Tough Love

Posted: Sep 13, 2007 2:01 PM
Tough Love
We buried my mother, Jane Wyman, today and as I stood at her grave the words of Abraham Lincoln came back to me: "All I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother." Everybody talks about my dad Ronald Reagan, and what he did for America, and many people think that because he set such a great example for his fellow citizens in so many ways, he was also responsible for making me who I am today. While that may be true in some ways, if anybody really wants to know who and what I am, you have to go back to my mother. All that's decent and praiseworthy that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to her.

When my parents broke up, like many children of that day and age whose parents were divorced, I lived with my mother. It was Jane Wyman, a single mom, who was in charge of raising me. I spent weekends with my dad, but it was my mother who raised me.

I could have been one of those spoiled Beverly Hills brats, but thankfully I had a mother who wouldn't allow it. As my sister Maureen and I learned, there would be no brats in her house.

Back in the 1950s, spoiled Beverly Hills brats could go to their parents and extort money from them because they felt guilt because they couldn't spend time with their kids. They would get their parents to assuage their guilt by buying them things, such as the brand new 10-speed Schwinn bicycles that were then the rage.

All my friends were getting their parents to buy one -- it was the newest bike of the day and every kid, including me, wanted one. I had even picked out the brand new blue 10-speed Schwinn bike I wanted.

I went to my mom and told her I would love her forever if she'd just buy it for me. "How badly do you want it?" she asked.

When I said, "More than anything else," she said, "Do you want it badly enough to get a job?" I protested that I was only 10 years old and couldn't get a job, but she said that with a bike I could get a paper route. She said, "I will lend you the money and you can pay me back."

I asked her why she was doing this – none of my friends had to work to get a bike. Their parents simply gave them their bikes and everything else they wanted.

She said, "If I give you everything you want, and I can afford to do that, you'll grow up to be a 40-year-old child. I build men, not boys. I want you to grow up to be a 40-year-old man."

I bought the bike with the money she lent me, and every Sunday I'd ride my bike to Good Shepherd church, sell papers there, and then pay my mother back out of my earnings.

That's called “tough love,” and over the years nothing changed. When I got my national radio show back in 1992, I was driving 262 miles a day between San Diego and Los Angeles to do my show, and I wasn't making any money.

I began to feel sorry for myself, even crying in the car one day. I didn't know what to do, so I called my mom, probably looking for a handout.

I asked her what I could do, that I was driving 262 miles a day and not making any money, my kids were in school, Colleen was at work trying to take care of the family, and my mom said, "I can tell you what to do." And I asked "what?" and she said, "Who said you don't have to pay your dues? You need to pay your dues like everybody else. Shut up and keep driving." And she hung up

That was 16 years ago. I kept driving. And it all worked out.

Who I am today politically is because of Ronald Reagan. But if you really want to learn what made me the man I am, you have to look to Jane Wyman. She made award winning films – she also made a man.

Thank you, Mom.