The Book Hounds: A Good Man, Part II
Discussing Mark Shriver's book, A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver
April 23, 2014
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.
We continue today with our discussion of Mark Shriver’s A Good Man. (You can find our discussion on Part I here.)
Part II begins with the author recounting some of his fondest boyhood memories of attending baseball games with his father; of sitting in the stands of the Baltimore stadium, eating hot dogs in the blazing sun; of Sargent Shriver rattling off statistics and keeping track of the game on his own scorecard; of post-game trips to the locker room to meet the players.
Shriver describes his father’s love for the game and his beloved Orioles in particular: “Dad loved baseball, he loved Baltimore, and he loved the ritual of fathers and sons and the American game. Even as a boy, I was aware of the transformation that would come over him as we walked down the steps at the ballpark. His face lit up, his step quickened, his eyes fixated on the field.”
As a Baltimore resident, I especially loved this section of the book, from the description of the city as it was years ago to the fanfare surrounding Orioles games… Anyone who knows anything about Baltimore baseball immediately draws a connection to so many of the devoted fans in this city who, for years, have watched the Os struggle through seasons and playoffs—and yet their loyalty has not waned!
Shriver’s memories of the times his father would pile all his kids in the car to race up Interstate 95 to make the first pitch, cutting through alleyways and racing to his secret parking spot near the stadium—all while giving them insight into Baltimore City’s history, architecture, and political scene as he sped through city streets—stuck with him into adulthood.
Later we learn it was at an Orioles game that Shriver first noticed his father’s memory lapse, the first red flag that something was wrong. He recalls the hot summer day when his father, then 75 years old, confused Belanger and Brooks Robinson. After that day, Shriver notices other slips of mind, including when Sargent Shriver forgets the name of Mark’s wife, Jeanne.
As a reader, this part of the book really struck me, as the author connects one of his fondest childhood memories with one of his most daunting memories of the early onset of his father’s illness. I couldn’t help but think how often life works that way, how it presents to us a bittersweet moment where we realize all we held as simple and good can instantly morph into a deeper, much more complex, and often painful reality.
Below are three sections from Part II of the book that resonated with me, which I invite you to consider.
You can post your thoughts under the comments section, below, as well as on Facebook and via Twitter.
1. “What a marriage. What a love affair.”
In the chapter called “Fun and Games,” Shriver again describes about his parents’ relationship, about how after their children had moved out of the family homestead, “love conquered their loneliness.”
The final passage of this chapter, in which Shriver quotes his father talking about how beautiful his mother’s wrinkled face is, actually brought me to tears. Shriver later describes his parents’ “last kiss” at Eunice’s open casket with another heart-wrenching scene that still leaves the reader feeling this unworldly love between these two people who we only know through these pages.
Now, I should probably mention that I am getting married next month, and so the descriptions of the Shrivers’ relationship, especially in their later years, have been especially meaningful to me. I think we can all agree that to love and be loved like these two did is a beautiful and seemingly uncommon thing.
What do you think kept the Shrivers so in love all those years? What stoked their eternal desire to be partners, to push each other and themselves, to support each other unconditionally in the face of raising children, multiple demanding careers, constant world travel, the demands of the Kennedy name, tragedy, disease, fires, car accidents and surgeries, and the smaller, everyday kind of hardships life can throw at us?
2. “I Will Yell No More”
The author writes of taking his father to his daughter, Molly’s, lacrosse game, and his competitive spirit takes over. He spends a lot of the game yelling instructions to his daughter on the field. Sargent Shriver looks at him about halfway through the first half of the game and asks, simply, “Hey there. Did I yell like that at you, too?” The author explains his father’s tone was not accusatory: “His face was not expressing anger. It was just a matter-of-fact question. And when Shriver answers that no, he did not yell at his children like that, his father says, again, simply, “Good,” before turning back to the game and smiling.
This passage reveals something I think everyone can relate to, whether or not we are parents. I do not have any children, but I am guilty of snapping at others or being short when I communicate with loved ones and even yelling at times, for various reasons. And yet, when I hear others (usually strangers) talking to their loved ones in nasty tones or I see a mother yelling at her child in Target, I stop in my tracks and think, “Wow, I hope I don’t sound like that when I talk to (insert any number of people with whom I deal on a daily basis here)…”
At this point in the story, Shriver’s Alzheimer’s has progressed significantly, and yet that is exactly why this scene is so poignant. Even as his memory and basic functions continue to slip, there is a moment where he, as a father, has a lesson to teach Mark, as his son (and now a father himself).
Can you relate to witnessing behavior that people enact with their families and thinking, “Oh boy, I hope I don’t do that to my husband/daughter/mother…”? Or do you have a similar life lesson that was shared by a parent long after they had “raised” you—either with intention or not, as Shriver’s father did in the stands at Molly’s lacrosse game that spring day?
3. “A heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
In the chapter entitled “A Holy Cross,” Shriver shares with readers part of the address he delivered at his alma mater, Holy Cross, in 2010. He speaks of the graduates going out into the world and accepting the invitation to be men and women for others, in the Jesuit tradition, something many of us will identify with.
In his address, Shriver quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his call for men and women to do service: “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”
What a powerful notion! Reading about Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s charity and non-profit work and the many worthy causes their children went on to make their life’s work has certainly stirred in me a desire to do more and serve more in my local community.
Have you been inspired and/or impacted by how much this family served, both formally with organizations and also by random acts of kindness and goodwill towards neighbors and their community? Has this book reawakened the call to serve others for you?