It's time to tell the truth about parents, self, says Patti Davis

May 06, 1992|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

It has come to this: government as something we need a 12-step program to recover from. Citizens who love a politician, and the politician who deceives them. I'm not OK, and you're probably enabling or co-dependent.

"The way my parents parented this country is no different than the way they parented their family," says Patti Davis, who -- depending on your viewpoint -- is either the bad-seed daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan or the righteous whistle-blower on the former First Dysfunctional Family.

"We wanted the '80s. We wanted a decade of denial. . . . Look what it got us: The '80s caught up with us. If it hadn't been Rodney King, it would have been something else. We didn't want to see how racist we are. It's one more parallel to the way I was brought up."

It is juicy irony: Ms. Davis is making this point on Monday, the same day that Mom and Dad are squiring Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, the suburban enclave now more infamous as the site where a jury acquitted the policemen who beat motorist Rodney King.

But rather than join a verdict-protest five floors down from her hotel suite in Washington, Ms. Davis has business of her own to take care of -- promoting a recently published autobiography, "The Way I See It," for which she reportedly received a $500,000 advance from the Putnam publishing group.

She commands that kind of money mostly for the tabloid stuff, the behind-closed-doors information that is impossible to confirm vTC independently. Among the book's allegations are that: Nancy Reagan, the just-say-no-to-drugs crusader, regularly popped Seconal, Quaaludes, Librium and other tranquilizers. Mrs. Reagan also was physically abusive, slapping Patti daily at times, and controlling to the point that she monitored first her daughter's bathroom schedule and later what she told her therapists. Ronald Reagan was a disengaged and distant father, purposely clueless to the physical and substance abuse going on under his nose.

And, to save you page-flipping to find out who the Reagans' wild daughter claims she has slept with or been otherwise romantically entangled with: actors Timothy Hutton (short involvement) and Peter Strauss (longer); doomed Beach Boy Dennis Wilson (intermittent, crisscrossing-lives sort of thing); Eagles member Bernie Leadon (live-in); singer Kris Kristofferson (interviewed him for a TV show in his hotel room, spent the night, drove Secret Service bonkers).

At 39, Patti Davis could be the poster child for who knows how many maladies of the era of pop psychology. She says she has recovered from her various addictions -- to diet pills and other drugs, to the "wrong" men, to the toxic parenting of her childhood.

Externally, she certainly looks the part. She is the California babe of your dreams: Stunningly thin in her tight, black jeans, her long legs ending in a flash of lace stockings at the ankle and finally touching ground in high-heeled shoe-boots, topped off with turquoise and silver concha adornments and a head of big, toss-it-this-way-and-that hair.

She says she didn't write the book -- her first work of non-fiction after several of what always get called "thinly veiled autobiographical novels" -- to "get" her parents and make a lot of money at the same time.

"I felt it was time to tell the truth," she says simply. "If it was money and exploitation I was after, I could have written it at election time. But it took me a long time to get to this point."

The "truth" -- as she tells it -- is more about little sadnesses and petty mean acts rather than huge horrors. Ms. Davis -- she took her mother's maiden name when she co-wrote a song for an Eagles album -- recalls her childhood home largely as one of silence punctuated only by the resounding click of Mrs. Reagan's footsteps and her impervious treatment of maids and gardeners. Mr. Reagan was absent even when he was present, she writes.

This being autobiography, after all, the author gets not just the last, but the only word. And so the author gets all the correct stances: Patti wept the day John F. Kennedy was killed; her mother continued with plans for a cocktail party and her father's only comment was, why didn't Jackie change out of her bloodstained suit already. Patti saw Watergate for the lawlessness it represented; her father called it a witch hunt and her mother thought it was nice how the Nixon girls stood by their father.

There's something Gothic about all this, this story of big events and small reactions to them, this tale of our brave little heroine struggling against big, bad adults.

Is much being made of very little? Is an occasional slap in the face or a less-than-attentive father worth a whole book and the public rehashing of private family problems?

"The point of this book was not to compare war wounds," she says. "The point is to say, this is what happened. You have to feel entitled to talk about it. This is a story bigger than one family."

Ms. Davis no longer is in contact with her parents, who have issued a statement saying they're "saddened" by their daughter's "false" charges of physical and substance abuse but refusing to comment further. Ms. Davis says she tried to talk to her father about her autobiography, but he could only point to pictures to show what a happy family they were.

"I like the choice I made," she says of the actions that have alienated her from her parents. "I will always be a part of that family."

"Well," amends Ms. Davis, who currently lives alone in west Los Angeles and is working on her fourth novel, "I never was really a part of that family."

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