Telling the Next Generation

Dad knew the importance of passing on a heritage. This can have a huge impact on children, and Dad seemed to have a good feel for that. He would take moments, often in the car, often while doing something else, often while walking, to tell about our ancestors.

As I look back on it, I can see that the stories were told – probably unconsciously – to give us insight into the character of our ancestors, and at the same time to implant those character traits in us. As he told the stories, our ancestors became bigger than life, and we became like them. The character traits they exhibited, by implication, were already in us because we were their grandkids, or great-grandkids. They were part of us, and we were supposed to (and could) act in the same way. What a tremendous way to form young minds and hearts, and Dad was good at it.

Part of telling a story, especially to kids, is to break it into bite-sized chunks and to make it interesting. Many times Dad’s stories were very short, especially when we were young. As we grew older, we would often return to the old stories and ask for more detail. As we matured ourselves, we realized that we had not remembered the stories well enough, or had gotten some of the details confused, or didn’t really understand  what was going on. We would banter details back and forth between ourselves: “No, then he said this.” “No, it was that.” “No, the main reason he went there was ‘cause of this,” etc., etc.

If there is one lesson that I have learned in the days since Dad passed away, it is get the stories straight while you can. Now that Dad is gone, so is the source of many of the stories. I find myself talking with my siblings and my Mom, trying to sort out some of the details. “Who was the guy who grandpa Kennedy decked in the bar?” “Who were the guys Dad played football with?” “How did so-and-so fit into the picture?”

Pay attention to the story-tellers and the stories. Share them back and forth. Write them down. It’s no accident that the life of Jesus is called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Stories have a powerful effect on all of us.

This article is excerpted from an unpublished book, From Dad to Son: Things My Dad Taught Me About Life, © 2002 Ted Kennedy. Used with permission.

Top image credit: background abstract artwork of blurry colored lights, from, © by dpaint, stock photo ID:  16573031. Used with permission. Quote added. 

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