What Kind Of Dad Was Lincoln? How 8 U.S. Presidents Did Fatherhood
Being a U.S. president is a pretty important job. You have to lead the free world, spar with Congress, and remember the nuclear launch codes (among a few other things). But we all know one of the other most important jobs in the world is being a parent. Caring for a newborn is beyond exhausting, teaching kids to read and tie their shoes can be daunting, and raising them to be smart, caring, and responsible adults is hard work. But what if you had to do both jobs? Plenty of U.S. presidents raised kids while in office — from JFK to Barack Obama. And considering it's hard enough for your average Joe or Jane to balance work and family, the very thought of running both the country and a family simultaneously seems like a nearly impossible task.
Of course, these famous dads — before and after assuming the title of POTUS — weren’t totally alone on the parenting front: They had the help of some pretty devoted wives, and in some cases, a staff of nannies and assistants to make sure their kids were being taken care of while they were off running the nation. Still, all that aside, history has suggested that there were plenty of presidential dads who didn’t let a little thing called politics stand in the way of being an awesome dad. Here are just a few known presidents who managed to nail this fatherhood thing while also being POTUS.
Although Washington had no biological children, he was a doting stepfather to John Parke “Jacky” Custis and Martha Parke “Patsy” Custis, the children of his wife, Martha, and the late Daniel Parke Custis. Sadly, Patsy was plagued with seizures for most of her life, and died at age 17. Washington was by her bedside, in tears, when she passed away. Washington was very involved in Jacky’s education, as he’d not had much of an education himself as a boy. Jacky once wrote to Washington, "It pleased the Almighty to deprive me at a very early Period of Life of my Father, but I can not sufficiently adore His Goodness in sending Me so good a Guardian as you Sir." Formality and odd capitalization aside, that is really sweet.
Lincoln has always been described as being very fond of children, and had four sons himself: Robert, Eddie, Willie, and Tad. He also reportedly spoiled them, once sneaking the Lincoln kids into a formal party against the wishes of their mother, Mary Todd Lincoln. Ohio journalist Don Piatt described a dinner with Lincoln during “two little boys, his sons, clambered over those legs, patted his cheeks, pulled his nose, and poked their fingers in his eyes, without causing reprimand or even notice.” I’m picturing Lincoln as a human golden retriever, just letting his kids do whatever they want to him, because he loved them. Adorable.
3John F. Kennedy
The story of Kennedy’s fatherhood is an infamously tragic one. His wife, Jackie Kennedy, miscarried her first pregnancy, and their first daughter, Arabella, was stillborn a year later. They would go on to have Caroline, John Jr., and Patrick, though Patrick Kennedy died from respiratory distress syndrome just 39 hours after he was born. Years later, Caroline Kennedy would recall JFK as a wonderful father, remembering how he made up stories about ponies and sharks for her.
In 2011, Caroline released “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy,” which included hours of taped conversations between her mother Jackie and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the months after JFK’s assassination. In them, Jackie tells Schlesinger about a time when the children were staying with family while the White House was being painted: "He couldn't wait to get the children back,” said Jackie. “And all that end [of the White House] smelled so of paint, but he'd keep saying 'You've got to bring them back soon.' He really missed them.”
Ford had four kids: Michael, Jack, Steven, and Susan. While not a ton has been written on Ford’s parenting style, since his kids were mostly grown when he reached the presidency, There is one telling story remembered by historians that proves he was probably pretty cool: Susan was seventeen when her father took office, and got the honor of hosting her own senior prom in the White House’s East Room. How many dads would allow that?
Jimmy Carter has four children, Jack, Chip, Jeff and Amy. Only Amy lived at the White House; the other children were grown when he took office. Carter made the controversial (and, in my opinion, awesome) choice to send Amy to a predominantly Black public school, rather than a private school. Carter valued his daughter’s opinions, even mentioning in a 1980 debate with Ronald Reagan that he’s asked Amy “what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry — and the control of nuclear arms." Unfortunately, America didn’t think it was cute to ask a teenager what she thought about nukes; it cost him the debate. Still a great dad, though.
Chelsea’s parents got her interested in politics at a very young age. Before she could read, Bill and Hillary would read the paper to her. She famously wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan urging him not to visit Nazi graves. When she was six, the family would role-play over dinner to teach Chelsea how to handle rude comments from opponents. All that training paid off; she’s now vice chair of the Clinton Foundation.
7George W. Bush
Bush is literally Father of the Year: His daughter, Barbara, presented the award to him this past June at the 74th Annual Father of the Year Awards luncheon. At the lunch, he spoke candidly about how the birth of his twin daughters Barbara and Jenna inspired him to give up alcohol, and taught him the meaning of unconditional love. "You see what happened to me was alcohol was becoming a love and it was beginning to crowd out my affections for the most important love if you're a dad and that's loving your little girls,” Bush told the crowd. “So for me, fatherhood meant sobriety from 1986 on.” He then spoke about his own father, George H.W. Bush. So maybe add Son of the Year to his list of accomplishments?
Obama is kind of known for being a pretty cool dad who regularly makes time for father-daughter trips with Malia and Sasha. He once told Today, “When you're on your death bed, that's the stuff you're going to remember: you holding hands with your daughter and taking them to the park and pushing them on a swing and hearing them laugh. You just want to make sure you don't miss out on that.” Even when they’re side-eyeing Obama for making corny jokes while pardoning a turkey, it’s clear those girls know how lucky they are to have a dad like him.
Yep — no matter what the history books may say about the jobs these presidents did while in office, I’m willing to bet the job each of them were most proud of was the one they did as “Dad.” And it looks like they totally nailed it.