Wednesday, April 11, 2007

a meditation on the absent parent

He was an African, a Kenyan of the Luo tribe, born on the shores of Lake Victoria in a place called Alego. The village was poor, but his father, Hussein Onyango Obama, had been a prominent farmer, an elder of the tribe, a medicine man with healing powers. My father grew up herding his father’s goats and attending the local school, set up by the British colonial administration, where he had shown great promise. He eventually won a scholarship to study in Nairobi; and then, on the eve of Kenyan independence, he had been selected by Kenyan leaders and American sponsors to attend a university in the United States, joining the first large wave of Africans to be sent forth to master Western technology and bring it back to forge a new, modern Africa.”

~Barack Obama in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Barack Obama grew up hearing stories about his father from his mother and his maternal grandparents. Raised in a white household Barack doesn't know what it is to be an African-American and so feels out of place among both his white and his (very few) black classmates. When he is six his mother marries an Indonesian and he then moves with the two of them to Djakarta, Indonesia. His mother taught English to Indonesian businessmen at the American embassy and young Barack attended the local Indonesian school reinforced by three hours every morning of his mother's teaching of American correspondence courses. Indonesia also brought his baby sister, Maya. Once the correspondence courses were exhausted Barack was sent, at ten, back to Hawaii to live again with his maternal grandparents, his mother promising that she and his sister would be joining him soon.

That Christmas his mother did come, as did his father. It was to be the only time he would meet him. A few months after his twenty-first birthday he received a call from an aunt in Africa informing him of his father's death. Dreams from My Father is the tale of a search for identity; a search for family; the search for a connection in the world; of what it means to part of one family; and of the family of man; and of what the influence of both the known and unknown can have on who you are.

Obama eventually travels to Kenya to meet the family of his father and his many siblings and is welcomed as a long lost son. In many ways he feels like he has found something he has lost as well as many more questions left unanswered. If Audacity of Hope read like some kind of campaign propaganda (which it did in some ways) Dreams from My Father reads more like a beautiful novel written truly from the heart. I found it very moving (maybe all the more so because my own father is such an absence in my life, and my identity a little up in the air for reasons of my own). The writing is quite unpoliticianlike (and i mean that only in the nicest way!)

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