My father, my roommate
In this 1964 photo, Sergent Shriver posed with his family at the Shriver home near Rockville, Md. From left are: Timothy, 4; Maria, 8; Bobby, 10, and Mrs. Eunice Shriver, in sister of the late President Kennedy. In bassinet is four-months-old Mark. Sargent Shriver died Jan. 18 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 95 and had Alzheimer's disease. (AP Photo/Byron Rollins)
"I had a roommate my whole life," my father used say. "The first time I didn't have a roommate was after I married Eunice!"
"Sargent," she'd reply, "You snore so loudly!"
Once again, my mother spoke for millions of women but she also acted. She moved him into his own room.
Some 10 years into their marriage and five children later--my father was persistent as you all know--my Dad's solitary confinement ended. I was five at the time and the arrival of Mark and then Anthony meant I had no room. So my dad put a small chest of drawers in his room and replaced his king size bed with two singles pushed next to each other and until I was a teenager, my dad and I were roommates.
Sarge Shriver was my first roommate. Lucky me.
I watched everything he did.
I watched him shave every morning --he even shaved with exuberance--and I learned to want to shave like him.
I watched him listen to the radio news every morning and curse the often horrible news of men lost in Vietnam and I learned to want to stop the horrors of war like him.
I watched him cling to his rosary in bed every night and I learned to want to quiet my mind in those beads just as he did.
I glimpsed over at him at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning as he poured over Hans Kung or Ken Galbraith or Joan Chittester or Dorothy Day and I learned the restless joy of the mind in search of truth, in search of solutions.
I watched him spring out of bed to make the 6:45 am mass with bleary little me in tow--kneeling, standing, singing, grabbing his forehead in prayer as if pulling on the skin of his head would loosen the knots of his struggle to find God more fully--and I learned to want that faith, that struggle, that hope for myself.
I watched him with his snappy French suits and sparkling ties and I --oh well, some things just don't rub off!
He never coddled me but oh, how he believed in me! My little mind never heard him extol the size of government but he never ceased extolling the size of ideas, the size of the team necessary to fulfill them, of the vision necessary to sustain them, of the fun needed to pursue them.
He coached us to pursue the most infinite of ideals but children don't trade in the world of ideas so he brought them to life in the finite beauty of dozens of dogs, monkeys, pigs, chickens, convertible cars, spontaneous accolades, dancing music, wild adventures around the world and an endless parade of fellow laborers wearing the uniforms of volunteers, healers, ministers, lawyers, musicians, artists, politicians, scholars, and everything else imaginable.
One day, he even brought home suits for each of us children--our "Peace Corps suits" which were sweat suits sporting the logo of the Peace Corps of the United States of America. Mine was a size 8, just big enough to grow into. I wore it as though it were magical. "Look at Timmy run," I heard him say one Saturday to his colleagues. "Look how fast and marvelous he is."
As I grew older, I started to realize that Daddy's world was not like the world of others. I could sense that others dismissed him--too idealistic. I could sense that some didn't take him seriously--too cheery. I realized that his faith made him an outlier--too public in his spirituality.
But now, I see differently. I see a choice--to see the world jaded, broken, cynical, beset by greed, fraught with doubt, spiraling toward a selfish endgame. Or to see the world as he did--infused with God's spirit, awe breaking through every moment, each human being a radiant possibility for coming closer to touching the face of God, every day a labor of justice and hope, an adventure in joy.
That is the world that this little boy chooses now--to try to live with a little Sarge in me. Not just to follow a religion but to fall in love with God
Not to see love as a force that blinds me but to let love give me the eyes that let me see clearly.
To bring my spirit, hungry and rebellious, to every challenge whether public or private.
To follow the Sermon on the Mount, to wrestle with evil, to play, to worship my wife and to cherish my children.
I hope you too will carry a little Sarge within you. To paraphrase the love of his life, my mother, "Every child should have a father named Sarge." Thankfully many of us did.
So let a little Sarge stay within each of you. Don't be afraid to stare into the eyes of your co-worker and tell them how beautiful they look. Don't be afraid to believe in impossible things. Don't be afraid to regale the world with your stories whether of a president named DeGaulle or a man named Rags and don't be afraid that everyone's heard them all before. Don't be afraid to be a gentle man. Don't be afraid to love your family wildly and without condition. Don't even be afraid of God.
If you try it, you will know a little of what it was like to be six and have a roommate who starts you on a marvelous adventure that can last your whole life long.