One day in 1969, a father took his son to a South Jersey restaurant to see a man about Scientology. Decades later, the revelations that unfolded there steered the father and son into hinterlands of dysfunction.
Ron Miscavige Sr., 80, doesn't regret taking his second son, David, to Ogle's Cafeteria in Woodbury that day. David, then 9, arrived with asthma and left breathing easily, an instant and lifelong devotee to the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Today, Ron Miscavige has no relationship with David, now 56, the controversial worldwide leader of the Church of Scientology, or with David's sisters, Lori and Denise.
Angry at his son, and a bit heartbroken, he is the first member of Scientology's "first family" to speak publicly about life in Pennsylvania and South Jersey before the church changed them.
"I changed his goddamn diapers," Miscavige said Tuesday from his home near Milwaukee. "You don't owe your parents everything, but I lost my family. It's terrible."
Miscavige said the wedge driven between him and his daughters prompted him to write his memoir, Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me. The book was released last week, and Ron Miscavige has appeared on 20/20 and on Fox News with Megyn Kelly.
Once Miscavige and his second wife, Becky, left Scientology in 2012, the church hired private detectives to follow him, he said. Those detectives, according to police in Wisconsin, said they were instructed to let him die when they thought he was having heart problems at a grocery store in 2013.
"I was willing to let that slide," he said.
But he decided to write the book when daughters Denise and Lori, also Scientologists, stopped speaking to him. He blames it all on Scientology's unofficial policy of "disconnection," which compels members to cut ties with critics and former members, even if they're family.
'Most horrible thing'
"I don't know if my daughters or David would ever talk to me again," he said. "I would like to say there's a glimmer of hope, but Jesus Christ, I wouldn't put money on it. My goal for this book is to end disconnection. It's the most horrible thing you can do to someone."
In a statement, the church called the book "a sad exercise in betrayal" and a money grab. The church has launched a website to discredit the book and to elaborate on the elder Miscavige's admitted domestic violence against his first wife, Loretta, who died in 2005. The church also claims he beat his daughters.
He told Kelly that he never punched his daughters but did punch his wife in an arm or the back. "Over a 10-year period, it would happen once a month or something like that," he said.
Miscavige left the Philadelphia area for good in 1985 after he was accused of attempted rape in King of Prussia. His book details the ordeal in a chapter titled "The Worst Month of My Life." David helped with legal assistance, and all charges were dropped. The couple separated, and the father joined Scientology's Sea Organization, a clergy group whose members sign a lifetime commitment and wear naval officer uniforms.
The church is using the 1985 arrest as part of its rebuttal to Miscavige's book. The church, on the new website, claims that a 2012 Daily News probe into Miscavige's arrest "clearly struck a nerve" and that he began acting "irrationally."
"One day, out of the blue, he took off," the church wrote on www.ronmiscavigebook.com.
Miscavige was born and raised in Mount Carmel, a coal-mining town 115 miles northwest of Philadelphia. A trumpet player, he joined the Marines after high school and married Loretta. They lived in Mount Carmel, Levittown, and Bristol before settling into a two-story Colonial in the leafy Burlington County suburb of Willingboro.
Twins David and Denise were born in 1960 at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol Township.
Although he said he never got along with Loretta, he said life with four kids on Peartree Lane was idyllic. The girls danced, and David and his older brother, Ronnie, played football and baseball.
Miscavige said he and his family were rabid Eagles fans. After games at Franklin Field, he said, they'd walk up Chestnut Street to Pagano's, a former Italian eatery at 39th Street, for dinner before heading home.
In 1981, he met David in New Orleans to watch the Eagles lose miserably to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV.
"Prior to the game, I had on a pair of khaki pants and this Eagles polo and I looked like a coach, so David and I went on the field and bummed around and took pictures," he said, laughing. "They eventually kicked us off the field."
The Miscaviges almost got into a fight with Raiders fans after the game.
One of his fonder recent memories of the boy he introduced to Scientology was when the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. He said they watched the game in the offices of Scientology's sprawling Gold Era Productions in Southern California.
"He called me Ron, never Dad," Miscavige said. "I'll tell you, it sounds crazy, but underneath all that s-, he was a good guy."