Inside Caroline Kennedy's Relationship With Her Dad

While it has been decades since John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the public still remains enamored with the Kennedy family, which is still prominent in the political sphere. That includes his daughter, Caroline Kennedy, who has remained in the spotlight since her father's untimely death, having served as an ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration and being appointed to the ambassadorship to Australia by President Joe Biden, per Biography.

With Caroline and other members of the Kennedy clan in politics and other public roles, the Kennedy legacy remains secure, but JFK remains the most visible member of the famous family. Even though he died when Caroline was quite young, he had a huge impact on her life. The two shared a special relationship that made the fact that he was taken from her when she was just a little girl all the more tragic. Their bond is apparent to this day, even though Caroline has long since grown up

JFK doted on young Caroline Kennedy

John F. Kennedy adored Caroline. Her nanny, Maude Shaw, gave an interview as part of the John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Program and painted a touching portrait of paternal love when speaking about the relationship between Caroline and her dad. Shaw joined the family when Caroline was just 11 days old and revealed that the new dad was anxious but elated to welcome a baby to the family. She recalled him being afraid of dropping his baby and hesitant to give Caroline her bottle. "But he really loved her and when he came into the house he always came straight upstairs to the nursery. When that child was about eight to twelve weeks old, she always smiled for him when she never did for anyone else. She seemed to love him from the very beginning."

The bond between father and daughter was a strong and irreplaceable one. "He loved her and she adored him," said Shaw. "There was nobody like him, her father to her."

Caroline Kennedy was born into the political life

John F. Kennedy was already a Massachusetts senator when Caroline Kennedy was born in 1957 (via Biography). As busy as his career kept him — especially after he decided to run for president in 1960 — he always made time for his daughter. Her nanny, Maude Shaw, said in her interview for the John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Program that the politician always managed to find time to play games with his daughter, like peek-a-boo. "He always played with her and romped around with her and told her little stories and read books to her in his own fashion, letting her turn over the pages, and she would love those evenings with him."

JFK was spotted taking a small break from the campaign trail in 1960 to spend a couple hours with Caroline, carrying her in one arm and an oversized Raggedy Ann doll in another. The politician was truly a family man who didn't let his fame or his busy career interfere with his relationship with his daughter. "I don't think any child could have had as much love as this child had," said Shaw.

Caroline didn't understand how influential her dad was

While Caroline Kennedy's childhood was anything but typical, John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy wanted her life to be as normal as possible. As her nanny, Maude Shaw, recounted in her interview for the John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Program, the fact that JFK was one of the most powerful men in the world was not impressed on the little girl. Even though she watched his presidential inauguration on television, Shaw said that the young Caroline didn't really understand what a big deal it was. "Mrs. Kennedy wished it that way," she recalled. "She didn't want them to feel that they were different to any other children, so she never pressed that too much."

Even after moving into the White House, Caroline led a structured life. Shaw said the day always started with the kids eating with their parents and that JFK would always see them off to bed.

She played in the Oval Office as a girl

John F. Kennedy was so dedicated to his children that he didn't mind them running around the Oval Office. One famous image shows a young Caroline Kennedy hiding under his desk. Images of Caroline in her dad's office became so ingrained in the American consciousness that when she appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman" in 2011, he asked if he minded her showing some of those pictures to the audience, and she replied, "No, but everybody else is probably tired of looking at them" (via The Atlantic).

While Caroline and her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., may not have had free reign of the room — presidential business did have to be conducted, after all — their frequent presence in the Oval Office is a testament to how much JFK cared for his children. Playing in the office was part of a routine for Caroline, who later told The Boston Globe that she spent her time there "making construction paper necklaces, eating candy, and running around his desk.”

She was just 5 years old when her dad was assassinated

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was traveling by car when he was shot in the head (via JFK Library). He was dead within minutes, and the nation plummeted into grief. The death hit the Kennedy family the hardest, though, and the tragic event would shape the lives of the Kennedy children.

