They're Talking About ... Our Kid

George and Barbara Bush on the highs and lows of having a son in the White House

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In their sunny living room in Houston, former president George H.W. Bush, 80, and his wife Barbara, 79, sat down with TIME's Hugh Sidey to talk about parenting a two-term President, their daughter-in-law, the family's detractors, their hopes for their son's legacy and whom Barbara plans to marry if George dies first. Excerpts:

TIME: You've finished one term of parenting a President and a First Lady. What are the rules? How do you do it?

BUSH: We talk a lot, Barbara and I, to Laura and George. I talk mainly to the President. They know that we're not going to make any statements about what we talk about. He's very interested in how his brothers and sister are doing, although he sees more of Doro and Marvin than we do. Plus, we can talk on issues, but it's not real in-depth. It's not his saying to me, "What do I do now?"

MRS. BUSH: He knows we're the only two people in America who are awake at 6 in the morning. He calls from the Oval Office to talk to George, and we put him on speakerphone. The rules are, No repeating what he tells you, No. 1, and not giving unsolicited advice and not passing on things that people ask you to give the President or Laura: gifts or advice or ideas or wanting jobs. We pass those on to Jean [Becker, the former President's chief of staff]. We just have made that deal, because we were there. We know what it's like.

TIME: What is it like to have a son in the White House?

BUSH: It's pride of a father in a son, and it transcends or avoids the issues. You know, the idea that George wanted to redeem me after my loss, all this crazy stuff like that, it has nothing to do with that.

TIME: Here's the most important man in the world, your son.

MRS. BUSH: It's an extraordinary feeling every now and then. You think, they're talking about--

BUSH: Our kid. Remember when Ann Richards said George Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth? And then when George beat her in his first run for Governor--I must say I felt a certain sense of joy that he finally had kind of taken her down. I could go around saying, "We showed her what she could do with that silver foot, where she could stick that now."

MRS. BUSH: Good speech material.

TIME: What's bad about having a President for a son?

MRS. BUSH: Criticism of your children is just the worst.

BUSH: Sometimes I've got ideas on things, and I don't feel free to discuss them because I think it might in some way be used against him. If I ever varied publicly on any policy, then the press would immediately go off: "He's sending some signal, disapproval, through this column to his son." So I don't do it. If there's some difference, I can talk to him about it. The thing that was perhaps the most hurtful to me was the theme that the President doesn't know what he's doing, that he's dumb, that he's some know-nothing cowboy from Texas. And when I sat with him, as I did out at Camp David, at Crawford, and heard him with the intelligence people, talking about the world and asking the appropriate questions--what's the development in this country or that--I was surprised at how broad the vision and grasp are. But he gets no credit for that.

TIME: What has surprised you about George W.?

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