First dads Parenting and politics from George Washington to Barack Obama

Joshua C. Kendall, 1960-

Book - 2016

Of the 43 men who have served in the nation's highest office, 38 have fathered biological children and the other five adopted children. Each president's parenting style reveals much about his beliefs as well as his psychological make-up. James Garfield enjoyed jumping on the bed with his kids. FDR's children, on the other hand, had to make appointments to talk to him. In a lively narrative, based on research in archives around the country, Kendall shows presidential character in action. Readers will learn which type of parent might be best suited to leading the American people and, finally, how the fathering experiences of our presidents have forever changed the course of American history.

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2nd Floor 973.099/Kendall Checked In
New York ; Boston : Grand Central Publishing [2016]
Main Author
Joshua C. Kendall, 1960- (author)
Physical Description
391 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Prologue: The Sense and Sensibility of James Garfield
  • "It Is a Most Innocent and Intense Passion"
  • 1. The Preoccupied
  • "I Should Like to Have Your Opinion on It"
  • 2. Playful Pals
  • "My Father Likes Snakes"
  • 3. Double-Dealing Dads
  • "You Know Such Things Happen on Plantations"
  • 4. Tiger Dads
  • "I Could Feel Nothing but Sorrow and Shame in Your Presence"
  • 5. The Grief-Stricken
  • "I Always See My Boy Playing Tennis on the Court Out There"
  • 6. The Nurturers
  • "When Is My Daddy Coming?"
  • Epilogue: Presidential Choices
  • "I Knew I Had to Share My Daddy"
  • Acknowledgments
  • Sources and Notes
  • Photo Credits
  • Index
Review by New York Times Review

"ONE OF THE worst things in the world is being the child of a president," Franklin Delano Roosevelt told an aide in 1934. "It's a terrible life they lead." While this may have been true for the troubled Roosevelt children, who seemed visible to their father only when they were of use to him, I doubt Malia and Sasha Obama would agree. Determined not to repeat the anger and absenteeism of his own father, Barack Obama has by all accounts been a devoted parent, committed to family dinners, bedtime reading rituals (every Harry Potter book!) and school involvement. How does Obama do it? How can anyone combine such a brutally demanding job with being a good father? And what does each president's fitness for parenthood reveal about his fitness to run our country? Joshua Kendall tackles such questions in his anecdote-packed "First Dads: Parenting and Politics From George Washington to Barack Obama." At his disposal are the fatherhood portfolios of every single president, as all 43 have been fathers - 38 of whom had children biologically, the other five by adoption. Kendall breaks down the field into six categories: the Preoccupied; Playful Pals; Double-Dealing Dads; Tiger Dads; the Grief-Stricken; and the Nurturers. (Obama nestles himself into the last chapter, while Franklin Roosevelt headlines the Preoccupied.) That first section examines our most work-focused chief executives, whose thirst for power created insecure children who in some cases (Franklin Roosevelt) had to make appointments just to speak to him, and even then he didn't listen. And as George H.W. Bush chased his ambitions, he and Barbara once farmed out the care of their four sons to friends for four months, leading Jeb later to joke ruefully, "At least we weren't put in a kennel." Kendall is good at linking a president's strengths or failures as a parent to his success or failure at governing, though the correlation is sometimes indirect - Grover Cleveland struggled to form deep bonds with people, including his children, but as president this remove helped him to shape an efficient administration that wasn't undermined by emotional loyalties. Less illuminating in this regard is the chapter on the bereaved and grieving, where the lesson seems to be that grief can distract - hardly unique to presidents. Still, it's startling to be reminded of just how vulnerable young children were back then, even children of great privilege. James Monroe's only son didn't make it to 3, Zachary Taylor and James A. Garfield lost two children under 4 and Rutherford B. Hayes lost three sons who were 1. The accidental death of Franklin Pierce's 11-year-old boy is so gruesome it's difficult to read about, especially knowing that Pierce had already lost two other sons. Not all grief, however, proved to be a drag on a president's productivity. William McKinley, whose two daughters died before they were 4, succeeded in office largely because of how energetically he threw himself into his work to flee his pain. Kendall's book also provides delightful peeks at life inside the White House, a place where you might think nothing could (or should) go unmonitored. And yet, there's Jimmy Carter's middle son, Chip, sneaking onto the White House roof to smoke a joint. (Wait, isn't that place crawling with gun-toting agents?) Later we learn that Chip was simply following in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt's rebellious daughter Alice, who also fled to the roof with her cigarettes to puff away. More than anything, "First Dads" provides a valuable reminder that while an American president may have the clout to launch spaceships and end world wars, that doesn't mean he can get his children to behave, be happy or even return his calls. In fact, when it comes to parenthood - that great, humbling equalizer - the most intelligent and powerful men on earth seem to flounder and fail even more than the rest of us. DANIEL JONES edits the Modern Love column in the Sunday Styles section of The Times and is the author of "Love Illuminated."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 12, 2016]
Review by Booklist Review

