It is not, Mackenzie Phillips said, either as simple or as reprehensible as the news stories make it seem. Her father, John Phillips, was not a monster, and that 10-year “affair” she is said to have had with him is not as easily categorized as it would seem.
“My father was not a bad man. He was a very sick man,” Phillips told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Thursday in one of a series of interviews about her tell-all book, “High on Arrival,” and her folk-rock superstar father, “Papa John” Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas.
“If anyone out there can possibly separate his body of work from his personal demons, that would be the honorable thing to do. He didn’t set out to hurt me. He did the best with what he had. He was a damaged guy,” Phillips said.
She says it is true that on the night before her first marriage at the age of 18, she woke up in a drug-induced fog to find John Phillips having sex with her. And it is true that 10 years would go by before she finally stopped the incestuous relationship after she aborted a child because she didn’t know if it was her father’s or her husband’s. But, Phillips told Vieira, it is not accurate to describe that decade as a continuous relationship.
“At 18 I was molested, then maybe three years later, I started waking up with my pants down around my ankles. And then maybe two years after that, it became consensual,” Phillips said. “So to call it a 10-year affair, a 10-year relationship, is not correct. That is something I would like to get out.”
Book has divided her family
Phillips said she did not intend to reveal so much when she began writing her memoir, but she decided that it would be dishonest to do otherwise and a disservice to others who have suffered the emotional horrors of abuse and incest.
Her stepmother, Michelle Phillips, has said that Phillips is imagining what happened. Her half sister Chynna said the stories are too incredible to be made up. Her other sister, Bijou, and her brother, Tamerlane, have shown measured support.
Phillips did not criticize those in her family who have not shown unflinching support for her. For one thing, she said, to her knowledge her sisters were not abused by John Phillips. For another, they are reacting the way most families react to such unwelcome and embarrassing news.
Phillips said she also understands that many will find the story disgusting and either condemn her for revealing it or question her veracity.
“I’m not asking you to understand and say, ‘Of course, that’s what happened.’ I’m asking you to see how it could and how it does and how this is a problem that’s going on all over the world,” Phillips said.
The one segment of society that has responded most positively to her book, Phillips said, is others who have been through similar experiences.
“This is a universal story, and since the publication of this book yesterday, the outpouring of support from other incest survivors has been phenomenal,” Phillips told Vieira. “This is a subject that is so incredibly taboo, as well it should be, but there needs to be a dialogue about it. Covers need to be pulled. You can’t keep sweeping this under the carpet. This is affecting families all over the world.”
Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll
The former child star of “One Day at a Time” had a childhood that was defined by sex, drugs