I’m half-way through Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father and have found that his father really is nothing much more than a dream; a cardboard character who is less an actor and more a scenic backdrop in this scenario. No surprise, since I knew before buying the book that his father had left him when he was a tyke of two and a half. Actually, that was part of what lured me into reading what I suspected was a self-aggrandizing piece of propaganda written more as an investment in future political adventures than a memoir of paternal love; I wanted to see how an absent father could qualify as the subject of the book, how semen could override culture, how a boy born and raised in a white and Asian world could consider himself a member of the black community based solely on biological inheritance. Is a father’s greatest impact on his children that initial impassioned excretion that passes through the vaginal portal? Can it possibly be that all the rest — the wrestling on the floor, splashing in the bath, carrying, caring, playing, lecturing, listening, spanking, hoping, worrying, paying — all those years of fathering, are superfluous; only footnotes to the act of siring?
So far, (I’m holding my final conclusions till I finish the last 223 pages), Barack’s fathering seems to have been accomplished by his grandfather, his white mother’s father. I say Granddad seems to play the role, because the author gives him only scant recognition as the only adult male in the house. Respect, awe, admiration, emulation, fear, rivalry – all the psycho-babble complexities that are suppose to govern the father-son relationship are reserved for the phantom father who abandoned him. The ever present Gramps warrants little mention; and most of that as the object of pity or even derision. How this stand-in father rates such a bad press is not explained. We read of Gramps less than successful career, but his biggest fault seems to be that he is so obviously not Barack’s biological father. I can’t help but wonder if the author would have written off his only male parent so irreverently if the nurturing and natural fathers had been of the same race. Maybe a father’s influence is found in the mirror as much as in the blood; maybe it is more psychology than biology or culture; maybe it’s not what we receive from our fathers but what we seek in ourselves.
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