For years, the Reagans’ daughter regretted some of the things she wrote. Now she is at peace

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

For years, the Reagans’ daughter regretted some of the things she wrote. Now she is at peace

Mary McNamara

February 6, 2024

Being our parents’ child is, at an existential level, everyone’s life


work. We are all shaped by the people who gave us life, their presence or absence, their loving support or pathological abuse, and all the myriad influences in between.

For Patti Davis, however, that life’s work was quite literal.

She began describing her extraordinary life as the only daughter and eldest child of Ronald and Nancy Reagan in 1986 with the novel A Clef Home Front. She followed it in 1992 with the seminal The Way I See It: An Autobiography, a book that, depending on the reader’s politics, has been both wildly praised and viciously criticized, and for which she has expressed regret for the past twenty years. .

Her next books were friendlier: Angels Don’t Die: My Father’s Gift of Faith (1995).


some of the life lessons the former president taught his daughter. The Long Goodbye: Memories of My Father (2005) is about


long battle against Alzheimer’s disease. It also began Davis’ work as an educator and activist for Alzheimer’s disease, which she continued in Floating

at in

the deep: how healthcare providers can see beyond Alzheimer’s disease (2021). The lives our mothers leave us: prominent women discuss the complex, humorous


and ultimately loving relationships they have


ith Their Mothers (2009) is rooted in Davis’ complicated feelings about her own mother.

She did that along the way


Contemporary Republicans continually use Reagan as a touchstone

of the

party Davis believes he would not recognize it

and expressed

bafflement over unearthed tapes in which the then-president used racist terms to describe black African delegates to the United Nations.

Certainly, Davis has written about many other things as well, including several novels and many non-Reagan-related columns for a variety of publications; her recent essay on the death of Matthew Perry for the New York Times was moving and insightful. But like many writers, she honestly draws from her own experiences, as she did earlier this year when she


that Prince Harry would regret some of Spare’s revelations





occasionally acted as her father’s stand-in, such as when she and her brother Ron insisted that Reagan should have approved the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Davis’ new book, Dear Mom and Dad: A Letter About Family, Memory


and the America We Once Knew” seems to be an endnote

this life

exploration of her often distant, cold and turbulent relationship with her parents. Though she remains baffled and hurt by many of them


Be it the former president’s refusal to address the AIDS crisis for so long, or her mother’s pattern of coldness toward her children. The book offers exactly what the title promises: a consideration and reconsideration of her parents’ lives as people later in life. which were shaped by their own early lives, and a recontextualization of Davis’s own memories, including a childhood that was not without joy.

It is also a strong Californian book; Many of Davis’ memories are evoked by the various houses her family lived in (most of which are now gone) and the landscapes they shared.

I’ve been trying for years, starting when my mother was alive, she said in a recent interview, to make this documentary called “The Reagans Before the World Moved In,” based on my home movies and pretty much the same themes. like this book: Look at your family through different eyes, through a broader lens. Looking at the things from childhood, where it was loving and tender.

But, she says, every time she met producers who assured her that she would have control of the project, they would take it away from me a mile away and create their version of what they think is the Reagan family. And I had given up.

So when her editor suggested she address her parents directly, Davis decided she could tell the same story in book form.

Take your own experience from it and look at who our parents are, just like you step back from a painting to see the whole picture,” she said. “You step away from your family to get out of the way. It’s not just your story, it’s their story too.

Occasionally interrupted by the very affectionate Lily, a

two 2

year-old pug Davis adopted in August, and Minnie, her 7-year-old


Alico cat Davis sat in the shade of her backyard for an hour and described what she calls a very organic process.

For example, depicting her mother as one

three 3

year-old ‘dumped with family’, or her father has to help his own drunken father from the lawn to the house,




saw her parents more clearly and provided greater context for their own actions as parents.

And in some cases as president and first lady.

“I didn’t want to go into politics, but I did want to get into the AIDS issue,” she said, “what that is [Reagan] library doesn’t even want to deal with it. In this book I had to be honest


and a lot went wrong. Like I say there, for someone with really good timing, his timing was so off every step of the way.

Her father, she insists, was not homophobic. He had people in his government who were homophobic and believed that AIDS was God’s punishment. He wasn’t one of them, but one of his character flaws was that he delegated things and believed that something was getting done


and he didn’t really follow up or ask. And most of them are the children of alcoholics. If you want to understand my father, you have to understand that pretty much everything goes back to being the child of an alcoholic.”

Many would disagree with such a sympathetic view of what

is now commonly understood as

a profound failure

of leadership

just as many people, including my own father, believed that the policies enacted during Reagan’s presidency made it impossible to view him as a “nice” man.

But “Dear Mom and Dad” is not an analysis of the Reagan era or even its impact on the political landscape.


although Davis makes it clear


he is said to have deplored Donald Trump’s incitement to the January 6 attack on the US


Capitol and, as a shooting victim, this country’s inability to pass meaningful gun legislation.

It is

instead of,

a daughter’s attempt to reconcile her own conflicting emotions about the people who were her parents, to make peace with her own past.

Predictably, early coverage of Dear Mom and Dad focused almost exclusively on the revelation that the Reagans’ marriage was prompted by Nancy’s discovery that she was pregnant by Davis, an unplanned event that Davis finds difficult to reconcile with the level of self-control from her mother. attention to detail.

But the book’s epistolary style is not used to spread dirt or list grievances

. Are

to acknowledge that Davis is in personal pain


and joy


were part of a bigger story that includes many things she can never really know. And in that, “Dear Mom and Dad” offers a more universal experience, even through the more adult lens of experience (Davis is

7160QUESTION: cq? wiki says 21-10-52, so 71

), many aspects of our parents remain unknowable.

Obviously, my mother has been the most challenging relationship in my life, she said, and I feel like I’m at a place of more understanding of her, more forgiveness, and more acceptance that it was always going to be a difficult relationship . I think you have to accept that there are things you will never have the answers to.

She and her mother went through so many phases of not talking to each other that, she said,


“You should keep a diary of the reasons why.”

In “Dear Mom and Dad,” she remembers both the breakups and the rapprochements, including the years when her father was ill. In the book


she describes moments of connection

between herself and her mother,

but says, “It wasn’t always smooth sailing, it wasn’t always dependent on whether she would be open to me coming. I wasn’t always sure who she would be when I came to visit. If you have a parent who you are intimidating, it never goes away.”

When she wrote As I See It, a book that Davis literally refuses to mention during this interview, she was, too


the beginning of a long journey toward reconciliation that, she now says, began with “Let me tell you everything I forgive them for, in detail.” That’s the point I made in the piece about Prince Harry: you don’t have to tell everything, you don’t have to open the floodgates.

For years I regretted many of the things I wrote, especially my autobiography, but as I was writing [

‘Dear Mom and Dad’

]I thought, ‘It’s probably a good thing that all that junk is put there because people can see the journey.'”

That journey, she says, is why she wrote this book.

I really wrote this for other people who are going through what they are going through with their families. Because I worked hard on this. And if you have worked hard on things that others


also go through, you almost have a duty to say:


Hey, here’s what I learned. And it was hard, and I stumbled, but here’s what I learned.


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