The late Sen. Ted Kennedy with his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy.LEAHY/AP

Ted Kennedy

Deserved Better


Patrick Kennedy with his father Senator Edward Kennedy in 2009.



Sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an ungrateful child, and the late Senator Edward Kennedy would doubtless have felt that way after the sordid revelations of his son Patrick about his father’s problems with alcohol and post traumatic stress disorder.

In this tell-all culture we now inhabit no doubt Patrick will be praised from pillar to post for his new memoir A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction that was featured on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.


But it is Patrick’s truth that was being told, not his father’s, and it came from the pen of a man who admitted his own addictions and his efforts to banish them.

If the book had stopped there it would have doubtless been a fine memoir, another in a long list of tell alls of famous people who recovered from substance abuse.

Americans love stories where the hero battles demons and comes out triumphant. Memoirs of self-help and victory over addiction are among the most popular genres.

But I’m not so sure they like stories where a dead father, who can no longer defend himself, is dragged center stage and his issues seen only through the son’s mostly drug addled eyes.

Patrick finds fault with the fact that his father was an intensely private man who bore great suffering in silence. How else was a father and brother with so many tragic episodes to conduct himself given the times?

This wasn't the era of the Betty Ford Clinic or Hazelden. It was a time when men especially buried their emotions and got on as best they could. That was Ted Kennedy’s world.

Ted certainly accomplished a huge amount in the U.S. Senate, and by consensus on both sides of the house was far and away the best senator in the chamber. He was light years ahead on health care, programs for the poor, the need to have a just immigration policy.

Even though he suffered many defeats there were glorious victories too, and legislators knew if Kennedy signed on or proposed legislation it had a darn good chance of passing.

Compare that the preening prima donnas in today's Senate such as Senator Ted Cruz, whose favorite method of lobbying is to shut down the government if the government does not agree with him.

Ted Kennedy would have had no truck with such tactics. In his time he forged unlikely links with GOP senators such as Orrin Hatch and Alan Simpson to bring forward major legislation.

He knew there was no shortcut to success, unlike the peacocks of today who prefer to show off rather than deal with the rough and tumble of consensus politics.

None of that comes across in the Patrick Kennedy book, but rather the faults and failings of a father who labored under extreme family pressures and tragic deaths.

Ask yourself how you might have handled the violent death of three brothers if you were Ted Kennedy and the many other tragic issues that bedeviled that family. He would hardly have been human if he had remained stoic through all that.

Certainly after his marriage to Vicki Kennedy, Ted shaped up in spectacular fashion and became a transformed man.

He would be deeply saddened, I believe, by what his son has written, ripping the band aid off old family secrets never destined to see the light of day.

That was not Ted Kennedy’s way. His other son, Ted Kennedy Junior's riposte disagreeing strongly with his brother was a worthy defense.