Like Father, Like Candidate

How lessons learned around the family table are influencing the way would-be presidents are running.


"My father imbued me with 'duty, honor, country.' He literally devoted his life to service in the Navy." —John McCain

By + More

At one point, his father sent B-52s to bomb Hanoi in an escalation of the war ordered by President Richard Nixon, even though his son could easily have been killed in the raids. McCain not only understood his father's decision, he admired it. "It was his job," Senator McCain told U.S. News.


A decade before Rudy was born, during the Depression, his dad, Harold, was arrested for armed robbery, convicted, and served time in Sing Sing, the New York state prison. Giuliani never learned the specifics until after his father died. It was his uncle, also called Rudy, who told him the details.

But Giuliani does have other memories of his father. In an interview broadcast November 15, he told abc's Charles Gibson, "My mother was sort of the reason for the intellectual side of my development. She's given me a great fascination with history, with reading, with learning from books. My dad was a very, very strong person. He was a boxer in the early part of his life. He probably taught me the other side of my personality." Giuliani added that his combativeness in particular came from his father: "His job, he felt, was to toughen me up—and not be afraid." In an E-mail response to questions from U.S. News last week, Giuliani said, "I admire his courage the most. I wasn't raised to be a critic of my parents. I was raised to think of my parents as perfect."

In his 2002 memoir, Leadership, Rudy Giuliani indicates that his father straightened out his life after Sing Sing and used boxing to teach life lessons to his son, in particular to stay unflappable. The Republican told U.S. News: "The most important life lesson is to remain calm in an emergency. He taught me that when I was young. He often said that if you are ever in an emergency situation, be the calmest person in the room."

Giuliani said his mother eventually became concerned that he was getting into trouble. As family lore has it, that was after he beat up a neighborhood bully when he was 5 years old. His mother feared that the boxing lessons were making him into "an animal, making me a bum." He added that sometimes his mother "would try to get my father to spank me, and he would avoid it."

But his father had another side as well. Giuliani attended a boys' Roman Catholic high school in Brooklyn, where he formed an opera club. "I became an opera fan surreptitiously," he recalled. "My father started taking me to the opera…. And then I started doing it myself. I would not tell my friends. After all, I was going to school in Brooklyn, tough kid…. I finally I told one of the brothers, Brother Kevin, about my interest in opera. And he said, 'You've got to get over the embarrassment of this.' So I started the opera club. I think we started with Carmen. By the time I was finished, I think I had about a dozen members."

He went on to law school and became a tough prosecutor of big shots in organized crime, in the drug trade, and on Wall Street. He then served two terms as mayor of New York, where he earned a national reputation for the kind of toughness and fearless leadership that his father would no doubt have admired.


John Edwards reminds audiences of his father, Wallace, a millworker in the South, every chance he gets. He sees it as an opportunity to show that he has never forgotten his humble roots in South Carolina and North Carolina, and that he understands the lives of those who struggle every day to make ends meet.

His parents had to borrow $50 from a bank to pay the hospital bills when John was born in 1953. His father worked for 85 cents an hour at a textile mill, doing basic tasks such as folding sheets (a job his mother also performed), and family dinners sometimes consisted of pinto beans and cornbread. Wallace became a supervisor, but he and his wife, Bobbie, never forgot the hard times, and they conveyed their work ethic—and their optimism—to their children.

From his father, John Edwards developed a keen class consciousness that pervades his campaign today. He talks about ridding Washington of special interests that disdain the concerns of everyday Americans—like his father—and about giving each American the respect his father didn't get because he lacked a college degree. Edwards told U.S. News that his father taught him many important lessons about life—including the importance of toughness: "He told me, 'You don't start a fight, but you don't walk away from one. If somebody hits you, you make sure they come back without a hand.'" The family lived in a rough neighborhood, and in a 2003 interview with the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., Edwards said his father and an older cousin taught him how to fight bullies. "You wait until they get close to you, and then you hit them as hard as you can right in the nose. And they were right; it worked."