A president can rightfully be called the father of his country because his role is to lead and guide. In this fact-packed book, Kendall (America's Obsessives, 2013) examines the relationships between 18 presidents and their children. He divides the group into six categories (with three dads in each) based on parenting styles, and shares examples from their lives in and out of the White House. Interestingly, Kendall goes out of his way to include at least one lesser-known president in each group, skipping popular choices such as John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and opting, instead, for Jimmy Carter (preoccupied), Woodrow Wilson (playful), John Tyler (double-dealing), John Adams (tiger), Franklin Pierce (grief-stricken), and Rutherford Hays (nurturer). Kendall points out the similarities between governing and parenting styles and includes details on the fates of political offspring (which are more often than not dire). Keeping track of all children and grandchildren can be daunting, but the insights into the presidents' lives (not to mention the dollops of gossip) will hold readers' interest.--Smith, Candace Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

As biographer Kendall (The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture) argues, one can learn a great deal about American presidents by examining their parenting styles. To that end, Kendall highlights three distinct styles identified by child-development experts: authoritarian (Jimmy Carter, who put his family to work first in his peanut farming business and then in his political campaigns), authoritative (Barack Obama, who mandates family dinners five nights a week), and permissive (Ulysses S. Grant, who brought his children to visit him during the Civil War and rarely, if ever, offered a rebuke). Kendall doesn't categorically endorse or condemn any of these, only noting that pros and cons exist for each. Perhaps most interesting is Kendall's take on a side issue: How does dedication to parenting affect a political career? Can one have both? The book's organization leaves something to be desired, interpolating brief histories of presidents and their families into the text seemingly at random, rather than chronologically or by parenting style. Nonetheless, this volume may give readers a better idea of what qualities to look for in their leaders. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In this fascinating title, award-winning journalist Kendall gives a new flavor to the presidential biography with a look at fatherhood as experienced by the White House residents. Divided into chapters such as -"Tiger Dads" and "The Grief Stricken," it groups presidents by parenting styles, giving new insight into their already rich lives. Jimmy Carter, for example, rarely spent time at home when his children were young and was an "autocratic head of household" who "held the expectation that those junior to me would honor my commands." In contrast, Gerald Ford falls under the nurturing category, while James Garfield supposedly delighted in jumping on the bed with his kids. VERDICT This inspiring title is likely to appeal to many different readers. History buffs, U.S. presidential scholars, and Dad on Father's Day will all relish this walk though time and the shared experience of parenting. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A look at the parenting practices of American presidents. The United States has had 43 male presidents, men who were not only fathers to the nation, but also fathers to over 200 children. Of those 43, 38 presidents had biological children, and the remaining five men all raised adopted children. Kendall (America's Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy that Built a Nation, 2013, etc.) takes readers behind the scenes to reveal their private parenting techniques, using interviews, letters, and diaries to access a world that few have seen. The bond between these first fathers and first children has often been purposefully overlooked by biographers to protect the integrity of the first families. However, as the author writes, "the manner in which each President carried out his parental responsibilities reveals much about both his beliefs and aspirations as well as about his psychological makeup." Kendall categorizes the presidents into different types of fathers. There were those who were so involved with the job that they often ignored the childrene.g., Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon B. Johnsonand those who loved to connect by being playful (Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt). Then there are the men who had extramarital affairs that produced offspring, such as John Tyler, who fathered several children out of wedlock. John Quincy Adams and others are known for being "tiger" dads who controlled the lives of their children as tightly as they did the nation. Franklin Pierce and George H.W. Bush are just two who suffered the devastating deaths of children. Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, and Barack Obama are known as nurturers. Kendall's research puts all the presidents and their parenting practices in perspective, giving readers great insight into these men and their children. Rich in detail, this informative book gives new understanding to our nation's leaders and their offspring. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.