e13-1This is one of the stories that I used to ask my father to tell again and again: He was a young actor, filming a movie in England. He always began the story with a funny anecdote about trying to find something to eat in London that wasn’t boiled. “They boiled everything,” he’d say. I imagined him staring at a plate with boiled meat, boiled potatoes, vegetables boiled into mush, and then politely eating it. But the second half of the story is what I really craved. He said that one night he was awakened abruptly from a sound sleep. Not knowing what had awakened him, he sat straight up in bed. He then felt the ghostly grip of hands on his shoulders, and a sweeping feeling of profound protection and love. “Whatever was holding me,” he’d say, “was there to keep me safe.”

“Didn’t you try to turn around and see who it was?” I asked him.

“No. I didn’t need to. I knew all I needed to know — that I was protected and loved.”

When I was a child, I used to pray to God that I would have an experience like that. As an adult, I pray that I will recognize it if or when it happens and treat it as reverentially as he did. I learned about God from my father. I learned about the ocean, and horses, and all the creatures of this earth who each, he would tell me, have their purpose here. “Even ants?” I’d ask him. Yes, even ants.

My father believed in preparing his children for emergencies and unpredictable life events. He told me that if there were ever a fire in our house,  and the flames were in my bedroom, to pull out a dresser drawer, hold it so the flat bottom was in front of me, and break out the window. That way the break would be clean, not jagged, and I could escape without getting cut on the glass. He told me if a stranger ever grabbed my arm, I should twist my arm in the direction of his thumb, forcing it back, which would be painful enough he’d loosen his grip. He taught me to get back on a horse after I’d fallen off, and to never let the horse know I was scared. Animals can always sense fear, he said, and then they get frightened.

But my father couldn’t have prepared me for the state of our country right now. He couldn’t have foreseen an America where, once again, racial divides are ragged and bloody. He couldn’t have imagined a presidential campaign in which personal insults and nastiness are the common currency, and in which one of the candidates says nauseatingly vile things about women. He would be appalled at the comparisons that candidate makes to him — Ronald Reagan, a man who wouldn’t even say “damn” in mixed company. Because he loved America so deeply, he would weep over the cruelty we routinely show one another these days, the cruelty that has become mainstream.

There are people who think they know my father just because they memorized him in the glare of the world’s brightest spotlight. There are people who believe they know my family because we played out our differences, our arguments, our estrangements, under that same spotlight. Other families squabble at the dinner table. For us, the world stage was our dinner table. There are people who think they know what motivated him, what inspired his ideas and fed his soul.

But the world doesn’t know the man who lovingly filmed his baby daughter crawling around the floor in diapers, who recorded his son on the swing set, his children in the pool, on horseback,  running across white sand beaches to the blue Pacific. The world didn’t see the hurt in my father’s eyes when I so brazenly and publicly rebelled against him, and — many years later — how his eyes softened with the acceptance of my apology when I told him how deep the river of my regrets ran. The world didn’t see how his eyes reached and drifted, then finally surrendered as Alzheimer’s claimed him in its slow and steady conquest.

When I think of my father, I see him healthy and strong, riding ahead of me on horseback, his shoulders wide and confident, his hand stroking his horse’s neck. I see him bodysurfing, slipping down the front of a wave grinning at the thrill of the ride. I see his hands — one thumb had a scar on it from a childhood accident when his brother got careless with a sharp tool. I still think of the hands he felt on his shoulders and the feeling of protection that swept over him. I think of the man I knew — my father — and how he would probably smile and shrug at people using his name to further their own agendas. He had an innate graciousness. I think of this quote of his, which is on his gravesite: “I know in my heart that Man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” I may never be lucky enough to feel a presence behind me, embracing me and keeping me safe. But I had a father who believed every life has a purpose, and I carry that in my heart.




  1. Ed Lee says:

    Thank you for sharing Patti. That’s an awesome story.

    Continued best!

    • Mark Burek says:

      Your father was a man of character which unfortunately is a trait difficult to find in some people. Character to me is comprised of integrity, love, compassion, courage and other traits necessary to stand out above others through uncompromising deed or action on a continual basis under extremely adverse conditions. I firmly believe that your father was the epitome of character and his legacy is the benchmark of character!

