Sargent Shriver: An Example For Fatherhood

By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran
By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran

(CBS News) President John F. Kennedy announced the creation of the Peace Corps back in early 1961, and to head it up he named his own brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, who died last year. This morning, Shriver's children are coming home to talk about their father's legacy with our Lee Cowan:

In Union Mills, Md., not far from Gettysburg, sits a historic homestead . . . that for Mark Shriver is a place of homecoming.

He says it's important "because you know, this is Dad's home. I mean this is really where he grew up, He spent summers here."

His dad, Sargent Shriver, defined public service. He created the Peace Corps, at the direction of his brother-in-law President Kennedy. And he launched the war on poverty initiative under President Johnson.

He was George McGovern's running mate in 1972, and ran for President himself four years later.

But through it all he seemed most proud of being a father.

So, just as his own dad took time away to bring him to the Shriver homestead, now Mark Shriver is continuing the tradition - hunting for bullfrogs here with his own son, Tommy.

"Do you feel like you're connected to grandpa, besides genes?" Cowan asked.

"Well, I hope I'm half as good a dad," said Mark. "He was pretty good."

Sargent Shriver died last year after a long battle with Alzheimer's. In his eulogy, former President Bill Clinton asked the question on the minds of many: "Could anybody really be as good as he seemed to be. I mean, c'mon now!"

The answer is "Yes," writes Mark - the fourth of five Shriver children - in his book, "A Good Man" (Henry Holt). His brother, Bobby, and his sister, Maria, agree.

"I think his greatest legacy is actually the four boys," said Maria. "I think they're all good men. I think they're good husbands, they're good fathers, they're good citizens of the world, they're strong, they're gentle, they're kind, they're mindful."

"And that came from your dad?"

"I think so. I think men pay attention to their fathers," she replied.

"So what was it like being the only girl?" Cowan asked.

"Well, that's a whole other book!" she laughed.

They are a close-knit family who, under the guidance of their father, grew up part Shriver, part Kennedy. Sargent Shriver married Eunice Kennedy (JFK's sister) in 1953. She died in 2009.

"He had a fantastic relationship with the woman of his dreams for 56 years," Mark said. "My father supported my mother in all of her goals and desires. He was a great role model about how to treat women and how to raise children."

Publicly, he was often seen as a Kennedy in-law first, and a Shriver second. Balancing the two was never easy.

"He wasn't competitive within the family structure, and I think that saved him and his marriage," said Maria.

While that often meant putting his own political ambitions aside, he still strived to be his own man - and taught his children to do the same.

"We got from him the idea of difference - you know, the Shrivers were different," said Bobby. "It wasn't that they were better, but they were different. And you could be different."

In politics Sargent Shriver was as different as they come - an idealist (his kids agree), but not one to be trifled with.

"When people said the Peace Corps couldn't happen, he made it happen," said Mark. "When they said you couldn't give early childhood education to poor kids, he made it happen through Head Start. Same with legal services for poor people."

"I think people made fun of Daddy, you know - they called him a boy scout. They called him an in-law. He wasn't taken seriously," said Maria.

"You think that bothered him? I mean, could you tell growing up?" Cowan asked.

"I don't know that it bothered him," she replied. "It ticks me off. But I think he was a serious, serious human being."

Even in times of public crisis, family came first.

"I was arrested for smoking pot back in the day, and made the front page of the New York Times," said Bobby. "And he really fished me out of that situation in a very strong way. He said, 'You're my son, and I'm gonna get you outta here. Don't worry about it, you're a good kid.'"

Maria demurred when asked if she had similar stories to tell: "I never got in trouble!" she laughed.

It's not that there wasn't discipline, or high expectations: There were both in the Shriver family.

"There was a lot of push for excellence there, so you didn't go on vacation - you read a book, or you learned something, or you went and met some people and wrote a paper about it," said Bobby.

Maria recalled a friend who had moved into a loft in the Village, "and I was telling the story that he said to me: 'Wow, I'm down there and it's so incredible, when I go there I feel like I'm on a honeymoon with myself.' And my father said, 'Well, what kind of a human being would want to go on a honeymoon with himself?'

"'He's just talking, Daddy, that he's in a calm, nice apartment, and he's chilling.' 'Well, what kind of human being would want to chill in their own home and just sit there? I have no respect for that.' I was like, Ok, not me! I don't even know the person any more, you know?"

The laughing stopped when Sargent Shriver was diagnosed with Alzheimer's - but even after that, it seemed he had a lesson to offer.

"He said, you know, you got to go internal to get eternal," Maria recalled. "And I thought to myself, whoa. It's a very powerful statement. His whole life was about being internal, reflection, spiritual life."

His faith, Mark concluded, was what drove everything he did. A devout Catholic, Sargent Shriver went to mass every single day, and in those moments, Mark says, he found peace and purpose.

"You know, he wanted to be with you 'cause he really felt like you were a gift from God," Mark said. "And it didn't matter whether you were a big shot or just a regular person. And that's a special gift to give me, and hopefully I'll pass it along to our kids."

Which gets us back to Mark's son, Tommy. Cowan asked if he sees a lot of his grandfather in his dad: "A little bit."

"What do you mean? The good stuff?" Mark asked.

"I'd say first off, my grandpa was way better looking than my dad!" Tommy said.

It goes without saying - being a father is not easy. But Sargent Shriver says those who knew him best got it right most of the time.

"For me, it's an ongoing struggle<" said Mark. "You know, it's tough because you want to do well, you want to set a great example for your kids, but ultimately I think the most important example is to show them that they're loved and supported, regardless. And that's I think what I've learned from him."

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