“I really don’t like mysteries.”
“Most 14-year-olds don’t like to read,” Bush said, stretching for a compliment.
Worried that the conversation was going nowhere, I reminded Tyler what Clinton had asked him to do eight days earlier.
“Oh, yeah,” he said to Bush. “Bill Clinton sends his best.”
Bush smiled warmly. “We’ve been friends,” he said. “We’ve shared experiences. We’re like brothers.”
I could feel my stomach tightening, worried that Bush would consider Tyler rude or obtuse. I nervously change the subject to sports, a passion Bush and I share. “Stop butting in,” I wrote in my notebook. Bush politely engaged with me but quickly turned back to Tyler.
“So, Tyler, at 14 this is probably an unfair question to ask, but do you have any idea what you’d like to be when you get older?
“Maybe a comedian.”
“Maybe a what?” Bush said, a bit surprised.
“Well,” Bush replied, “I’m a pretty objective audience. You might want to try a couple of your lines out on me.”
“Nah,” Tyler demurred. “I don’t have any material”
I tried to prod Tyler into sharing a bit of the stand-up act that won him second prize at a school talent show. I nudged him about the improv classes he was taking.
Bush let him off the hook. “Ah, interesting,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people. You know how many people ever said, ‘I think I’d like to make people laugh?’ You’re the only guy. That’s awesome.”
Bush had connected. With an impish smile, he told Tyler about the time that rocker/humanitarian Bono was scheduled to visit the White House. The president’s aides, knowing that their boss was unimpressed by celebrities, worried that Bush would blow it. “[Chief of Staff] Josh Bolten comes in and said, ‘Now, you know who Bono is, don’t you?’ Just as he’s leaving the Oval Office, I said, ‘Yeah, he’s married to Cher.’ ” Bush raised an eyebrow. “Get it?” he asked Tyler. “Bone-oh. Bahn-oh.”
Afterward, I asked Tyler about the Bono joke. He said, “Sounds like something goofy you would say.” But for me, the exchange was an eye-opener. Tyler was terse, even rude, but Bush was solicitous. Rather than being thrown by Tyler’s idiosyncrasies, he rolled with them, exactly as he had in the Oval Office nine years earlier. He responded to every clipped answer with another probing question. Bush, a man who famously doesn’t suffer fools or breaches of propriety, gave my son the benefit of the doubt. I was beginning to think that people are more perceptive and less judgmental toward Tyler than his own father is. Bush certainly was.
Love That Boy
Tyler and I are sitting in the car outside a bookstore. The Barnes & Noble in Northern Virginia is where we go most weekends, sharing our love of books and time alone. He’s reading a draft of this article.
“It’s OK,” my little professor says, “but it’s a bit of a cliché.” He asks me to say he’s no longer afraid of bees or of the dark. He objects to a passage in which I tell him, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s overcoming your fears.” It must be a misquotation, he says, because his father doesn’t talk so eloquently. And he’s not impressed with my original conclusion.