PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy's father, a self-confessed bon vivant and womanizer, said Sunday he is setting the record on his life straight in an autobiography written above all for his children, and meant to counter claims he was a bad father.
Pal Sarkozy wrote "Tant de Vie" – which translates as "So Much Life" – after his son, the French president, advised him against filing lawsuits against his disparagers and instead to "answer later ... about all these unjust accusations," the 81-year-old said in an interview with The Associated Press.
So the book is above all a family affair, he said. "This wasn't for the world, it was for my family."
"I wanted to talk to my children," and a book was "the simplest thing," he said in the interview, given on the sidelines of France's annual Book Fair.
A Hungarian immigrant who arrived in France in 1948 penniless, Pal Sarkozy concedes that he hid his past and failed to pass on his heritage to his five children – four sons and a daughter from two of his four wives – because "I wanted them to become French."
The book gives a rare look into the life of a president's father – the first modern-day French president with both parents still living.
But Pal Sarkozy questioned whether his son, Nicolas, should even want to make a second run for re-election in 2012.
"I think for him he will have a lot fewer worries than he has now" if he doesn't seek a second mandate, the father said, looking relaxed in blue jeans and a light blue pullover. "He won't have this enormous burden of 70 million people."
He brushed aside his son's growing political troubles – from a weekend poll giving him only a 30 percent satisfaction rating, to his conservative party's huge loss in regional elections this month – which led this week's edition of Le Point magazine to run a cover story on the president titled "The Tragedy of Sarkozy."
"I see no tragedy anywhere. Perhaps it will help him climb in the polls, which I hope," he said. "Polls, they change every day."
As a child, he said, Nicolas was the most "turbulent" among his sons. Today, the president maintains a high-speed agenda, but first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy calms him, his father said.
"Each time she enters a room and Nicolas is there, you see right away that Nicolas relaxes. He has a different smile on his lips than when she isn't there."
Scores of people, cameras clicking, surrounded Pal Sarkozy when he arrived at the fair to autograph copies of his book, written with Frederique Drouin.
"He has more success than his son," laughed 60-year-old Odile Bastard, among the crowd.
The book recounts Pal Sarkozy's aristocratic upbringing in Hungary, occupied by the Nazis then the Soviets, and his escape to Paris, with a one-month stint in the Foreign Legion on his way to the capital. He says he arrived penniless and without shoes, and spent his first night sleeping on a sidewalk grate of a Metro at the Etoile, the famous roundabout at the top of the Champs-Elysees Avenue.
Once he gained professional success as advertising executive, "France fit me like a Lanvin suit." He admits, "I was without brakes and without limits."
The book is peppered with accounts of his prolific love life, from his first experience at age 11 with his nurse in Hungary to the mistresses who dotted his married life.
Why tell the world?
"All of my family laughed a lot about what I said, and they're not upset with me at all."
"Contrary to legend, I never abandoned them (the children), physically or financially, but it is exact that it is their mothers who were in charge of their education," he wrote in his book.
In an epilogue, however, Pal Sarkozy concedes "I was not a present father nor a grandfather who gurgles with the babies ...
"Today, the arrival at the port is near and I no longer have the strength to move on. This time it is I who needs you. Your presence makes me happy, your absence makes me sad."
He said he had not heard from President Sarkozy, who received the first autographed copy of the book, but noted his son was in the United States to meet Monday with President Barack Obama. "Perhaps he hasn't had time to call me."