You may have been seeing more of Jenny Sanford, Governor Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford’s soon-to-be-ex wife, because she’s doing a lot of publicity in promotion of her new memoir, Staying True. As I’ve written before, I like Jenny Sanford. I respect the way she has handled herself, for the most part, with grace and dignity. However, with the release of this book and a seeming rush to capitalize on her family’s breakup, she’s beginning to lose me as a fan. She was on The Daily Show last night, and it wasn’t just Jon Stewart who was uncomfortable (If anyone can tell me how to embed video from TDS on my WordPress blog, let me know. Copying and pasting the embed code doesn’t work). Stewart is a divorced kid, like me, and his joke about how after his parents’ divorce, his mom “only said bad things about my dad on the radio, not national TV” rang true for me.
Sanford discussed with Barbara Walters how heartbreaking it was for her sons to read their father’s emails to his mistress online. However, she seems unable to see that it’s equally heartbreaking that they might see their mother on television, discussing their father’s infidelity, or that they might read about that infidelity in their own mother’s memoir. As I’ve said, I’ve got nothing but respect for Jenny Sandford for a lot of things– not standing next to Mark at his tearful press conference, being willing to attempt to reconcile, being strong enough to admit when reconciliation wasn’t working.
But as a divorced kid, I can’t help but feel for her boys. My parents got divorced when I was five years old, and though things got ugly sometimes, and though there was some bad mouthing, and some custody games, and a lot of unpleasantness, my mother never discussed with me the particulars of the marriage’s breaking point. In fact, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I learned the divorce occurred in part because of infidelity on my father’s part. And you know what, I’m grateful for that. Thanks to my mother’s discretion, in my mind, my dad got to remain a great dad. And he was! Now that I’m an adult and married, I can look back and see that maybe he wasn’t the best husband to my mother, but it doesn’t change the way I feel about him, or my memories of growing up with him. Now that I’m an adult, I can also understand the nuance of my parents’ divorce in a way that I wouldn’t have if I had been given the details when I was younger, when my father would have become a bad man in my eyes because of what he had done. I’m not sure her memoir and publicity tour will allow Jenny Sanford’s sons to understand their parents’ divorce in the same way.
What Mark Sanford did was wrong. He broke his vows (maybe?), he made himself into a hypocrite, and he made a fool of himself on a national stage. And one day, his children should know the truth about him. But they also deserve to have a child’s memories of their own father– untainted by adult realities like infidelity and details about other women’s “tan lines.” Because as I’ve learned, it’s possible to have a great dad who isn’t such a great husband.
(Though I should note that I’m very very blessed to have a wonderful stepmother, who has been married to my father for something approaching 20 years, and my father is, by all accounts, a great husband to her.)