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Video: George H. W. Bush: ‘I worked my heart out’

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    >>> today is the 88th birthday of form are president george herbert walker bush . our contributing correspondent jenna bush hager just happens to be his granddaughter. they sat down over the weekend for a special conversation at the family home in kennebunkport, maine . i understand there were water works .

    >> there were water works , full disclosure. i tried as hard as we possibly could not to cry. we are the family cryers. it's a special gift to sit down with him at walkers point, one of his and my favorite places in the world. i asked him what he thinks about turning 88.

    >> pretty darn old, i tell you. i never thought i'd get this part in chronology.

    >> what's aging like?

    >> aging is all right. better than the alternative, not being here.

    >> sometimes i know you can hear me but you pretend you can't.

    >> right.

    >> why do you do that?

    >> keep you on the ball.

    >> is that one of the advantages of aging? if you don't want to hear what somebody is saying, you can just say what?

    >> yeah.

    >> these days my grandfather says he's happiest on the sea, spending time with family.

    >> picnics on that island there.

    >> you did?

    >> used to go across.

    >> is that it?

    >> the other side. every sunday with uncle hermie.

    >> reporter: his love of the open waters comes from a lifetime spent on the shores of kennebunkport, maine , also his time as a navy pilot in world war ii . so on this birthday a visit to the aircraft carrier , uss george walker bush, which has come to the coast of maine to celebrate for me it's very exciting. a great big thing like this named after me. it's a thrill.

    >> reporter: my grandfather says the aircraft carrier brings back memories of a time of great loss but also a chance at a second life. 1944 , his plane shot down over the pacific. do you feel like you used that second shot at life to the best

    >> i'm sure i could have done a lot of things better. it's been a fulfilling time of my life , a lot of experiences, including being president of the united states .

    >> not too shabby.

    >> not too shabby.

    >> what do you want your legacy to be?

    >> i want somebody else to define the legacy. i've kind of banned the use of the l word , legacy word. history willet it right, point out some of the things i did wrong and perhaps some of the things i did right.

    >> what about 20 years ago when you lost. was it a hard feeling? a terrible feeling, awful feeling. i really wanted to win and worked hard. later on people said, he didn't really care. that's just crazy. i worked my heart out. it was terrible to adjust. but then you figure, well, life goes on. see what the next challenge is.

    >> what about the role of husband. what's it been like being married to ganny.

    >> a challenge and reward. she's the number one person in my life. in the family she calls all the shots. she's a wonder.

    >> and she brought you kids

    >> kids. together we rejoice in grandkids. that part is wonderful.

    >> six kids, 17 grandkids, and the newest addition, a great-granddaughter born last year.

    >> she's a beautiful girl . it just takes me back. i just wish i was going to be around to see her grow old. i won't be.

    >> reporter: three generations of my family recently returned to the white house for the unveiling of my father's presidential portrait. what was it like returning to the white house to see dad's portrait unveiled?

    >> it was exciting. any time you go there, a certain sense of a and wonder about the experience. a lot of memories come flooding back. it's hard to describe it. there's a total majty about it.

    >> dad said, and i'm going to start crying, but i promised myself i wouldn't, that he loves that his portrait is going to be hanging near yours.

    >> that's sweet. it's very nice. two presidents in one family, pretty good. both lucky, lucky to serve. he had two terms as president and did a great job. i'm proud to be next to your dad there. very proud.

    >> and at that portrait unveiling, some unexpected headlines and even more unexpected comparison.

    >> so your socks have been making headlines.

    >> well, i like a colorful sock. i'm a sock man. this is a modest pair here today, subdued today.

    >> they have been comparing your socks to that of justin bieber.

    >> bieb. is he a sock man.

    >> evidently he's a sock man like you.

    >> i don't know ch about justin bieber. i've never seen him.

    >> have you heard his song?

    >> no. how does it go baby baby baby oh

    >> i don't think i like it.

    >> no, you like it.

    >> that is my grandfather. at times funny,t times reflective, always filled with wisdom to share with his family. you did say you're not scared out ath at all, but do you think about it?

    >> yeah, i do, wonder what it's like.

    >> there's people in heaven you want to see?

    >> definitely. i can't quite sort out in my mind how we're going to find them.

