My Father at 100

The
mystique of Ronald Reagan remains as strong as ever as the 100th anniversary of
the late president’s birth approaches (he was born on Feb. 6, 1911 and died
June 5, 2004). Weighing in on the centennial is none other than his son, Ron
Reagan, with a memoir, My Father at 100.

The younger Reagan, now 52, writes that for most of his childhood he was
an only child. His older sister Patti was off at boarding school, leaving him
and his mother, Nancy, alone with the man who was to become one of the most popular
politicians of all time. (Reagan also had older children from his first marriage.)

So, what insight can his son give us about the man many still find an
enigma? He admits early on that he’s haunted by the inevitable question:
“What are you going to tell me about him that I don’t already know?”

Good question. The younger Reagan covers a lot of familiar ground. He
admits, for instance, the well-known fact that his father could be distant and
inattentive. “He was often wandering somewhere in his own head,” he
writes. “… A paradoxical character, my father: He was warm yet
remote.”

He also revisits talk of his father suffering from early-onset
Alzheimer’s while in office, brief passages picked up by the media over the
weekend.

“Three years into his first term as president, I was feeling the
first shiver of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my
father,” he writes. And then came the re-election debates with Walter Mondale. “My
heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his
notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looked tired and bewildered.”

But Reagan makes clear his memoir is not political. He says it’s only
his attempt “to come to grips with the father with whom I grew up, with a
public figure both revered and reviled and, most important, with a human being
in all his stubborn enigma.”

While this book is certainly not the end-all of who Ronald Reagan was,
it fills in many personal pieces to the Reagan puzzle.

The son decided to go back to the beginning, from ancestral Ireland to
his father’s childhood in small Midwestern towns, where he discovers that the
energetic and optimistic young lifeguard was much the same person who was to
become his father, and then president.

He cleverly jumps back and forth from his father’s life to his own, but
one hungers for more stories about the young Reagan family of California, for
more first-person accounts from the son who was there, like the tidbit about
his father never letting young Ron win a race in the pool.

Still, any Reagan admirer will find enough such nuggets here to happily
plunk down the price of the book.

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