Maintaining a work-life balance is difficult for anyone who has a job. Add kids into the mix, and it gets even tougher. It can be easy for any mommy or a daddy to get so caught up in their career that they lose closeness with their children, but this dynamic can define that relationship for years. And this issue is apparently common among presidents.
Being the leader of the free world — after already living a public life of high achievement that puts them on the road to the presidency — is full of pressure. Basically, something has got to give, and in many cases, it’s unfortunately the Commander-in-Chief’s relationship with their children. Regardless of their performance in the Oval Office, these presidents were, at some point, not the most doting of dads. They were “old school” fathers … meaning they were various levels of withholding, distant, and hands-off when it came to raising their presidential kiddos. Here are the presidents who didn’t feel the strongest connections to their children.
President Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. weren't always BFFs
Ever since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, have been two of POTUS’ closest and most influential political advisors. Meanwhile, he had to legally divest himself of his business interests and left most of the control of the Trump Organization in the hands of his sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., according to Vanity Fair.
However, that level of closeness and trust is a relatively late-breaking development — Donald Jr. wasn’t even in his teens when his father split from his mother, Ivana Trump, in the early ’90s. Vanity Fair reports that the Trump kids were raised almost entirely by their mom, as well as her parents, Milos and Maria Zelnicek, who spent six months every year living with the family in the 50-room Trump Tower triplex Ivana got in the divorce. “My father is a very hardworking guy, and that’s his focus in life,” Donald Jr. explained to New York Magazine in 2003. “So I got a lot of the paternal attention that a boy wants and needs from my grandfather.”
In the fallout of the headline-making divorce drama, a 12-year-old Donald Jr. pinned the blame for the divorce on his father and reportedly accused Donald Sr. of not loving his family. Later, he and his younger siblings were sent off to boarding school, making the relationship between father and eldest son strained well into Trump Jr.’s early adulthood.
Ronald Reagan was the 'Great Communicator' with everyone but his presidential kids
When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, his four children from two marriages were already adults, and nearly all had experienced some amount of tumult with their father. According to The Baltimore Sun, Reagan had distanced himself from his first set of kids, Maureen and Michael, after divorcing Jane Wyman and marrying Nancy Davis. Maureen reportedly once read a biography about her father claiming he had just two kids — the ones he fathered with Nancy, Patti Davis and Ron Reagan, Jr. — while Michael alleged the president opted to attend the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, which was held on the same day as his nuptials.
While Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Maureen grew closer to her father during his presidency, Patti Davis continued to have a particularly fraught relationship with her parents. Per People, Patti’s siblings stopped talking after her 1986 novel, Home Front, about a withholding father who becomes president, was published. She later wrote a tell-all memoir called The Way I See It, in which she alleged that her mother was an abusive pill user while her father looked the other way. Additionally, the politically progressive Patti was ideologically at odds with her conservative dad — because of that tension, they didn’t see each other very much during his presidency. By 1994, she was charging $39 to participate in her seminar, “Recovering from Dysfunctional Families.”
The Reagan family reportedly grew closer amid the former president’s battle with Alzheimer’s.
Richard Nixon wasn't a hands-on presidential dad
Long before he became the first president in American history to resign from office — impeachment infamously loomed over his role in the cover-up of the break-in of Democratic offices in the Watergate building — Richard Nixon was a political hustler. Per Biography, he won his election to national office in 1946, earning a seat in the House of Representatives at age 33, after just barely getting back from serving in the Navy in World War II. Nixon worked tirelessly to advance his political career — literally.
According to Joshua Kendall’s First Dads: Parents and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama, he was known to put in 20-hour workdays during the 1948 Congressional hearings regarding suspected spy Alger Hiss. During those early years of his career, Nixon’s wife, Pat, gave birth to two daughters: Tricia in 1946 and Julie in 1948. There certainly wasn’t time to see either of them during the Hiss hearings, and not in the early ’50s either, when then-Senator Nixon preferred to work late into the night at his office and just sleep there. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s VP reportedly kept up the absent dad routine until his 1960 loss in the presidential election to John F. Kennedy.
