My Father, the President: Ronald Reagan’s Eldest Son Reflects on Life Lessons from His Father

My Father, the President: Ronald Reagan’s Eldest Son Reflects on Life Lessons from His Father
Ronald Reagan; his first wife, actress Jane Wyman; and their children, Michael and Maureen, at their home in Beverly Hills, Calif., circa 1946.
Catherine Yang

Michael Reagan, eldest son of President Ronald Reagan, political commentator, author, radio host of 26 years, and holder of five powerboat racing world records, said he has been asked all his life, “What was it really like being raised by Ronald Reagan?” When he finally set pen to paper, he realized he had much more to reflect on, and he was all the more honest for it.

In 2016, Reagan published “Lessons My Father Taught Me,” a memoir of his relationship with his father and all he learned from him about love, leadership, family, and faith.

American Essence spoke with Reagan about his cherished memories with his father.

On a lesson he learned while growing up: “I really learned about America, and the military, when I would ride out to the ranch on any given Saturday morning with my father and he would regale me with songs of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard. And he would just tell me about America,” Reagan said. 

On what his father imparted to him: “Forgiveness,” said Reagan. As a child, he was the victim of molestation, and the perpetrator’s threats followed him for years. He carried fear, shame, and resentment with him, even walking away from God and his family at one point. “Ultimately, it came to me that I had to live the Lord’s Prayer instead of just reciting the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

He recalled his father’s famously good attitude: “Dad was never bothered. Nothing upset him.”

A special bonding moment: Reagan recalled that in 1991 (when he was about 46), while sitting in church, he asked God to show him that his father loved him. In a moment of blame, he thought about how his father never said “I love you.”

“The voice came back and said, ‘So, when was the last time you told your dad you loved him?’” He realized he never had. “Another voice said, ‘Next time you see him, give him a hug and tell him you love him.’” 

He did so, and shocked his father—and the secret service—quite a bit. But then his dad returned the hug and said, “I love you, too.” 

From then on, that became their ritual every meeting. When Alzheimer’s had taken much of his father’s memory, and he couldn’t say Michael’s name, the president still held out his arms every time he saw his son, because he recognized him as the man who would always give him a hug. 

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.
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