Jan. 15, 2004 — -- Howard Dean, a doctor and former governor of Vermont, is currently the front-runner in the bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. In an interview with ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings, Dean spoke about his family and life before politics.
Dean has lived in Vermont for 30 years — as a doctor and a politician. But because he hasn't practiced medicine for 12 years, Dean thinks of himself as a politician who was once a doctor. He said he went into politics because he was "looking at ways that I could do good in the world."
Dean was born in New York City. His father worked on Wall Street and his mother was a homemaker until she went back to school after he and his three brother graduated and moved on.
"But my parents always had a house in eastern Long Island, which is where I really consider that I grew up," he said. Dean says he came from what most would consider a privileged family.
His father, a staunch Republican, had an enormous sense of humor. "He was a huge figure in our household, he was just a dominant figure," said Dean. "Four boys — we were a handful. I don't know how my mother made it through because my father was somewhat of a teenager himself at times, so she really had five of us to contend with."
Two of his brothers work on his campaign for the White House. His third brother, Charles, went missing in Laos in 1974. The 24-year-old University of North Carolina graduate was traveling through Southeast Asia. He and a friend he was traveling with were believed to have been imprisoned and killed.
Remains believed to be Charles' were finally found and handed over to U.S. authorities in November 2003.
His brother's death changed Dean forever.
"It taught me to tell people what you think of them, tell them you love them if you do," he said, "because you don't know when you're not going to see them again."
After high school and before entering college, Dean spent a year at school in England. Looking at America from overseas during the Vietnam War provided him a perspective of seeing his country through a different prism.
"At that time, it was my country do or die, so my position was the Vietnam War was the right thing to do and of course, most people in Europe didn't think it was a very good idea, whichsubsequently turned out to be correct," said Dean. "But I was a high school student, I was going to defend my country no matter what."
When Dean returned to the United States and Yale University, he asked to room with two African-Americans.
"When you go to college you meet all kinds of different people," he said. "And I wanted to make sure I didn't stay with people I had been with all my life. I just wanted to meet different kinds of people who had a very different perspective."
Dean said it was probably the most valuable year he spent in college. There were times when everyone in the room but him was black.
"And just for an instance I realized, what would it be like if it was always this way, if everybody else were different than you in some fundamental way, always," he said. "[It] just gave me a small glimpse of what it was like, just an ordinary day in the life of an African-American man at Yale College."
After he graduated from Yale, Dean, who he said was not drafted because of his bad back, went in search of himself. He waited tables and skied in Colorado. He did a stint on Wall Street.
He found himself in medicine, which was where he met his wife, Judith Steinberg, who is also a doctor.
"I kind of was admiring her from afar and screwing up my courage and talking to my friends and, in the meantime, unbeknownst to me, her relationship with her boyfriend was ending," remembered Dean. "And I thought to myself, 'If she's in the library, when I go in there I'm going to ask her out.' She was sitting in the library, I asked her out, and the rest is history."
Dean and his wife moved to Vermont and shared a medical practice until 1991. "I had no idea of getting into politics," he said.
Dean became active in community service. He was elected lieutenant governor of Vermont in 1986 and became governor in 1991 when the Republican governor died suddenly.
He decided to run for president of the United States in 2002 and has been hard at it ever since. When he feels under pressure, he said he eats.
"Other kinds of things that relax me — this sounds ridiculous — I like to mow the lawn. Or just do things ordinary people do, because that really does allow you to decompress," he said, adding that when he's home, he likes to just do things with his hands.
"My wife laughs," he said. "She gets interviewed once in a while. They say, 'What's he like when he's home?' She says, 'Well, he'll make a list of the light bulbs that need to be changed and the sink that needs to be fixed, and he does it.' Which is true, I do it, it's relaxing to me to do it."
Would it break his heart if he didn't get the nomination?
"It wouldn't break my heart, but I think I need to get the nomination, because, I think we need a really substantial change in this country," said Dean. "I don't think it's enough to just change presidents, I think we need to change America."