It is a story that has kept the tabloids churning and tongues wagging. Former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger 63 and his wife Maria Shriver 55 have separated ‘amicably and with prayer’ after 25 years of marriage. The reason for the split is because Schwarzenegger fathered a child, now 13 years old, from their long-time maid Mildred Patricia Baena, 50. Apparently, Baena gave birth to Schwarzenegger’s son five days after Shriver gave birth to Arnie’s other son, Christopher. Imagine becoming father to two biological sons in one week! According to the story in the Singapore Straits Sunday TImes June 5, 2011, it was the maid who was the aggressor, slipping into Schwarzenegger’s bed while Maria was away.
Despite the entertainment factor, this story is an immense tragedy: for Schwarzenegger, Shriver, their children, the young son of Schwarzenegger, and the cause of marriage and family in general. It is a cause for reflection, prayer, and more.
What are some of the lesson we can learn from this sorry state of affairs?
First of all, the role of discipline. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a textbook case of a man who became, from a worldly point-of-view, a stunning success. Everything he set his hand to turned to gold.
There is a reason: Schwarzenegger knew how to set goals, plan out a reasonable timetable for their fulfillment, and never took his eyes off the prize. His impressive checklist included:
- Immigrate to the United States from Graz, Austria: Done;
- Become a first-class body-builder as Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia: Done;
- Make a mark in real estate and business: Done;
- Marry into a prominent family (Maria Shriver is the niece of US President John F. Kennedy, considered a top political American dynasty): Done;
- Become a movie actor: Done;
- Become a leading actor-turned-politician, like Ronald Reagan: Done.
California is America’s largest state and one of the top ten economies in the world. When Arnie became governor in 2003, it was as if the sky was the limit. If he is a role model on the virtues of goal-setting and discipline in one’s professional life, then his personal fall is a warning that that discipline must extend into one’s personal life too. Complaints surfaced of Arnie’s inappropriate contact with women, including groping. Though he weathered the storms enough to get elected and re-elected as California’s governor, the undisciplined (and immoral) side eventually came to haunt him.
For too long, we have been fed the lie that one’s personal life and activities should have no bearing on one’s public personna. Not so! Instead of living double lives, we need to practice the same rigorous fruit-bearing discipline in private as we do in public. As one person put it, ‘The measure of your integrity is what you are in the dark.’
The centrality of marriage and family (for the many who have both) must be maintained at all costs. No doubt, a major part of Arnie’s political elevation had to do with the dedicated support of his wife, Maria Shriver. No doubt, she understood politics and was 200% behind him, even defending him when women complained about his behaviour. The love and support of one’s family can make all the difference between success and failure. We must esteem our families above everything else in life, apart from our relationship with Almighty God Himself. To parody the words of Jesus, what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his family (and soul)?
A third consideration has to do with personal responsibility. This author has long argued that society today is cursed with a collective sense of immaturity. People are promoted into the celebrity limelight before they have the maturity and character to sustain the scrutiny. Others go through the motions but never manage to bear fruit. Then there are those who claim to be leaders but do not know how to delegate and empower; or, when things go wrong, they fail to take responsibility and blame everyone else for the problem. Leaders can take a cue from US President Barack Obama, who said after the botched Christmas Day 2009 terrorist attempt that nearly brought down a Detroit-bound jet:, said ‘The buck stops with me.’
In the case of Schwarzenegger, to put the blame on the maid on the affair as if he was merely minding his own business, is disingenous and equally irresponsible. As the man, he has the power and that power includes saying ‘no.’ Instead of being like Joseph, who fled from the presence of Potiphars’ amorous wife (quote Genesis 39); he was more like Samson with Delilah: name the time and place.
If failure comes, it is best to deal with it at the time with repentance and restitution, rather than do what many do and ‘sweep it under the carpet.’ After a while, the bulge under the carpet will cause someone to stumble, as in this case. Failure to come clean or deal with scandals in a Biblically-appropriate manner virtually assures that more scandal are to come. Cover-ups simply breed more scandals. At the time of the affair with Baena in 1997, Schwarzenegger was not in politics and there was obvious concern that if he fessed up early, it could ruin his political chances. Perhaps, although sex scandals did not ruin the election and re-election of the occupant in the White House at that time. But at least he would have had a fighting chance to preserve his marriage ... and then go on to bigger and better things.
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh [them] shall have mercy. Proverbs 28:13
The breakdown of a marriage -- any marriage, whether famous or obscure -- is hurtful for the family and also society. Imagine the four Schwarzenegger children, who have lived in a transparent fish bowl all their lives, now having to endure the shame that their successful father now carries and well as the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. Even living in opulent luxury is not compensation for home and hearth. What about his son Joseph, whom he had by Baena, and with whom he had many dealings, only finding out at the age of 13 that Arnie was his father when the press told him so. Then there is Baena’s husband, whose name was put on Joseph’s birth certificate instead of Schwarzenegger -- it would be a shock enough to knock one off their feet. The emotional and spiritual complications for all these innocent people can be enormous. Spare a prayer for this family and also for all families: that those who are whole may remain so and those who are in trouble may be delivered.
Nothing can secure our future more than this.