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Summer 2008 online edition

The Myth of Barack Obama's Early Life

by Michael Patrick Leahy

page 9 of 9
He wouldn't see his son again for nine years, and then only for a month, never to be seen again after that short interlude. It would be this abandonment, rather than his mixed race heritage, that would drive Barack Obama Junior's inner turmoil for the next three decades.

At Harvard, Barack Obama Senior soon took up with another American woman, Ruth Nidesand.

Some time between her late summer 1962 visit with Barbara Cannon Rusk at her Seattle apartment and January, 1964, when she filed for divorce against Barack Obama Senior, Stanley Ann Dunham moved back to Honolulu from Seattle. But she was returning to live with her parents, apparently having felt overwhelmed raising Barack in Seattle as a single mother while trying to attend college.

She was twenty-two years old, had a three year old baby, and no source of income. She and Barack Junior lived with her parents, who supported them both financially. She attended the University of Hawaii on an irregular part time basis. As best can be determined, Barack Senior provided not one bit of financial support to his son or ex-wife from March 1962 on, and there's no indication that he provided for them financially from the period August 1961 to March 1962 either. That task apparently fell to Stanley Ann's parents.

Barack Senior finished his studies at Harvard in the spring of 1964. (47) Though he was not awarded his Master's Degree in Economics until 1965, he appears to have left for Kenya in 1964, abandonning his plans to obtain a Phd. Perhaps the lure the high paying job he secured shortly thereafter with Shell Oil was too much to resist, or perhaps he was caught up in the excitement of returning to his newly independent homeland. Whatever the reason, a July 1965 article written by him and published in the East Africa Journal described him as residing in Nairobi where he was working on his doctorate after studying at Harvard. (48) He spirited Ruth, who was now his wife, back to Kenya with him. It was a heady time for him, and he felt ready to participate at the top level of leadership in his country.

When Barack Obama Senior returned to Kenya from Harvard in 1964, he didn't bother to stop off in Honolulu to visit his toddler son, Barack Junior. He had more important things to do.

Perhaps it was a good thing that he didn't, because Barack Junior's mother was now dating an Indonesian foreign exchange student, Lolo Sotero. They married in 1967, and towing her six year old Barack Junior along, she left the safety of Honolulu to live with her new husband, who now lived in Jakarta.

The myth about his father that Obama heard from his, which he retells in his memoir, is that he wanted to pursue graduate studies in economics, and to do that he needed a scholarship. He had two offers, one from the New School in New York that offered enough scholarship money to support both himself and his wife and child in New York. The other offer, from Harvard, only provided enough money for himself, he said. He chose Harvard.

No one knew if this story was true, or merely a convenient lie to allow him to escape the obligations of his young wife and son. In any event, it's the story that his son accepted and retold.

This myth has many problems of factual accuracy associated with it.

Consider the facts we know to be true. Stanley Ann Dunham had enough money to fly from Honolulu to Seattle round trip in August 1961, from Honolulu to Seattle in March, 1962, and back to Honolulu in the fall of 1962 or some time in 1963, and to rent an apartment in Seattle. She was a fearless adventurer, and must surely have had enough money to fly to Boston. Getting a part time job and raising her son in Boston while living with her husband would have been a far less significant challenge than striking out on her own in Seattle with a young child would have been.

So why did she not accompany her husband to Harvard?

The most likely conclusion is that she chose not to, a consequence of her disillusionment with him as both a husband and a father. Barack Obama Senior did not abandon Stanley Ann Dunham. Demonstrating her independence and personal strength of character, she left him, and for good reason.

Barack Obama chose the wrong parent on whom to focus his memoirs. He should have written about his mother. Perhaps if he had taken the time to explore the facts of the myth she created about his father, a myth most certainly created to protect him from the awful truth of his father's character, he might have done just that. And if he had, we might all have been spared the possibility of the "neoliberal theocracy" (49) that's in store for us if he's elected to the Presidency.

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Michael Patrick Leahy is the author of Letter to an Atheist, and Managing Editor of Christian Faith and Reason Magazine.

Comments are welcome. All comments will be read, not all comments will be posted. We may invite authors of the best comments to respond in full articles, to be published in our November edition.

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