One of the most difficult and hurtful things about the process of divorce is one adult finding out that the “family home” is no longer theirs and that they are no longer welcome. Whether they built it brick-by-brick, were in charge of remodeling it to fit the needs of the family, or painted all the art that’s hanging on the walls, when a divorce settles, 99% of the time the family home goes to one parent and the other is no longer welcome without the express permission of the other.
Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford apparently forgot that reality or just chose to ignore it when he learned that his 14yo son was home alone in the former family house on Sullivan’s Island, North Carolina, watching the Superbowl on TV.
Rather than have the boy watch the game by himself, Sanford made a major error in judgment and decided that it was okay if he just showed up and watched the game with his son. He claims he called his ex, Jenny, to get permission, but they never spoke and his mistake was in deciding that no answer = approval.
What’s confusing about this as a divorced father is that it’s a matter of 60 seconds to identify that there are three sports bars actually on Sullivan’s Island, according to Yelp, and if you expand the search to places within 5 miles, there’s even a place that sounds a bit more appropriate for a teen boy, Red Drum Gastropub, described as a “nice big bar with many TVs, great for watching sports”.
I understand firsthand the pain of divorce and the difficulty of wanting to step in and offer your child what you believe is a better situation or experience or activity than your ex, but that’s all just part of the journey of post-divorce parenting. At fourteen, Sanford’s son is old enough to also step out with Dad on a Sunday afternoon for a few hours, and even if it’s unscheduled (and did you forget that the Superbowl was happening that day, Mark?) that’s still better than trespassing.
Jenny is right in her complaint. Mark was wrong. They divorced back in 2010, so there’s been plenty of time for them to figure out how to make this work with their four children.
It’s also interesting to see how journalists are reporting this. As you might expect, those journalists who support Mark Sanford are producing headlines like this one from the Associated Press: “Ex-wife says former SC Gov. Sanford trespassed” (e.g., not that he did actually trespass, but that she “said” he did) while more levelheaded publications like USA Today report “Will trespass charge hurt Mark Sanford?“, a smarter headline that casts no aspersions or doubts on the ex-wife and asks the pertinent question: is this going to affect his campaign efforts?
There’s no great outcome for this situation. Mark was wrong to go into Jenny’s home without explicit permission, whether there was a Superbowl game on or not. If there was imminent danger to his son it could have been excused — he pulls up to pick up the boy and the place is on fire! — but lacking that, watching something on TV is the weakest, daftest rationalization possible. And doubly so when there were great places to catch the game on a big screen TV within a five minute drive.