Caroline Kennedy was just five years old when her father died. The loss of a parent would be heartbreaking under any circumstances, but the fact that JFK's death was a national tragedy meant that the family could not grieve privately. It was reportedly Maud Shaw, the children's nanny, who was tasked with breaking the devastating news to young Caroline. Shaw wrote in her memoir, "White House Nannie" (via Good Housekeeping), that she went to Caroline's bed that night, unable to stop herself from crying. The little girl asked her what was wrong. "I took her in my arms," recalled Shaw. "'I can't help crying, Caroline, because I have some very sad news.' Then I told her. It was a dreadful time for us both. Eventually she fell asleep while I sat on the bed, still patting her. At last I tiptoed from the room, leaving the door open just a crack, as always."

Caroline Kennedy never stopped missing her dad

Even though she's lived the vast majority of her life without him, the bond between Caroline Kennedy and her father was very strong. She has never forgotten her love for him and has never forgotten the hole that his death left in her life. In a 2017 video from the JFK Library in honor of what would have been her father's 100th birthday, Caroline spoke about her father's enduring legacy and how much he still means to her (via YouTube).

"I have thought about him and missed him every day of my life," said Caroline in the video, which also features tributes from her children to their grandfather, who they never met. "Growing up without him was made easier by all the people who kept him in their hearts, who told me that he inspired them to work and fight and believe in a better world, to give something back to this country that has given so much to so many."

Her uncles tried to fill the void left by her father's death

Caroline Kennedy was devastated by her father's death, but the Kennedy family is a large one, and there were relatives to step in as father figures for her and her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr. After the death of John F. Kennedy, his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, tried to fill the void he left behind. He spent a lot of time with Caroline and her brother and was fond of giving them piggyback rides. "He was very, very good to them," Kathy McKeon, Jackie Kennedy's assistant and author of the memoir "Jackie's Girl," told People. Caroline and her brother were crushed when faced with the early death of their uncle; she was just 10 years old when he was assassinated. "It was a very sad day, it was a sad day for everybody," said McKeon. 

Another Kennedy brother, Edward, did his best to look out for JFK's children. When Caroline Kennedy got married, it was her uncle who gave her away. "In our family, he has never missed a graduation, a first communion, or the chance to walk one of his nieces down the aisle," she said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (via NCPR). "He has a special relationship with each of us, and his 60 great nieces and nephews all know that the best cookies and the best laughs are always found at Uncle Teddy's."

Does Caroline Kennedy believe in the conspiracy theories around her dad's death?

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was examined at length, and the Warren Commission — which was tasked with investigating the crime — and the FBI concluded that the shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, was solely responsible for the president's death (via FBI).

Nevertheless, there are a lot of conspiracy theories about what happened on that ill-fated fall day in 1963. From theories that his assassination was part of a Soviet conspiracy to speculation that his death was an accident, Spyscape notes that the death of JFK has fascinated people for decades and that there have been a lot of books published on the subject. The Kennedy family has veered away from the conjecture, though. Caroline and her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., appeared on "ABC's Prime Time Live" in 1992 and didn't answer questions about the many rumors about their dad's death. When asked if he believed Oswald acted alone, JFK Jr. simply said (via the Tampa Bay Times), "I'll leave it to people to quarrel about or discern or analyze ... and just walk away from it."

While Caroline doesn't seem to have publicly addressed the theories herself, her son, Jack Schlossberg, slammed them in a piece for Time in 2017. "For decades, conspiracies surrounding his death have shifted focus away from the important lessons of his life and the critical issues of the moment," he wrote. "They continue to do so today."

Caroline Kennedy thinks her dad could have been good for modern politics

Caroline Kennedy may not have had nearly enough time with her father, but she does have a good sense of who her dad was and what he stood for. In 2019, she spoke in Florida as part of a lecture series. Ahead of her speech, she was asked what her dad's political stance would be in the modern era. It was a particularly divisive time, with Republican Donald Trump being halfway through his polarizing presidency, and Caroline said that she thinks her father, a Democrat, would have tried to find a middle ground.

