The Irish above all know better than to speak ill of the dead.
Unfortunately, it is not a lesson that Patrick Kennedy, son of Teddy Kennedy and a former congressman, has learned.
On “60 Minutes” last night he dragged his father’s reputation through the mud in excruciating fashion, all in the name of truth-telling about his own addictions.
It was sad to see. I am proud to say I knew Ted Kennedy well, worked with him on immigration and the Northern Ireland issue, and was a contributor to the recent oral history of his life.
No question he had his flaws, but he cared deeply, more deeply than any legislator I ever met, about the marginalized and the needy.
He could have cruised along on his share of his father's wealth. Instead, he had an incredibly difficult life working for the disadvantaged, watching his two brothers being killed, and facing a lifetime of expectation on whether he could live up to them.
He showed me around the Kennedy Library in Boston at the Cape once. I remember how his two brothers were forever frozen in amber in that library no longer flesh and blood but alabaster heros and how difficult it must have been to inherit their legacy.
Patrick has called out his father as an alcoholic and someone who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In an interview about the book he stated:
“I can now see my father suffered from PTSD, and because he denied himself treatment – and had chronic pain from the back injury he received in a small plane crash in 1964 when he was a very young senator – he sometimes self-medicated in other ways,” Kennedy writes in the book, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.”
Kennedy says he believes his father suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after living through the assassinations of both of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy.
“Dad, we’re concerned, we’re worried about you, and we think you’re drinking too much,’” Kennedy recalls him and his siblings saying according to the Boston Globe. “Then we all cried.”
“He took it the exact opposite way we had hoped,” he writes.
The senator thought his children were taking sides against him, siding with “those people” who didn’t understand how difficult his life was.
“I’ve been seeing a priest,” Ted Kennedy said. “But you wouldn’t know that. If you had bothered to ask me rather than just accusing me, you would have known I’m trying to get help.”
With that, Kennedy writes, his father got up and walked out of the room. “That was it.”
It is a cheap shot aimed at a man who can no longer defend himself coming from a son who should have stuck to his own story of recovery from addiction, for which he is to be applauded.
Teddy’s era was not the touchy feely one like today's. There was a stoic acceptance of one’s flaws and mental health problems, especially in Irish families, were rarely discussed. That was just how it was, and Ted Kennedy was a creature of his times. Trying to judge him by today’s standards is blatantly unfair.
It is hard not to agree with Ted Kennedy Junior about Patrick’s latest effort, which has left the family in deep distress.
“I am proud of my brother Patrick for his tremendous work to make mental health parity part of our national conversation, and I admire him for his candor about his own challenges. However, I am heartbroken that Patrick has chosen to write what is an inaccurate and unfair portrayal of our family. My brother’s recollections of family events and particularly our parents are quite different from my own.
“Our father was a man with an extraordinary capacity for empathy and intimacy who cherished many lifelong friendships; my dad and I shared a deep, emotional bond. Our mother has been fearless and forthright about her own addiction issues, but I strongly believe that her story is hers and hers alone to tell. Mental illness and addiction are critically important issues that deserve a serious discussion – not a narrative that is misleading and hurtful.”
Amen to that.