For election day, how about a review of a book about a President?
My husband’s aunt hosts Thanksgiving gatherings, and she always has generous, wonderful prizes for Bingo games. One that I was fortunate to snag last Thanksgiving was”41, A Portrait of My Father,” by George W. Bush. The younger Bush shares a conversation he’d had with author David McCullough’s daughter. She said that one of her father’s regrets in studying John Adams was that there was no biography of Adams written by his son, John Quincy Adams. “For history’s sake, I think that you should write a book about your father,” she said, to George W. — half of history’s two Presidential father/son pairs.
So he did, and this is that book. Bush starts out telling us that the book is not objective. He loves his dad, and that is reflected in this book — as you would expect. Throughout the book, you can’t help but be impressed by how loving and supportive the entire extended Bush family is of all its members. The elder Bush was raised by his mother to be humble, and to share credit. One of his mother’s favorite Bible verses was Proverbs 27:2 — “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth.” Bush has lived this out with his demeanor throughout life.
He was the youngest Navy pilot during WWII, where he served courageously. During one mission over the south Pacific, his plane was shot down, and he had to exit via parachute. He made it and was rescued, but his two comrades were not so fortunate. When asked by granddaughter Jenna whether he still thought about his lost comrades, on an interview marking his 90th birthday, he answered, “I think about them all the time.”
The death of George and Barbara Bush’s three-year-old daughter, Robin, from leukemia, had a huge and lasting impact on the family. For several months, the family traveled back and forth from Texas to New York in an attempt to get the best treatment for the toddler. The elder Bush spent as much time as he could with Robin, and he remembers her telling him during one of her final moments, “I love you more than tongue can tell.” In 1980, when a journalist asked him if he had ever faced personal difficulty, he replied, “Have you ever sat and watched your child die? I did, for six months.”
Bush does give some behind-the-scenes “dish” — he calls Nancy Reagan “cordial,” but says that she never reached out much to Barbara Bush. During the 8 Reagan/Bush years, Nancy never invited Barbara to tour the White House. In a pattern repeated often in the book, the younger Bush attempted to learn from his predecessor’s mistakes, and he and Laura made a point of including the entire Cheney family to the White House and to many events there.
As Vice President, Bush 41 spent a lot of time traveling on behalf of President Reagan, and especially attending state funerals. Of Brezhnev’s 1982 funeral, he wrote “Something was missing. There was no mention of God. There was no hope, no joy, no life ever after … so discouraging in a sense, so hopeless, so lonely in a way.” This is a bit of a tangent I know, but I remember feeling the same way while watching Princess Diana’s funeral. It was really awful!
When Bush lost his second Presidential contest to Bill Clinton, George W. recounts how he left a note to Clinton, telling him how he was “rooting hard” for his success. Imagine, if Donald Trump wins today — will Barack Obama leave a similar note for him?
I can’t say the Bushes were some of my favorite Presidents. Their leanings were a bit farther left than mine. But, I would be hard-pressed to find more decent human beings. I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
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