Published July 06, 2006
WASHINGTON – After months of griping about getting old, President Bush turned 60 Thursday and decided it wasn't so bad after all.
"Let me just say this: It's a lot younger than you think," the birthday boy said with a rueful smile.
There were surprises, a spilled secret, a song and congratulatory calls from afar.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin both wished Bush happy birthday in separate telephone conversations that focused on a less-cheerful subject: North Korea's missile tests this week.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, visiting the White House, also brought birthday greetings and a surprise gift. But Bush found out about it during a joint press conference in the East Room. A Canadian reporter blew the secret.
"Before I ask you a question, I'm just curious, what do you think of that belt buckle the prime minister gave you as a birthday gift, and are you wearing it?" the reporter asked Bush
"I hadn't seen it yet," the president replied, laughing. "You gave it away."
The reporter continued on with another question but Bush kept talking about the present.
"Anyway, thanks for the belt buckle in advance," Bush told Harper.
"No problem at all," the prime minister responded.
"Looking forward to getting it," Bush said.
"I figure, if you're going to be 60, you should get something," Harper said.
"That's right," Bush said. "Just hope the belt fits."
There was a surprise ending to the press conference when a reporter noted to Bush that it was his birthday, too. Bush invited the reporter, 54-year-old Raghubir Goyal of the India Globe and Asia Today, onto the stage for a birthday picture.
"Anybody else have their birthday today?" Bush called out.
Richard Benedetto of USA Today, turning 65, stood up and was summoned to the stage.
"Amazing, everybody's birthday today," Bush exclaimed.
Harper piped up, "I was going to say, if there starts to get any more, I'm going to start to question it."
But there was another celebrant, State Department employee Todd Mizis, who was in the audience.
"My goodness," Bush said. "Today's your birthday? Awesome."
There was time then for a song: a chorus of "Happy Birthday."
The big celebration of Bush's birthday was on Tuesday when dozens of his friends gathered at the White House.
In recent months, Bush, in speech after speech, has referred to himself as the "old president, getting older by the minute," as one of "the gray-haired folks," as "getting older" and as just flat-out "old."
"For many boomers, turning 60 is a fairly significant shock," said Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University. "The generation that believed it would be young forever, clearly will not. ... The boomers are having a hard time with the existential reality of life not being one open-ended opportunity after another."