Culture / Newsy

George W. Bush’s Candy Gesture and Son’s Tears Bring Real Love to Washington: The 43rd President is the One Who Makes America Cry at George H.W. Bush’s Remarkable State Funeral

BY // 12.05.18

George H.W. Bush’s official state funeral brings its share of soaring drama, presidential theatrics and icy moments (Michelle Obama’s less-than-thrilled handshake with Donald Trump nearly breaks Twitter). But in the end, even among all the solemn pageantry and ceremony that bidding adieu to a president requires, it comes down to a son burying his father.

George W. Bush sets the tone for his beloved dad’s funeral and delivers its heart. From the moment, he sweetly slips Michelle Obama a piece of candy to continue one of the most heartwarming traditions of recent political memory to his choking up and giving into the tears at the end of his moving eulogy, W. does his dad proud.

W. is the one who brings Americans watching in offices and schools across the country to tears. The 43rd President of the United States never looks like a bigger figure than he does in remembering the 41st, his dad.

It is historic to have one former president deliver another’s eulogy, but this isn’t about the history books in the moment. It’s about a son and his dad.

“And in our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again,” George W. Bush says as he breaks down on the grand stage in front of the world, giving the gift of his powerful grief and love.

Washington D.C. seems to so rarely see expressions of love, from either political party, these days. It’s no coincidence that saying goodbye to one of the most dignified presidents of our time — a World War II hero, a grieving father who suffered through the leukemia death of his daughter Robin when she was just 3 years old, a man who married his sweetheart and stayed married to her for 73 remarkable years, setting a record for the longest married couple in presidential history that will likely never come close to being broken — brings love back.

“We tested his patience,” George W. Bush says at one point to knowing chuckles. “I know I did.”

But George H.W. Bush still always loved. Even through W.’s well-chronicled youthful (and not quite so youthful) party days. 41 also loved his country too, even when it chose not to reelect him after his first term. The state funeral touches on all that, but a current of good humor and love runs through the whole thing. George W. Bush paints the scene of his dad, holding his beloved Barbara’s hand, later in life, watching old Police Story reruns.

“The man could not stomach vegetables,” W. notes in another moment. “Especially broccoli.”

The Soldier President of Joy

Oh, there were more serious moments that touched on the current broken state of Washington – with Donald Trump, Melania, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton sitting in one uneasy front row (and you thought Bill Belichick and Adam Thielen was a little awkward?).

“Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington D.C. are not bothered by heavy traffic,” former Senator Alan Simpson, a close friend of 41, says.

Simpson does not directly contrast George H.W. Bush with current politicians in D.C., but he does not have to make the connection that stark. Everyone in Washington National Cathedral, everyone watching around the world, gets it.

Presidential biographer Jon Meacham calls H.W. Bush, “America’s last great soldier-statesman” — and 41’s war service is given the weight it deserves. “One reason dad knew how to die young is that he almost did it — twice,” George W. Bush says, noting both his dad’s fighter plane getting shot down in the Pacific and the life-threatening staph infection 41 faced as a teenager in the 1940s.

Still, humor — and being able to laugh at yourself — runs like a powerful cord through the remembrances. From Simpson joking about how joke lover George H.W. Bush could never recall a single punchline to W. talking about his dad’s love of cranking up all three 300 horsepower engines on his boat “Fidelity” and making the Secret Service boats scramble to keep up to old friend James Baker sneaking a bottle of Grey Goose vodka into his hospital room to 41’s great delight — “Apparently, it paired well with the steaks Baker had delivered from Morton’s,” W. cracks — this is a service with a joyous heart.

A son’s at the center of that. And as George W. Bush returns to his seat after delivering that epic eulogy, his wife Laura hands him a small pack of tissues (one of those travel packs you could pick up at CVS) and his younger brother Jeb leans over and says something that makes him break out chuckling, there is the 43rd president, but more importantly the loving son, sitting there red faced. Laughing and crying at the same time.

George H.W. Bush’s casket is about to start its journey to Houston, the city he long chose to call home, but part of you wishes this moment could last a little longer. Even though you’re just watching on TV.

It’s such a rare moment in Washington D.C. For such a rare man. It’s George H.W. Bush bringing the dignified, joyful love even in death. It’s a son burying his father, far above the noise.

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