The Truth About Donald Trump's Relationship With His Sons

When it comes to First Kids, there's been no one quite like Donald Trump's quintet of offspring. His children range significantly in age and public visibility, and they are the products of three different marriages who have been awarded varying levels of responsibility in both their father's business endeavors and White House administration.

Since their dad was already famous for his real estate empire and pop culture cameos during their upbringing, they've pretty much always been exposed to the spotlight, but some have chosen to embrace that space more than others. Barron Trump, his minor son with third wife Melania Trump (née Knauss), tends to be a bit more camera-shy than his elder siblings, and Tiffany Trump has only recently come to view. However, Donald Trump's eldest daughter Ivanka and his other sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have seemingly seized upon the opportunity to become public figures in their own rights, as a result of their father's political ascension.

Looking back at the roots of their relationship with their father, it's not hard to see where they get their hard-hitting demeanors, especially when it comes to Don Jr. and Eric, who have even reportedly nicknamed themselves as "the brutes." Here's what you might not know about Donald Trump's relationship with his eldest sons.

They were born into a family crisis

Before Donald Trump's first wife Ivana Trump gave birth to their first son, Donald Trump Jr., the family was already experiencing a major legal and publicity battle. According to The Washington Post, Don Jr. was born shortly after his father had to settle a major lawsuit surrounding his alleged history of discriminating against certain tenants in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

After being accused violating housing laws by the Justice Department, Trump fought back by accusing the agency of making false statements about him. The subject of the suit, countersuit, and the Trumps' strategy in mostly side-stepping the allegations and landing on a settlement without admission of guilt, became even more publicized in a 1979 Village Voice cover story that would at once help his father become a public figure in New York and set the stage for a controversial career in real estate and politics to come, right before his then-young son's eyes.

Their idea of playtime was not exactly traditional

While many children might remember their dad playing hide and seek with them or teaching them sports skills, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump can claim no such tradition in their upbringing. As Donald Trump himself admitted in his biography, Trump: The Art of the Deal, "as they get older, being a father gets easier. I adore them all, but I've never been great at playing with toy trucks and dolls." Once his eldest son started showing an interest "in buildings and real estate and sports," Trump Sr. started to identify with him more and more, adding, "Perhaps he's got my genes: the kid won't take no for an answer."

For his part, Trump Jr. confirmed that his father had a very hands-off approach to parenting in his youth, telling The Washington Post, "I would say my father still was very involved, albeit on different terms. It wasn't a, 'Hey, son, let's go play catch in the backyard' kind of father-son relationship ... It was 'Hey, you're back from school? Come down to the office." He may see the value in that now, but once upon a time, he had a very different opinion of that tutelage tactic.

After their parents' divorce, one son accused their dad of not loving them

Donald Trump's divorce from Ivana Trump made for quite the media spectacle in the New York news circuit. Not only had he left the mother of his three children for another woman — Marla Maples, who'd become his second wife and mother to his fourth child, Tiffany — but there were also rumors of Ivana feeling sexually violated by her estranged husband, and the two engaged in a very public media fracas involving competing magazine cover features that spilled extremely personal details of their split.

As a result, the first three Trump children were sent away to a boarding school in Pennsylvania to avoid the media circus surrounding their parents' split. However, that separation from his folks made Donald Trump Jr. wary of his father's true affections for him, and he reportedly told his dad, "How can you say you love us? You don't love us! You don't even love yourself. You just love your money." He also didn't speak to his father for a year after that, although he would later admit that "when you're living with your mother, it's easy to be manipulated" and he had a "one-sided perspective" to the matter.

Donald Trump predicted his kids would fail

While most parents might hope to see their children achieve as much, if not more, than they did, Donald Trump seemed to believe that he was setting his children up for failure by passing down such a prominent name to them. In a 1990 interview with Playboy Magazine, he said, "Statistically, my children have a very bad shot. Children of successful people are generally very, very troubled, not successful. They don't have the right shtick. You never know until they're tested. But I do well with my children."

He went on to add that he did hope to see them follow in the family business, saying, "I would love them to be in business with me, but ninety-five percent of those children fail in a sophisticated big business. It takes confidence, intelligence, shtick. If any one of these traits is missing, you're not going to make it. [...] I'm not looking to have a great deal maker as a son, though I'd certainly like everything to run beautifully when I'm not around. I'd be happier if my son became a great manager rather than a great entrepreneur." Those words might have been inoffensive enough, but privately, he had a much harsher way of keeping his kids in line with his vision of success.

Donald Trump Jr. was once allegedly assaulted by his dad in public

Following his parents' divorce, Donald Trump Jr. had a notably strained relationship with his father. He and his siblings reportedly leaned on their mother's father, Milos Zelnicek, for emotional support, spending summers with his grandpa in Czechoslovakia. His mother credited Zelnicek with providing him "a father figure" since "Donald was not around that much. They would have to go to his office to say hello to him before going to school." While he apparently shied away from the city life and opted for a more outdoorsy upbringing, he did follow in his father's footsteps to attend the University of Pennsylvania.

