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Gov. Mark Sanford's father used Beaufort County land to teach him principles to live by.
When the governor was a boy, he baled hay at his family's farm near Beaufort, thinking exactly what his father wanted him to think: That their next meal depended on his labor. It didn't. But what young Mark saw as a "summer concentration camp for kids," was his father's way of using dirt to forge his son into a principled man.
Sanford has done the same with his four boys. For his stairstep sons, now about 16, 15, 12 and 10, the privilege of driving a car isn't determined by age. They can't get behind the wheel until they log 100 hours on the tractor at the farm.
Principles are the governor's mantra, even showing up in the first family's Christmas card last year: "... we wish you a great Christmas and a New Year marked less by promises made and more by individual initiative and personal responsibility."
Sanford has been preachy with his principles through three terms in Congress and two as South Carolina governor. It hasn't made him many friends. He challenges the status quo. And because he seems to always take the road less traveled, it's hard to say what he has pushed through to legislative victory over the years.
But we could always count on Sanford to act on principle.
Then came the bombshell on Wednesday that he's been cheating on his wife. Jenny Sullivan Sanford's brains and scrappy determination helped make him. But with Jenny and the boys at their Sullivan's Island home, Sanford left work June 18, leading people to believe he was out of pocket hiking the Appalachian Trail, which is believable, when he actually was in Argentina with his mistress, which is bizarre.
So much for personal responsibility, and showing the boys how to live. Maybe Sanford's principles are really only as deep as his perpetual tan, as focused as his meandering public confession, as dependable as his wandering heart. We'll see.
<strong>Father to son</strong>
Sanford's father bought a 1,500-acre slice of gorgeous Beaufort County land called Coosaw Plantation in 1965. Dr. Marshall Sanford Sr., the governor's dad, wanted a place in the country, sort of like where he grew up in Mocksville, N.C. But he had to be on the water. He was an avid sailor. He met his wife, Peggy, on a sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay. And he wanted his farm to be far enough from his office along the Florida Gold Coast that they could reach him by phone, but not expect him to come in.
Dr. Sanford was an American heart-surgery pioneer, studying under Dr. Alfred Blalock at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Blalock and an African-American technician, Vivien T. Thomas, mastered a procedure to alleviate a congenital heart defect called "blue baby syndrome." Two movies tell their amazing story: "Partners of the Heart" produced for "American Experience" on ETV, and the HBO film, "Something the Lord Made."
Dr. Sanford also loved to farm. The governor was 5 when his family started spending summers and Thanksgiving at their place on the Coosaw River. His dad raised cows and the crops to feed them. He loved to eat the food he raised. He was a frugal man who wanted his four children to know hard work. He thought an idle mind was the devil's workshop.
When his hand slipped in surgery, the doctor discovered the onset of Lou Gehrig's Disease. He immediately sold out in Florida and moved the family to Coosaw. Mark was a junior in high school. And it wasn't long before he and his brothers and sister had to grasp a harsh lesson on the meaning of life in the Beaufort County dirt.
Their father died at Coosaw on Thanksgiving Day 1982. He had told his family to bury him in a pine box underneath big oaks, looking out at the river. That's what they did, with hammer, nails, shovels, dirt, sweat and a pickup truck.
"I built the coffin," Sanford told me when the family gathered at the farm for Thanksgiving in 2006.
"My brothers dug the grave. After all the people left, the four of us children filled the grave, said a prayer afterward and walked back up to the house."
Sanford still digs holes in the Beaufort County dirt. He describes a peace that comes from sitting in the cab of an excavator, listening to country music, digging a hole.
He acknowledges that much of what he does in the dirt, and what he demands his boys do, may not be necessary.
He says it's the work, the chore, the duty that sow the seeds of a principled life.
Sanford told me he wants his sons to know the farm didn't fall out of the sky. He said he wants them to know, really know, about the initiative and personal responsibility the family Christmas card talks about.
"To be vested in something, you have to put something into it," Sanford said. "Like the Marine recruits over here at Parris Island."
He talks about the value of "endured hardships."
He's now putting his family through a hardship they don't deserve. It's a hardship you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, much less inflict on your flesh and blood.
It's time for the governor to decide what he's really digging holes for, what he really stands for, whether he can really live the principles he always talks about.
If he can't, will his father's labor in the dirt of Beaufort County have been in vain?