James Rogan is nothing if not a skilled storyteller, and in the telling of his own story – a memorable memoir titled “Rough Edges” – the judge and former attorney and U.S. congressman hearkens back to a type of American that built this country and made it great. “Rough Edges” is a powerful tale of hardscrabble beginnings, a wobbly early adulthood and finally, a successful life making a difference in the lives of others.
Rogan’s most vivid memories as a boy are not lean financial times or any number of disadvantages his single mother endured. In fact, it was the loving, strong examples of his grandfather and an uncle that taught him the toughness he would need to rise above his humble beginnings.
Rogan, a congressional leader during the Clinton impeachment trial of the late ’90s, put himself through law school – after a string of, let’s say, colorful jobs – and now is a judge in the California court system. Such a man is capable of writing his own book (the dirty secret in publishing is that many celebrities or well-known folks never put pen to paper for their bestseller), and the story behind that illustrates how some grit and character compelled him to toil at a keyboard to produce “Rough Edges.”
“My agent patted me on the head and said, ‘Okay, go write your first chapter,'” Rogan chuckles. “But when she read it … she really liked it!”
That little anecdote personifies the life Jim Rogan has built: integrity in work, personal responsibility and the satisfaction that comes from doing things the right way.
And, frankly, it makes “Rough Edges” a true page-turner. Rogan pulls no punches in describing growing up in a different era, and the book is bulging with life lessons, especially for young people who are a bit too entitled or perhaps just unsure of direction for their lives.
A story early in “Rough Edges” dramatically illustrates how Rogan learned to live life: “Grandpa worked double shifts to save money for doctors and specialists. One doctor gave Lynn [Rogan’s polio-afflicted cousin] a cursory examination, and then told Grandpa, ‘The kid’s crippled. She’ll never walk and she may die, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.’ My furious grandfather gave the doctor a lesson in bedside manner: he grabbed the stunned doctor by his lab-coat lapels and slammed him into the wall. ‘She’ll walk,’ Grandpa growled at the trembling medic before releasing his grip and storming out the door with Lynn in his arms.”
Rogan’s grandfather took Lynn home and applied treatments he’d read about in a magazine. Night after night, more treatments, until one day – years later – Lynn was able to walk on her own.
Experiences like this compelled Rogan to grab life by the lapels and declare that it couldn’t defeat him. It’s what makes “Rough Edges” so brilliant and engaging. Often, people face devastating challenges; it helps to know someone else who came before made it through okay.
Call it “The Rogan Way.”
“What dumbfounded me was the hundreds of people around the world, as far away as the Philippines, who wrote to me about my book,” Rogan says. “No. 1, they said no one has ever told me this before. Nobody has ever told me before that there’s forgiveness in life, and that you can make it if you really want to.”
Readers of his book told him it was their story too, and no one had ever told them that they actually had opportunities in life!
The challenges of daily living also prepared Rogan for perhaps the most visible moment of his life – impeaching a popular president: “For the first time in American history, the House had impeached a popularly elected president. The United States Senate would determine his fate in a live, worldwide-televised trial. As a freshman congressman, my House colleagues chose me to be one of the prosecutors presenting the case for Clinton’s conviction and removal from office.
“On January 14, 1999, I sat in the Senate chamber as the trial began. Every poll showed (and every pundit expected) two foreordained results. First, the president would prevail easily; the outcome never was in doubt. Second, polls showed there was a likely political casualty:
“Calling impeachment unpopular back home in California is an under¬statement. Most voters in my Los Angeles-based district (home to many Hollywood studios) loved President Clinton. As a Republican representing a Democratic district, I was on thin ice already, winning each of my two elections to Congress by a razor-thin 50 percent margin. As the impeach¬ment vote loomed, polls showed 75 percent of my constituents wouldn’t vote for me again if I stood against the president.”
Eventually, Rogan’s political career did come to an end. Yet that propelled him back, in a sense, to the place he’d begun: moving among troubled folks in his native California. It’s a place Rogan loves to be, and those he’s helped are much the better for it.
So, consider this: Rogan began life the illegitimate son of a felon mom; he grew up on welfare; he ran with gangs, was expelled and never finished high school. He carried guns, tended bar in seedy Hollywood clubs, worked as a bouncer in a porn theater.
And through it all, he became the man he is: straight, tall, proud and in love with his country. The edges of life smoothed out for him, you could say.