After nabbing a less taxing job at a Los Angeles law firm, Kendall writes, “[Nixon] promised his wife that he would finally become a more involved father. But this never happened.” He hit the lecture circuit and wrote a book, until successfully running for president in 1968.
LBJ, LBJ, how many presidential kids did you acknowledge today?
Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency in 1963 upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the culmination of a political career that included the vice presidency, serving as the powerful Senate majority leader, and an election to the House of Representatives in 1937. His constant companion and political second-in-command: His wife, Claudia, more famously known as Lady Bird Johnson. She funded his first congressional campaign and ran his office throughout the 1940s.
When daughters Lynda and Luci were born in 1944 and 1947, respectively, that didn’t change the Johnsons’ work life much, as the couple reportedly relied on their household staff take care of most of the nitty-gritty parenting tasks. According to Joshua Kendall’s First Dads, parental figures included cook Zephyr Wright, former staffer Willie Day Taylor, and live-in personal assistants Helen and Gene Williams. In the summer of 1955, then-Sen. Johnson suffered a heart attack and convalesced at the family ranch in Texas, which was where he finally spent any significant amount of time with his daughters.
According to People, Johnson reportedly fathered a secret love child whom he never acknowledged, Steven, with alleged longtime mistress, Madeleine Brown. Steven didn’t learn his alleged parentage until adulthood: “I realize he had to think about his position and the girls and his legal wife … [but] if he had acknowledged me … it probably would have kept me from the fears and anxieties I had as a child.”
President Franklin Roosevelt and his son didn't have much in common
Born into a wealthy and prominent family (he’s related to President Theodore Roosevelt), Franklin Delano Roosevelt won his first election in 1910, a seat in the New York State Senate. Three years later, President Woodrow Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy, which required him to spend most of his time in Washington, D.C. His sixth and youngest child, John A. Roosevelt, was born in March 1916, and the Roosevelt clan elected to spend the summer at the family’s retreat on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, according to Jean Edward Smith’s FDR. Well, not Franklin Roosevelt.
Per Smith, the future president stayed behind in Washington, D.C., where he started up a decades-long affair with Lucy Mercer, his wife’s social secretary. That reportedly began a pattern of distance between FDR and John — not only was dad not around much, busy with work and politics, but he also developed polio when the boy was about five. While they were cordial, they were not close, and nowhere was that more evident that in political ideology. Franklin Roosevelt is an icon of liberal democrats for instituting a social safety set during the Great Depression, while John, according to Smith, was “a closet Republican” who didn’t publicly divulge this until after his father died in 1945.
President Warren G. Harding had an unacknowledged love child
Warren G. Harding served as president for only about two years, taking office in 1921 and departing upon his death of a heart attack in 1923. Elected on a post-World War I anti-immigrant, pro-business platform, Harding surrounded himself with corrupt advisors: His reputation suffered posthumously, when some of them were implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal, in which Interior Secretary Albert Fall personally benefited financially from renting public lands to oil companies, per the Independent.
Even more scandalous was Harding’s secret private life. The president didn’t have any children, at least not with his wife, Florence King — but after his death, it came out that he’d fathered a daughter named Elizabeth with Nan Britton, his mistress who was 31 years his junior, according to The New York Times. In 1928, Britton revealed all in her book, The President’s Daughter, including how she’d given birth to Harding’s baby in 1919. Britton, who died in 1991, was never able to conclusively prove during her lifetime that Harding was Elizabeth’s biological father — something DNA testing did confirm in 2015, ten years after Elizabeth’s passing. Raised by her aunt and uncle, it’s unclear if Harding ever even met his one and only child, who was about four years old when he passed away.
The 'A' in Chester A. Arthur stood for 'aloof'
Chester Alan Arthur is one of the more obscure American presidents. He wasn’t a leader in times of difficulty or war like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, nor is he ranked by historians as one of the worst, like Lincoln’s overwhelmed successor Andrew Johnson. Arthur also wasn’t directly elected to the presidency, taking over the Oval Office in September 1881 after the assassination of President James Garfield just six months into his term.
