The Book






“Joshua Kendall’s First Dads vividly brings the personal histories of the presidents to life from a new angle – their experiences as fathers. With meticulous research, he draws connections between presidential parenting styles and governing policies. First Dads is a fresh and engaging take.”

Jay Winik, New York Times best-selling author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America and 1944: FDR and The Year That Changed History

“What kind of a father is a man? The question is so basic and potentially revealing of character, yet most presidential biographers barely discuss it. With insight, grace, and wit, Joshua Kendall delves deeply into the fascinating and often fraught relationships of presidents and their progeny. An illuminating and highly readable book.”

Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon and Ike’s Bluff.

“The conflict between work and family is the American story, but it is nowhere else so complex as it is when the job is the presidency. In First Dads, Joshua Kendall gives us a window into the many challenges the role includes, and shows how some men have succeeded in balancing love of family and love of country, while others have tripped over the joint role. It is an engaging book, presenting the most human face that can be given to great power.”

Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of Far From the Tree

Every president has had some experience as a parent. Of the 43 men who have served in the nation’s highest office, 38 have fathered biological children and the other five adopted children. Each president’s parenting style reveals much about his beliefs as well as his psychological make-up. James Garfield enjoyed jumping on the bed with his kids. FDR’s children, on the other hand, had to make appointments to talk to him. In a lively narrative, based on research in archives around the country and interviews with members of several First Families, I show presidential character in action. Readers will learn which type of parent might be best suited to leading the American people and, finally, how the fathering experiences of our presidents have forever changed the course of American history.   For example, as I noted in a recent NY Times essay, parental grief has often been a factor in presidential politics:

The book, which will be published by Grand Central on May 10, 2016, divides America’s First Dads into six types.   The largest category, “the preoccupied” describes those presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson who were consumed by politics.  As James Roosevelt, FDR’s eldest son, put it, “Heads of state have little time to be heads of families. . .father was too busy building his political career to play a regular role in our upbringing.”  Leaders such as Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt who connected with their children primarily through play are dubbed “playful pals.”  The “double-dealing dads”—those who fathered illegitimate children—include Grover Cleveland and Warren Harding—plus a few surprises.   Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams qualify as “tiger dads,” as they demanded perfection in their offspring.   Among  the “grief-stricken dads,” who were deeply affected by the loss of a child during their time in office, were Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge.  And then there were “the nurturers” such as Rutherford B. Hayes and Harry Truman.  As Truman wrote his teenage daughter, Margaret in 1941, “You mustn’t get agitated when your old dad calls you his baby, because he will always think of you as just that—no matter how old or how big you may get.   When you’d cry at night with that awful pain, he’d walk you and wish he could have it for you.   When that little pump of yours insisted on going 120 a minute when 70 would have been enough, he got a lot of grey hairs.   And now—what a daughter he has!  It is worth twice all the trouble and ten times the grey hairs.”
More praise for First Dads:
“Joshua Kendall’s First Dads is a fascinating look at how U.S. presidents were influenced—for better or worse—by their experiences as a father. Kendall has a gift for writing lively anecdotes, which keeps his narrative hopping. It’s an indispensable book for our ever-growing National Library of U.S. presidents. Highly recommended!”
Douglas Brinkley,  New York Times bestselling author of Cronkite and The Wilderness Warrior

“Joshua Kendall’s First Dads is a comprehensive and always entertaining guide to a little noticed aspect of the American presidency—the family lives of our founding and presiding fathers. Based on extensive research, including interviews with surviving daughters and sons, which reveals a link between parenting and governing styles, First Dads is bound to influence the conversation during this election year. In our age of helicopter parenting, it’s both refreshing and instructive to follow Kendall’s parade of presidential dads who often coaxed their kids to march to the beat of their own unbridled ambitions.”

Megan Marshall, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

“From George Washington onward, Americans have treated our presidents as a kind of national father figure, but rarely have we looked at them as actual fathers. In First Dads, Joshua Kendall shows how the parenting styles of the presidents reveal hidden aspects of their public characters and political decision-making, and offers intriguing insights into the complex relationships between family life and the pursuit of power.”

Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

“Joshua Kendall’s First Dads gives us a unique glimpse into the usually secretive lives of presidents and their children. Here you will discover that John Tyler cut seven children out of his will. And that John Quincy Adams was a “tiger dad” obsessed with pushing his children to greatness. And that Truman doted on his daughter Margaret. Fascinating stuff.”

–Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter? and The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting

“Here, for the first time is a fast-paced narrative concentrating on the presidents, their politics and their parenting. First Dads oftentimes is compelling in its accounts of the sometimes heroic and sometimes destructive behavior of the presidents and their families.”

Irwin Gellman, author of The President and the Apprentice