Timeless advice on marriage from Ronald Reagan

This is too good to pass up:  from the fascinating website Letters of Note comes this heartfelt letter from Ronald Reagan to his son Michael just before his wedding in 1971.  How many fathers could write something like this to their sons?   DGK


Michael Reagan
Manhattan Beach, California
June 1971

Dear Mike:

Enclosed is the item I mentioned (with which goes a torn up IOU). I could stop here but I won’t.

You’ve heard all the jokes that have been rousted around by all the “unhappy marrieds” and cynics. Now, in case no one has suggested it, there is another viewpoint. You have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life. It can be whatever you decide to make it.

Some men feel their masculinity can only be proven if they play out in their own life all the locker-room stories, smugly confident that what a wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her. The truth is, somehow, way down inside, without her ever finding lipstick on the collar or catching a man in the flimsy excuse of where he was till three A.M., a wife does know, and with that knowing, some of the magic of this relationship disappears. There are more men griping about marriage who kicked the whole thing away themselves than there can ever be wives deserving of blame. There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it. The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. Sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back to an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can still make the grade, but let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life. Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn’t take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear. Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music. If you truly love a girl, you shouldn’t ever want her to feel, when she sees you greet a secretary or a girl you both know, that humiliation of wondering if she was someone who caused you to be late coming home, nor should you want any other woman to be able to meet your wife and know she was smiling behind her eyes as she looked at her, the woman you love, remembering this was the woman you rejected even momentarily for her favors.

Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.



P.S. You’ll never get in trouble if you say “I love you” at least once a day.


  1. Oregon Catholic says:

    Wise words… from a divorced father. Interesting that he didn’t refer to his own failings as a husband to Jane Wyman to support his wisdom. Or maybe he didn’t think he had any.

  2. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    The way I read it, his own failings as a husband are scribbled in every line. He’s writing about himself.


  3. Also, didn’t hurt that he had a pretty classy ex-wife, Jane Wyman, who didn’t tell stories about their relationship. I was surprised to learn that she had converted to Catholicism and was buried in the habit of a third order Dominican.

  4. Oregon Catholic says:

    Unless he is writing about events that Michael knew happened in his first marriage, I think you have to read an awful lot into it to get to that conclusion. It just sounds like a fatherly lecture on conventional wisdom with nothing of himself in it.

  5. Catholic Dad says:

    I read the concluding paragraph, i.e. “you know better than many what an unhappy home is”, as a reference to his first marriage.

  6. I agree. I think he did mention his first marriage in a way. He obviously learned from his mistaken first marriage. Maybe that’s why he felt he had some words of wisdom to impart. And, since they stayed together until his death, I guess his second marriage was the true marriage.

  7. Reagan was a class act all the way.

  8. It’s a great letter, and a loving note from a father to his son, but Ad Orientem, I’m not willing to go as far as you are. Reagan had many, many classy moments, but there were other times when Reagan was publicly ungracious — his crack about welfare queens driving Cadlllac, for instance: not classy (even if many people do buy into that stereotype — just a sign of their weak thinking and weak ability to resist embracing stereotypes). There were other times when Reagan hit below the belt as well — when he labeled Michael Dukakis a “cripple” when it came out that Dukakis had sought counseling after the tragic death of his brother. (Reagan apologized for that remark within a day or so, perhaps at the urging of his staff. Also, Reagan may have already been suffering some of the effects of Alzheimer’s by that point, 1988.) My point here is not to drag Reagan through the mud but simply to suggest maybe we shouldn’t try to turn him into a civic saint. He had his flaws, and some of them were acted out on the national stage.

    But as for loving advice to a son–yes, a beautiful letter.

  9. Midwestlady says:

    Yes, he was.

  10. Midwestlady says:

    Yes, he knew that his son already knew the details. This was a letter to his son, not to some outsider who had to be informed of those things.

  11. Catholic Dad says:

    “I don’t want to drag Reagan through the mud, but in order to avoid doing so I will drag him through the mud.” Um, okay.

    I don’t read calling him a “class act” as bestowing sainthood on him. Reagan above all others would be the first to admit he was a fallen individual and capable of shortcomings, and he did so on several occasions. How nice would it be to once again have a national leader who is capable of such humility?

    He didn’t refer to Dukakis as a “cripple” but rather as an “invalid,” and it was not in response to a question about Dukakis’ brother but rather a far more general question, and a loaded one at that, by a reporter about whether Dukakis should release his medical records. Reagan made an off the cuff response in pure jest, “I’m not going to pick on an invalid.” He took it back and apologized once he knew the reason why the question was asked. Dukakis himself was gracious, acknowledged that people sometimes misspeak, and said he did not want or expect an apology.

    The Welfare Queen comment was made in 1976, and was a reference to a specific individual in Chicago who was in fact cheating the welfare system. He never named the individual in question, although news accounts tend to corroborate his description. Reagan’s error related to the details of this person’s crimes, such as references to the number of aliases she used.

