Broadman & Holman Publishers
Adoptive relationships aren’t easy, of course. Over the years I’ve had strained relations with my adoptive parents. I would get mad at my father because I saw in him a man who could go out and talk to the world, and audiences loved him, and he loved them. Yet, when I was growing up as his son, I often wondered if he loved me.
One of the reasons I doubted Dad’s love for me was that the never told me that he loved me. Here he was, the male role model in my life, yet it seemed that there were so many things I wanted him to do for me that he wouldn’t do. I wondered, Why doesn’t Dad take me to football games and baseball games? Why doesn’t he take me to Disneyland?
Here’s something you may not know about Ronald Reagan: He helped Walt Disney
open Disneyland. The first Disney theme park opened in July 1955, when I was ten
years old. Walt Disney asked three people to host the live television broadcast
of Disneyland’s opening day: Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and Ronald
So Dad hosted the whole world at Disneyland, but he never took me. And the fact that he never took me to Disneyland or to football and baseball games caused me to doubt his love for me. When I was growing up, I wondered, Why doesn’t Dad do those things with me that other fathers do with their kids? And I used to get angry with Dad because of that.
Today, however, I understand why he didn’t do those things. Today I know that Dad didn’t go to public places because he didn’t want to be mobbed by fans and autograph seekers. The moment one fan recognizes him, it’s all over. Soon, he’s surrounded, and he becomes a bigger attraction than the attraction he came to see.
As I matured, I also began to see that Dad was a godly man and a devoted
Christian. One of the most revealing moments came during Easter weekend 1988,
when I flew with Dad from Washington, D.C., to California, less than a year
before he left office. I had been in Washington to appear on Larry King Live to
talk about my first book and had spent the night at the White House. As Air
Force One descended toward the airbase at Point Mugu, not far from Dad’s Santa
Barbara ranch, I noticed he was counting to nine on his fingers.
I said, “What are you doing, Dad?”
He said, “I’m counting the months until I can go to church again. Just nine more months.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ever since I was shot and they threw me in that car,” he said, recalling the March 1981 assassination attempt, “I have felt I shouldn’t go to church. I remember looking out the car window and seeing people lying on the ground and bleeding because of me.”
When Dad said that, I recalled how painful it was for him that three men, including his close friend Jim Brady, were wounded by the same gunman who had shot him.
“I didn’t want that scene repeated in a church,” he added. “So I haven’t attended church on a regular basis since that day. I didn’t want some guy with a gun coming into church and hurting other people to get to me. When I finally leave Washington in January, I can start going to church again because I really want to spend that time with our Lord.”
I said, “Why don’t you go this Sunday? I think you should.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ll think about that.”
As it turned out, Dad did go to church that Easter Sunday. And as soon as he was out of office, he never missed a Sunday service until the Alzheimer’s disease progressed to a point where he simply could no longer attend. In this, as in every other aspect of his life, Dad was true to his word.
The assassination attempt, which occurred just two months and ten days into his first term, profoundly affected Dad’s faith and his view of himself as president. When I visited him at George Washington University Medical Center immediately after the assassination attempt, he told me, “Michael, I’ve thought a lot about how close I came to losing my life. Not only would my earthly life have been over, but everything I wanted to do for the American people would have ended right then and there. I believe God spared me for a purpose. Michael, I want you to know that I’ve decided to commit the rest of my life, and the rest of my presidency, _to God.”
My sister Patti tells another story about Dad in the days right after the assassination attempt. When Maureen, Patti, Ron, and I went to see Dad in his hospital room, he told us about being wheeled into the operating room. He described the room to a T. He told us about the nurses and doctors in the room and said that they were all dressed in white. He said he could actually see them operating on him and taking the bullet from his chest, just underneath his heart. Dad was describing things he shouldn’t have been able to see; he was having a near-death experience.
Years later Patti decided to write a book on angels (Angels Don’t Die: My
Father’s Gift of Faith, HarperCollins, 1995), so she went back to Washington and
interviewed the doctors and nurses who operated on Dad that day at George
Washington University. They showed Patti the room where Dad lay close to death,
and it was exactly as he had described it. She told the doctors and nurses the
story Dad had told us. The hospital staff looked at each other in awe.
Then one of the doctors said, “Let me show you something.” And he showed Patti some doctors and nurses who were scrubbed and dressed for surgery. They were dressed in green, not white.
