Nobody would have wanted Joseph Kennedy to be their dad. He was an avaricious businessman. He cheated on his wife. He had his daughter lobotomized and sent away. He was controlling and manipulative. He saw his kids as extensions of himself. As we wrote recently, one of the only reasons Robert F. Kennedy turned out differently than his siblings is that he was mostly ignored and left alone by his parents, saving him from the ordeals of some of his brothers.
All that being said, the elder Kennedy was a believer in his kids. He turned them into war heroes and presidents, senators, and philanthropists. There is one exchange between him and a young Jack Kennedy that, if it could be removed from the other baggage and flaws of the family, we would do well to emulate ourselves.
“Now Jack,” he said to his son. “I don’t want to give the impression that I am a nagger, for goodness knows I think that is the worst thing any parent can be. After long experience in sizing up people I definitely know you have the goods and you can go a long way. Now aren’t you foolish not to get all there is out of what God has given you?”
There are many worse things a parent can be than a nagger, and Joseph Kennedy was in fact many of those things. But this idea of letting your kids know they have the goods? That is such a big part of the job. Imagine how it would have felt if your parents had managed to have a conversation like that with you? Imagine if they had made you feel like you had that kind of potential–what might you have become?
We all deserved this. We deserved what Jim Valvano’s father gave his son (as we’ve talked about). We deserve to be nagged about our potential, told we can go a long way. And most of all, right now, your kids deserve this.