The Magazine

Irving Kristol, 1920-2009

In memoriam.

Oct 5, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 03 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The following remarks were delivered by William Kristol at the funeral service
for Irving Kristol, Congregation Adas Israel, Washington, D.C., September 22, 2009.

In 1994, my father wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled "Life Without Father." It dealt with the subject of the family and poverty and welfare--with my father drawing for his argument, as he so often did, on a combination of social science, common sense, history, and personal experience. In the course of the article, my father briefly discussed his father, Joseph Kristol--who, he wrote, "was thought by all our relatives and his fellow workers to be wise, and fair, and good. I thought so too."

So have Liz and I always thought about our father. To us, he was wise, and fair, and good. I honestly don't think it ever occurred to us that we could have had a better father. So as we enter the rest of our life--a life without our father--we are overwhelmed not by a sense of loss or grief, though of course we feel both, but by a sense of gratitude: Having Irving Kristol as our dad was our great good fortune.

Now my father would often speak of his own great good fortune. That was meeting my mother. Shortly after graduating from City College, my father--a diligent if already somewhat heterodox Trotskyist--was assigned to attend the meetings of a Brooklyn branch of the young Trotskyists. As my father later wrote, the meetings were farcical and pointless, as they were intended to recruit the proletarian youths of Bensonhurst to a cause they were much too sensible to take seriously. But the meetings turned out not to be entirely pointless, because my father met my mother there. They were married, and remained happily married--truly happily married, thoroughly happily married--for the next 67 years.

Dan Bell, who knew my parents for that whole span, called my parents' marriage "the best marriage of [his] generation." I only knew my parents for 56 years, so I can't speak with Dan's authority--and my first couple of years with my parents are something of a blur. But I know enough confidently to endorse his judgment.

During the 1960s and 1970s, when Liz and I were growing up, everything is supposed to have become complicated and conflicted and ambiguous. Not so with respect to my parents' love for each other. Or with respect to the love and admiration that Liz and I--and, later, Caleb and Susan--had for my father. Our love for him was always straightforward, unambivalent, and unconditional.

As was the love of his five grandchildren for him. And as was his love for them. Almost seven years ago, my father was scheduled for lung surgery. As we were talking the night before, my father matter-of-factly acknowledged the possibility he might not survive. And, he said, he could have no complaints if that were to happen. "I've had such a lucky life," he remarked. (Actually, I'm editing a bit since we're in a house of worship. He said, "I've had such a goddam lucky life.")

But, he said, it would be just great to get another five years--in order to see the grandchildren grow up. That wish of his was granted. He got almost seven years. So he was able to see Rebecca and Anne and Joe graduate from college. He was able to attend Rebecca and Elliot's wedding. He--a staff sergeant in the Army in World War II--developed a renewed interest in things military, as Joe trained to be, and then was commissioned as, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

And he was able to see Liz's children grow up too, to watch Max and Katy become poised and impressive teenagers--it turns out that's not a contradiction in terms. My father was able to get to know them, and to talk with them, in a way you can't with much younger kids. So that too was a great source of happiness.

Everyone knows of my father's good nature and good humor. He kept that to the end. In the last couple of years, his hearing loss--and the limitations of even the most modern hearing aid technology--sometimes made it difficult for him to understand everything that was being said in a noisy restaurant or a busy place. But he compensated. A few months ago, my parents were out for brunch with the Stelzers and the Krauthammers. After a stretch where he couldn't quite pick up some exchanges between Irwin and Charles, my dad said to the two of them: "I can't hear what you're saying. So I make it up. And," he added, smiling, "sometimes you disappoint me."

But my father was in general not the disappointed sort. It's true that he loved dogs and never had one. But he made up for that by doting on his two granddogs--Liz and Caleb's Sandy, and of course Patches, whom he saw more of because of our proximity. Patches really loved my father--and, as many of you know, Patches is choosy in his affections.