Nancy and Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti had a fraught relationship with her mom, who she said beat her and abused prescription drugs.
There are some couples who know how to stay passionate about each other no matter how many years they have been together. Their love for each other is so complete that even their children might feel out of place in their relationship. While some couples feel whole as a family with their children as part of it, others might be so wrapped in each other that, without intending to, they might keep their kids on the periphery.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the 40th President of the United States and the former First Lady, were a couple that had an intense love for each other, and nobody else. In a new biography, The Triumph of Nancy Reagan, by Washington Post writer Karen Tumulty, she wrote about some disconcerting bits about their personal lives, as per People. Tumulty writes that their dysfunctional personal life "was the collateral heartbreak that accompanied the Reagans' epic love."
They met in 1949 when Nancy was a working actress and Ronald was the president of the Screen Actors Guild. The former first lady's name had appeared on the Hollywood blacklist of Communist sympathizers, according to Biography. It hurt her ability to get more work and that's when she got in touch with Ronald, who was already a successful Hollywood leading man.
They were attracted to each other right from the start but they dated for three years before Ronald proposed. A divorcee, he reportedly felt "lost" before meeting Nancy. He had been "wandering in the dark." She too credited him for making her feel alive. "My life didn’t really begin until I met Ronnie," Nancy wrote in her memoirs.
The couple was ardent letter writers, and their love story has been recorded in them. A letter from the former president to his wife on their 29th wedding anniversary reads, "Beginning in 1951, Nancy Davis seeing the plight of a lonely man who didn’t know how lonely he really was, determined to rescue him from a completely empty life." He added, "Refusing to be rebuffed by a certain amount of stupidity on his part she ignored his somewhat slow response. With patience and tenderness, she gradually brought the light of understanding to his darkened, obtuse mind and he discovered the joy of loving someone with all his heart."
The couple welcomed two children, daughter Patti, born 1952, and son Ron, born 1958, during their marriage. Ronald had three children, Maureen, Christine, and Michael, with his first wife, actress Jane Wyman.
Tumulty wrote that even though family life was important for the Reagans, they were more involved with each other and politics. Nancy was pivotal in her husband's success and Tumulty quotes Stu Spencer, President Reagan's chief political strategist from early on in his political career, describing the couple as "an inseparable team politically and personally. He would never have been governor without her. He would never have been president without her."
However, their relationship with their kids was reportedly frayed. In a letter dated May 24, 1963, Ronald writes, "But what is really important is that having fulfilled our responsibilities to our offspring we haven't been careless with the measure that is ours—namely what we are to each other."
They especially struggled with their relationship with Patti and Michael. In the same letter, he wrote, "Whether Mike helps buy his first car or spends the money on sports coats isn't really important. We both want for him to get started on a road that will lead to his being able to provide for himself ... (Patti is another kind of problem, and we'll do all we can to make that one right, too)."
According to People, Patti revealed that her mom used to beat her and abused prescription drugs, but her brother Ron called it "hyperbole." However, he said, "She was an anxious personality, and her anxieties, particularly when my father was away, were visited upon her children. You didn't know quite who you're going to be dealing with today, so you had to be wary of her."
The late Larry King, a longtime friend of the couple, told People in 2016, "Their love affair was probably more important than their love for their children. The children were secondary to them."
Patti also told NBC News' Maria Shriver via Today that her parents' "lives wouldn't be destroyed if we weren't there. They were complete unto each other. And that can be a complicated thing for children." She has since forgiven her mom.
Cover image source: Getty Images | Photo by (L)Hulton Archive (R) Ronald Reagan Presidental Library