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TODAY   |  September 13, 2009

Sons: Kennedy book an ‘enormous revelation’

Sept. 14: TODAY’s Matt Lauer talks to Ted Kennedy’s sons, Ted Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, about their father’s memoir, “True Compass.”

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>>> al, thank you very much . now to senator ted kennedy 's labor of love -- true compass , the memoir he worked to finish in his final months but didn't want released until after his death. it hits book stores today. we'll talk to his sons, ted jr . and patrick in a moment. but first, nbc 's andrea mitchell has more.

>> reporter: good morning, matt. for the first time we're learning the inside story of a kennedy life from one of the original brothers. this is the only memoir ever written by a kennedy . it's published today and it arrived at the senator's hyannis port home on the day he finally took to his bed. he died later that night. according to the publisher, he most likely never saw the book that he struggled so hard to finish. in "true compass ," teddy kennedy reveals the lessons of a lifetime, from his privileged youth as the youngest kennedy child, to the burdens of being the only surviving son. he was reflective talking with his publisher last february.

>> some time in your life you have to recognize that there's an extraordinary opportunity to put down some thoughts that you have that are relevant to your service in the united states senate . that's what i've tried to do.

>> reporter: his memoir is a fascinating account of his childhood, including some tough lessons from his father.

>> i had a sit-down with my dad. he said, "i just want you to know i have other children that are out there that intend to have a purposeful and constructive life, and so you have to make up your mind about which direction you're going to go."

>> reporter: what emernlgs in the book is how scarred kennedy was by his brother's assassinations. first jack. then bobby.

>> those of us who loved him and have taken him to his rest too.

>> reporter: he writes how he, too, feared he would be shot. flinching at 21-gun salutes at arlington cemetery , recoiling when a car backfired recalls a former aide.

>> did he a magnificent job containing the anxiety that had to be a part of it. i saw him drop to the ground when there was a loud bang. i saw him ask me to take a boombox way because he thought it was ticking like a bomb.

>> reporter: in the end, ted kennedy passed the torch of his legacy to his family and to a new, young president.

>> what we face, he wrote, is, above all, a moral issue. at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice . and the character of our country .

>> reporter: kennedy pulls back the curtain on the terrible losses of his life and his final battle with cancer , as well as the illnesses of his children. and then there is his final advice to his grandson, teddy iii. he writes, "sure there will be storms along the way and you might not reach your goal right away, but if you do your best and keep a true compass , you'll get there." matt?

>> andrea, thank you very much . andrea mitchell in washington this morning. joined now by senator kennedy 's sons, ted kennedy jr . and congressman patrick kennedy . good morning. my condolences to both of you and thanks for joining us. you're right, a memoir is supposed to be revealing and candid but they aren't always. were you surprised at some of the things your dad wrote in this about the assassination of his brothers and the loss of his sister and chappaquiddick?

>> listen, matt, for one thing, everybody knows my dad wasn't the most sentimental, emotive guy. he's old irish in that respect. he taught us mostly by example in terms of perseverance and how he got through his own difficult times by example. for us this was an enormous revelation in a sense because this book was really one where he talked about his feelings and emotions at various points in his life. obviously this last year was one where we got to know more about his feelings as he became more reflective about his life and one of the best parts about having this extra year with him where he knew about his impending mortality was the fact that he was more forthcoming with his feelings. but really, this book is an enormous revelation for us in many respects because these are stories that we never heard before.

>> ted, do you think that he felt -- patrick says old irish, but was there also this sense in your father that as the tragically anointed patriarch of this family that had seen so many tragedies, had he to hold the bold face?

>> he did, yes. he was the one who really had to hold it together. after all, he wasn't just a father to my brother and sister and me, he was the father to all of us in our family. and he did have to keep that stow sic stoicism. i just read the book the first time two days after he died. quite honestly, i was a little scared about what i might be reading about. but what i found was his voice speaking to me in an incredibly powerful way. and i was really comforted by the words.

>> he talks about going back to the senate after the assassination of robert and he says "it was a need to fill his life with activity," "devastation about bobby's death and with it all my pent-up grief about jack threatens to overtake me." sounds like he really struggled with keeping it together internally.

>> he did.

>> who wouldn't? after the suffering that he suffered. i mean this was more than any human being could ever be imagined to carry. i mean the violent deaths of it would have his brothers, right up close in public view. then of course he lost his other siblings earlier in his life.

>> he talks about his first marriage to your mom, joan. he says i do not blame joan for the demise of our marriage, nor do i agree with some of the accounts that she has given as to the reasons for its demise. was that one of those subjects that you were a little nervous about reading about?

>> no. i think that, you know, my parents, as my dad talked about in the book, they got married when they were very young and really didn't know each other that well. i think a lot of people did in the late 1950s . so i thought he was very gracious actually towards my mother and i think he recognized, took responsibility for the breakdown of their marriage. but what's really important i think is how he dealt with these feelings and emotions. that's the most revealing out of this book.

>> patrick , a lot of people are wondering would he write about chappaquiddick. in fact he did. he said it was something that haunted him every day of his life after the tragic death of mary jo kopechne . there are still some people -- i'm calling you patrick , i should call you congressman. i apologize. but the setting seems appropriate -- who still feel that he didn't pay enough of a personal or political price for that event and that he was a kennedy and that made it go away. how do you respond when you hear that?

>> well, obviously people have the -- are entitled to their opinions. the fact of the matter is this would have just paralyzed any normal person and he spent his life working to improve the lives of many and he, in a sense, basically saved millions of people through his work on aids, through his work on health care , through his work on so many issues that are of vital importance to saving people's lives. i think he spent his life trying to work to make up for his failings. and the real story of this book is how someone kept going inspite of otherwise being paralyzed. i think all of us could have just hung it up at that point. i certainly would have. and yet he carried on and he a terrific job. and that was what i think america 's story's all about, is that in spite of all the biggest obstacles you could face, you could still be once who could make a difference in life.

>> ted, let me end on a very simple note. he talked about his father and for all of the high-profile jobs his dad, joseph, held, he said "i always just thought of him as my dad." so tell me about ted kennedy as your dad and your dad. what was he like as a father?

>> well, he was an incredible father and my best friend . he was so much fun to be with and he was such a nice guy . and one of the things that comes across in the tributes, and even from his republican colleagues, you know, orrin hatch and john mccain , they just really liked him and that's one of the things -- reasons was one of the secret ingredients that he had that made him such a successful legislator. but he really felt that his family was his greatest treasure and he made me feel special every single day of my life.

>> again, our condolences. ted kennedy jr ., congressman patrick kennedy , good to have you both. thanks very much for sharing your memories. again, senator kennedy 's memoir is called "true compass ."

>>> we're back right after this.

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