News & Politics

Filling Dad’s Shoes

Having a Famous Father Isn't Easy. Whether You Follow in His Footsteps or Take a Different Path, You Have to Live Your Own Life.

There was a point early in george W. Bush's political career when members of his staff went out of their way to remind reporters that he wasn't a "Junior."

"Call him 'W.'–he's not 'H.W.' "

Technically, they were correct. But despite the absence of one initial in the Republican candidate's name, the presidential campaign of 2000 was a battle of juniors.

In the red corner, the first-born son of former president George H.W. Bush. In the blue, former Senator Albert Gore Sr.'s first-born son, whose own effort to distinguish himself from his father was to run for high office as just plain Al.

The Junior Trap: It lies in wait for the male offspring of well-known fathers, often with painful results. Sir Winston's boy, Randolph, could never get by it, and the tragic careers of Bing Crosby's sons is a matter of record.

Others, whether they happen to be the son of the mayor of Chicago or of the coach of the Washington Redskins, managed to deal with it. Some, like Richard Daley Jr., do as their fathers did. Or, like George Allen Jr., leave the family business to take up a trade of their own.

Still others, like Dale Mitchell Jr., make their way in the world by doing both.

"I was drafted by the brooklyn dodgers in august 1964 and cut in the spring of 1965," recalls Dale Mitchell Jr. when asked about his career in Major League Baseball. "They did me a favor."

Dale Mitchell. For a baseball player at the University of Oklahoma in the 1960s, it was a name to be reckoned with. Twenty years before, Dale Mitchell Sr. had broken every conference hitting record, attracting the attention of major-league scouts.

"My father was big for that time–six-two, 200 pounds–and could run the hundred in 9.8," says Dale Jr. "Though I was good enough to make all-conference, I just didn't have his natural gifts."

Longtime baseball fans will remember Dale Sr. as a member of the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers team–specifically, as the Dodger who was the final batter in one of the most famous games in history: Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 Yankees-Dodgers World Series. Mitchell was called out on strikes–an odd twist, as Dale Jr. points out, in the career of a ballplayer who had a lifetime batting average of .312 and only 119 strikeouts in nearly 4,000 at-bats.

Now a 59-year-old business consultant in suburban Maryland, Dale Jr. recalls his years as a young ballplayer trying to live up to expectations.

"My father was a real student of the art of hitting," he says. "Whenever I'd call in from school after a game, he'd ask me first whether we'd won, then reel off a series of questions: How many hits did I get? Were they off fastballs, curves, or change-ups? What was the count when I hit them? What field–left, right, center–did I hit them to?"

A headshake and smile at the memory. "At the time, I thought he was pushing me, but now I don't think so. It was curiosity, professional curiosity. And it didn't push me as much as it got me to thinking, analyzing my technique. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but I learned a lot from those quizzes."

A lot but not enough, as it turned out. Drafted by the Dodgers, Dale Jr. remembers the day he got the word.

"We were at Vero Beach, spring training, and the manager got a call in the dugout. 'Mitchell,' he says, 'Bavasi wants to see you in his office.' "

Buzzy Bavasi was general manager of the Dodgers, the man who had drafted young Mitchell eight months before. Mitchell didn't know what Bavasi wanted to see him about, but "I had a pretty good idea when he didn't ask me to sit down.

" 'Dale,' he said, 'We think you have a future in baseball.' That was the good news. 'But not with the Dodgers.' He gave me a one-way ticket back to Oklahoma, and that was the end of my baseball career."

There was a chance he could get a tryout with the Detroit Tigers, but young Dale told his father he'd pass. "I'd seen too many players who'd been in the game for years still playing Class A ball," he says. "I told Dad, 'That's not what I went to college for.' "

Does he have any regrets about his life in baseball? Not so much for himself as for his father. "To his dying day, he thought he was robbed on that called third strike," says Dale Jr.

