Why Daddy Is His Biggest Problem!
His name is John J. Kennedy, Jr. His daddy calls him “John-John.” He’s a little boy—he’ll be three, come November. His daddy also happens to be President of the United States. One would expect him to be a most happy little boy. Yet, as many people have noticed, and as many photographs show, he often seems to be a sad little fellow. Pouting. Lonely-looking. As if already, somehow, conscious of the enormous problems that lie ahead for him (and they are many) . As if searching much of the time for someone who is rarely there. Take, for example, the airport photographs on these pages: they were shot one day not too long ago, when the President had to fly on one of his innumerable trips. Earlier that day it had been decided that little John should be allowed to accompany his daddy to the airport. Naturally, understandably, the child thought that he, too, was to go along with his father—all the way—up in the big plane—and zoom and away, together!
But at the airport it was all made very clear that this was to be another separation for the two. JFK boarded the plane; John-John was led back to a waiting limousine. And the little boy reacted to the situation the way little boys have since the dawn of time.
He began to bawl. . . .
There are, undoubtedly, those who will say, “So what?” to this. “After all, he’s only a little tyke. Things will get better as he gets older. He and his dad will become closer as time passes.” These people might point to the Roosevelt boys and the fun they had with their dad back in their White House days. As witness this quote from writer-historian Alfred Steinberg: “Mealtime produced such contest of joking and hectic arguments that servants were often observed with straight faces . . . while their stomachs rolled with inner laughter. High officials who dined with the entire family were often appalled by conversational give-and-take between the Roosevelts and the children. ‘Now look here, Pop, you’ve got it all wrong,’ one of the boys would explain the facts of political life to Franklin at dinner, or another son would blurt, ‘That isn’t right, Ma,’ with wild arm-swinging gestures to emphasize Eleanor’s ignorance.”
Fun days, indeed, at the White House.
But different days—before jet travel, for one thing; before a President was expected to be away from the White House as much as in it.
Also, the Roosevelt boys were already in their teens back then, and very much able to take care of themselves. JFK’s little boy is only three—and three is a very impressionable and helpless age. And things, rather than getting better for the lad, might well get worse. Especially should JFK run for re-election in ’64 (as he undoubtedly will) and win a second term, aggravating the father-son separation pattern for an additional four years.
When it all started
This pattern—incidentally and ironically—was set even as young John was being born.
To go back: The date was November 25. 1960—a Friday. At 9 o’clock that night. President-elect Kennedy bid his eight-months’ pregnant wife Jacqueline goodbye, drove out to Washington airport and boarded a plane for Palm Beach, Florida, where he would rest at the Kennedy estate from the recently-ended and grueling campaign. At 11 o’clock that night Jacqueline suddenly felt her first labor pains, summoned a doctor and was rushed to the hospital. At 12:22 the following morning, her son was born.
The President, of course, returned immediately to Washington. “By Saturday dawn,” as one reporter noted, “he was at his wife’s side and looking down at his son for the first time, smiling when he noted the high crop of hair with which the boy had been born.”
As another reporter wrote: “The moment seemed to presage well for the nation—new blood, new life, a youthful leader looking down at a new babe to take along on the trip to the New Frontier.”
It was, obviously, a warm scene, and a lovely one and a dramatic one. Yet it cannot be denied that it came some six or seven hours later than it might have come.
Nor can it truthfully be said that the “new babe” has since been “taken along” on trips to the New Frontier—or many other places, for that matter.
No one can, of course, blame the President for this. It is practically an understatement to say that his job is the toughest in the world, that his moments of leisure are few, that his constant peregrinations to all parts of the globe are a painstaking and necessary part of the job.
But the fact remains that it must be confusing indeed for a little boy to be forever told that daddy is “in the office” or “in Los Angeles” or “in Rome or “saying hello to the cousins in Ireland,” when what the little boy craves more than anything in the world is some of his father’s precious time for himself!
This problem, interestingly, is not uniquely that of a President and a young son; it is, rather, a contemporary phenomenon which today concerns many an American family.
