Mark Shriver, author of "A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver," poses for a photo at his home in Bethesda, Md., May 31. Sargent Shriver, a lifelong Catholic, was revered in the public square as the founding director of the Peace Corps and the architect of anti-poverty programs such as Vista, Head Start and Legal Services. CNS photo/Chaz Muth

Showing your love will make a huge difference on a child

By  Mark Zimmermann
  • June 17, 2012

Wherever he goes — to work, back home, on a business trip — Mark Shriver carries in his briefcase a remnant of the greatest inheritance he received from his dad, the late Sargent Shriver.

After his dad died last year, Mark Shriver was researching and reflecting on what made his dad A Good Man, which became the title of a book written in his honour, which came out just in time for Father’s Day. In addition to the public record of his dad’s accomplishments and words, found in news articles and in the text of his speeches, Mark Shriver retained something much more precious — copies of notes that his dad had slipped under his door nearly every day as he was growing up.

Flipping through a scrapbook one day, Mark Shriver found a note his dad had written to him on the day he graduated from high school at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda.

Sargent Shriver reminded his son “you are a unique, infinitely valuable person.” The father told his son to always remember how much he was loved by his parents, siblings and friends.

Then Sargent Shriver, a devout Catholic who began each day with morning Mass, wrote this to his son: “But all our love and interest put together cannot compare with the passionate interest and love God Himself showers on you. You are His! He wants you! And He will make you the perfect man you want to be.”

Then the man whom the world knows as the founder of the Peace Corps signed the note, “Love, Daddy.”

Today, Mark Shriver carries a Xerox copy of that note in his briefcase, and he tries to read it every day. That note, he said, reminds him how his dad’s joy and strength was rooted in his faith, and how that faith, that love for God and for all people, made him a good man.

A Good Man offers a reminder to parents to express love for their children, and a reminder for children to reconnect with their fathers and mothers, whether they are living or dead, and reflect on and learn from their example of faith, hope and love, which were the pillars of Sargent Shriver’s life. In learning what made your own parents good, you too can aspire to that goodness.

When asked what impact he hoped the book would have, Mark Shriver said, “I hope people realize it’s never too late to communicate with your children and your parents. I learned a lot after he died.”

At the end of the book, Mark Shriver describes how, after his dad’s death, he took his own kids to the Shriver homestead and enjoyed a happy day with them, away from the worries and busyness of the word. The book describes how Sargent Shriver worked for justice and peace for the poor and forgotten in the United States and around the world, but he also found time to play and laugh with his children, and the source of his joy and his service was his Catholic faith.

Mark Shriver smiled and said that if the book inspires parents to slip notes under their children’s doors, “that would be great! That (showing that you love your children) makes a big difference to a kid.”

That’s why Mark Shriver carries a copy of that note in his briefcase, and that’s why he concluded his book by reprinting his dad’s words of advice to him on his graduation day. He knows now that the gift of faith, hope and love that his dad passed on to his five children is the greatest gift he left them.

“When you graduate, if you know you’re loved by God and your family, any place is a land of opportunity, because you have an incredible foundation on which to operate,” Mark Shriver said, smiling. “If you believe you’re loved by God, by your family, you can do anything.”

(Zimmerman is the editor of the Catholic Standard in the archdiocese of Washington.)

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