To young larry harlow, every Saturday was Father's Day. "When Dad discovered I was interested in the Civil War, he bought a mine detector from a surplus store, and we'd spend Saturdays visiting battlefields, searching for relics–minié-balls, cannonballs, whatever we could dig up. Just the two of us."

For Larry's father, those weekend hours meant more than bonding with his son. They were Bryce Harlow's way of carrying on a family tradition.

"My father was a history lover, and his father not only published but wrote history back in Oklahoma," recalls Larry. "When I got caught up in a TV show about Mosby's Raiders, Dad started bringing home books on the Civil War. Not pushing, just encouraging me."

There was no need to push. Growing up in Washington, Larry understood that more was expected of him than of other kids his age. He was the son of Bryce Harlow–the Bryce Harlow, who worked at the White House as one of President Eisenhower's key advisers.

High expectations. And they didn't diminish with the years. By the time Larry graduated from college, his father's name had become legendary. The story is still told of Bryce Harlow, then head of Richard Nixon's 1968 transition team, talking on the phone to outgoing President Lyndon Johnson when two other calls came in simultaneously. One was from former president Eisenhower, the second from the newly elected president.

Three American presidents, all seeking the same man's advice. A lot to live up to for a son who chooses to follow in his father's footsteps.

"Larry handled our government-relations shop," says George Koch, one of young Harlow's early mentors at the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "His name wasn't Bryce Jr., but it might as well have been. Every other person he met would say, 'You must be Bryce's son.' "

True, says Larry Harlow, but one of the lessons he learned from his father was that in pragmatic Washington you have to make it on your own. Another lesson was that "no matter how high or far you go, don't forget to savor the moment."

"One afternoon at President Eisenhower's home in Augusta, we spent an hour alone with the President talking about the battle of Gettysburg," recalls Larry Harlow. "After we left, my father drove a mile down the road, brought the car to a screeching halt, then turned to me and said, 'Half the people in the world would give their right arm for an hour alone with that man, Larry. You're a very lucky young man.' "

Bryce Harlow died in 1987 at age 70. But he lived long enough to see his son work his way up the Washington ladder to become a White House aide during the Reagan years.

Now 53, Larry Harlow is president of Timmons & Company, a major political player. His own son, Bryce N. Harlow II, recently graduated from college and is following in his footsteps.

It was said of al gore–even before his run for the presidency–that he was groomed for a political career but wasn't made for it. That was by way of explaining what some saw as Gore's stiffness, the robotlike quality that served as grist for the late-night comics.

What about his opponent, the oil entrepreneur/baseball-team owner who, ten short years ago, was on nobody's list as a presidential candidate? Washington wisdom viewed brother Jeb, down in Florida, not George W. in Texas, as the "natural"–the Bush boy with the best chance to bring about a second Bush White House.

"Some of us are late bloomers," says Marvin Bush, the youngest of George and Barbara's sons, when asked to explain George W.'s political rise.

Managing partner of the Winston Partners, a McLean investment firm, Marvin Bush at age 45 sees no chance, however, of his own late bloom into a political player.

"I was a liberal-arts major in college, but my main interest has always been in business," says Marvin, who earned his degree at the University of Virginia.

Never thought about running for office, pursuing a political career like his father?

"We all grew up around politics," he says of his three brothers and his sister, Doro, "but it was never an all-absorbing topic of conversation around the house. Our parents had gone their own way when they were young, and they encouraged us to do the same. The idea that any of us would be directed into politics just because Dad was in it–that just wasn't part of our family makeup."

George and Barbara's parenting philosophy, says Marvin, was "as long as you didn't hurt others, young people were entitled to make their own mistakes."

Still, two of the four Bush boys found their way into their father's trade. (Neil, like Marvin, is a businessman.) And there's the next generation to consider, with Jeb's son George P., who impressed the crowd with his speech at the GOP's 2000 convention, being talked up as a political prospect.

Proof that even in families that encourage their offspring to go their own way, the junior trap awaits. *