As Alfred L. Baldwin of the Department of Child Development and Family Relationships. Cornell University, has noted:
“One of the accompaniments of the technological changes of the last hundred years is the separation of industrial production from the consumption unit, the family. Consequently the major portion of the father’s time is not spent in contact with other members of his own family . . . Some children seem to show the effects of father absence in their relations to women; some to men. Some are aggressive; some submissive. The father has progressively moved out of the house, and his power in everyday decisions must be weakened by his greater absence. And it may even abrogate all of his traditional authority over the child-rearing process.”
Writes another child-behavior expert. Dr. Everett S. Ostrovsky, in his excellent book. “Children Without Men”:
“The father (ideally) aids the child in many areas: understanding his own sex-role, establishing his identity as one of the components of the family structure, forming his attitudes toward authority, anticipating and responding to the expectations of both his parents, giving him emotional security and inculcating in him a feeling of his own worth. The father can also help the child set up goals and ideals which will aid him in his adjustment to the outside world . . . In general, however, the father tends to take a greater interest in his child’s upbringing when the child has become older and the father-child relationship can take place on a more adult and companion-like plane.
”But”—Dr. Ostrovsky wonders—“isn’t this often too late?”
Thus, the problem is clearly a nationwide one; serious enough on Main Street—but, as some fear, terribly serious in the house over on Pennsylvania Avenue. And for the young man of that house.
Which brings us, for a moment, to the young lady of that house—the pretty and irrepressible Caroline.
You can’t compare children
There are those who will ask : “So what’s the problem with the brother, when the sister has turned out so well—always gay, laughing, smiling, clowning—certainly one of the happiest little girls around—and certainly faced with the same what-you-call problems?”
The answer to this, very simply, is that there is undoubtedly a basic difference in personality, character, makeup and mood between the two.
For siblings, let’s face it, are often as different as day is front night. Witness, perhaps, your own children. Or the kids next door. Witness, in fact, the children of England’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The older two (Charles and Anne) have always seemed somewhat awkward and embarrassed by photographers—either on state occasions or in candid shots. On the other hand, the youngest (Andrew) seems, so far at least, to be an adorable ham who loves the spotlight. Photos of Andrew always give one the feeling that a 100-piece band has just struck up with a rousing rendition of “God Save The Queen” (which it probably has!)
His sister’s all Kennedy!
At any rate, back to Caroline and her younger brother, who obviously differ temperamentally—a fact of life which a psychologist friend of ours explains in the following way:
“Caroline clearly represents the outgoing Kennedys—filled with the non-stop Irish-American spirit of her father, her grandfather, her uncles Bobby and Teddy and several of her aunts. The boy, however, seems to be a quieter and more introspective sort—all boy, yes, but somehow quite gentle. In the case of the Kennedys, he more resembles his grandmother Rose, his aunt Jean and his late aunt Kathleen. And, don’t forget this, he is also part Bouvier. In this respect he much resembles his mother Jacqueline, who was a basically shy and rather quiet child, given to writing poems and spending hours in solitary walks; whose best friends, if we are to believe the records, were her horses and a pet squirrel and the like.
“Were young John more like the out-going group of Kennedys,” continues the psychologist, “we would—through photographs and anecdotes—know him by now as a little rascal, a ‘divil of a lad.’
“However, it seems that this is not the case with the boy. And herein lie his two major problems, as I see it. The first is a present problem—the constant separations from his father and the effect this has on the boy. The second is a future problem—the necessity of the boy one day realizing that he is, or was, the son of the President of the United States and must live up to his father’s image. . . .”
The last-mentioned problem is not one to be underestimated. For, as history proves, the pressures of being the son of a President are severe.
Actually, the majority of these Presidential sons have, in a sense, “licked” the problem with the only weapon at hand: negativism. They have turned their backs on fame. True, some have entered politics—but on comparatively lower levels. Others, with the exception of John Quincy Adams and Sen. Robert Taft, have shunned politics completely and become lawyers, engineers, doctors, artists. They have done well, most of them, in their chosen fields. But, as if with a vengeance, few of them have become “famous.”
Simply answered: they’d had it—the limelight, the comparisons, the unnatural upbringing, the top-heavy commotion that followed them for four or eight years of their lives. Or in the case of the Roosevelts, nearly sixteen years. Now all they sought was the peace and quiet of anonymity.
