By Sara Karlovitch
Only a month after leaving office, former President Barack Obama has become more a legend than a man in the minds of the American public. Always a larger-than-life figure, Obama is a man shrouded in controversy and mystery. His background is confusing, and the public can’t agree on the most basic detail of where he was born.
After the election, I realized how little I actually knew about our former president. I knew he was born in Hawaii and lived in Chicago. I knew he had two daughters and a wife, all of which are consistently adored by many Americans. Other than those facts, the man who was running the country I lived in for the past eight years was a complete mystery.
With all the misinformation out there on the 44th president of the United States, I decided to learn all I could from an expert on Obama.
That person would be Barack Obama himself.
Dreams From My Father, Obama’s first book and memoir, was published in 1995 — a whole 10 years before he was elected to the Senate. The memoir is frank, upfront and unapologetic. No unpleasant detail is left unexplored.
Obama takes you through his life in Dreams From My Father. As you read the beautiful, almost lyrical prose, Obama’s whole life plays out in your head. He invites you into his childhood home in Indonesia where you meet his pet (no joke) crocodile and monkey. You learn about his lonely, confusing teen years in Hawaii, living with his maternal grandparents. Obama writes frankly about the drug addiction that plagued him through high school and the earlier parts of college. You feel his desire to become a community organizer and help rally the black community.
Reading Dreams From My Father, you also wonder that maybe all the confusion, all the myth, around Barack Obama comes from the fact that Obama knows very little about himself. His memoir is very much a journey in figuring out who he is.
Obama did not know his father. He met him only a few times; their correspondence when he was young was brief and formal. His father died before he could really get to know him and his own history.
It was not only a lack of connection to his father that left young Obama feeling empty and incomplete; it was also a missing connection to his black heritage, one that he would spend his life looking for. His mother was white and so were the grandparents who raised him. He went to a predominately white school while living in Hawaii and had very little connection to the black community at large. This need for a connection is what drove him into politics and activism.
Two Barack Obamas exist. The legend, which was born out of political discourse and the concept of “hope,” and the man, born in Hawaii to a white mother and a father whom he would never know.
Obama the legend is a flawless, righteous figure who raised above political pettiness and turmoil to embody the hopes and dreams of America. Obama the man is confused and questions himself and his place in the world.
If you want to preserve the legend of Obama, an understandable desire considering the current state of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., I would not recommend Dreams of My Father. Your opinion of him will change; not in a bad way, necessarily, but he won’t be god-like anymore. He’ll become what he is: a man.
Given the choice between the legend and the man though, I will gladly take the man.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Marc Nozell on Flickr.
Sara Karlovitch is a freshman journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.