Obama: Fine, When He Didn’t Feel Like an Orphan
Obama’s parents met at the University of Hawaii in 1960. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham (her own father, who badly wanted a son, named her Stanley — she went by Ann), was a white 18-year-old from Kansas. His father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., a 23-year-old foreign-exchange student from Kenya, grew up herding goats but excelled academically and was offered the chance to study first in Nairobi and then Hawaii. When Obama was 2 years old, Barack Sr. left his family to attend Harvard on a scholarship, and divorced his wife one year later, in 1964. Obama saw his father only once after that, for a few weeks when he was 10. Obama ascribes his best characteristics to his mother, who died in 1995 of ovarian and uterine cancer, writing in Dreams From My Father that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her. A new biography by New York Times reporter Janny Scott does describe, however, an at-times uneasy relationship between mother and son. "Despite all those strengths, she was not a well-organized person," the president told Scott in an interview for A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother. "And that disorganization, you know, spilled over." Although Obama stayed with his grandparents during high school while Ann lived in Indonesia and, according to author David Mendell, felt "like an orphan" growing up, the two remained close. But by the time Barry, as his mother called him, went off to college and, later, started dating Michelle, they seemed to drift apart. One of Ann's colleagues in Indonesia told Scott that she "felt a little bit wistful or sad that Barack had essentially moved to Chicago and chosen to take on a really strongly identified black identity." Rejection would've been too strong a word for what she felt, the colleague added, but she certainly saw him "distancing himself from her." Around that time, Ann wrote for herself a list of long-term goals, which included finishing her dissertation and "having a constructive dialogue with Barry."
Romney: The Baby of the Family
By the time Mitt Romney was 12 years old, his father, future Michigan governor and presidential candidate George Romney, had already graced the covers of Time and Newsweek for the incredible turnaround he'd engineered at American Motors. George Romney's press secretary, Dick Milliman, remembers the particularly close bond George and his youngest, Mitt, had. "They would hug upon meeting, and not just any hug," he told a Boston Globe reporter. "He would give Mitt a big bear hug and a kiss." Growing up, Mitt was a constant presence on his mother's lap. Speaking to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Romney gave the old man his due: "My dad, I mean, I am a small shadow for the real deal." Romney also had a strong relationship with his mother, inheriting "her tact and even temper qualities," as a 2007 Boston Globe article put it, simultaneously describing George Romney as "blunt, intense." Romney's mother was a "witty, dramatic and highly professional platform performer," Hugh Hewitt writes in A Mormon in the White House, having tried her hand at a Hollywood career before settling down with a family. When out with her husband, she was generally considered the brighter of the two and was certainly no wallflower. "My mother had these great phrases," Romney wrote in Turnaround, "though I didn't always know what they meant. Nothing Mom said made lots of sense to me. [...] One of her favorite quotes was something she was fond of saying when confronted with an opportunity to serve: 'If not me, who? If not now, when? If not here, where?'" (If these sound at all like lines from a campaign kickoff speech, Lenore Romney did ultimately run for a Michigan Senate seat in 1970. She lost by a rather wide margin.) Perhaps best encapsulating Romney's admiring view of his parents — certainly one of the best descriptions of his own campaign style — is something he said to Hugh Hewitt for his book: "I learned a lot from [my mother] about connecting with individuals person to person. My dad was better standing up in front of a podium you know, pounding his fist and saying how things ought to be. [...] In my better self, in my better moments, I try and capture a bit of both of them."