Perhaps the most classic and tragic example of a former Presidential son is Robert Lincoln—a sad and bitter man whose problems stemmed from the fact that he happened to have a father named Abraham.
“Biographers of his father,” writes Ruth Painter Randall in her book, “Lincoln’s Sons,” “were always besetting him with questions and requests for material; it was one of the penalties he paid for being Lincoln’s son. After 1865, his existence was conditioned in many ways by the fact that Abraham Lincoln had been his father. It was, paradoxically, both a shadow and a glare always upon him. It denied him credit for his own achievements; it threw him in painful contrast with his father, rather unfairly so, as the nation has produced only one statesman like Abraham Lincoln, and it is a devastating thing for anyone to be measured by his greatness.”
Miss Randall goes on: “Robert’s friend Nicholas Murray Butler thought he had an ‘inferiority complex.’ He quoted him as remarking, gloomily, ‘No one wanted me for Secretary of War—they wanted Lincoln’s son. No one wanted me for minister to England—they wanted Lincoln’s son.’ There could hardly be a better expression of the frustration that goes with being the son of a great man; Mr. Butler thought it ‘darkened’ much of Robert’s life. It increased his aversion to publicity, as he felt he received attention merely because he was his father’s son. He was almost morbidly anxious not to trade upon this fact. This aloofness in turn made people think he was snobbish. Society does not adjust to a maladjusted personality any better than such a personality adjusts to society.”
Of course, it must be added here that Robert Lincoln suffered an added and lifelong problem which, even back in his Springfield days, helped “darken” his life; namely a mother who was unfortunately mentally unbalanced. She was a sometimes sorrowing, sometimes flighty, most of the time confused woman who certainly did not help much with her son’s overall adjustment.
Of Mary Lincoln, in fact, it has been written : “She was at times a detriment to her husband. Certainly, by some of her shocking actions, she proved to be the humiliation and eventual ruination of her one surviving son!” A sad fate for Robert.
Jackie—a wise, strong mother
And it is here that we switch hack to the present—and focus now on our current President’s wife Jacqueline. Because, very obviously, it is in her hands and heart that her son’s entire future lies.
It is a happy switch from Mary Lincoln. we feel. For in Jacqueline Kennedy there exists a compassion and sensitivity, an understanding and intelligence that will surely lighten the way for those she loves.
“At the time of her husband’s election, three years ago,” says a friend of Jacqueline’s, “she realized that the road ahead would not be easy for her children. Her main concern was that they should not be spoiled by the inevitable publicity. Her second, and perhaps major concern, was that they should spend enough time with their father, for very obvious reasons.
“But when, because of the President’s incredible work-load, Jacqueline saw that for Jack to spend barely any time at all with the children was an impossibility, she did what any intelligent woman would do under the circumstances. She brought the father into the children’s life even when he was away. She did it by references to him and his activities—explaining his job. his travels, his problems; by little surprise visits to his office from time to time; by planning, when he was away, for his home comings—making these very, very special occasions; in general, by easing the emotional climate and making an often invisible father a warm and natural figure.
“She’s a wonderful woman, Jacqueline. She’s a bright and strong woman. She’s very conscious of the problems facing Caroline, and her little brother John-John. But never fear—she knows exactly what’s going on and what to do about it.
“And please, please, don’t go worrying about those pictures of little John ‘pouting,’ as you say. Sure he pouts sometimes. That’s part of his nature, part of his privilege as a little individual. I just wish, though, that you had been along with Jacqueline one day a few weeks back when, their daddy in Europe, she took Caroline and John to a little fair over in Maryland. Why, the boy especially was the most delighted-looking youngster you’ve ever seen—laughing it up, playing it up, having the jolliest old time.
“Why didn’t you get to see any pictures of this?
“Because Jacqueline wanted to spend a pleasant day alone with her children—much like a private citizen. So she requested that photographers desist from taking any pictures. And the photographers, bless ’em, honored her request.
“Had they been there that day—flashbulbs popping, calling out for one more picture, then another, then another—who knows how long the smile would have remained on little John’s face?
“But Jacqueline, as I said, knows what she’s doing.
“And, more and more—for her children’s sake, for her husband’s sake, for the whole family’s sake—she’s doing things exactly the way she wants!”
—BY MICHAEL JOYA
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1963