Monday, November 2, 2009

The Obamas' Marriage

* all photos drawn from the White House Photostream on Flikr*
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There's an amazing and long article in the NY Times this week titled The Obamas' Marriage. Yes, of course a newspaper can twist things away from what they really look like, but it SEEMS like this is a pretty good description of how they've wrestled with dealing with politics as a couple and as a family. If you follow the above link to the article, you can play some clips from the interview with the Obamas that are pretty interesting (including a frank discussion of the toughest point in their marriage so far).

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I loved the discussion of their marriage and I'll get back to that in a minute, but there was also something else that caught my eye. Obama spent some of his growing up years in Indonesia, the same as I did. I've always wondered if he loved it and felt connected to the place like I do, or if it was just something that happened in his childhood that didn't really affect him. Two side comments in the article made me think that he really does love Indonesia as I do. His wedding ring is Indonesian gold and an Indonesian design. Wow... your WEDDING ring says something about you, so surely that is a statement. Also, while he was writing Dreams from my Father he took a few weeks away to finish the book, and his chosen writing spot was Bali - a beautiful tourist city in Indonesia. Ahah... if you choose Bali over anywhere, it must feel like a connection from his background..

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I became intrigued by their family and marriage when I lived in Chicago and there was a growing buzz and excitement in the city that Obama MIGHT run, even though he hadn't announced his candidacy yet. At the time I was a receptionist at a big catering company and I had lots of time to look through the paper every day. I remember reading an article from one guy that said that Obama had gathered his most trusted advisers and mentors to a meeting to get their perspective on his potentially running for President. The author of the article said that the meeting was unique not because Obama's primary question for his political mentors was - how would this choice affect my family, especially my daughters?


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Since then I have been praying for the Obamas. Yes, I follow some of the media hype and I love that they have date nights. I love that Michelle is an educated and strong woman who simultaneously considers her girls her top priority. I love that she gave Barack a terribly hard time about initially stepping into politics, but that despite her objection she supported his goals... that's a fine balance to walk. I love that when she agreed to his being a Presidential candidate, she gave up her reservations and supported him 100%, more than most wives do. I love that she had used her own education and strengths within this position of First Lady.

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I hope that it's true that their marriage has drawn closer through the process. According to the article, because his previous political positions required commuting to the state capitol or Washington, the family is actually together now more than they have been since the girls were first born. Apparently Barack and Michelle send the girls off to school together and then work out together on most mornings... and I love that. I love that by all appearances, they joke with each other constantly, which I would think would be the only way to get through the Presidency with a remotely healthy marriage.

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Here's a clip from the article:

Friends who visit the White House describe occasionally turning corners to find the first couple mid-embrace. They also seem unusually willing, for a presidential couple, to kiss, touch and flirt in public. It may be that they are broadcasting their affection to the rest of us, an advertisement of their closeness. Or they may simply be holding tightly to each other as they navigate new and uncertain terrain. “Part of what they provide each other with is emotional safety,” Jarrett explained.

In many ways, the Obamas have made the White House into a cocoon of sorts, with weekends full of movie-watching (“Where the Wild Things Are”), Scrabble games and children’s talent shows. They have surrounded themselves with those who have known them longest and best: Marian Robinson, the first lady’s mother, has settled in (unaccustomed to being waited on, she won’t let the staff do the laundry). Marty Nesbitt and his wife, Dr. Anita Blanchard, left Chicago to rent a house nearby for the summer, while Maya Soetoro, the president’s half-sister, and her husband, Konrad Ng, just moved here temporarily from Hawaii.

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Though the president reads aloud with his children in the evenings — he and Sasha are finishing “Life of Pi” — parenting in the White House is more complicated. Because the first couple cannot move freely about, their relatives take Malia and Sasha to the bookstore, on a walk through Chinatown, to the multiplex to see “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” Last spring, according to Sher, well-meaning White House residence staff members tried to give the girls cellphones, so their parents could always reach them; the first lady stepped in to refuse.

Even the Obamas’ jokes seem like coping mechanisms for the epic changes in their lives. They are still in their 40s, and they appear to deal with the grandeur and ritual of their new home with a kind of satirical distance that is hard to imagine coming from first couples of a pre-Jon Stewart generation. The president playfully addresses his wife using her official acronym, “Flotus” (first lady of the United States).

P062509PS-0120She keeps up a running commentary on her husband as he navigates his new home, according to friends and relatives. Seeing him in the Oval Office cracks Michelle Obama up, she told me. “It’s like, what are you doing there?” she said, gesturing to the president’s desk. “Get up from there!” In September, as they waited to greet a long, slow procession of foreign dignitaries and their spouses at the Group of 20 Summit in Pittsburgh, the first lady whispered in her husband’s ear about things “that I probably shouldn’t repeat,” he said.


I respect Michelle a lot. I hope Obama continues to respect her as well, and to fight for her and his daughters as much as they have fought for and honored him. I like Obama, but I recognize that anyone in politics probably has a lot of pride and probably arrogance in them - I pray that Obama's family helps him stay grounded.

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1 comment:

Jaimie said...

Ahh, what was the quote from Michelle? Haha.

GREAT post. Fantastic read, this.