Live Life with a Sense of Adventure
ON GIANT SHOULDERS
Daughter of Ted Sorensen
The memories appear in steady, unending succession, a slide show on a bright screen in a dark room. My father, giving me an illustrated dictionary in honor of my graduation from kindergarten. My father, taking me on campaign trails (“Take Hart ’84,” among others) and to the 1992 Democratic National Convention. My father, charging down the aisle to throw me a bouquet of roses as I took a bow after playing Peter in my ballet school’s production of Peter and the Wolf. My father, gamely trekking through the Moroccan oasis where I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer after college, then easing himself to the earthen floor to eat a stew that he assured our generous hosts was “b’neen”–the Moroccan Arabic word for “delicious,” which he had asked me to teach him in advance.
But the whole of my relationship with my father is greater than the sum of its parts. They say that the bedrock of a child’s emotional development is the love of her parents, and so it is that the confidence I derive from my father’s love forms my foundation. Similarly, my father’s words and deeds laid the groundwork for my own interests and values. “Be a citizen of the world,” I once heard my father advise a college student, and so I have tried to be. “Let public service be a proud and lively career,” Dad fondly quotes JFK (or perhaps himself–ever loyal, he never lets on, not even to me)—and so I have found it.
Two years ago, my father and I traveled together to Denmark, to the remote island in Jutland where my great-grandfather Jens Sorensen lived with his parents and grandparents. We met the mayor, who treated us to a meal consisting of copious amounts of fried eels, potatoes, and Aquavit (Dad made a good show of pushing the eels around his plate, and sincerely enjoyed the Aquavit). Then we explored the place. On the windblown western shore from whence Jens had set sail for the United States, Dad asked a series of careful questions to the town historians who kindly showed us around the island. Why had Jens and his father Soren left Denmark? Was it due to desperate poverty? Unfair treatment by wealthy landowners or corrupt town officials? Religious intolerance? It was none of that, the historians assured us. Rather, it was probably just a sense of adventure.
We liked the answer; it struck a chord in both of us. Dad imbued me with his sense of adventure when he encouraged me to have my own—whether by learning a new language, traveling to a new country, or even running a marathon. Dad speaks only English, having studied Latin; his first trip abroad was with President Kennedy to visit Charles de Gaulle in France in May 1961, when Dad was barely 33; and as for the marathon, Dad ran one at the age of 56, and I at the age of 26. We boast about each other finishing in under four hours.
Even as he has sowed in me an adventurous spirit, he has counseled caution in the form of positive reinforcement. “You continue to show good judgment,” he wrote in a letter when I was 22, an age at which reasoned judgment was frequently absent, “a quality that is essential in life.”
Four years ago, my father suffered a stroke that robbed him of most of his vision. Even so, he soldiers on, inspiring me by his determination. He is writing his memoirs, although he cannot see to read his own writing, dictating each section of a meticulously detailed outline. Like the slide show, the vivid stories of his life pour forth onto pages, even though his world is now dark. They illuminate the intellect, the humor, and the goodness of the man I am lucky enough to call my father.
Theodore C. Sorensen served for 11 years as policy adviser, legal counsel, and speech writer to Senator and President John F. Kennedy. He was deeply involved in such matters as the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil rights legislation, and the decision to go to the moon. Since 1966 he has practiced international law at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where his practice focused on international business and governmental transactions in all parts of the world. He is the author of the 1965 book Kennedy, an international best seller, Why I Am A Democrat (1996), six other books on the presidency, politics or foreign policy, and numerous articles on those subjects in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, and other publications. The father of four children, he is married to Gillian Martin Sorensen, a former United Nations Assistant Secretary General for External Relations and senior advisor to the UN Foundation.
Juliet Suzanne Sorensen was born in New York City in 1973. She is currently an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago. From 1995 to 1997, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Morocco, doing maternal and child health education. Juliet is the mother of Sophia Sorensen Jones and the wife of Benjamin Jones, an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. she credits her parents for her commitment to public service.
On Giant Shoulders… A Daughter Can See Clearly
- Setting Clear Limits and Providing a Moral Code (submit your story here)
- Spirituality and Religion (Ingrid Peart)
- Standing Up for Your Beliefs (Dominique Sharpton)
- The Importance of Humility (Kathryn Ho)
- Lasting Values Over Materialism (Nan Nicklaus O’Leary)
- Helping Others (Helen Rafferty)
- Failure…and Learning from Mistakes (submit your story here)
- Value of Hard Work (Stephanie Staubach Phillips)
- Mindfulness (Carmela Cipriani)