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The family tradition that he was upholding by such omissions is that his own father rarely managed to see him and Brother Neil play football. Neil Reagan notes the fact today, conceding that his father's lack of interest was odd, but consistent with the ideal of "independence" among the Reagans. Yet it takes an act of will not to watch one's children in a moment important to their selfesteem. One almost has to actively deny the desire to show pride and affection; no child could mistake the effort—unless, of course, the pride and affection were purely superficial. The great puzzlement about Ronald Reagan, in fact, is exactly how much of him lies hidden. He has lived a charmed life on the surface—many people do—but it is disconcerting, to say the least, to unravel Reagan like H.G. Wells' invisible man, only to discover that when you get the bandages off, the center is not to be seen.
Still, after listening to Reagan, it would be impossible to conclude that he did not love his children. It would be easier to conclude that he did not know how to love his children, when they were children, just as it is possible to assume that his father did not know how to love him. There is an abiding compassion in Reagan for his father, for his father's drinking —the "sickness," as his mother explained it. The story is now famous of his finding his father passed out on the front porch and bearing him inside. Nor is there any sign that Reagan's father was anything but a man of high natural instincts, like the son who inherited his looks, capable of fierce rage at racial or religious bigotry. But neither are there signs of real father-to-son love. And the fact that Reagan's father was an alcoholic, albeit "periodic," as Reagan is quick to explain, must have alloyed young Ronald's feelings for his father as much with dread as with sympathy.
One thing the children of alcoholics often have in common is an uncommon sense of control—control of themselves and control of their world, which they know from harsh experience can turn perilous at the click of a door latch. Not that Jack Reagan was known to be a mean drunk; but brutal or not, all alcoholics create states of alarm in their children. They learn a kind of easygoing formality early on, like the Secret Service, and they are often acutely alert to danger, for the very reason that the parent's binges are periodic. That receding look and sound of Reagan may be the hallmarks of such control. One cannot retain anger in the presence of such a man, and thus in a sense he makes fathers of us all.
In fact, Reagan seems ever to place himself in the position of being adopted. He has, in a sense, been adopted by a plethora of fathers over the years, wealthy patrons and protectors who recognized a hope for the country's future in their favorite son. Yet Reagan is also a genuine loner. His ranch is a true retreat for him, a state of mind, and perhaps an emblem of his achievement, of the independence he was taught to prize (see following story). Solitude and self-reliance, the two essential American virtues that Emerson named, are found in him naturally.