Robert Kennedy’s Early Life.
December 3rd, 2009
Santa Cruz, California
Received by FAB
I am here, Robert Kennedy.
I did have an early sense of a great destiny, though it was not wholly conscious. Yes, this is true, despite the fact that I lived in my father’s and my brothers’ shadows. The chosen Kennedy children were raised to strive and achieve, and there was something in my nature that eventually responded to this. And it encouraged a sense of wanting to do great things, as my adult life unfolded.
You are now reading a biography of my life [Robert Kennedy, His Life, by Evan Thomas]. It is excellent. I will check in with you as you continue to read.
(later) Yes, my father was not as attentive to me as he was to my brothers, but I did absorb that atmosphere. In fact, his relative inattention had the effect later on of giving me a sense of independence and freedom, the feeling that I could do what I wanted, that I could shape my own destiny.
Now, you are reading that I suffered in childhood because I was considered an underachiever, “the runt,” and this is true. There is this in the biography: “in about 1939, the same year RFK left for boarding school, a friend asked his sister Eunice how the Kennedy brood was doing. All very well, except for Bobby, came the reply. He was ‘hopeless’ and would ‘never amount to anything.’ Many years later, Robert Kennedy seemed to have felt the same way himself.”
That was my sister’s perception of me, and I did think that way too. I had to fight against it. My awkwardness and clumsiness only compounded a sense of isolation. I was not perceived in my family as “tough.” It was rocky for me in those early years.
But there was something else in me, that was obscured by those early tribulations, and I drew upon it later in life. I am referring to my sense of a higher destiny for myself.
I said earlier that my father’s inattention to me encouraged in me a sense of independence, but what you are reading seems to contradict this. Well, I struggled against various psychological handicaps, and the eventual effect was to push me to succeed, though this was not wholly apparent in those early years. But as adulthood approached, it was these very handicaps that showed me I could succeed if I tried. I was complex, as human nature is. Yes, I did seem to drift in the early years. But I was unformed, as children usually are.
This early sense of a great destiny became conscious to me much later in life. I was able to connect with it, remembering that it was in me in childhood. The psychological environment with my family discouraged it, since I was not seen as fitting the proper Kennedy mould. But there it was.
At Portsmouth Priory [the Roman Catholic school he attended], I did rather poorly. But I loved history because I was able to connect with it. I enjoyed reading about the lives of great achievers in history. This corresponded to a secret and hidden desire on my part to do the same. But this desire was squashed by adversity.
My great love and care for my mother were misunderstood, and I was made fun of because of it. I realize now that I felt close to her because I was able to connect with more feminine qualities in myself, even though this was discouraged.
I know that what I am saying seems to fly in the face of what you are reading, but you need to understand that my less than privileged position in my family coincided with my father’s rather exalted view of his sons’ destiny. He was ambivalent as to me. I clearly did not “shape up” in his eyes. But I was his son, and I did sense intuitively that he felt, however dimly, that I would muddle through. After all, despite it all, I was a Kennedy. So it was doubly difficult for me. I was saddled with issues not of my own making. I did not correspond with my father’s view of how a man, a Kennedy man, should be.
Your confusion regarding my sense of independence can be clarified by my saying that the lack of my father's wholehearted support hurt and damaged me in my early years, but it caused me to struggle all the harder. Independence meant for me the intense need to prove to myself that I could succeed, despite a difficult early start. Because I really had to struggle almost against the odds, my breaking free of these early restraints did cause eventually a great sense of hewing my destiny, precisely because it did not come easy for me.
You have just read about my devout behavior as a Roman Catholic at school, so I want to talk to you now about my early relationship to religion. My devout behavior was completely sincere. I was trying my best to be faithful to God because my soul wanted this. In this way, I was completely different from my brothers. This too was misunderstood. My mother was concerned about me, but she did not celebrate this early earnest religious temperament. That wasn’t what a Kennedy son was supposed to do. So again, I was wounded because I did not fit in.
You have just read that I felt keenly the injustice my family experienced because of prejudice against the Irish. This was a manifestation of my burning love of justice, which would surface in later years as well.
I was also very sensitive. This aggravated my suffering and confusion. I was completely incapable of taking life and its problems lightly.
So I was under a lot of pressure in my early years, which was almost unbearable. It fractured my soul and disrupted my life. As I look back on it now, I realize that this pressure was completely unnecessary. It had nothing at all to do with who I was and who I wanted to be as a person. It was my parents’ view of how I should be, not who I really was. So people must realize that growing up in a privileged environment can be a curse as well as a blessing. But at the time, I did also identify with my parents’ and society’s notions of how a privileged boy should behave. This caused a lifelong split in my personality and my soul.