“Darling if God ever made a lonesome man — one whose very heart is breaking — he made me ……
In the waning days of his presidency, a 70-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower fled Washington with his wife, Mamie, to their farm in Gettysburg. He was facing the impending reality of life after the Oval Office, a time marked by uncertainty.
Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith offered a peek behind the curtain at those private lives during Thursday’s morning lecture, titled “Hail and Farewell: An Exclusive Trade Union.” Smith’s talk was the penultimate lecture for Week Nine, themed “The Presidents Club.”
“Ike faced the conundrum of a retirement for which there was no retirement policy,” Smith said. “To guide him, Eisenhower had only his own instincts and the often dispiriting examples of those who had gone before.”
Most people can relate to a teenager’s difficulty dealing with homework, school dances and friends while growing up.
But only a few people understand what it’s like to deal with those things under the white-hot spotlight of being a presidential child.
Lynda Johnson Robb and Susan Ford Bales shared their stories with journalist John Avlon during Wednesday’s morning lecture in congruence with the Week Nine lecture theme, “The Presidents Club.”
Living in the White House is magnificent, especially, as in my case, for a teenager. The opportunities to see and be a part of history are endless. I will always cherish that time and will always be grateful to the American people for the confidence they placed in Dad and our family during that turbulent time.
But there’s a difficult part of growing up in the White House that’s usually overlooked: the effect of criticisms — often harsh and relentless — of our dads and moms. I suspect presidential children from Sasha and Malia Obama to Lynda and Luci Johnson to Alice Roosevelt Longworth would say they were affected — many times significantly — by political attacks on their presidential dads. I certainly felt those criticisms, which were leveled not just against Dad, but also against Mom. However, Americans have recently experienced a re-examination of Dad’s presidency through the more dispassionate historical lens and that, in turn, has affected the impact of those earlier criticisms on me.