Can one be both masculine and decent? Or does displaying kindness, manners, and politeness inevitably lead to weakness? President George H. W. Bush made it clear that a man can embrace both the masculine virtues of strength, courage, productivity, and honor, and the softer virtues of kindness and decency. To reach his highest potential, a man needs both the masculine virtues and the softer virtues.
President Bush 41 accomplished more in this life than we ever will. His career accomplishments are elite-level:
- Enlisted in the Navy prior to college to fight in World War II, becoming one of the youngest Navy aviators in history
- Graduated from Yale University, where he was captain of the baseball team
- Made millions in the oil industry prior to public service
- U.S. Congressman
- Ambassador to the United Nations
- US Liaison to China
- Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
- Vice President during the Reagan Administration, which orchestrated the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War
- President of the United States, orchestrating a decisive victory in the Persian Gulf War.
Beyond his career accomplishments, his family life was extraordinary:
- Married to Barbara Bush for 73 years.
- Had six children. His daughter, Robin, died at age three. His oldest son, George W. Bush, was the Governor of Texas and a two-term President of the United States. His second son, Jeb, was Governor of Florida.
His letters to his wife and children reveal a tenderness and a masculine sweetness that should be emulated. When asked what he would like to be in his next life, he responded without hesitation: “The second husband of Barbara Bush.” There’s little doubt that his letters to his wife, children, and friends were priceless to them. One of the greatest needs of a man’s heart is to communicate to others his love for them. That’s why I recommended in this post that you keep a journal about your kids, for your kids. It helps them to understand your love for them. President Bush 41’s letters did that very thing.
Upon leaving office in 1992, President Bush 41 didn’t just take it easy, he continued a highly productive life, often joining with President Clinton in humanitarian missions such as hurricane and tsunami relief efforts. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. He celebrated his 75th, 80th, 85th, and 90th Birthdays by skydiving.
When you put all those things together, it adds up to a helluva life. One doesn’t enlist as a naval aviator at age 18, then get shot down in combat without being strong, courageous, and skillful. One doesn’t sky dive at age 90 if he’s a wimp. There’s little doubt that President Bush 41 was a masculine man.
Nevertheless, he struggled throughout his political career with the perception that he was “wimpy”. He wasn’t overly muscular and his voice did not command the room. Comedian Dana Carvey joked that the key to his impression of President Bush 41 was to “try to sound like Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne”.
“The great man needs not tell the world he is great; others will do it for him.”
But the other reason that he struggled with the label of being wimpy is that he was simply a kind and decent man. He saw no reason to promote himself or take credit for his accomplishments, instead relying on others to point out what he had done. Indeed, “the great man needs not tell the world he is great; others will do it for him”.
His decency was repeatedly revealed. When he found out that members of his Secret Service detail had shaved their heads to stand in solidarity with a child who was undergoing chemotherapy to treat a childhood cancer, President Bush 41 shaved his head as well. There are plenty of examples, but the letter below is probably the best one. Upon leaving office after losing a bitter election for a second term, President Bush 41 left his successor the following letter:
Could it be true that a combat veteran who was shot down, who became the leader of the free world, and who led his country to a victory in war was not masculine because he was kind, decent, and didn’t promote his accomplishments? Of course not, and it’s time we acknowledge that fact. What’s more, as I wrote in this post, it’s imperative that we embrace a balanced manhood. In short, we must be sure that we are both (1) a good man and (2) good at being a man. When one honestly evaluates the life of President Bush 41, I’m confident that he was a wonderful example of both. May we follow his example of masculine decency. This is the man’s life.
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