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The First Father

March 2024
1min read

A Bully Father: Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children

essay and notes by Joan Paterson Kerr, Random House, 288 pages .

That Theodore Roosevelt displayed even more boyish vitality as a father than as our youngest President comes splendidl) clear in his letters to his children, for whon he was confidant, reporter, and often co-conspirator. He and the First Lady returned to the White House after being away in 1903, and he wrote his son Kermit, “Mother … was met [upstairs] by Archie and Quentin, each loaded with pillows and whispering not to let me know that they were in ambush; then as I marched up to the top they assailed me with shrieks and chuckles of delight and then the pillow fight raged up and down the hall.” Many such passages bear out the fond remark of a friend quoted in David McCullough’s foreword: “You must remember that the President is about six.”

Roosevelt was an inexhaustible troop leader around the house, but his more fatherly letters—weighing a military versus a civilian career or cautioning against homesickness—offer definite, clearly reasoned advice any worried child would want to hear. And, of course, even for his children TR was a vivid writer, as in his dispatches home from Panama: “The huge steam-shovels are hard at it; scooping huge masses of rock and gravel and dirt previously loosened by the drillers and dynamite blasters, loading it on trains.… They are eating steadily into the mountain, cutting it down and down.”

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