Family life vs. public life - the officeholder's dilemma.
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''Privacy is one of the last things my wife still has (after the strains of Washington), and she wants to hold on to it,'' Mr. Gergen explained as I talked with him here.Skip to next paragraph
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On their 16th wedding anniversary last year, he told his wife, Anne, he'd be leaving the administration. She cried for joy. The year before, his two children - now 10 and 13 - drew him a picture for Christmas. It showed what would happen if he stayed at work in the White House: bald from tearing out his hair, baggy eyes, and no muscles.
''If there's a problem in government, (it is that) you never have enough time ,'' Mr. Gergen says in a soft, unrushed tone that shows his years of polish in the communications field. ''It's easier to lose touch with your friends and to start closing up as an individual, saying, 'I can't deal with that. I simply don't have time for it.' ''
Mr. Gergen is quick to point out that many couples overcome the negative side of life in Washington - time pressures, trappings of status, social obligations - and have stronger marriages as a result. He observes that former Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, for instance, said no to all the party invitations, spent every evening with his wife at home, and ''they had a wonderful relationship.''
But he hastens to add that for a family close to the heartbeat of government, ''the greater the dangers'' - the threats to family life - ''the greater the rewards. You do have a window on the world here. And it's a wonderful town for children in that sense - the chance to see a real president, or to see a real queen, or to see a real leader from another nation.''
He explains the part family considerations played in his decision to resign. ''I think part of what one always needs to remember is that the family does pay a lot of the price and shares in very little of the glory. The individual who's working in the White House tends to get the attention, and not the family. And that's tough.''
Another thing that's tough, says Mr. Gergen, is helping children understand the transitory nature of power in the capital.
''You have to be very aware that it is not you, the all-powerful person - it's the title, it's the office. It's hard for children sometimes to see that. They like to think of their dads, or their mothers, as holding these fancy titles, whether it be in Congress or whatever, and they sort of see them in terms of their public persona. You really need to get to know them as private individuals, because that's the relationship that's going to count, that's going to matter over the years.''
White House worker Kathy Reid has known Mr. Gergen since working with him in the Nixon administration. ''It's obvious when you see him with his children that they think he's the greatest thing on earth,'' she says. ''He's proof that you can work the way he does and still have a relationship with your family. But you must have a wife who's willing to hold the household together, call the plumber, and pay the bills. She (Anne Gergen) accepted that and understood it and handled it.''
''I think there is a time to leave and to begin rebuilding,'' says Mr. Gergen , speaking of his relationship with his family. ''We've had some difficult moments, some very difficult moments in the last few years. But we've had some very good times, too, and I like to savor the good moments.''