Teddy's First 'True Compass' Was Dad, Who Taught Him Not to Cry or Complain

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About a week ago, I was handed a copy of the Ted Kennedy memoir in a sealed, padded envelope. As I carried the package, I could feel the familiar outside edges of a hard cover. Strangely, a thought came that now this still-unseen book was all that was left of this man who had been part of my professional life since 1965.

I mention this because "True Compass" (By Edward M. Kennedy, Hachette Book Group, 532 pp. $35.00) seems to be everything Kennedy had wanted to say about himself for decades, but wouldn't. Whether from a sense of privacy or from being battered in the media, he withheld most parts of his personal story until he knew that most likely it would be read close to the time of his death, or immediately after. Not that the notion of a memoir was new to him. At least since the 70s, I had known, covetously, that he kept a diary of his political life.

As a young reporter for a regional news bureau in Washington, I covered Kennedy on a near-daily basis for five years. Later as a correspondent and editor at The Boston Globe, our worlds occasionally intersected. I found him almost always guarded, someone who talked reluctantly about his family, especially his deceased brothers.

He was most comfortable -- and articulate -- talking about Senate machinations and pending legislation. Even minimally probing questions on his plans or his personal life yielded half sentences and mangled syntaxes. In those early days, it was not uncommon to do an interview that seemed to go reasonably well, only to find that not a single full sentence could be reconstructed from the notes.

"True Compass" is a particular a revelation for its intimate view of his formative years -- especially the influence of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. -- although he claimed to know little of his father's controversial business life and his mistresses, and said that part of his father's life was closed to him. Kennedy, who had a collaborator on the book, author Ron Powers, wrote, "(A)... powerful ethic that Dad taught us was to respect the privacy of others and to ignore whatever disrespect of privacy might come our way."

Joe, Sr. also forbade "crying in this house," Kennedy said. "We have wept only rarely in public. We have accepted the scrutiny and the criticism as the legitimate consequences of prominence in a highly self-aware society. With exceedingly few exceptions, we have refused to complain against the speculation, gossip and slander."...

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