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Everything a Father Should Be

Courtesy Rep. William Lacy Clay
As a child, Rep. William Lacy Clay (right) watched from the House floor as his father, former Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., was sworn in.

“He thought it would be better to spend time with my family, and I had a good law practice,” Bilirakis said.

Rep. Dan Boren’s (D-Okla.) father, former Rep. David Boren (D-Okla.), who followed his own father into Congress, too, warned his son against running for election. 

“He said it’s a really tough life,” Boren said.

Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) father, the late Rep. John Henry Kyl (R-Iowa), said the same.

“When I called him and told him I was going to run for the House of Representatives, he said ‘Why?’” Kyl said. “He didn’t think that was a very good idea ... he said, ‘You’ve got a great job, why would you want to do that?’ and I said, ‘Well, for the same reason you did.’”

Still, growing up in a political family can help ease the decision to enter politics.

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) was won over watching his own father, former Rep. John Duncan Sr. (R-Tenn.).

“The politics just slowly gets into your blood,” Duncan said. “If you’d asked me back in middle school if I would end up in politics, I probably would have told you no.”

Rep. Rush Holt’s (D-N.J.) father, the late Sen. Rush D. Holt (D-W.Va.), helped him see the brighter side of politics.

“I heard countless testimonies from people who appreciated what my father had done for them,” he said.

Still, some fathers were proud to see their kids follow their path.

“While I was still in the middle of my first campaign for Congress, a tough battle, my father said to me, ‘Just remember — I don’t need a ticket to your swearing-in because former Members can go right to the floor,’” Pelosi said. “I pointed out to him that I hadn’t even won my election yet! But I think that was a sign that my father felt great pride.”

Job Experience

Encouraging them to run isn’t the only way Congressional fathers helped out their children. They also landed them page jobs and internships or helped them campaign.

Boren’s father helped him find a page job in Sen. Robert Byrd’s office in the summer of 1988. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) also served as pages. And Rep. Gus Bilirakis landed three different D.C. internships — including one in the Reagan White House — with the help of his father. Latta’s father, like many others, even helped him go door-to-door, campaigning for early political jobs.

Their fathers’ name recognition and political clout also helped some struggling Members — but that name recognition’s not everything.

“He said that he could help me get elected but he could not help me keep the seat,” Clay said.

It can even be a double-edged sword. Former Sen. Connie Mack III (R-Fla.) warned his son, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) of the potential difficulty.

“He said, ‘Look, Connie. You’re going to get half my supporters and all of my enemies.” 

Preparation for the Path Ahead

Once elected, Congressional fathers were a valuable resource. Dingell said he learned plenty just growing up with his dad, the late Rep. John Dingell Sr. (D-Mich.).

“Living with him was an education all by itself,” he said. “Everything I needed to know.”

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