During the past week, many commentators observed how the death of George H.W. Bush marked the end of an era—not just the last of the “greatest generation” to occupy the White House, but more significantly the loss of civility, kindness and human decency among those who occupy the Oval Office. Culminating in a funeral service attended by all living Presidents, the whole country seemed to take a breath, pausing from the current trajectory of division and distrust to remember a time when “a thousand points of light” could be more than a late-night comic’s punch line. Like the loss of John McCain in August, the empty shoes left by such icons seem almost impossibly too large to fill.
I do not wish to romanticize the man. His dog-whistle use of Willie Horton during his campaign, his hostility to the issue of women’s reproductive rights and his willful ignorance and inaction in the midst of the AIDS epidemic mark just of few of his positions with which I disagreed then and which I find antithetical to human rights and human dignity now.
Still, as the recurring tributes have articulated, George Bush 41 is remembered for his humility, his sense of human decency and thoughtfulness even to those who opposed him politically, his willingness to work across the aisle for the good of his country (and after his term in office, for the whole world), his sense of humor which could be sharp but never demeaning and his love of family—and especially for First Lady Barbara Bush to whom he was devoted for 73 years. These qualities lie in stark contrast to the current occupant of the White House and the general tone in today’s media/political swamp. He will be missed. It is ironic that even after his death, he continues to teach us (or, perhaps, just remind us) of how we should treat one another.
A central premise in my recent book, Beyond the Comma, is that when we connect events of global significance with deeply personal “comma moments” in our own lives, we become more empathetic human beings. This week provided an opportunity for me (and perhaps many Americans) to do just that. Those who know me well know about the deep love and respect I had for my own father who died about eighteen months ago at age 95. Several passages in the book describe events between us that provided me with the essential building blocks for becoming a responsible, caring adult.
Like H.W., my Dad taught me lessons throughout his entire life. Like H.W., he was married to my Mom for more than 70 years. Like H.W., he continued to teach beyond the grave. Just last week, I learned yet another new thing about him. My wife Blythe and I were visiting my Mom, still amazing at 94. Since his death, she has discovered scores of albums containing literally thousands of pictures, notes and letters (many of them, tender love notes to her while he served in World War II). Last weekend, my mother showed us yet another album that she was seeing for the first time. It contained every anniversary card they had exchanged during three-quarters of a century of marriage. She laughed and cried at all the silly messages or romantic expressions he shared in his lifetime of love.
He had compiled this record of his life without anyone knowing about it and squirreled the albums away in places difficult to find. And as my mother discovered these books from week to week while sorting through closets, she could feel a “living presence” with her—his final gift to her, and one that keeps on giving.
During a week of remembrances for President Bush, many private moments were shared that brought gentle laughter or grateful tears to an entire nation. While in a small cottage in Pennsylvania, one woman quietly relived joys and sorrows of a life similarly shared over a love affair that lasted three-quarters of a century. At the intersection of the grand dignity in the National Cathedral and the quiet serenity in my Mom’s home, we can see a shimmering reflection of how beautiful life can be.
7 thoughts on “H.W. and My Dad”
Grandpa was such a romantic. It warms my heart to no end. Amazing!
Thank you Bob. Your reflections have always been inspiring. I have not seen for some time but I want to let you know that your whole career has been a mission to promote love and understanding. Please continue with your sacred mission and continue to inspire us all.
No greater love can a man have than for his wife, family, and country. President Bush and our dad had this in common. Finding these treasures with our mother has been a blessing and joy. Like the Bush children along with my siblings, nieces,and nephews we share the honor of bearing witness to a pure, deep, and everlasting love that is forever and ever. Amen!
What a loving tribute to your dad as our nation mourns the passing of HW. Your insights feed my soul, Bob. Love to your mother from both of us.
Remind me of my Poem
Life exists in each of us, a form of the define
A tangible essence of who we are.
Love is when our essences became entwined
Each and equal have of the other
I Love you simply awakens the US in you and me.
Was for Susan on our 50th Your blog suggests that the “I love You” can continue on forever….
Yes, Bob. We have been fortunate to have loving parents and hopefully to have been and are the same.
Dear Bob Your short essays are a delight – always bringing a new perspective, a new insight, a lift to the spirits (though perhaps not the latter, with that terrifying enquiry into your current President’s thinking processes last week). This touching tribute to your wonderful father moves and inspires in equal measure. You do more for your readers than you can know – we all feel much in your debt. Thank you.