The Book Hounds: A Good Man, Part I

Discussing Mark Shriver's book, A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver

By Rita Buettner  |  Homepage photo by RJ Capak, Getty Images

Mark Shriver will be delivering the Commencement address to the 2014 graduates of Loyola University Maryland. As we count down to Commencement, Loyola magazine is hosting an online book club, The Book Hounds, discussing Shriver’s memoir about his father.

Flickr / MartinMarcinski

Delving into A Good Man, I was curious how Mark Shriver would blend the public and private lives of his father. He surprised me by managing to balance both while weaving them into a compelling narrative. Even with a lot of material to cover, he manages to help the reader feel she is getting an insider’s view on his father’s life, and discovering Sargent Shriver along with his son.

And there is so much to discover.

Even if I had been more familiar with Sargent Shriver’s political and professional achievements, I would still have been curious to read about how they came to be. But far more compelling to me was that we were getting to know this husband and father of five who had such a deep faith in God, love for family, and hope for the future.

When (spoiler alert) Mark Shriver decided not to go into the Peace Corps, reading how his father responded to that news struck me not only in how he demonstrated his unconditional love and support of his son, but also in how he showed that his family truly came ahead of his own career. That exchange also conveyed what his father’s deep faith in God, and in his son, trusting that God would help Mark become the person He wanted him to be, and that God’s desire might lie outside of a father’s aspirations.

What are your thoughts after reading Part I?

Here are a few questions I invite you to consider, and we can discuss them here, on Facebook, or on Twitter:

1. The Virtue of Hopefulness

“The result was that I wanted desperately to be known as Mark Shriver, but how could I do that when I was surrounded by the myths of yesterday, the hopes of tomorrow, and countless cousins who looked a lot like me? I was angry; I was struggling to hope. I was aware of the virtue of hopefulness. Dad exuded it; I was lunging for it.” What does the author mean by “the virtue of hopefulness”? How do you see his father demonstrating that virtue in his approach to life? How do you see the author trying to instill that virtue in his own life?

Photo credit: RJ Capak | GettyImages

2. Soul mates and workmates

Speaking about his father’s role in creating the Peace Corps, Shriver writes, “When Mom told me … I was struck by the pride she took in the story. She was as persistent a person as I have ever or will ever meet. And when she got to the part of the story in which she recounted how Dad just wouldn’t quit, I sensed why they were so attracted to each other. They were soul mates because they were workmates. They woke up each morning with determination on their faces. They walked out to meet the world as comrades in their common causes.”

How does understanding Shriver’s parents’ relationship help the reader understand his father? How does his parents’ professional work in founding the Peace Corps and the Special Olympics influence Shriver’s own life decisions?

3. Sources of inspiration

Shriver writes that over his father’s bed hung a framed portrait of St. Thomas More, while over his bureau hung a quote from St. Julian of Norwich: “HE said not: thou shalt not be troubled, thou shalt not be tempted, thou shalt not be distressed; but HE said: thou shalt not be overcome.” Based on what we are learning about Sargent Shriver, why would he choose St. Thomas More? And how does that quote mirror his approach to life? If you were to choose a portrait of a person from history and/or one quote to inspire you, what would you choose?

4. A Jesuit influence

“The Jesuits reminded me of my father—brainy but intellectually boisterous, tough but caring—and after all those years of grappling with the Kennedy connection, I started to thrive under their tutelage. They were faithful believers, but not pushy or showy about it. They had thought through their convictions. They didn’t preach, even when they were in the pulpit at Mass. They…just made us think deeply and value life.” What Jesuit ideals do you see in Sargent Shriver’s character and approach? Which do you see in Mark Shriver’s writing and life’s journey?

5. Father of the Year

The author quotes his father’s acceptance speech of the Father of the Year Award in 1964: “It’s not your accomplishments, or your annuities but your attitudes that shape the lifelong attitudes of your children. And I don’t think I’m the father of this or any year unless my children grow up with some sense of commitment and hopefulness about the problems of our age.” What are Sargent Shriver’s strengths as a father? How is his approach to being a parent similar to his approach to his professional life? How is it different?

6. “I wish I were you”

In his 1994 Class Day address at Yale University, Sargent Shriver tells the graduating students, “I’ve chosen a simple but rather unusual message for you. It’s just this: I wish I were you! Not because I wish I were young again, but because for the first time in five hundred years, the new century, the twenty-first century, can be the first without cataclysmic war.” If you’re not graduating as a member of the Class of 2014, do you wish you were? If so, why? If not, why not? If you were the 2014 Commencement speaker, what message would you give to the members of the Class of 2014?

You can find our discussion on Part II of A Good Man here.

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  • Posted by Jenn | April 16, 2014

    This is sort of a response to question 2, “soulmates and workmates,” but also a general observation about the first part of the book.

    They say that generosity, challenge, and ambition are among the most attractive qualities men and women look for in a partner, and it would seem as if Sargent and Eunice found these in each other at a young age.

    What sets these two apart from others is that the energy, drive, and challenge to consistently do more continued into their final years, whereas most folks start to lose steam later in life. Perhaps that why they had a true life-long love affair.

  • Posted by editor | April 16, 2014

    Anyone reading this book is immediately struck by the Shriver family’s (and especially Eunice and Sargent Shriver’s) sense of magis – to do more, serve more, love more. It’s evident in the organizations they spent time founding and the thousands of people they helped. It’s evident in the values they instilled in their children, who went on to lead organizations that continue good work for noble causes.

  • Posted by Allison | April 16, 2014

    I do wish I were you.

    Think about how so many of the wonderful things the Shrivers did started with just a conversation in their own home. So imagine with all the resources available today in communicating worldwide how their ideas and pursuit of magis would impact the world. If ever there were a time to set out to do good for all, this is it.

    The Shrivers are the perfect example of how one person can make a difference. And that is what I would tell the class of 2014. One person can change the world and each of you have it inside you to be that person.

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