Just when I needed a lifeboat, my friend Michael Kinsley needed a managing editor at The New Republic. Having written there over the years, I knew the ropes. While editing, every few weeks I found time to write the back page "Diarist," which caught the attention of Time's political editor, Walter Isaacson. Walter was dismayed to see Time lose good women writers — among them Maureen Dowd and Michiko Kakutani, who went on Who better to provide the missing drama than parents? We had to move our parents away from the comfortable fiction that work was keeping us apart and introduce the reality that it was the two of us who were doing it. Divorce produced an onus of sin (mortal and excommunicative like my grandmother) and banishment. When an older cousin told my grandfather she was getting divorced, he lowered the venetian blinds and sat in darkness for the rest of the day, saying he would never see her again. He relented, but the black cloud never lifted. That my parents initially objected to Gene's reserve and Protestantism didn't matter. Marriage was a sacrament. Ours took place at the church in which I was baptized. Once they made their peace with Gene for not being an altar boy and keeping a statue of Buddha in his office, they wouldn't hear any talk of it not working out. Years passed and they never acknowledged I was divorced.
The Carlsons were equally disappointed and silent, since that was their way. But Eddie did write me a letter, describing how devastated he'd been when his own parents divorced, which made this all the more devastating for him. If I was no longer his daughter-in-law officially, he wrote, he would treat me like a daughter. His own daughter, Janie, was sweet enough to share. His devotion never wavered.
After rejecting the life of associate at a downtown law firm, I went to work at the Legal Times, a halfway house for fallen-away attorneys, writing about the legal profession instead of being in it. It paid poorly, and one day Eddie was waiting for me to go to lunch and overheard an intense auto repair conversation about how long a leaky water pump could last and the life expectancy of the radiator. That night he took me to get a new car. He was buying, but with my parents whispering in my ear, I convinced him what I really wanted was a used Honda.
For a couple of years, I saw so much of my father-in-law, you'd think he lived around the corner. The airlines were being deregulated, and Eddie had two or three visits to Washington a month to testify before Congress or appear before the Federal Aviation Administration. I was renovating my first house Mom's way, which meant as many unskilled volunteers and as few pros as possible. When he wanted to see a lot of Courtney and me, Eddie had to don a painter's cap. By day he was a CEO in a Paul Stuart suit, by night he was Joe Six-Pack, eating pizza out of a box, wielding a Red Devil scraper to strip wallpaper, and pulling up hundreds of tiny nails out of the hardwood floor that had been holding down shag carpet. My mother was on to something with her hammer and power drill. All the hours in that falling-down house brought Courtney and me to a closeness with Eddie that lasted until he died in 1990.