From Trump to Truman, author Joshua Kendall has an unusual take on what sorts of fathers U.S. presidents (and hopefuls) have been, and the impact their various parenting styles have had, or may yet have, on the country and the world. Just in time for Father’s Day, Kendall will shed light on the timely topic at the New Haven Museum on Tuesday, June 14, at 5:30 p.m. prior to a reception and signing of his newest book: "First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama,” which was recently named “Book of the Week” by USA Today.
According to Kendall, 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 had to make appointments to talk to him. Thanks to his detailed research in archives around the country, and interviews with members of several First Families, Kendall is able to detail how the fathering experiences of U.S. presidents forever changed the course of American history, and discuss which type of parent might be best suited to leading the American people.
Kendall divides America’s “first dads” into six types. The largest category, “the preoccupied” describes those presidents such as FDR and Lyndon Johnson who were consumed by politics. As James Roosevelt, FDR’s eldest son, put it, “Heads of state have little time to be heads of families … father was too busy building his political career to play a regular role in our upbringing.” Leaders such as Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, who connected with their children primarily through play, are dubbed “playful pals” by Kendall. The “double-dealing dads”—those who fathered illegitimate children—include Grover Cleveland and Warren Harding. Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams qualify as “tiger dads,” demanding perfection in their offspring. Among the “grief-stricken dads,” deeply affected by the loss of a child during their time in office, were Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge.
According to Kendall, presumptive nominee Trump is an authoritarian parent who bonds with his children through work. “As a president, Trump’s type of leadership comes with a higher risk and higher potential reward than someone steadier and more patient, like President Obama,” says Kendall. Categorizing Obama as a nurturing parent, Kendall speculates, “But was Obama perhaps too devoted a parent to be a great president?”
Joshua Kendall was born in New York City. He received his BA (summa cum laude) from Yale University, where he studied comparative literature. He did graduate work in comparative literature at Johns Hopkins. For his reporting on psychiatry he has received national journalism awards from both the National Mental Health Association (now Mental Health America) and the American Psychoanalytic Association. He is currently an Associate Fellow of Yale’s Trumbull College. His last book, “America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation,” was published in 2013. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today and BusinessWeek, among others.