Crowley, DesJarlais find common ground: Their sons’ Naval Academy graduation
A GOP congressman and a former member of House Democratic leadership are bonding as dads of Naval Academy grads.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) and former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) both looked on last month as their sons graduated from the Annapolis, Md., military school.
Crowley’s 22-year-old son, Cullen, the eldest of his three children, first dreamed of entering the Naval Academy since going to a Navy football game when he was 12. But Cullen’s start at the school came on one of the toughest days of his father’s political career.
“The night that he actually had to go into the Naval Academy for the first time was the same night I lost my primary,” Crowley recalled of the moment in 2018, when he suffered a shocking loss to then-political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
While his son was upset at the news, Crowley told ITK, “As he was walking into the academy and they were shutting the doors behind him, before he did go in, he gave me a wink.”
“Four years later, he’s now a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating,” Crowley said.
DesJarlais said that his 24-year-old son Ryan had also envisioned a future in the military for himself since he was a youngster.
“He’s always been very much an outdoorsman. From a young age, he loved to fish and hunt. He seemed to take an interest in the military in high school, and four years of ROTC, and became an Eagle Scout. He was just excited about the opportunity to serve.”
Rep. Chuck Fleishmann (R-Tenn.), who nominated Ryan DesJarlais for the academy, told ITK in a statement that his colleague’s son is “an exemplary young man” who embodies “the best of American patriotism.”
Although they were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, DesJarlais and Crowley remember experiencing their sons’ first days at the school side by side.
“We sat next to each other. I really had very little contact with him prior to that, and we were there when both of our boys were inducted that day into the academy,” Crowley recalled.
“We shook hands and had a little bit of, ‘What’s the world going to look like? Where are we heading?’” Crowley remembered with a laugh.
Crowley said he had no interaction with his Republican peer when the two were serving in Congress, but having their sons take a similar path developed a “little connection.”
DesJarlais called Crowley a “good guy,” saying the induction and graduation ceremonies offered the unlikely pair a chance to catch up.
“I enjoyed the time I got to spend with him,” DesJarlais said.
“The political divide is probably as bad as I’ve seen it in my 12 years,” DesJarlais said, “but as a member of House Armed Services Committee, we do tend to come together when it comes to military issues and certainly as our sons potentially prepare to fight future wars for our country would be a bonding factor.”
As Cullen Crowley and Ryan DesJarlais graduated in a May ceremony, both their dads got a shout-out from President Biden, who delivered remarks and recognized the two as “proud parents of commissioning midshipmen.”
While female lawmakers are often asked about balancing motherhood and their jobs in Congress, both DesJarlais and Crowley said it can be a struggle for dads as well.
“The most difficult part of the job for me is always leaving Tennessee and going to Washington and being apart from family,” DesJarlais said. He credited his wife, Amy, for taking on “a lot of the parental duties” in his absence.
“Obviously you do miss out on things that you would like to be participating in,” added DesJarlais, who also has a daughter, Maggie, who’s entering 10th grade, and a stepson, Tyler.
Crowley said he decided early into his political career to move his family, including his wife and other two children, Kenzie and Liam, down to the nation’s capital so he’d be able to spend more time with them.
“It did become a bit of a political liability at some point, but I don’t think I would’ve changed a thing because my kids have all grown up to be fine young men, and my daughter is a beautiful young woman,” Crowley said.
DesJarlais, 58, said his Father’s Day plans this Sunday will likely include a cookout, while Crowley expressed happiness that his whole family will be around for the dad-centric holiday.
Their sons will soon continue down similar roads: both are heading to Quantico, Va., in the coming months for Marine Corps officer training.
Crowley said the Naval Academy graduation alongside DesJarlais was a unifying experience in multiple ways. “It’s reflective of the country: We all come from different walks of life, and races, ethnicities, genders, and you see them out there in that sea of white when they’re graduating and throwing their hats up in the air.”
“I think it is a reaffirmation of the greatness of our country,” Crowley, 60, said, “that despite political differences that we come together in the service of our country. And whether it’s in Congress, or in the military, or in other lines of work, it takes all of us to keep this country on the right track and move forward.”
–-Updated at 9:40 a.m.