When my youngest daughter turned two she was very interested in memorizing a bunch of cards with the face of a man on one side, and a short synopsis of his life on the back. The deck of cards contained all the former presidents of the United States. I would show her a card, say the president’s name and she would repeat it back to me as best she could, and then a few days later we would go through them again. By the age of 3, she could honestly recite nearly all of them (and there were 43). My oldest daughter was not a huge fan, but she would participate every now and then.
To make it a little easier for the girls to remember the cards I would give them something that made each man unique. For example, after showing them Jimmy Carter’s face I told them that he was a peanut farmer. Gerald Ford was a former football player from the University of Michigan. John F. Kennedy was the sad president because he had his arms crossed and was looking down at the ground. Franklin Roosevelt had been portrayed in the movie Annie, and they loved Annie. George Washington was the very first. Abe Lincoln had pictures up in our house, so they saw him every day. I went on and on and it worked.
But when we got to #41, things were different. He was quite unique. He was a naval officer and aviator like their own dad (but he was better at it!). He had played collegiate baseball at Yale. He gave up the opportunity to work on Wall Street, and instead ventured to Texas to try to make it on his own (I ended up venturing to Texas as well, but I would hardly say I am trying to make it on my own here). And even closer to home, I had written ‘41’ a letter when I was a child, and I actually received one in return. Now, I am smart enough to know that he never actually read my letter, and that the letter I received in return was quite generic and age appropriate, but none of that matters. That simple experience was full of inspiration for a kid like me that did not come from much.
I had read a few books about his time in office throughout my college years, but it was not until 2018 that I truly learned about who he really was, and I owe my thanks to another former president known simply as ‘43’ for teaching me so. From humility, to remaining humble and spending as much time with his children as humanly possible despite the various offices that he held during his life; ‘41’ actually did “the best he could” with the time he had.
You can argue about either of these two men not being great presidents until you are blue in the face. My blog has nothing to do with any of those sorts of things. I simply wanted to convey that it was quite a joy to learn about such a prominent man through the lens of his child.
41: A Portrait of My Father is an enjoyable, relatively quick read that will leave you asking for more.
‘41’ was definitely someone who believed in service above self, and all of us would be better off if we spent just a little bit more time learning about what that actually means. Blessings!