THE BLOG

What Is It Like to be a Senator's Son?

08/23/2011 02:27 pm ET | Updated Oct 24, 2011

A senator's son shares lifelong lessons from an American statesman who worked not only to make the world better, but also kinder and more caring. Here is the moving tribute paid by Visko Hatfield to U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield at his father's memorial service held in Beaverton, Oregon, on Saturday, August 13, 2011. Senator Hatfield passed away in Oregon at the age of 89 on August 7. He spent three decades in the U.S. Senate and two terms as Oregon's governor.

I have pondered this moment over and over in my head for a long time.
Would I speak? What would I say?

What could I possibly add to what has already been said about my father? So many introductions, so much accolade, hundreds of honors, countless speeches, ground breaking ceremonies, ribbon cutting dedications, political campaigns, opinion pages, articles and books.

Words, words, words and more words, volumes of stories some true, some false and some, hybrids of both. A dear friend advised me to share the personal side, share the family side, and share something close to my heart.

I thought to myself, I have shared enough. I have shared my childhood; I have shared my adolescence and my adulthood. My entire life, shared as a function of a public figure.

What more could I share? So I thought about it and came up with the question that I have been asked throughout my life. "What is it like to be a senator's son?"

I used to quip that I really didn't know anything different he had always been a senator; except for the day I was born, when he was governor of this state of Oregon. The only time in my life I wasn't a senator's son, I was a governor's son.

What is it like to be a senator's son?

To be in the public eye, under the microscope, in the spotlight. What was it like to grow up under the weight of assumption and misconception, subject to the torment of political persuasion? In the shadow of a figure so large and with the awesome responsibility of privilege, simply because the people of Oregon had given my father their faith in him every six years, five times.


What is it like to be a senator's son?

I have been compelled to testify in front of a Senate ethics committee. Grilled for five hours by government lawyers because someone thought my father had sold out his career and the people of Oregon.

I have been hugged by total strangers who shared very personal stories about how my father had changed their life, or how he had bestowed their Eagle Scout award, on them decades before.

In high school, I was walking a friend home after school. Trailing us were two Secret Service agents. The same two who had taken me to school earlier that morning, the same two who had sat in on classes and in the lunchroom with me. Two men whose job it was to throw down their lives for mine. Not because mine was so important, but because the same nut case had threatened the life of the President of the United States and my father's life, in the same breath.

What is it like to be a senator's son?

One night at dinner at my home, I sat to the right of former President Nixon, a dinner that included a round table of official presidential historians. Nixon was brilliant, the man fielded question after question on every aspect of geo politics, managed to eat his dinner and comment on how he fondly remembered my mother's steamed green beans, and how happy he was that she had served them again that night.

Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Billy Graham, all guests in our home on separate occasions. I have met Mother Theresa, Menachem Begin and the Pope. I have flown onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, visited mental institutions, medical research centers, and courthouses.

Tom Brokaw wrote six pages about my father in his book, The Greatest Generation, to highlight the few things my father told me the "one" time he spoke about his service in World War II. He spoke of how he was poised, as the Commander of an Amphibious Craft, for the invasion of mainland Japan. Of how if we had not dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he would more than likely never have made it to the shores of Japan alive.

I will always be grateful to the people of Japan for their sacrifice, because in doing so, one US soldier made it back alive and went on to become my father and to spend nearly fifty years of public service, fighting for the lives of millions of people worldwide.

I would learn more about my father reading books and newspapers, than I would learn about him, from him, or so I thought.

What is it like to be a senator's son?

The realization that it is not about who I have met, where I have gone or what I have done. It is to be witness to his impact on the lives of others: Mark Odom Hatfield.

His life was never about the man or the name. To shower praise on it, to honor it, to chisel it granite or cast it in bronze or, to sully or demean it, or to criticize it, is missing the point. The point of my father's existence was not to collect awards or praise, but rather, I believe, to teach a lesson.

The lesson is a simple one, yet too often overlooked. The lesson is that we need to be kinder to one another, to help and to teach each other. To honor and to respect one another.

Because long after the man is gone and the buildings are renamed or torn down, the lesson must live on in each of us. The lesson in many instances was to stand up when others chose to sit, to speak out when others were silent. To find clarity when the noise was deafening. To forgive those who are unforgivable.

A few months ago in what we thought were Dad's final moments, it was late at night and the second straight day at his bedside. I was holding his hand and telling him it was okay to let go, he had lived a good life and fought long enough, we would take care of mom.

It was during this time, he and I had a remarkable exchange. At the time, he wasn't talking very much. I asked him of there anything he needed or anything I could do.

He straightened up and opened his eyes wide and he said.

"You need to save a life."

I said, "Whose life should I save?"

He said, "The first one you can."

There was a long pause, he was staring straight ahead, not blankly, but like he was seeing something that I wasn't. I asked him what he was looking at, he said "There are so many poor people and people who are hungry, who are on the doorstep."

I paused a while, wondering. Then I asked him "what do they look like?"

Without hesitating, he said "They look like us."

A glimpse at what it is like to be this senator's son.

It is a continual reminder that there is a calling to help where ever possible, a calling to open our eyes to people who we may think are different, or who we may think are less, than who we think we are.

It is a reminder for us to open our eyes to help people who others cannot see, or who others choose not to see.

Why? Because they "look like us." They are in fact us.