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JFK: The Great Baby Boomer Daddy


From ‘Leader of the Free World’ to ‘Most Powerful Man On Earth’, American Presidents carry many names.

Kids raised in the 1950’s and early 60’s saw a remarkable change in the office and added a new title.

Out went Eisenhower who looked like everyone’s grandfather. In came Kennedy who looked like their dads.

The ‘Great While Father In Washington’ changed from the five star Supreme Allied Commander who managed WWII victory in Europe, to a Navy Lieutenant (junior grade) who commanded a PT boat in the Pacific.

Eisenhower, (b. 1890) was old enough to be Kennedy’s (b. 1917) dad.

Did their age difference matter?

Early Boomers (b. 1946-52) and their WWII-era parents grew up with Eisenhower. Middle Boomers (b. 1952-58) were too young to notice, but in households that watched nightly news and looked at newspapers, the two men stood in sharp contrast.

How many kids saw Kennedy and their fathers in the same light? Roughly the same age, about the same build, more or less the same head of hair.

Our dad’s were mill workers, longshoremen, and loggers. They were fishermen, insurance men, and truck drivers as well as teachers, businessmen, and bosses.

And one of their own sat in the White House.

History records the harsh events of President Kennedy’s first 1000 days in office, but not the impression he made on junior high and elementary school kids. Baby Boomers in 2013 have had plenty of time to collect their memories and organize them for exhibit.

And they do.

But how many saw JFK as a father figure? How many wished he was their dad?

We can glance through period photos of Kennedy at the beach, playing touch football, cruising on a sailboat and think, “Did my Dad do any of that?”

Do you look at pictures of Jack and Jackie and wonder if your mom was ever as pretty? My Mom’s name was Jackie and she was prettier than Mrs. Kennedy, but that’s beside the point.

When you’re a grade school kid everyone looks old, even the young teachers. There’s something reassuring in images of Kennedy surrounded by aged dignitaries and diplomats, something of an ‘in your face moment’ knowing they all fall below the leadership of their Commander In Chief.

By sharing a similar age, Kennedy gave our own dads more power. The President of Ohio Street had his own first lady Jackie and three sons. When we played with kids on Wall Street or Lombard we met their presidential dads.

Kennedy as president put a lid on back talk and arguments. When the President of Ohio Street spoke, you listened.

For all the hope and optimism of Camelot, kids of a certain age were saddled with even more respect for their elders. When a man in his early forties sits in the most powerful office in the world, whose role as Leader of the Free World writes history for many nations, you get an echo effect.

You also get a better view of possibilities. If a man your dad’s age makes it to the top, there’s still hope for you.

Now that we’re all older than Kennedy, we see his times through a different lens. Scholars and gossips have revealed mistakes and behavior. Doctors and lawyers paint a different picture, but one feeling stays with some of us.

John F. Kennedy remains the great baby boomer daddy. Nothing will ever change that.




About David Gillaspie
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