As the years passed and the sting of defeat subsided, Dad fully embraced his new life. Nothing gave him greater joy than being at Walker's Point with his family. He loved to organize tennis matches, pitch horseshoes, play speed golf at Cape Arundel (scoring was based on a combination of strokes and time), and entertain a constant stream of family and visitors. Perhaps his favorite thing to do was fire up his Mercury-powered Fountain speedboat, the Fidelity, and race through the water with the throttle at full blast. At age seventy-nine, he sent an e-mail to his grandchildren boasting that he had topped sixty miles per hour. "I felt about 19 years old," he wrote. While he followed politics closely, he was content to stay out of the arena. He liked to describe his role in the words of a Mandarin adage: "Stand on sidelines hands in sleeves."
Although Dad was retired from government, he was not finished serving. He gave his time and his name to causes that mattered to him, just as he had all his life. He served as Chairman of the Board of Visitors at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, a widely respected cancer hospital. He founded the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, and he loved to drop into classrooms as a surprise guest lecturer. He supported military charities and visited troops around the world. Mother continued to serve as well, creating the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and reading books to children every summer at the Maine Medical Center in Portland. Throughout their lives, George and Barbara Bush have been two bright points of light.
Mother and Dad have traveled widely in their retirement. Dad loved to fly-fish, and he visited some of the world's greatest spots: Islamorada, Florida, with his friend Ted Williams; Canada with his grandson Jeb Jr.; and the river Test in England. He kept the family golf tradition alive by serving as the honorary Chairman of The First Tee and attending Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches. Occasionally he used his status as a former President to get himself invited to great golf courses like Augusta National or Pine Valley. And he loved to assemble interesting foursomes, such as the time that he and Jeb played with Arnold Palmer and Joe DiMaggio.
In November 1998, Mother and Dad took one of their most meaningful trips when they chartered a plane to Florida to be with Jeb on election night of his second race for Governor. He ran a great campaign and won 55 percent of the vote. For the first time in more than two decades, brothers served together as Governors. Mother liked to point out that one in eight Americans lived in a state governed by one of her sons. Dad expressed his pride a little more quietly. On the day before Jeb's election, he wrote, "People will call to congratulate us, but they will never begin to know the true depth of my feeling toward my sons. It will be what life is really all about for me right now."
I too was thrilled that Jeb won. In our early years, our seven-year age separation seemed to matter, but as we got older, we became not only brothers but friends. He is a man of conviction with a great deal of inner strength. I was confident that the people of Florida would benefit from his leadership -- and I was right. He was a strong and accomplished Governor.
After my 1998 reelection as Governor, Dad predicted that speculation about a presidential campaign would follow. He was sure right. Prospective advisers, fund-raisers, and organizers all over the country urged me to enter the race. As I told Washington Post reporter David Broder, I felt like a cork in a raging river. I was determined not to get swept away. I would make the decision for the right reasons and on my own terms.
More than any presidential candidate in recent history (with the exception of Hillary Clinton), I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. For all the so-called burdens of the presidency, I knew how much Dad had loved the job -- the honor of leading a great country and the opportunity to make decisions that would change history. After my experience as Governor, I felt that I could handle the work. I understood the scrutiny that my family would face, and I was concerned about our daughters. But I had learned from my father's experience that it was possible to serve as President and leave office with your family stronger than before.
Mother's example also gave me confidence. One of her great contributions to my father's political career was ensuring that he never had to worry about whether she could handle the pressure of the presidency and at the same time hold our family together. That confidence is liberating. I was blessed that Laura gave me the same peace of mind.
Finally, I believed, as Dad did, in living life to the fullest -- in pushing yourself to your limits and working hard for the causes in which you believe. I believed strongly that America needed a new direction on issues like education, taxes, and military readiness. And I believed that I could help provide the leadership that the American people sought.
I never felt the need to ask Dad for a direct opinion on whether I should run. I knew he would support whatever choice I made. And I knew from watching him my whole life that he believed everyone has a duty to serve. After a lot of soul-searching, I decided to give it a shot. I announced my candidacy on June 12, 1999 (coincidentally, my father's seventy-fifth birthday).
I was aware that there would be inevitable comparisons between Dad and me, some good and some not. He had assured me that I should feel free to criticize any of his decisions without fear of offending him. As he wrote in a 1998 letter to Jeb and me, "At some point both of you may want to say, 'Well, I don't agree with my Dad on that point' or 'Frankly I think Dad was wrong on that.' Do it. Chart your own course, not just on the issues but on defining yourselves. No one will ever question your love of family -- your devotion to your parents."
When reporters would ask how my father would affect the race, I joked that I had inherited half of his friends and all of his enemies. The truth was that he didn't have many enemies, and I was able to pick up many of his friends. I had no qualms about Dad's friends supporting me. I was running against a sitting Vice President at a time when the country appeared to be secure and the economy appeared to be strong. And as it turned out, I needed every vote I could get.
|Pays rich tributes to his father|
On election night, Mother and Dad led a huge convoy of family to Austin. A celebration began late in the evening when Vice President Gore called to concede the election. He then called back a little later to retract his concession. My lead in the pivotal state of Florida was less than a thousand votes -- too close to call. A multiweek recount began. I asked Jim Baker to lead my legal team in Florida, while Laura and I retreated to our ranch in Crawford, Texas, to await my fate. Dad on the other hand was obsessed by the news. He constantly called Karl Rove and Jim Baker for updates. He called me frequently too. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was worried. "Dad, I'm at peace," I said. "Stop watching TV."
Eventually, the legal dispute worked its way to the Supreme Court. On December 12, 2000, thirty-five days after the election, the Court delivered its judgment. By a vote of seven to two, the Justices determined that Florida's haphazard recount process violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. And by a vote of five to four, they concluded that Florida could not complete a fair recount in time to meet the deadline for the Electoral College. The electoral count stood; I had won. After receiving the news that I had been elected President, the first phone call I made was to Mother and Dad. They were thrilled.
The next day, I addressed the nation from the Texas state capitol. As Mother and Dad watched the speech on television from bed at their home in Houston, the reality of the moment hit them. Dad later wrote, "I saw a couple of shots of George and Laura holding hands. I saw in his posture, in the way he walked, in his smile the same mannerisms and expressions we have known ever since he was a little boy." He continued, "As the camera focused on George and Laura walking into the chamber my body was literally wracked with uncontrollable sobs. It just happened. No warning, no thinking that this might be emotional for a mother or dad to get through -- just an eruption from deep within me where my body literally shook. Barbara cried, too. We held hands. Just before he began to speak we saw in George's eyes the emotion he was feeling. We know it so well. He did not 'lose it,' but he was clearly moved and his mother and father knew it for fact certain."
Shortly before the moment that so moved Dad, Vice President Gore had delivered a gracious speech conceding the election. That prompted an unexpected phone call. George H.W. Bush called Al Gore to congratulate him on his strong campaign and courageous speech. "I've lost a few times myself," Dad told him, "and I know how you feel."
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Reprinted from "41: A Portrait of My Father." Copyright © 2014 by George W. Bush. Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.