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, a 23-year-old foreign-exchange student from Kenya, grew up herding goats but excelled academically and was offered the chance to study in Nairobi and then Hawaii. Together, the unlikely pair swiftly conceived the embodiment of the American dream, Barack Jr. 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. And so 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.” Although Obama stayed with his grandparents during high school while Ann lived in Indonesia, the two were very close. Still, according to author David Mendell, Obama has said that he sometimes felt “like an orphan” growing up.
McCain: A Little Weird
Jack McCain was commander in chief of Pacific operations when his son was a POW in Vietnam. It had been a given that John Sidney McCain III would join the Navy when it was his time, and he wanted nothing more than his father’s respect: “I had his trust that I would prepare myself for my turn at war. I admired him, and wanted badly to be admired by him,” he has told the Washington Post. McCain greatly respected his father, even if Jack’s career ambitions and heavy drinking, which lasted late into his life, often meant McCain saw him from afar. “As any other child would, I resented my father’s absences,” McCain writes in Faith of My Fathers, “interpreting them as a sign that he loved his work more than his children.” McCain has said that he had more in common with his sophisticated mother, who is an heiress to an oil fortune. Reminiscing in Faith, McCain writes: “I became my mother’s son. What I lacked of her charm and grace I made up for by emulating and exaggerating other of her characteristics. She was loquacious, and I was boisterous. Her exuberance became rowdiness in me. She taught me to find so much pleasure in life that misfortune could not rob me of the joy of living.” McCain’s mother and her twin sister are active nonagenarians, while McCain’s father and grandfather both died of natural causes before they reached 70—a frank concern for those who worry that at 71, McCain might not be around to serve eight years in the White House.