Michael Reagan, the president's 39-year-old son, said that Ronald Reagan telephoned yesterday to reprimand him for responding publicly to remarks by the first lady about their "estrangement."
"Oh, yeah. He's angry with me. He's trying to figure out where I'm coming from. We were both angry," said Michael Reagan in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office. "He said he wanted to sit down and figure out what caused the rift, which I agreed to. It's sad that the first-family grievances have to be aired in the press. I think he's sorry it happened."
Michael Reagan said his father did not apologize for Nancy Reagan's remarks. "He's upset because Nancy's in the middle of it. But he's beholden to his wife and I'm beholden to mine," Michael Reagan said.
The younger Reagan, a California businessman, said the conversation lasted 20 minutes but that no meeting or visit was scheduled. He also said he told his father that he would be appearing today on two early morning television talk shows. According to Michael Reagan, the president was "not happy with it," and said, "isn't there anything I can do about that?"
Nancy Reagan remarked last week to syndicated columnist Betty Beale that there "is an estrangement with Michael and there has been for three years." Michael Reagan said he learned of the statement the day before Thanksgiving and was "shocked and hurt" by his stepmother's remarks. On Friday, after Michael Reagan was quoted as responding angrily to the charge of "estrangement," sources in the White House were quoted as saying that the younger Reagan needed "guidance."
"That's defamation of character to put that out," said Michael Reagan yesterday. "They are destroying my credibility and reputation. I don't know who I'm doing battle with, my stepmother or Mrs. Reagan's press secretary Sheila Tate. I'm like one of the guys in the cabinet they're trying to ease out."
Referring to what he said were leaks from the White House, Michael Reagan said angrily, "I don't know why I need therapy."
Reached by phone last night, Tate said the White House would neither confirm nor deny that the president had placed the call to his son. "I have made no comment at Mrs. Reagan's explicit request, nor do I intend to," Tate said. "They regard this as a family matter, to be dealt with privately."
Michael Reagan is upset that his father and the first lady have not seen his 19-month-old daughter, Ashley. "She sees him on TV," he said, "and calls him Boppa."
He says the rift in the family is very painful for him. "I get hurt. Nancy gets hurt. I don't know how to explain what's going on. Nancy and I have not always seen eye to eye. Every family has problems. The thing that was upsetting to me was it was made public. I'm sure Nancy feels she's made a mistake.
"I'm trying to run a business. I have a family. When the White House makes a statement about me, I feel like I should resign."
Michael Reagan said yesterday that he did not "go to all the little family functions," including his half-sister Patti Davis' recent wedding to Paul Grilley. "I had some business I had to do," he said, and added, "Patti and I haven't been that close. She didn't come to my wedding either." He paused. "I used to be close to Maureen."
He said it's "not that I don't like them," referring to family functions, "it's that they are very political and I'm not political. I'm going on 40 years old and I don't want to be treated as a sibling anymore."
Michael Reagan is the father of two children. He acknowledged yesterday that he gets "jealous when I see Nancy with the foster grandparent program." As the son of the president, he said, "I know what keeps them busy. But as a father I get jealous when they don't spend time with my children."
He said yesterday he sees no reason to offer an apology to his family for his public remarks. "I don't think I did anything to apologize for. Happily it will get worked out." Asked if he was in hot water with his father, he said, "I'm in trouble for trying to stand up for myself."
He said yesterday's phone call from the president "wasn't a chewing out, exactly, it was a discussion to see how to solve the rift in the family."
Michael Reagan said he had raised more than $1 million in charity during the last three years, primarily for underprivileged children.
"I've never gotten involved with politics. I've always gone my own way." He said he has never been in therapy or felt the need for professional counseling. He also said he was closer to Ronald Reagan's first wife, actress Jane Wyman, his adoptive mother, than to Nancy Reagan. "Kids should be loyal to their mothers." As for any rift between the first lady and Wyman, Michael Reagan said, "I haven't met many ex-wives who get along with first wives, have you?
Michael Reagan concluded that yesterday's phone call was only a beginning. "It ended on basic good terms. Dad knows how I feel. We're like the Russians. We are agreeing to agree [in the future]. Maybe we can sit down and bury the hatchet, and hopefully not each other."
Asked what he would say to his stepmother if they could meet, he quipped, "I'd say, 'Let's have a beer and straighten this all out.' "