Ah, dear old Dad.
He can fix almost anything, make something from nothing, and he tells great bedtime stories. He’s the Workshop King, Master of the TV, Lord of the Grill, The Yard Czar, and he likes to think he rules the house, too. Or, as in the new book “First Dads” by Joshua Kendall, he might rule a different House.
George Washington, the Father of Our Country, was not a dad. And that, according to Kendall, is one of the “key” reasons why Washington was “unanimously elected as our first President.” Yes, George helped raise Martha’s children, which apparently didn’t count among his peers.
“Of the forty-three men” who’ve become President, Kendall writes, “thirty- eight have produced progeny.” He classifies them in groups according to their parenting styles, which sometimes reflected their leadership styles.
Because Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example, “was simply too busy to provide much guidance to ... his children,” he was a “preoccupied” First Dad. It probably didn’t help that, for much of his children’s early lives, he was fighting polio; still, being a father “did not come naturally” to the charming FDR.
Ronald Reagan also fell under the “preoccupied” category, as did Zachary Taylor, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson.
Kendall writes that Ulysses Grant and Teddy Roosevelt were both “Playful Pals.” They were permissive fathers who were happiest with their children around. Woodrow Wilson, despite his “dour” reputation, was lighthearted with his kids, too.
John Tyler was an example of a “Double-Dealing Dad.” He had nine children with his first wife, seven kids with his second wife and a rumored 52 children by slaves and free black women. He didn’t publicly acknowledge any of the latter. Neither did Warren Harding, Thomas Jefferson nor Grover Cleveland publicly acknowledge their illegitimate offspring.
John Quincy Adams, his son John Adams and Dwight Eisenhower were “tiger dads” who demanded exceptional behavior from their children.
Harry Truman, Rutherford Hayes and Barack Obama go in the “nurturer” category. Franklin Pierce never recovered from the death of his youngest son, Kendall says, and George H.W. Bush has never recovered from the death of his preschool daughter decades ago.
Imagine having a family of your own and then suddenly being responsible for 124 million more families. Some presidents have done well at both, and some, as you’ll see in “First Dads,” were real duds.
This is a great book for Dad the historian or Grandpa, who’s a political animal. It’s an absorbing summer read, too, so if you want a book that will last awhile, “First Dads” could be very dear.