Joseph Kennedy's admonition to his sons was blunt: "We don't want any losers around here. In this family we want winners."
Jack, his second oldest, took it to heart. He eventually made it his mission to win the presidency, fulfilling his father's lifelong dream of validating the status of Irish Catholics in America and crowning his dad's personal struggle for power and respectability.
Joe Kennedy, a hugely wealthy banker and investor, actually wanted the job of president for himself. But he got into trouble for intemperate statements, including what was seen as a defeatist attitude toward fascism, that made achieving his goal impossible. So he focused more than ever on instilling in his four sons, Joe, Jack, Bobby, and Teddy, an all-consuming ambition and an intense competitive spirit. (His five daughters weren't expected to reach as high.) Their rough-and-tumble games of touch football on the beach of Hyannis Port, Mass., became legendary, but he also presided over family debates during dinner, in which each son was expected to have an opinion and defend it. And there was constant pressure to excel.
At first, Joe wanted his first son and namesake to take the lead, but Joe Junior was killed in World War II. The patriarch then pushed Jack into Democratic politics, and the handsome former PT boat commander in the Pacific moved quickly up the ladder, first as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Boston, then as a senator from Massachusetts. Finally, Jack was elected president in 1960. Behind the scenes, his father had bankrolled the campaign.
Old Joe watched proudly as his son was sworn in on that cold January day in 1961. Afterward, they sat together in the reviewing stand observing the inaugural parade--the culmination of the patriarch's dream.
By Kenneth T. Walsh