A good friend who frequently provides welcome feedback and wise counsel asked me this thought-provoking question:
“Now that the eulogies are over, and the senator (Ted Kennedy) has been laid to rest, I have two questions: Would you use him as a role model for your son? And would you let your daughter date him?”
If I didn’t know him any better — if I didn’t know him to be a patriot with an established, thoughtful political philosophy, not a partisan with a fickle political agenda — I might have thought the worst. I might have deemed this to be a litmus test of some sort.
But that’s not his way. His style is to examine the issues, review the circumstances and develop his own opinions — and then prod you to examine your own. If any political party, politico or commentator happens to share his conclusions, so be it.
However, also knowing him, I’ve discerned that he wasn’t a fan — a fan of the late senator from Massachusetts, I mean.
So I read his e-mail, smiled and moved on. But when the day was done, the question stuck with me.
Ted Kennedy as my son’s role model?
Well, no. I won’t go that far. But there is much to be learned, and even a few things to be emulated, from the life of Ted Kennedy.
I went back to the response offered by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Republican from Texas, when Kennedy died: “Ted’s passion and dedication were without parallel. His dogged determination, an inspiration. When he decided to take on an issue, he didn’t hold anything back. No senator was better prepared than he was. Having the honor of serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee together, I saw first hand this passion, dedication and determination applied to the great issues of our day.”
Preparation. Passion. Dedication. Determination. My son, those are desirable traits. Even with the polite decorum that is a tradition among members of the U.S. Senate, Cornyn could have toned it down. He could have still been respectful and not listed such positive qualities in a colleague with whom he philosophically disagreed.
So let’s get beyond the politics. Being a liberal in Massachusetts may be no more unusual than being a conservative in Texas. Otherwise, Kennedy couldn’t have stayed in office. A person chooses sides and stands up for it. Just as Sen. Cornyn did, give a guy credit for being an effective player for his own team, even if he’s not on yours.
Next, I did a Web search for the term “Ted Kennedy role model,” and found posts from hundreds of people. Apparently I’m not the first to ponder the question. The many who said Kennedy was definitely not a role model brought up the infamous Chappaquiddick incident more often than his politics.
Cornyn actually knew Kennedy as a senior senator in the last years of his life. Most of the rest of the nation will remember Kennedy as a young man of privilege who acted irresponsibly, and was convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal car accident.
Perhaps the July 1969 crash that killed Mary Jo Kopechne does by itself preclude Kennedy from being a good role model. Many believe it kept him from becoming president. But it also provides an opportunity to teach my son a lesson. It’s a lesson about how one stupid decision can change your life forever, how it can block your highest ambitions and how it can make you the object of ridicule for decades — even after you’re dead.
More importantly, son, one very poor choice can cost those around you dearly, perhaps even cost them their lives. And decades of being sorry will not change a thing. Neither will decades of public service as a champion for education, for children, for equal rights and for taking care of those unable to care for themselves. Your family’s influence may keep you out of jail, but it won’t change public opinion.
Ted Kennedy’s life is also a lesson in how wealth and status are no guarantee of happiness. Read his family’s collective biography, son, and frankly, you’ll wonder how Ted Kennedy managed to keep it all together. How many of us could have endured the tragedies the Kennedys experienced and still be functional? That’s fortitude you will want to find if — Heaven forbid — you are ever thrust into similar difficult situations.
Now… there’s the second question about dating your daughter. First of all, any father worth his salt will tell you that there is no man alive who’s good enough to date his daughter. But take that one step further, and the notion really becomes intriguing. Exactly what would it be like to be a Kennedy in-law? Let’s ask Arnold Schwarzenegger about that.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.