Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview
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The Punishing Father

I did some of the big things rather well. I screwed up terribly on
what was a little thing that became a big thing, but I will have
to admit I wasn't a good butcher


RICHARD NIXON BEGAN HIS MEMOIRS, "I was born in a house my father built." He described Frank Nixon as "a man of ambition, intelligence, and lively imagination." That he was also punishing and often brutal we do not learn from this son. The worst Nixon would admit was that his father had a hot temper and was "sometimes impatient and—well—rather grouchy with most people," that he had "temptestuous arguments" with his brothers Harold and Don, and that "their shouting would be heard all through the neighborhood." 2 In a film made to promote the 1968 election campaign he said somewhat ambiguously, "There were times when I suppose we were tempted to run away and all that sort of thing. None of us ever did, but on the other hand, it was a happy home." He remembered that his father "didn't use very good grammar, but he was a self-educated man and a very intelligent man," adding defensively if illogically, "He was intelligent because he worked so hard." 3

Frank Nixon, as we have seen, had been a streetcar motorman, farmer, carpenter, and grocer. He had also, in the Nixon Market, been a butcher. 4 One niece, who worked for him, remembered with distaste his refusal to change his shirts, bloodstained from cutting up the slabs of meat, oftener than once a week. "What's the use," he would say, "Jes' get mess all over them." Thomas Bewley, long a friend of the family, said, "I think Nixon felt sometimes he should apologize for his father." 5 The son, however, became adept not so much at apology as at covering up. Although

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