"If I try to think about the values he represented and how they're playing out today, I think he would be working hard to bring us together around," she said (via ABC 7). "The higher level discourse is much more divisive, and so I think he would find a way to bridge that and unite us in a common purpose."

She has vowed to uphold the family legacy

Decades after John F. Kennedy's death, there was no shortage of people keeping the family in the public consciousness. His nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is a lawyer and activist who has raised eyebrows for his false claims that vaccination is linked to autism. Another cousin, Patrick J. Kennedy, spent nearly two decades in public office in the U.S. House of Representatives. His niece, Maria Shriver, is a TV journalist and the former first lady of California through her marriage to ex-husband Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Then there's his daughter, Caroline Kennedy, a lawyer who has served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan and Australia. Caroline is keenly aware that she represents her family in everything she does and wants to ensure that she honors her dad through her work. "My family legacy is something I'm really proud of, and I try to live up to," she told the press after arriving in Australia to take on her post as ambassador in 2022 (via SBS News). "I think the fact that it means something to people around the world makes me really proud and I want to be worthy of it and do what I can, to continue the values that my father lived by."

She is the only living child of JFK

The Kennedy family has endured a lot of tragedy. John F. Kennedy's untimely death was followed by another in the family just a few years later when his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1966 (via History).

JFK suffered a number of heartbreaking losses during his own life. Steven Levingston wrote in his book, "The Kennedy Baby: The Loss That Transformed JFK," that JFK's wife, Jackie Kennedy, went through a miscarriage in 1955. The following year, she gave birth to a stillborn baby. Caroline was born in 1957, and John F. Kennedy, Jr. came along in 1960. The family was devastated once again in 1963 when Jackie gave birth to a son, Patrick, who lived less than two days. "The death of the infant was one of the hardest moments in the lives of both President and Mrs. Kennedy," JFK's press secretary Pierre Salinger said (via Huff Post). 

JFK Jr. was killed in a plane crash in 1999, leaving Caroline as the only surviving child of Jackie and John F. Kennedy.

Caroline Kennedy filed a lawsuit to reclaim her dad's memorabilia

Caroline Kennedy has been very protective of her father's memory. She serves as the Honorary President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which commemorates the late president's life and legacy. She also sits on the committee of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, an honor given to those who fight for justice and democracy as JFK did.

In the late '90s, Caroline and her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., even filed a lawsuit to reclaim some of their dad's property. They alleged that JFK's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, had stolen items belonging to the late president. Lincoln gave away or sold many of the items, and, after her death, much of the memorabilia was to be auctioned off, including the briefcase JFK carried on the day he died. "They once belonged to our father," the siblings said of the items in a statement (via The Baltimore Sun). "They now belong to our family, to history, and to the American people."

The siblings sued to stop the auction, and many of the items that had once belonged to their father were eventually recovered, per the National Archives.

She named her son after her dad

Perhaps one of the more touching ways that Caroline Kennedy has shown her lasting love for her father is in the naming of her son, Jack Schlossberg. Jack is a nickname, and one that was used by John F. Kennedy himself, per the U.S. National Park Service. Jack's given name is John Bouvier Kennedy Schlossberg, and his name — and nickname — are a clear nod to Caroline's dad.

Schlossberg is JFK's only grandson, notes Esquire, and, while he never met his grandfather, he holds the famous figure in high esteem. In a 2016 piece for Politico, he called himself "a student of [JFK's] life, legacy, and administration."There has been speculation that Schlossberg could one day follow his grandfather's footsteps all the way to the White House (via Tablet). While he hasn't run for office yet, he has degrees in law and business from Harvard, per the Daily Mail, and gave a speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. 

Whatever he does, he's certain to honor his late granddad. "I'm inspired by my family's legacy of public service. It's something that I'm very proud of," he once said on "Today."