerbergs since. “Zero,” he says.
Feiner tells me that “some people” in Ed and Karen’s position would be “ostentatious. They don’t want to show off or brag,” he says. “My impression is that Ed is just proud of being ahead of his time and sparking that interest in his son.”
Although he did send out a direct-mail dentistry solicitation to new residents of Dobbs Ferry last year declaring “I am literally the Father of Facebook!,” Zuckerberg estimates that half of his patients remain unaware of his ties to the company. “They haven’t made the connection,” he says. “But you know, we’re very low-key about it.”
That low-keyness marks Ed and Karen as members of a strange new inheritance classproud parents buoyed up into the globetrotting elite by the unlikely and astonishingly rapid rise of their children. A few years ago, Ed was given the option to buy 2 million shares of Facebook, as a kind of thank-you for having helped Mark get the company off the ground. Ed reportedly tried to refuse, but the board of directors insisted, and the shares were issued to him. After the Facebook IPO, his investment will be worth an estimated $60 million.
Partial retirement appeals to him, but the house and offices will have to be sold in a package deal, and he hasn’t found a dentist willing to take both on.* “It’s my baby,” he tells me. “It’s not like a baseball-card collection that you can just give away.” In the meantime, he’s traveling the country, proselytizing to other dentists about advances in dental technology. And he and Karen are mastering contract bridge. “After 30 years, you learn how to become a dentist, you become good at it,” he says, “and it doesn’t engage your brain in the same way. Bridge does.”
We walk upstairs, where Karen Zuckerberg is making a chocolate pie, from a recipe posted on Sugar Mountain Treats—in the Zuckerberg household, all websites, whether they receive a few dozen clicks a day or hundreds of millions, are treated equally. “Donna said ten minutes prep and half an hour baking,” she frets. “I’m still on prep, and it’s taken me 30 minutes already.” She is dressed casually, in jeans and a sweatshirt. She begins talking about a boyfriend of Arielle’s, who designed a popular new smartphone app, and produces her iPhone to demonstrate. It is open to her Facebook page.
*This article has been corrected to show that Ed Zuckerberg is looking into partial, not full, retirement.