Arthur had three children, including William, who died as a toddler in 1863, as well as Chester II (a.k.a. “Chet”) and Ellen (nicknamed “Nell”), who were respectively 17 and 10 years old when their dad moved into the White House. According to Mathew Manweller’s Chronology of the U.S. Presidency, President Arthur was a “proud” father who enjoyed parading his children around at social events, but privately, he was never terribly warm and became a distant single father (his wife, Ellen, died in 1880). Preferring to keep busy with work and spend his free time fishing and hanging out with friends, Arthur left his sister, Mary McElroy, with the job of raising young Nell as Chet went off to attend the College of New Jersey shortly after his dad’s presidency began.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time to develop relationships with his children post-presidency, as Arthur died of a chronic kidney condition in 1886.
Martin Van Buren made a better boss than father
Relative to other presidents, whose lives have been scrutinized by magazine writers while they’re in office and historians for decades and centuries afterward, the private life of Martin Van Buren hasn’t been arduously documented. There’s plenty of interesting trivia about the eighth president (he served from 1837 to 1841), like how he spoke fluent Dutch and co-founded the Democratic Party.
As for personal details, Biography reports that Van Buren married cousin Hannah Hoes in 1807, only for her to die at the young age of 35 in 1819. (Fun fact: Van Buren, who didn’t go on to remarry, didn’t even mention her in his memoirs). Per Britannica, Hannah’s death left Van Buren a single parent to their four young sons all under the age of 12: Abraham, John, Martin Jr., and Smith. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, the future president passed off the care of his motherless sons to relatives, because he was so busy with his burgeoning political career. However, he reportedly “frequently expressed regret at not being more involved in their upbringing,” but “did provide for their education and well-being.”
As his children got older, Van Buren attempted to build up closer relationships with them: during his presidency, they all served as “his trusted aides and advisers.”
Herbert Hoover rarely visited his son during his hospitalization
It’s possible that Herbert Hoover, who served as president from 1929 to 1933, didn’t know exactly how to be a father. According to Joshua Kendall’s First Dads, the future president was made an orphan by the age of eight, and was largely raised by his “Quaker relatives in Iowa and Oregon, who insisted that he do long hours of physically demanding farm work” each day.
After marrying wife Lou in 1899 and welcoming sons Herbert Jr. (born in 1903) and Allan (born in 1907), the 1910s saw Hoover become quite wealthy from his business dealings — or at least wealthy enough to leave day-to-day parenting duties to nannies and servants while the married pair took long work trips and vacations. When he was appointed Secretary of Commerce by President Warren G. Harding and lived in Washington, the future president’s sons went to high school in California. Per Kendall, “For updates on their lives, [Hoover] would rely on the summaries of important milestones provided by his paid caregivers.”
Sadly, tragedy struck in 1931, when a 28-year-old Herbert Jr. developed tuberculosis and was hospitalized in North Carolina for nearly a year. During that time, then-President Hoover “could manage only one visit.”
President Donald Trump has a daughter besides Ivanka
Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter with first wife Ivana, receives a lot of praise from her presidential father in the press. However, the family’s patriarch rarely speaks about — or is even seen with — his other daughter, Tiffany Trump. Born in 1993 to The Donald’s second wife, Marla Maples, Tiffany grew up primarily in California and was raised by her single mom, as her parents divorced in 1999. Long story short, Donald Trump remarried in 2005 (to model Melania Knauss) and welcomed a son, Barron, a year later. Along with his business interests and gig hosting the reality show, The Apprentice, the future president’s work-life balance in the Big Apple meant there was little time left over for him to see Tiffany.
While Tiffany Trump made some appearances toward the end of her famous pop’s 2016 presidential campaign, that doesn’t mean the two were close then or have gotten any closer since. “Since the inauguration, Tiffany and her father have sometimes gone for months without speaking and she went a very long time without seeing him,” an insider told People in 2018. “The last time she was at a family function with him, it was awkward for her and she didn’t feel totally welcome.”
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