  2. Jody Hoelle. says:

    Magnificent. Moved me to tears. How blessed you are to have had a father such as he. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Jeff Jancarek says:

    Wonderful! As always, Patti, you bring healing, comforting “oils” to put upon the very troubled waters! Oh how we all miss both your Dad, and your Mom!

  4. Victoria Brandon says:

    We are fortunate to have had your parents as role models for what the presidency is and should be: gracious, thoughtful, decent, strong, kind. I hold them in my thoughts these days, replacing what I see in this presidential race wth their likenesses. I feel better when I do. I am certain others do the same.

  5. Michael M says:

    Thank you, Patti. Your words are comforting during this ugly, turbulent time — just as his words would be if he were still with us. I think that’s about the best compliment I can offer. He was a master communicator and comforter.

  6. Bob Dennis says:

    Beautiful, and loved.

  7. Bob Dennis says:

    Beautiful with love.

  8. Laura cordovano says:

    Very comforting to read this during such troubling times. My spirit has been so broken by the rise of this awful man and I am horrified by the venom spewed by his followers. Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful words.

  9. David Chase, Aptos, California says:

    What a beautiful and heartfelt remembrance of the father you so loved, Patti… You certainly carry his grace forward. He would be so proud…

  10. Edward Jenny says:

    Beautiful and so nice to know more about the more enlightened soul that was your father. it is too bad that light could not be shared with the world more than it was. We might be in a better place if we were allowed to be our higher selves, with out fear driving others to ridicule and bully and worse to make the good and simple alternatives go away…
    Anyhow thank you for sharing – be well, Peace.

  11. Dave Brown says:

    Wonderful! Sharing – THANK YOU!

  12. Erika Griesemer says:

    Wonderful piece.

  13. William Cochran says:

    Patti, I’ve thought of your Father often during this election and how if he were to come back wouldn’t recognize this Country that he loved so much.
    Thank yoy for sharing your story about that overwhelming feeling of safety your Father felt.
    My prayer is that one night you will awake to the feeling of hands on your shoulders and feel the same as your Dad.

  14. Karen Bonadio says:

    You are a beautiful writer, Patti! I find your words and memories of your dad to be comforting, especially in the times in which we live now. I have also wondered what he would be thinking now in today’s political climate, moreso what words of common sense and wisdom would he bestow to us all. I so love his experience too, years ago, of that protective presence that he could not see but yet knew was of a form of pure love. Like he said, he didn’t need to know.
    I’m so glad you and your father were able to re-connect again later in life.

  15. Rodney Wilson says:


  16. Rebecca Banks says:

    I miss your father, he was a great man, because he always seemed willing to learn and to listen and comfort and to try to understand those he did not always agree with, and when he was wrong to own it. These are qualities that define a true leader, I pray there are still people out there who have these same qualities. Thank you for sharing your father with us

  17. Ciaran John Ryan says:

    Ronald Reagan was in England filming the “Hasty Heart” in 1948 when this supernatural event occurred. He was 37 years old, and he was probably at his lowest ebb. His wife Jane Wyman had left him, and he was utterly miserable. He hated the London food, as you said, hated the London fog, and hated the London cold. Jack Warner Jnr was there and said that Reagan was ‘in a depressed state’. Actress Patricia Roc similarly recalled, “He was just wretched and miserable…He adored his wife and family and couldn’t understand why or how she had totally lost interest in him. Had I been older I suppose I would have realized that he was suffering a sort of breakdown as he was quite often in tears, and dangerously depressed. He several times told me: ‘Life just isn’t worth living any more. I just don’t see the point of going on’… I was seriously concerned that he might do something to himself if I didn’t make him feel that somebody wanted him.” It was at this point that God paid him a little visit. It was not the first, nor would it be the last time, that God or angels would visit him, and tend to his needs. The same thing had happened when he had life threatening pneumonia, and again, when he was shot. God definitely had a plan and a purpose for Ronald Reagan, and wanted him to know this at a time when he didn’t see the point of continuing….

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