On Love

37 years in: Family, fearlessness, sense of adventure

By Kathleen Hom
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 2010

Clark Sand didn't plan on being a stay-at-home dad. But after getting his master's degree from Johns Hopkins and working seven years with the Inter-American Development Bank's board of directors in the District, he was ready and willing to try being a househusband.

It was 1988, and his wife, Laurie, had just been offered an extension on her Peace Corps service so she could run its Caribbean programs. She wouldn't be able to juggle that job with being a fully engaged mom, so Clark stepped up. The fact that the family was in Antigua, with plenty of beaches to explore with his 4- and 6-year-olds, made the decision all the easier.

Not that it was easy. "It was different," Laurie now says. "People weren't used to seeing a dad involved like that. . . . [Neighbors] couldn't figure out why you would do this. No man would do this." Some even thought Clark was a covert CIA agent.

But adapting to situations and going against expectations has been integral to making Laurie and Clark's nearly 40 years together work.

They grew up in Southern California and met in 1971. Clark, then 22, was teaching and lifeguarding at Huntington Beach when he walked into Fullerton Music, where 19-year-old Laurie was working. A manager noticed Clark copying guitar sheet music for "Mr. Bojangles" and asked Laurie to tell him to leave.

"I was bright red in the face," Laurie recalls. "I was just so embarrassed to have to be doing this." She emphasized she was just the messenger and invited Clark to come back another day because her brother might have that sheet music.

They hit it off when Clark returned two days later, and their first date followed a couple weeks later. For that, Clark took her to Los Angeles's Greek Theatre to see Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Cat Stevens. Clark didn't buy tickets; instead, they sneaked into the outdoor venue. "It wasn't very graceful" to shimmy underneath that chain-link fence to get in, Laurie says, but that date "was the first clue it was going to be an adventure all the way along."

Two years later, in January 1973, Laurie and Clark were married; by June of that year, they were teaching junior high and high school Ethiopian students for the Peace Corps. It wasn't a honeymoon, as Laurie's mom teased. They had clean water but were 10 hours by bus on dirt roads from Ethiopia's capital. They communicated with friends and family through infrequent "aerogrammes."

There was a silver lining: Being away from family and friends was freeing, Laurie says. They had to solve problems on their own and found strength in each other to try new things, solidifying their relationship.

And in such impoverished surroundings, they learned what really mattered. "When you can see kids putting together bits of burlap and tying it with twine to make a soccer ball to play in the street and they're having a blast," Clark explains, that puts things in a different perspective.

That mind-set has gotten the couple through other difficulties, including Laurie's brief bout with breast cancer six years ago and raising a child with special learning and developmental challenges. They're now looking forward to retirement and an empty nest in Vienna. Clark is thinking about returning to teaching, while Laurie is focused on her recent passion for photography and her shows at the Torpedo Factory and other galleries. They've also teased the kids, saying maybe they'll just drive around in a caravan exploring the world or run a sheep farm in New Zealand.

No matter what the future holds, "both of us were lucky to come from families that made it clear your most important role is your family; everything else is secondary to that," Laurie explains. "That's been the anchor in all of this."

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