Ronald Reagan: Family Life

Ronald Reagan: Family Life

President Reagan's typical day began with his arrival in the Oval Office at 9a.m. His briefing on national security affairs occurred shortly thereafter, usually lasting fewer than thirty minutes. Reagan usually worked in the office until a little after 5 p.m. and then returned to the residence quarters. During the course of his day, he typically had two hours of "personal staff time" during which he relaxed with aides, napped, and replied to some of his massive correspondence. On several occasions, Reagan responded to letters from people who had fallen on hard economic times by sending a personal check. He often ate dinner with Nancy in front of the television and spent the evening reading fiction or watching television. Throughout his public life, Reagan believed it was a mistake to equate long work hours with effectiveness. "Show me an executive who works long, hard hours, and I'll show you a bad executive," he said in response to a question about his work habits during the 1980 presidential campaign. As President, Reagan often took Wednesday afternoons off and left the office early on Friday so he could go to Camp David, the presidential retreat. He also spent a total of 345 days of his presidency in California, many of them at his ranch northwest of Santa Barbara. Reagan made light of his work habits—once quipping at a Gridiron Dinner that "it's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure why take the chance?" —but he, his wife, and his aides recognized that he functioned best when he was well rested and not overscheduled.

Reagan's children were adults when their father became President in 1981. Reagan and first wife Jane Wyman had one child in 1941, Maureen, and adopted another, Michael, in 1945. With second wife Nancy Davis, Reagan had two children: Patricia Ann, born in 1952, and Ronald Prescott, born in 1958. By most accounts, Reagan loved his children but was an emotionally distant figure in their lives, a characteristic often attributed to Reagan's relationship with his own troubled father. Each of Reagan's children has described him as something of a mystery, which dovetails with Nancy's comment: "There's a wall around him. He lets me come closer than anyone else, but there are times when even I feel that barrier." Early in his first term, Reagan's oldest daughter, Maureen, a businesswomen, married for the third time, to Dennis Revell, a man twelve years her junior. In 1982, she ran in the California primaries for the U.S. Senate; her father refrained from endorsing her because he said it would an act of nepotism. She polled only 5 percent of the primary vote. By 1986, Maureen had become a prominent leader among Republican women and worked as a special consultant to the Republican National Committee. She was a fiery defender of her father although differing with him on certain issues—most notably the Equal Rights Amendment, which she supported and he opposed. In later years Maureen developed a close friendship with Nancy Reagan. Maureen Reagan died of cancer on August 9, 2001.

Michael Reagan, the President's adopted son, was a powerboat-racing enthusiast who worked as a salesman with an aerospace defense firm and, later, for an insurance company. Shortly after his father's election, Michael sent a letter to potential clients soliciting business and mentioning his relationship to Reagan. When the existence of the letter became public, Michael resigned from the aerospace company in the hope of shielding his father from criticism. During Reagan's second term, Michael tried his hand at acting and as a radio broadcaster. He became a highly successful radio talk show host and was active in conservative politics.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan had a difficult relationship with their daughter Patti Davis, who was opinionated and independent. A 1986 novel by Patti Davis, Home Front, was ostensibly based on her family experience. It told the story of a successful politician who is elected governor of California and then President of the United States. The fictional President and his exceedingly devoted wife are depicted as driven by ambition to the point where they consider their children to be political liabilities. As President, Ronald Reagan tried to reach out to his daughter, inviting her to the White House with a peace activist who made the case against the Reagan military buildup. After Reagan was stricken with Alzheimer's, Patti Davis reconciled with her parents and has often written movingly about her father.

Ronald Prescott Reagan, the youngest son, entered Yale following his graduation from high school but dropped out after one year. Aged twenty-two in 1981, he had been dancing with the Joffrey Ballet Company since 1980. Three weeks after his father's election in 1980, Ron announced his decision to marry a fellow dancer and a graduate of California State University, Northridge. By 1984, he had decided to give up dancing to try his hand at journalism, landing a job with the Dallas Morning News and "The Source," NBC's rock radio network. Proving himself a capable writer and a talented interviewer, he then landed a few spots as the guest host of several television shows, including NBC's Saturday Night Live. Ron made news in 2004 by appearing at the Democratic National Convention and criticizing the Republican administration of President George W. Bush. He often compared the George W. Bush administration unfavorably to his father's administration.