Jenna Bush Hager Ponders Dad's Life-Changing Decision to Quit Drinking at 40 as Her Milestone Birthday Nears

Though she has no memory of her father's drinking days, the Today co-host tells Hoda Kotb his decision had "ramification" on her entire family

Jenna Bush Hager
Photo: Getty

Jenna Bush Hager enjoys a drink from time to time while chatting on the air with Hoda Kotb, who's also a fan of the buzzed-about Today show tradition of pouring a glass of wine or sipping a cocktail.

But Hager has been thinking about her drinking lately as she approaches her 40th birthday on Nov. 21.

Chatting with her morning show colleague on the season finale of Kotb's podcast Making Space, Hager explained that the milestone served as a crossroads for her father, former President George W. Bush.

"He quit drinking the day after his 40th birthday," she said. She was only 5 at the time, so she has no memories of her father drinking alcohol, she said.

"It's interesting to me because a lot of his stories to us and our family sort of begin at 40," she said. "I think he had a new lease on life at 40, a really important revelation that he couldn't drink. So that sits with me because it was a really important part of our family, that choice that he made."

Up until he became a teetotaler, Bush, now 75, lacked direction, according to friends, and had a bit of a reputation. "He'd drink too much and he could really be obnoxious when he drank too much," lifelong friend Robert McCleskey said in an episode of American Experience last year. "For lack of a better word, he could be a real a------ when he drank."

laura george and jenna bush
From left: Laura Bush, George W. Bush and Jenna Bush Hager. Nathan Congleton/NBC

After a few too many on his birthday, Bush famously quit drinking, cold turkey. Something shifted in his life after that — and 15 years later he became the 43rd U.S. president.

"He just woke up and decided that it didn't suit him," Hager told Kotb on her podcast. "He wasn't as present as a parent or a husband as he wanted to be."

Hager and her husband, Henry Hager, have a family of their own with daughters Margaret "Mila" Laura, 8, and Poppy Louise, 6, as well as 2-year-old son Henry "Hal" Harold.

Her dad's transformation is part of why she's pondering alcohol and how it can both take hold of some people and hold them back.

Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager
Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

Giving up alcohol had "ramifications" that her whole family felt, Hager said, adding that she's not worried about her own drinking. "I don't really want to quit. I don't think I need to."

Though she also said the lack of memories of her dad's drinking days might make alcoholism less "scary," her father's history — and the fact that her mom, Laura Bush, and sister Barbara have also hopped on the wagon, she mentioned to Kotb — is on her mind as she approaches her 40s.

"I'm definitely aware of it," she said, but "I don't feel like it affects me in a [negative] way."

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