As we approach the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, it is still difficult to fathom the idea of a young charismatic president with a beautiful family having his life taken away in an instant by a senseless act of violence. For me, this sad milestone reminds me over and over again that I do not have a father. My father passed away at the age of 39, the year before President Kennedy. Like Kennedy, his life was taken in an instant, but unlike Kennedy my father died of a heart attack. Who died of a heart attack in 1962 at the age of 39?
Unlike the Kennedy family, I had four siblings and my mother was pregnant with her sixth child when my father passed. I was 3 years old, about six months younger than Carolyn Kennedy. I have no personal recollection of my father.
Frankly, I did not know anyone without a father growing up. People divorced infrequently. We were somewhat of an anomaly. I made a mental note, "I hate Father’s day." We used to make an art project in elementary school to bring home as a Father’s Day surprise. I always made the project, but I never knew what I would do with it. Most years, I just hid it or threw it out. I did not want to upset my mother.
In my own way, I felt connected to the Kennedy children. To me, they were not the president’s children, but like me they were children without a dad. Their father was also absent from graduations, ball games, and weddings or if you just wanted to talk. At various stages of my life, I read about the Kennedy children with keen interest to see how they were doing and used their happiness and success to gauge how I was doing. If they got into trouble I thought, "Life was not perfect for them either." My mother remarried around the same time that Carolyn and John became stepchildren. While my stepfather had some wonderful attributes, it was not always smooth sailing. The Onassis/Kennedy union had its share of issues as well. Both of our stepfathers died prematurely. Around the same time that I went to Georgetown Law School, Carolyn was attending Columbia Law School. Carolyn married a few years after me and her first daughter was born three days before my daughter was born. I had a son a few years later and Carolyn added two more children, including a son.
At times, I was a bit envious of the Kennedy children, even as an adult, since they had something I did not have, all this video footage of their father. They could see his intelligence, his leadership, his humor and most of all they could hear his voice. To me my father was a mythical figure. That same single ageless picture of my Dad that was in our home on the mantle is forever frozen in my memory. I wondered, "What type of voice did he have? Was it a deep voice, a tough voice, a compassionate voice." Until recently, I never asked. I always thought it was too painful to bring up my father. When I finally asked, it did not seem satisfying to have someone describe his voice.
We all remark that it is difficult to believe that President Kennedy has been gone for 50 years. It also is hard to believe that Carolyn and I have been without a father for about 50 years. At this point in my life, I do not dwell on the loss of a father but for this anniversary, I am more reflective having enjoyed my children for 25 years, I think about how lucky I am to have a wonderful husband and father for my children. Most important, I think about what my father missed and I am in awe of my mother, this extraordinary woman who guided us with her beauty, grace, and wisdom despite being thrown life’s curve balls. This anniversary also provides all of us a time to reflect and to look at the fatherless and motherless children in our communities to ensure that we are reaching out to friends, family and neighbors to make a positive difference in the lives of these children to help fill this void.
I have a big smile on my face thinking of Carolyn Kennedy’s achievements and that she is now our new Ambassador to Japan. Carolyn’s father would have been so proud. I would love to go to Japan some day.
Barbara Ianniello lives in Great Falls. She is an author and attorney.