Dreams from My Father is a book written by then junior Senator, and now 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. In this book, Barack Obama nostalgically recalls his rather eventful childhood growing up in America. He tells of how people felt the name Barack sounded ‘funny’ and in lieu preferred to call him “Barry”. He recalls growing up in Hawaii with a white family consisting of his mother and grandparents, yet being fully aware that he not only was of African-American ancestry, but that his father, Dr. Barrack Obama Senior, was Kenyan. He recalls reading about Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the Republic of Kenya in a book. Who would have known that almost forty years later, in his capacity as the President of the United States, he’d fly home aboard Air force One, to meet Jomo Kenyatta’s son, Uhuru Kenyatta, who like his father before him, went on to become the fourth president of the Republic of Kenya!
Barack Obama tells of his first time meeting his father whom he saw countable times throughout his entire lifetime. He tells of how he found his father a little too harsh, compared to his grandparents and his mother. In particular, as he was watching a cartoon special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas his father asked him to go his room, “to allow the adults to talk.” His grandmother, Toot then asked him to go and continue watching the show in his room. His father would then object, insisting that young Barack had watched the TV for too long and that he needed to study, much to Barack’s chagrin. He makes no bones about the fact that as a child, he had a tense relationship with his biological father and that when he visited them in the States, he’d count the days until his father would leave, so that things return to normal.
He palpably walks the reader down memory lane to his high school days. How he saw and experienced racism first-hand. He tells of how when he was in seventh grade, he gave the first boy who called him a coon; a bloody nose. He also recalls when a tennis pro distastefully remarked to him that he shouldn’t touch the schedule of matches pinned up on the bulletin board because his colour might rub off. Moreover, he tells of how an older woman who lived in the same apartment as his grandparents would become agitated when he got on the elevator behind her and would run out to tell the manager that he was following her. He recalls reading Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright and DuBois in an effort to understand what was happening around him. Of all the books he read at the time, only Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different-unadorned insistence on respect and repeated acts of self-creation.
In this book, he tells of how he got into community organizing. He tells of his job was frustrating, melancholic at times, yet satiating to the soul, at the same time. No wonder he was such an even-tempered Head of State. Never one to be governed by caprice. To him, organizing was a promise of redemption. He recalls the tenure of mayor Harold Washington. The first black mayor of Chicago, where he’d relocated to work. He notes how people of colour spoke about him in admiration and reverence. How they put all their faith and trust in him. In a world where being black was a burden on its own, his election as mayor was akin to breaking the glass ceiling. His pictures were everywhere. He had almost monolithic support in the black community, about half of the Hispanics and a handful of white liberals. Who had have known that a many years later, he’d be the one to raise the bar by becoming the first, black President of the United States! His victory considered a victory for all black people, everywhere in the world! His speeches electrifying, his grace and elegance inspiring and his image just motivating!
He recalls of learning of his father’s death, and later on his brother’s, David, via a phone call from Kenya. He recalls meeting his sister Auma and hosting her when she visited him in America. They’d catch up, see a movie and take long walks. It was from her that he’d learn more about his family, his other brothers and sisters back home, and what his father was like.
Barack makes no bones of his indulging, growing up- a little pot, booze, blow when he could afford it and cigarettes.
He recalls making his maiden trip to Kenya, in a bid to reconnect with his roots. He tells of how the airline misplaced his luggage, how it ended up in Johannesburg and how he finally retrieved it. He tells of his stay in Nairobi in Auma’s apartment and of the baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle that she picked him in. He paints a picture of a liberated Kenya that remained neo-colonized. How he and Auma went into New Stanely Hotel and had to do a lot gesticulation, and then some, for them to be served, yet when American or European clients walked in, the same waiters sprang into action, smiling from ear to ear. He vividly recalls a livid Auma walked to one of the waiters and gave them a piece of her mind! Auma would tell Barack that as a woman, she couldn’t even go to a club in any of the African hotels if she was with another woman because she’d be labelled a prostitute and denied entry. Yet if she were to show up with a European or American, the same guards would trip over themselves trying to ingratiate themselves.
He fondly recalls of his visits to Kariokor to meet his aunt Jane, Kezia (Auma and Roy’s mother) and host of other relatives. He recalls meeting his aunt, Sarah in Mathare. The highlight of his maiden trip was his visit to his ancestral village, what he would soon learn was called “Home Squared” by his relatives. There, he’d meet his uncles and his grandmother, who would tell him more about his grandfather and father. He’d then take a trip to Kendu Bay before returning to his grandmother’s. He’d kneel at his father’s grave, have a private moment there, weep yet pick himself up, feeling somehow satiated.
What a man! What a life! What a book!
Review by Aura Billy Osogo.