    There are better examples one could make about Reagan’s shortcomings, if one wanted to make the case. But since he hasn’t been beatified, and since in life he acknowledged his own failures, what is the point, aside from taking a gratuitous swipe at him?

  12. Oregon Catholic says:

    That’s an interesting statement by Reagan since it seems Michael rarely spent any time there after the age of 6 when he was sent to boarding school. Apparently he was such a stranger that his dad didn’t recognize him at his high school graduation.

    Reagan had a very dysfunctional family – how quickly people forget the details and books that were written – and I don’t see the point in holding him up as any kind of role-model for marriage or fatherhood.

  13. Midwestlady says:

    The American people knew what President Reagan was talking about in 1976, media hysterics notwithstanding. We’ve all seen it and he knew it.

    This was part of Reagan’s charm. He had a sensibility and an understanding of what it was to be American in his years of office. He connected with the great majority of the American people and that’s why he’s still remembered fondly by so many people. And that’s what many presidents have lacked since.

  14. Food assistance policy was changed in the 1980s to eliminate those with “welfare Cadillacs.” It was changed again in the 1990s when someone realized you cannot eat a car.

  15. I think I remember reading that Reagan’s marriage to Michael’s mother failed after the death of their baby girl… Jane Wyman had suffered multiple traumas by that time (poor lady) After Ronald Reagan died, Jane Wyman said only kind things about him. I think the letter to his son is a terrific one but I wouldn’t be so sure Reagan was writing about himself…

  16. Reagan has a legacy so distorted by the Conservative idolization of him that we may never have a clear picture of the real man behind the television set beyond the elaborate myth now concocted around him. Did he really rid the world of commie scum? Did destroy or save our economy? Check out my portrait of The Gipper and help me figure it out on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/02/happy-100th-gipper.html with some Cold War Hollywood!

  17. Midwestlady says:

    Must be shameless plug time. No thanks, Brandt. Got better things to do. Like take out the garbage and feed the cat. Sorry.

  18. Brilliant, from a remarkable man. Hollywood life is not exactly conducive to happy marriages. Yes, his first marriage failed but I never heard he cheated on Jane Wyman. I’ve never heard anything negative about that first marriage. And she never had a bad word about Ronald Reagan. Mind you Wyman was married four times total. She obviously jumped around.

    Sounds like a lot of Reagan hatred around here.

  19. pagansister says:

    NO one is perfect in any way, and the letter is beautiful and great advice.

  20. I enjoyed reading the letter. I find it wise and classy.

  21. “Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others.”

    I would say that in a letter advising how to have a sound marriage—-and including specific arguments against infidelity—I would say Reagan is indeed acknowledging the failure of his marriage to Mike’s mother. How can you read the above line and not think so?

    FWIW, I listened to an interview with actress Patricia Neal, who was making a film with Reagan at the time his first marriage was coming apart. She had come upon him during a break and found him crying. she asked him what was wrong and he confided in her. She said he was extremely distraught and did not want a divorce. Patricia Neal said it was Wyman who wanted out of the marriage, not Reagan.

  22. Regina Faighes says:

    As do I.

  23. sjcpuma1990 says:

    Because all have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God then all should…keep their mouths shut and their thoughts to themselves? Does every good utterance from the mouth of a sinner make that utterance hypocritical? Can anyone say or write anything? The advice is sound regardless of who wrote it. If you must, deem it ironic because of its composer. But how about we simply judge the advice and not the man? A number of the comments above are just hateful.

  24. SJCPuma, fair enough. For what it’s worth, by own criticism of Reagan (above) was in reaction to a comment from someone who said, “Reagan was a class act all the way.” That type of hagiography is what I was disputing — not that Reagan had some good in his soul. Yes, he did and said some kind things. And, like the rest of us, he had feet of clay. A nice letter here no matter what.

  25. What a great letter!! Although the same concept can be done when our children received their sacraments; graduate; new job; choose a military profession; and especially when answering the call to serve the Church as: deacon, priest, and/or religious life. Words, written and spoken, are timeless no matter when they were written/spoken. They can either build up or tear down, even when commenting to an article.

    Thanks, Deacon!!

  26. Joe Cleary says:

    An irony, Michel Reagan’s wedding in 1971 lasted just a matter of months. He remarried a few years later and has since been married over 30 years.

    No mater the politics, Reagan’s ability to communicate plainly and honestly never fails to amaze me. It can be argued the “Great Communicator” was at his best not on TV or radio but in his many letters.

  27. It is always easy to criticize. It is clear from the letter that he did not want his son to commit the same mistakes he might have done or seen others do. Life is not about what mistakes you did but about what you want to set right and he sure was doing just that by letting his son know what he needs to be careful about in life.

  28. We need another leader like President Reagan these days, he brought this great nation back from an uncertainty back in the late 70′s early 80′s. We became a great nation once again, PEACE through power. He brought our military strength back from what was lost during the Carter yrs. Don’t get me wrong, Carter did some good things during his presidency, unlike our present leader. Carter cannot be called the worst president ever again.


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