There, he allegedly developed a reputation for hard partying, and someone who attended school with him reported seeing Donald Trump get very aggressive with his son during a visit. In a public Facebook posting, one classmate of Donald Trump Jr.'s remembered, "I walked out of the room to find Donald Trump at his son's door, there to pick him up for a baseball game. [...] Don Jr. opened the door, wearing a Yankee jersey. Without saying a word, his father slapped him across the face, knocking him to the floor in front of all of his classmates. He simply said 'put on a suit and meet me outside,' and closed the door." The classmate went on to add, "He absolutely despised his father, and hated the attention that his last name afforded him." This incident wasn't the last time the elder Trump would openly accost his son for embarrassing him.

Donald Trump didn't like one of Don Jr.'s freebie schemes

After graduating from college, Donald Trump Jr. took a position at his father's company, The Trump Organization, but indicated that nepotism only got him so far. Speaking to Real Estate Weekly, he claimed, "He's demanding of everyone. [...] He lets you run with the ball and make your own decisions, but if he gives you a piece of advice and you don't take it, that's fine, but you better hope it works out for you. If you are wrong, you'll hear about it forever."

Donald Trump Jr. even claimed that he took a year off to spend time in nature before deciding to get into the real estate business. Although they did reportedly butt heads on their first project together over choices in decor, and Trump refused his son's request to label is building "Trump Junior," he claimed working together helped strengthen their personal relationship. Trump Jr. told Real Estate Weekly, "Our relationship has developed on a personal note more since we started working together." However, that relationship became fractured once again when he got engaged to his wife Vanessa (née Haydon) because he accepted a free engagement ring in exchange for promotional appearances. Trump bashed his son's decision in a chat with CNN, saying, "I wasn't thrilled with what he did [...] I said, 'You have a big obligation, you have a name that's hot as a pistol, you have to be very careful with things like this.'"

Eric has a very different perspective than his brother

While Donald Trump Jr. may have had some deep-seated animosity for his father in his earliest years as a result of his parents cantankerous and publicized divorce, Eric Trump seemed to espouse a different view of it all. For one thing, he was grateful to be sent off to boarding school amidst his parents' breakup, telling The Washington Post, "My parents were so solid at keeping us away from it. And I think boarding school was their subtle way of also doing that."

Like Donald Trump Jr., he also joined The Trump Organization in an official capacity after college, and he thinks the media has misrepresented Donald Trump. He told the Post, "He doesn't have a bad bone in his body. Things are said. People clearly understand the intent and the meaning, and they'll try to drive it a different way for the sake of sensationalizing the story."

Donald Trump Jr. says his dad's real estate work was his life

Before Donald Trump ran for and was elected to serve as President of the United States, his real estate empire and international branding business consumed the bulk of his time. In fact, he was so devoted to his work that his eldest son insisted he couldn't seem to get away from work. He told WaPo, "I still have the ability to turn [work] off, and separate business from life. Whereas, for him, I think business was life."

In fact, even though they are his sons, Donald Trump Jr. said his father prioritized his business so much that he even admitted to The Chicago Tribune, "In my father's own words, he would fire us like dogs" if they failed to live up to his expectations. Even so, Trump did tell The Post of his two eldest sons, "They work hard and do a fabulous job, but most importantly they are my sons and I love them."

Their current relationship is pretty problematic

Although their sister Ivanka and brother-in-law Jared Kushner received offices in the White House West Wing after Donald Trump's election, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were handed the keys to the Trump Organization, tasked with running the company in a controversial form of trust. Though Donald Trump Jr. said that he had almost "zero contact" with the POTUS after the election and resignation from the company, some have questioned whether Trump has distanced himself enough from his business interests.

Perhaps more importantly, Trump has been accused of drafting the misleading statement(s) Donald Trump Jr. released in the wake of the news that he had met with a Russian lawyer before the election to get "dirt" on opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump Sr.'s involvement with the false initial statement has added yet another layer to the on-going investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who's been tasked with investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign, of which his sons were prominent members, and Russia. That's not the only legal entanglement Trump shares with Trump Jr., either.

When it comes to scandals, like father, like son

Even during his presidency, Donald Trump's personal life has been a major talking point in the media. His alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, for example, has caused quite a legal dust-up for Trump and his "fixer"-slash-personal attorney Michael Cohen, who allegedly paid her not to publish the story before the 2016 presidential election. Surprisingly, a similar story has also ensnared his son, Donald Trump Jr.

Trump Jr. allegedly had an affair with singer-turned-The Apprentice star Aubrey O'Day during his marriage to estranged wife Vanessa Trump, and Donald Trump Sr. stepped in to call for an end to the extramarital dalliance. According to The Wall Street Journal, Cohen — who has come under federal scrutiny as a result of his potentially unlawful financial transfers to Trump's mistresses and coordination with certain media outlets to "kill" such gossip stories — may have also verbally threatened US Weekly into not publishing a story about Donald Trump Jr.'s affair with O'Day back in 2013 on behalf of the Trump family. Whether his father had anything to do with that decision remains to be seen, but clearly the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.