My father, like my father's father and my father's mother and all of my father's Norse-American siblings (from the teenage Agnes, a victim of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, to a redoubtable elementary school teacher, Gertrude) is buried on a shoulder of land overlooking Interstate 5.
I didn't expect it, my father's death. I was a teenager, petulant and awkward. You see, my Dad waited a long, long time to get hitched. And he waited until he was well into his fifties to have children. He was a good soul, his nuptial-commitment-aversion notwithstanding. So, his death felt abrupt and horrifying to me. To any kid, I assume.
I spoke at my father's funeral and afterwards I stood in a receiving line for several excruciating hours. It was 1983, an early summer afternoon in Everett. Three people touched my shoulder and were comforting: Pete Wilson, then a Republican Senator from California, Admiral H.G. Rickover, the legendary father of the nuclear Navy, and U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy. From that time onward, I rarely made a joke at Ted Kennedy's expense (and God forgive me those few times that I did make a joke). He was a stand-up fellow, I told friends. He eulogized my Dad at Everett's First Presbyterian Church.
Here's a brief excerpt of what Ted Kennedy said about my Dad:
On that day Jack died, he was a friend who comforted me. On more days than I can count, I felt his happy clasp on my shoulder; I saw his crinkled smile; I enjoyed his counsel and his company.
I won't expound on Ted Kennedy's personal and political legacy. Many folks, much smarter than I, can and should debate away. Therefore, I will keep it simple: When I was a teenager, my father died unexpectedly. Edward Kennedy was kind to me. I'm grateful to him.