September 6, 2001
By ELLEN FREEMAN ROTH
At home with
Robert ReichIn his book "Locked in the Cabinet," Robert
Reich tells of getting stuck in the dog door of his
Washington home during his tenure as secretary of labor from
1993 to 1997 in the Clinton administration. It was hardly a
dignified position for a member of the Cabinet. However,
when his wife, Clare Dalton, and two sons, Adam and Sam,
then 14 and 11, moved back to Cambridge in August 1995,
Reich wanted to sweep out the empty house and had no key.
Hence, the unconventional route through the dog door.
Being trapped there, however, paled in comparison to "the
bigger trap" of job versus family he describes in his book:
"How can I do this job and be with them? I'm desperately
lonely for them. But I'm obsessed by the job."He calls that
job "the best I ever had and probably ever will," a dream
job for one who had researched and written extensively on
human capital: labor.
Then one night, gripped by the realization he could miss no
more of his boys' adolescence, he knew he had to step down.
He hadn't seen Clare, Adam, and Sam for six days, and
meetings at the White House were running late. When he
called his family to say he wouldn't arrive home in
Cambridge until early in the morning, Sam said, "I'd like it
if you'd wake me. I just want to know you're here with us."
Reich knew it was time to return to family life.
Reich, 55, still lives in that Cambridge house ("We've been
here for 20 years."), but now the roles are reversed. Both
boys are away from home. Adam, 20, completed his sophomore
year at Brown University, and this year is working in
AmeriCorps, a national service program. Sam, 17, is taking a
year off from high school to follow his passion, acting and
"Both of them have gone off the normal path," Reich says. "I
think it's great.
"I had four terrific years with them, and it was inevitable
they would leave Clare and me with the dogs. We used to have
two wonderful boys living here. Now we have two beagles."
The Reichs got their first beagle when the boys moved to
Washington feeling displaced and homesick. In the throes of
politics, Reich came up with the dog's name: Waffle. When
the boys decided Waffle needed companionship, they mated her
and kept one of the puppies, Zoe.
Waffle and Zoe now keep Reich and Dalton company in the
kitchen, much lived-in by family and friends over the years.
"We live a very informal life," says Reich. "This is the
room. It's where we hang out. Our kitchen is also our dining
room. It's been that way for 20 years."
He removes a photo from the wall. "See how young the boys
were? Sam is sitting at a computer in the exact place as
this one here across from the table. And in the picture,
Adam and Clare are at this same table. This table is where
we've lived. A friend of ours made it in 1976.
"We also spend some time on the porch. Porches are
undervalued. Ours looks out on the street, which is not
terribly trafficked, so on spring and fall evenings we sit,
say hi to neighbors. That's a lifestyle this country
practiced 70 years ago but not as much today."
Down the hall, the large sparsely furnished space known as
the library plays host to two regular and diverse
gatherings. "The family who sold us the house had a sandbox
and swings in there," says Reich. "We never figured out what
to do with it because it's such a big room. We never had
enough furniture for it. Over the last few years we've
discovered the value of a big empty room: We dance in it.
Six couples come here every few weeks, and we take dance
lessons, swing and salsa. Then we have a potluck dinner at
our kitchen table.
"I also have a monthly salon, a discussion group of 20 or 30
people from Cambridge and Boston in academe and politics,"
continues Reich. "Often we invite guests. Ted Kennedy was by
last month. We discuss policy and politics.
"We don't do much entertaining other than that. Clare is
busy. I'm busy."
Dalton runs the Domestic Violence Institute at Northeastern
University and is the Matthews Distinguished Professor of
Law at Northeastern. Reich is a professor of social and
economic policy at Brandeis University. He also writes
"Like many academics, I find it easier to focus in my home
office," Reich says. "Several days a week, Clare and I work
in our separate offices at home."
Reich has written eight books, most recently, "The Future of
Success," and is working on two others, one about the future
of education in America, the other about political
philosophy. He is cofounder, chairman, and national editor
of The American Prospect magazine, and offers commentary on
public radio's "Marketplace."
"And I keep one little finger in politics," he adds. "I
supported Bill Bradley in the last Democratic primary. I
still believe politics matters a great deal, and I'll do
what I can to support good candidates."
Reich also paints, using the third floor of the house as a
studio. They formerly rented that floor to help pay the
mortgage, but as more of the mortgage was paid off, Reich
took over the space. In the basement, a Fellow at Clare's
domestic violence institute is hanging his hat until he
finds an apartment.
With no children living at home, though, Reich says, "The
house is too big for us now. I've thought about moving to a
smaller place, but Clare and the boys won't consider it."