(30 april 2006)
teddy kennedy was on the daily show last week. wearing an incongruous bright gold godfatheresque chain bracelet no less, which led me to realize it’s time we reconsider teddy.
not the stern, bloated teddy of today, but teddy circa 1945-1981. the charismatic, charming, carefree but troubled teddy. the teddy who knew how to party and cheated on his harvard exam. the teddy who was HOT.
in contemplating this teddy, we will obviously be glossing over the teddy who drank entirely too much, cheated on his wife, gained weight and contributed in some inscrutable way to the death of mary jo kopechne.
it is teddy, i think, who is the greatest of the family’s tragedies. a fact which, after looking at him for so long, people tend to forget. he’s always out there- all white-haired, red-faced and resolute. his simple survival has led him to be overlooked.
it’s easy to forget that he was a bad student who cheated on an exam so he wouldn’t be branded a disappointment. that he married a beautiful woman whom he couldn’t love enough and who loved alcohol more. that he was swept into politics by an overbearing father. that, at the age of 32, he nearly died in the plane crash that broke his back and killed his friend. that he inherited the thirteen children of his two brothers, whose legacy he could never live up to.
everybody has a teddy. that person who can be so charming and charismatic and has the potential to do so much, and yet either lacks the fiber to fulfill it or is crippled by a fear of real, grown-up life and escapes into a series of personal disasters, ie. chappaquiddick, that sex-on-a-boat business, bar hopping with willie smith. (the polar opposite would be the joan- the insecure, overly sensitive person who becomes haplessly tangled with the charismatic charmer and can’t fight his/her way out of the emotional fray without falling into a similar but opposed series of personal disasters.)
teddys are good people, but they’re heartbreaking to watch. instead of taking calculated risks, they haplessly wander into risky situations and then respond with the improvisations of befuddlement. michael kennedy was a teddy. a non-teddy would realize that neither sexual involvement with a baby-sitter nor football on skis in a blizzard is a particularly good idea. but while a non-teddy sees the potential end of a risk and either accepts or declines it based on that end, a teddy blindly falls into risky situations- not for the thrill that results, but because it’s where they’ve wound up. they take the risk because it’s there. they’re go-with-the-flow people who don’t make plans.
this makes the comparative success and longevity of teddy kennedy all the more admirable. after RFK’s death, he told a friend, “i can’t let go. if i let go, ethel will let go, my mother will let go, and all my sisters.” one of JFK’s mistresses said, “the old man would push joe, joe would push jack, jack would push bobby, bobby would push teddy, and teddy would fall on his ass.” though he’s fallen on his ass time and time again, teddy has been very un-teddy. he has not let go. he gave his neice away at her wedding the same day doctors amputated his eldest son’s leg.
it’s hard to imagine america without teddy kennedy. i like to think he’ll gradually fade away like 104-year-old rose. and the family will throw grand picnics for all of his birthdays, and put him up in a posh suite in the compound where he can perpetually screen home movies from the good old days. he’s been holding tight for so long. i hope at some point he gets to let go. to just be teddy.
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