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In the book Dream from My Father by President Barack Obama, the story begins in New York where he has just received the news of his father's death through a tragic road accident (Obama 5). Obama can only relate to his father as a myth rather being a man and the news brings back several memories as he tries retracing his family's unusual history. The history includes his mother's family migration from Kansas to the Hawaiian islands and the love that her mother found with a Kenyan student, nurtured by youthful innocence resulting into something more (Obama 6). The story also incorporates his father's later departure when Obama was just two years of age as the effects of power and race reassert themselves as well as Obama's own awakening as concerns doubts and fears that were existent within himself (Obama 7).
He makes an effort to work to turn back the ever-increasing despair of the inner city against the backdrop of racial and political conflict (Obama 12). Obama's story blends together with the individuals he works with while in Chicago as he gains knowledge concerning the necessity of healing old wounds, the value of community as well as the possibility of faith even amidst adversity (Obama 13). He finally decides to go to Kenya and see those he had never gotten a chance to meet (Obama 27). He also realizes that he is innately bound to sisters and brothers living an ocean away and that he can finally reconcile his divided inheritance by embracing their similar struggles (Obama 44).
Stanley Ann Dunham
Stanley Ann Dunham was the mother of President Barack Obama and was also an American anthropologist in addition to being a left-wing social activist (Obama 45). She was born in Kansas to Madelyn and Stanley Dunham and graduated in 1960 (Obama 45). Her family then moved to Hawaii. Shortly, she began engaging in inter-racial relationships in an effort to get back on the community. She later met Barack Obama Senior who hailed from Kenya, in her Russian language class (Obama 46). They fell in love, married when she was just 18 years of age and Barack Obama Jr. was born in 1961. Barack Obama Sr. returned to Kenya on obtaining a Master's Degree and attained a position within the Kenyan government. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident in 1982 (Obama 47). Maya, Obama's half sister was to be born later on and they moved back to Hawaii.
According to Barack Obama, his mother was the dominant figure in his formative years and helped shape his development during his early years (Obama 47). Obama continues to state that the values that his mother taught him continue to be his touchstone when it comes to how he goes about the world of politics (Obama 48). Stanley Ann Dunham had high expectations as far as her children were concerned. In his book, Obama describes her as a mother who worked, a single teenage mother who not only went to school but also raised her children at the same time (Obama 52). He also refers to his mother as a single constant in his life. In one of his paragraphs, he writes, "I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her" (Obama 47).
Growing up in a part of the world where racial discrimination and social conflict was dominant was hard for young children especially those of minority groups. With this in mind, Obama's mother would wake him up early in order to give him extra lessons while residing in Indonesia, so as to ensure that he was secure as far as his racial identity was concerned (Obama 48). In this book, he comments as concerns the issue of race, "I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so, I was ingratiating myself to whites" (Obama xv). Being a cultural anthropologist, she played a vital role in the development of Obama in that he grew up appreciating the fact that he was different and at the same time having the belief that even though he was different, he could make a difference in this world (Obama 51). Her mother was also to shape the direction in which he would take as concerns religion. Despite not being raised in a religious background, Ann was in a number of ways considered the most spiritually awakened individuals that Obama has ever known (Obama 61). As concerns his own belief in connection with his religious upbringing of his parents, despite his father being from a village which was dominated by Muslims, Obama considers himself as always having been a Christian since he was raised by his Christian mother who was from Kansas (Obama 66).
Auma is President Obama's African half sister and in this book, her story creates one of the most interesting chapters as far as the author and other individuals are concerned. Even though Obama did not spend most of his time with Auma during his developing years, she played a key role in enlightening him concerning his father. The story begins with Auma's 10-day visit to Chicago and a conversation is carried out concerning their father, one that would run deep into the wee hours of the night (Obama 218). Obama always refers to his father as 'the Old Man' and this can be attributed to the fact that he lacked personal knowledge of his father. In the course of conversing, Auma describes their father's personality, identity as well as character for instance the fact that their father was a brilliant young graduate from the University of Hawaii (Obama 220).
However, it was also revealed to Obama that their father, Barack Obama Sr. had his flaws as well and they included being somewhat abusive towards his family and other individuals, controlling, at times drunk and having a tempter (Obama 221). This is what finally led to his downfall as a Kenya bureaucrat. Obama had tried to uphold his father as a noble and great hero, only for him to realize the reality that Obama Sr. had plenty of demons that destroyed his charismatic persona (Obama 222). In relation to this, he wrote, "The night wore on; I tried to regain my balance, sensing that there was little satisfaction to be had from my new found liberation......Who might protect me from doubt or warn me against all the traps that seem laid.........The fantasy of my father had at least kept me from despair. Now he was dead, truly. He could no longer tell me how to live" (Obama 220).
In his quest to find out more about his heritage, President Obama traveled to Kenya and discovered the sense of community and warmth amongst Kenyans (Obama 302). While visiting Nairobi's Kibera slums, he got a better grasp of common man's woes as compared to his counterparts back in the US. He narrates his encounter with poverty in his book, Dreams from My Father. He recalls his very first visit to Kenya way back in 1987 where he had to spend a night on a couch in the living room of his half-sister, Auma (Obama 307). Obama also recalls in his autobiography taking most of his meals downtown Nairobi in tiny hotels while he stayed there for a month (Obama 307). While traveling to Kogelo, where his origins are from, he went by train and matatu and he notes that he was squeezed in the 12-sitter matatu where passengers sat facing each other carrying chicken and collard greens (Obama 308).
While still in Nairobi, he learned that he belongs to a certain Kenyan tribe by the name of Luo and continued to learn more about the tribe, its origins and cultural practices (Obama 321). He expresses his feelings by saying, "Without power for the group, a group larger, even than an extended family, our success always threatened to leave others behind.......it was as if we - Auma, Roy, Bernard, and I - were all making it up as we went along. As if the map that might have once measured the direction and force of our life, the code that would unlock our blessings, had been lost long ago, buried with the ancestors beneath a silent earth" (Obama 331). His main objective of visiting Nairobi on his way to Kogelo where his father, Barack Obama Sr. was born, was to get a first-hand experience of poverty raging within most regions of Kenya (Obama 323). Obama was willing to forego the luxurious lifestyle that he had become used to and humble himself enough to live in the not-so-conducive environment for one month. In his book, he mentions how his half-sister Auma tried to find ways of fulfilling her family's expectations as well as how his half-big brother, Bernard struggled to find employment (328). He quotes, "In Kenya.........a commitment to black empowerment couldn't help find Bernard a job. A faith in participatory democracy couldn't buy Jane a new set of sheets. For the first time in my life, I found myself thinking deeply about money: my own lack of it................I could see Auma [sister] now making as she tried, in her own way, to fulfil the family's expectations...." (Obama 329).
Dream from My Father is a book written reflecting President Obama's superior language skills with an honest description.
Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Three Rivers Press, 1995. 2004. pp. 5 - 438.