As I have documented in my book The BIG Black Lie, there are certain parallels between my life and the life of Barack Obama. Like Obama, I wasn’t raised by my biological father. Both our mothers remarried when we were young, and for a short time we were raised by our stepfathers. Finally upon the death of our mothers we would both eventually be raised by our grandparents.
Obama had “Dreams from My Father,” a man with whom he spent his first two years of life. In his book, Obama paid tribute to the man who abandoned him and his mother, and appears to have vivid memories of him through stories told of the man by his mother and her parents. Really?
Thankfully for me, I do not have such memories of my family life at that time. I can only imagine the dysfunction my father created in our lives, since my father was a contemptible animal—a smooth criminal, unworthy of any adulation from me or anybody else.
The real contrast of our parallel lives however, is revealed in how we felt about the men who eventually raised us. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama discussed the impact of his perceived lack of a father in this report in the NY Times:
“Senator Barack Obama was asked this question from a man seated in the crowd at the Washington County fairgrounds: “What would you say is the most painful and character-building experience of your life that puts you in a position to make important decisions of life and death and the well being of our country?”
For a moment or two, Mr. Obama paused. It was far different from the string of questions posed on policies and issues. Finally, he said: “It’s a terrific question.”
And here, in its entirety, is his answer:
“I would say the fact that I grew up without a father in the home. What that meant was that I had to learn very early on to figure out what was important and what wasn’t, and exercise my own judgment and in some ways to raise myself.”
My mother was wonderful and was a foundation of love for me, but as a young man growing up, I didn’t have a lot of role models and I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned to figure out that there are certain values that were important to me that I had to be true to.
Nobody was going to force me to be honest. Nobody was going to force me to work hard. Nobody was going to force me to have drive and ambition. Nobody was going to force me to have empathy for other people. But if I really thought those values were important, I had to live them out.
That’s why it’s so important for me now, both as a United States senator and as a president candidate, but also as a father and a husband to wake up every morning and ask myself, am I living up to those values that I say are important? Because if I’m not, then I shouldn’t be president.”
Obama appears to easily dismiss his stepfather and grandfather, two men who stepped up to raise him. On the surface he would appear that both men were decent men. Not many men want the responsibility of raising somebody else’s child. Soetoro did this, and eventually so did Obama’s grandfather. In Soetoro’s case, we do know that he made sure that then “Barry Soetoro” attended schooled, and giving instruction in the Muslim religion. He was involved at least until his mother died, when Obama’s grandparents stepped in. I am unaware of any book about Mr. Soetoro. No tribute, and in fact, no reference.
There is little on Obama’s grandfather, and only anecdotes of Obama’s time in the white world. In fact he seems to have completely abandoned that world, a world he entered around age eleven.
Obama says of this time, “…I had to learn very early on to figure out what was important and what wasn’t, and exercise my own judgment and in some ways to raise myself…”
I recall when my stepfather Tommie (Daddy Tom) married my mother. She had two kids in tow. They married only months before my mother would die. My grandmother would not allow us to be raised by a man who was essentially a stranger to us kids, but she also didn’t want to saddle him with two young boys who were not his own. So they adopted us, and we moved away. Just like that all our lives changed dramatically again.
My grandfather—technically my step-grandfather, though the only grandfather I had ever known—was interactive. He played the role of a father, my father. He happily adjusted to his new role of father, readily giving up what has to be every father’s dream…to be a grandfather. I was loved for sure, but I certainly learned about discipline, work ethic, and character.
I will never forget when my grandfather died. They needed to amputate one of his legs due to gangrene. My grandmother called me to get my opinion on whether or not to tell him about the potentially life-saving procedure, or to just let them amputate, and tell him when he awoke. I told her she had to tell him, as he needed to make that decision. He awoke and agreed to the amputation. I knew that was the end, as he would never give up his leg—unless he had given up. He died the next day.
I eulogized him, speaking between what can only be described as sobs. I remembered all the lessons I learned from my grandfather-turned-father. His was a life worth remembering, as was his contribution to mine.
My brother and I maintained a lifelong connection with Daddy Tom, introducing him to his grandchildren, as those miracles occurred. We shared good times and bad times with him, just like any father, recognizing the unique nature of our relationship.
Tommie succumbed to lung cancer a few years back—another dark day for me. Prior to his death, my brother and I flew home to pay our last respects. Later we would return to attend his funeral and to eulogize him. I was distraught. Yet another great man in my life was gone.
My biological father died a junkie, destitute in California. He received a pauper’s burial. When I learned of his death, it was as if someone had told me about the score of ballgame in which I had no interest. That’s not the way one is supposed to feel about the death of one’s father.
Here’s the wrap:
I contend that Obama had a father in the home. In fact, like me he had two. He may chose to dismiss his fathers, inasmuchas he chooses to dismissed his white heritage. Obama further chooses to overlook the impact of his fathers, who were indeed “in the home.” I’m sure that Obama believes he came to his own conclusions about life by “[exercising] my own judgment and in some ways to raise myself.”
It’s a shame that Obama did not glean some understanding of the world from the fathers who surrounded him. Lucky for him, the two years he spent with his biological father—the one who left him—was enough time to provide Obama such profound intellect by age six. There was no need to heed the advice of his two fathers who were “in the home.”
Maybe Obama sees father-figures much like he sees friendships—expedient. Obama says, “…I didn’t have a lot of role models and I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned to figure out that there are certain values that were important to me that I had to be true to.”
I’m not sure how many role models Obama feels he needed, however I can see two role models who did more than vote “present.” Two men stepped in, when his biological father stepped out.
That’s my rant!
© 2009 Kevin Jackson is author of The Big Black Lie.