Elder Bush Getting Sentimental in Old Age

My curiosity was piqued when I saw the headline “First President Bush Sobs While Talking of Son.” It turns out he was sobbing about his other son.

Former President George H.W. Bush came [to Tallahassee, Florida] Monday to talk about leadership and opened his remarks with advice on working with rivals, being patient and building personal relationships. He then broke down in tears mentioning his son, Gov. Jeb Bush, as an example of leadership and the way he handled losing the 1994 governor’s race to popular incumbent Democrat Lawton Chiles. He vaguely referred to dirty tricks in the campaign.

“He didn’t whine about it. He didn’t complain,” the former president said before choking up in front of lawmakers, Gov. Bush’s top administrators and state workers gathered in the House chamber for the last of the governor’s leadership forums.

As he tried to continue, he let out a sob and put a handkerchief to his face. When he spoke again, his words were broken up by pauses as he tried to regain composure.


“A true measure of a man is how you handle victory and how you handle defeat, so in ’94 Floridians chose to rehire the governor. They took note of a his worthy opponent, who showed with not only words but with actions what decency he had,” Bush said before again sobbing.


“I’m the emotional one,” Bush said later. “I don’t enjoy breaking up, but when you talk about somebody you love, when you get older, you do it more.”

It does seem that way. Football fans will recall Dick Vermeil’s penchant for tearing up at the slightest provocation during his second go-round as an NFL head coach, certainly not something he would have done when he was working toward emotional burnout with the Eagles in the 1980s.

I’m not sure how much of it is hormonal, as testosterone levels tend to decline in a man’s senior years, and how much is simply being comfortable in one’s own skin and no longer worried about maintaining the mask of the masculine ideal. The latter explains a great deal of it, I think, because some of the most sentimental men I know are soldiers, who seem to hit this stage in their 40s rather than waiting until their 70s.

Certainly, Poppy Bush has earned the right. After years of having to ward off charges that he was a “wimp” (this despite being a WWII pilot and war hero, captain of a championship baseball team at Yale, and head of America’s intelligence apparatus) he’s finally free from that burden, able to jump from flying airplanes one minute and break down while talking about his kids and grandkids the next.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.