Who were the white-gowned figures Dad saw when he was so close to death? I know who they were: angels. There were angels with Dad that day and throughout his presidency. Angels kept him alive in the operating room. Angels guided him through eight years in the White House. Angels have been with him for a long time, and they are with him even now, in what he has called the sunset of his life.
I look back at the things I have gone through in my life, and as painful as
it has all been, I know that angels have been with me, too. God is going to take
all the hurt I’ve gone through, even the molestation itself, and he’s going to
redeem it, transform it, and use it to heal other people. I can’t see
white-robed figures, but I believe they’re around me.
In gratitude to God for what he is doing in my life, I have to say, “I can’t blame God, I can’t blame Dad, I can’t blame Mom, I can’t blame Irene Flaugher or John Bourgholtzer for the things that have hurt me. I’m through blaming my birth parents and my adoptive parents and my heavenly Father for everything that’s gone wrong in my life.”
I used to play the blame game all the time. Every time I failed, I had a
built-in excuse. Every time I got angry, I blamed my parents and I blamed God.
My father never told me he loved me, so why should I say “I love you” to anyone
Sometime in 1991, while I was in prayer, I felt God speaking to me within my spirit. He said to me, “Michael, you’ve been angry because your dad hasn’t hugged you, but when was the last time you hugged your dad? You’ve been angry because your dad hasn’t said, ‘I love you,’ but when was the last time you told your dad, ‘I love you’?”
I told God, “You’re right. I’ve never hugged him. I’ve never told him ‘I love you.’ It’s time for me to start.” God was working on my heart, ridding me of the last vestiges of my blaming and excuse-making. And I decided right then and there that the next time I saw my dad, I was going to tell him, “I love you.”
That opportunity arrived when Dad made a special trip to San Diego to be a
guest on my KSDO radio show and talk about his new book, An American Life. He
arrived at the radio station along with several Secret Service agents. I walked
out to meet him in the reception area. As soon as I saw him, _I wrapped my arms
around him and said, “Dad, I love you.”
And you know what he said? “Well,” he replied, “I love you too.”
Wow! At that moment, the thought hit me, Michael! All your life, you’ve been blaming your dad for not hugging you and saying, “I love you,” when all you ever had to do was to make the first move!
Thank God, I listened to his voice within me, and I did what he was prodding
me to do! That hug and those words began a tradition between Dad and me. From
then on, whenever I saw my dad, I would hug him and say, “I love you,” and he
would hug me back and say those same words to me. Thank God, I didn’t wait,
because three years later, in 1994, Dad told the world that he had been stricken
with Alzheimer’s disease.
As time passed, and the disease progressed, the day eventually came when Dad could no longer say my name, let alone _“I love you.” But he did recognize me. Whenever I walked into a room and Dad was there, he would open his arms, waiting for me to give him a hug and tell him, “I love you, Dad.” _I could see the recognition in his eyes, even though he couldn’t say my name.
One time, after the disease had progressed to the point where Dad could no longer speak, Colleen and I went to visit him. He sat in a chair in the den, and we sat with him, sometimes holding his hand, mostly conversing with Nancy. Finally, it was time to go, so Colleen and I said good-bye to Nancy, and we got up and left. I had neglected to do what _I always did. I had neglected to give Dad a hug.
Colleen and I walk out of the den and out the front door, toward the
driveway. Meanwhile, there was Dad in his chair, and he counted on that hug
every time I visited. Only this time, I didn’t hug him! Dad couldn’t say my
name, but he knew who I was: I’m the guy who hugs him.
So he got up out of his chair and followed me. He couldn’t call out my name. He couldn’t walk very fast, and his footsteps can’t match mine. But he followed as best he could.
I had almost reached my car as Dad got to the front door, where he had to stop. Colleen turned and saw him, and she said, “Michael, you forgot something.”
I said, “What did I forget?”
“Turn around,” she said.
I turned and there was my dad. He was standing at the door with his arms outstretched. He was waiting for his hug.
I ran back and hugged him, and I told him, “I love you, Dad.”
None of this would have happened if God hadn’t begun the process of redemption in my life. That process began when God sent a wonderful, godly woman into my life—my wife, Colleen.
Unbeknown to me, God had been preparing her, building her character and strengthening her faith, so that she would be able to persevere through my anger and my self-hatred until I was able to unlock my deepest secret. She prayed for me every day until I found Jesus Christ and was adopted for the second time, this time by God.
When I was only once adopted, I was full of rage, shame, guilt, and self-hatred. I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged.
My search ended when I was twice adopted.
God is my Father, and I am his child. I’m finally home.