The Senator Only His Son Knew

Aloha from our nation’s capital. I am in Washington, D.C., this week to cover the Presidential Medal of Freedom honors that will be awarded posthumously to U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye by President Barack Obama. It’s a privilege to document this historic achievement for a native son, as an invited guest of the senator’s widow Irene.

Hard to believe, but it has now been 11 months since the senator’s death. In the many memorials that followed, we heard stirring speeches and tributes from the most powerful people not just in Washington, D.C., but in the world. President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and others spoke from the heart about their colleague and friend “Danny.”


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A TV screen shot of Sen. Dan Inouye during the Watergate hearings. Photo courtesy Jennifer Sabas

Each one left a lasting impression about this humble hero who dreamed of becoming a surgeon, but lost an arm in battle during World War II and found a new purpose in public service.

Not to take anything away from them, but there’s a Washington political strategist who gave me chickenskin with his stories about the senator.

That strategist’s name?

Ken Inouye, as in the senator’s son.

Ever since VP Biden singled out Ken at the Capitol rotunda service, saying he had “good blood,” I have wanted to interview him.

I finally got my chance. We recently met at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, where his father and mother, Maggie, are laid to rest.

Like his dad, Ken is an incredible storyteller and shared telling anecdotes about his family life. The most important takeaway was what a great dad Daniel Inouye was.

“Whenever people think of him, they think of Watergate, Iran Contra, President Pro Tempore, and his role in the Senate,” Ken says. “Don’t get me wrong, these are huge achievements. But being a father now, I think it’s really important to say he was a great father.”

Over the course of our one-hour conversation, he talked about how engaged and present his dad was, despite the demands of his job. How he made it a point to be home for dinner every night and did everything from teach him how to skateboard to take him to his first concert.

Picture this: Senator Inouye and son rocking out at a Kiss concert in the 1970s. That was the band’s peak. We’re talking full makeup, flamboyant costumes and flames. OK, rocking out may be an exaggeration.

“As you can guess, he didn’t care much for the music, but that made me more appreciative,” explains Ken.

He adds with a hearty laugh reminiscent of his dad, “He was the only guy in the whole place sitting down. But I remember for a month straight, his friends would come up and say he will not stop talking about that show. You know, these guys come out, fire blowing, guitars screaming out. I probably heard from a dozen people. He would tell every living soul who would stop to listen!”

Ken says his dad’s imprint is with him daily, especially as he raises his 3-year-old daughter, Maggie, while juggling work. He got a reality check recently when Maggie was playing with her toy cell phone and said, “Just one more email.”

Busted. He realized he was there physically, but mentally still working. It was the wake-up call he needed. His dad, afterall, made it a point to leave work at the door when he got home and put family first.

That’s one legacy from our late senator that’s a powerful life lesson for us all.