    >> who would you want to see first.

    >> it depends. if barbara predeceases me, her. my mom, brother.

    >> in a recent letter to his children, poetic letter writer, my grandfather shares his thoughts on aging.

    >> as the summers finish out, the seas a little higher, winds a little colder, i'll be making some notes, writing it down lest i forget so i can add to the report on getting older. who knows, maybe they will come out with a new drug that makes legs bend easier, joints hurt less, drives gofarther, memories come roaring back and all fears about falling off fishing rafts go away. remember the old song, i'll be there ready when you are, i'll be there ready when you are. there's so much excitement ahead, so many grandkids to watch grow. if you need me out here devotedly, devotedly, dad.

    >> reporter: reflecting on the past but focused on the future. at 88, aging and all, my grandfather says he has much to be thankfulfor.

    >> i'm trying not to cry. the good news is my grandfather says he's not done skydiving. yes, his next goal, jumping out of a plane on his 90th.

    >> you should join him.

    >> yes. i would love to join him.

    >> those letters he writes are legendary.

    >> they make me cry every time.

    >> he's such a beautiful poet.

    >> i can't believe he can read without glasses.

    >> he is with it.

    >> happy birthday .

    >> happy birthday .

    >> happy birthday .

    >> thank you for sharing her with us.

    >> there he is on 88th

TODAY contributor
updated 6/12/2012 9:13:35 AM ET 2012-06-12T13:13:35

On the occasion of his 88th birthday, former President George H. W.. Bush was old enough to contemplate his own mortality — but young at heart enough to discuss Justin Bieber and plan a skydiving trip when he turns 90.

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Bush sat down with his granddaughter, TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager, to discuss everything from getting old to “The Bieber” to having an aircraft carrier named after him. The interview came less than two weeks after the 41st president’s return to the White House, where he watched as the presidential portrait of his son (and Jenna’s father), former President George W. Bush, was unveiled.

“It was exciting,’’ Bush said of the ceremony. “Any time you go there, there's a certain sense of awe and wonder about the experience, and a lot of memories come flooding back. It was hard to describe it and the total majesty.”

George W. Bush’s portrait now sits next to his father’s own presidential portrait. “Isn't that sweet?’’ Bush told his granddaughter. “It’s very nice, and we’re pleased. Two presidents in one family, that's pretty good. We're both lucky to have served.  He had two terms as president and did a great job. I'm proud to be next to your dad there, very proud.’’

While the younger Bush was a two-term president, the elder Bush was defeated in his 1992 reelection bid by Bill Clinton.

“Terrible feeling, awful feeling,’’ he said about losing. “I really wanted to win and worked hard. Later on, people said, ‘Well, he didn't really care,’ which is crazy. I worked my heart out.”

Video: George H. W. Bush: ‘I worked my heart out’ (on this page)

The Bush family celebrated their patriarch’s 88th birthday at their compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. The festivities included a visit to the USS George Herbert Walker Bush aircraft carrier that has come to the coast of Maine.

“For me, it’s very exciting,’’ Bush said. “Imagine a great big thing like this named after me. I mean it’s a thrill, a real thrill, to be out here.’’

Banning the ‘L’ word
Turning 88 has given the former president occasion to consider his own mortality, and the pros and cons of getting older.

“I never thought I’d get this far in chronology,’’ he said. “Aging’s all right: Better than the alternative, which is not being here.’’ 

However, Bush does not spend time dwelling on the past. Unlike so many presidents, he said he does not agonize over his White House legacy.

“I want somebody else to define the legacy,’’ he said. “I've kind of banned the use of the ‘L’ word. I think history will point out the things I did wrong and perhaps some of the things we did right.”

The former president has a penchant for colorful socks.

Bush also made some headlines for his colorful socks, which earned him comparisons to a certain superstar who wasn’t even born when he was president: pop singer Justin Bieber.

Video: George H. W. Bush: ‘I’m a sock man!’ (on this page)

“Bieb? Is he a sock man?’’ Bush said. “I don’t know much about the Bieber. I don’t know anything about him. I never see him. I don’t know what he does.’’

Jenna then broke out with a quick, rendition of “Baby, baby, oooohhh baby…”

“I don’t think I’d like it,’’ Bush said, and laughed.

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