Of all the things President Obama has done in service to our country, I am most grateful for the model he has been as a husband and a father. Whatever part of his legacy is dismantled by the incoming administration, they cannot take that away from us. He has been a stellar example of what it means to be a good man.
Of all the things he said last night in his farewell address, his tribute to his family will linger in my mind for years to come:
Michelle…Michelle LaVaughn Robinson of the South Side…for the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for. And you made it your own with grace and with grit and with style, and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You have made me proud, and you have made the country proud.
Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances you have become two amazing young women. You are smart and you are beautiful. But more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion. And you wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.
In a climate where social media spots and records every indiscretion, Barack Obama behaved so admirably that there has not been one whiff of personal scandal in the eight years he has been in office. Instead, we are left with a wealth of still and moving images of the love he shares with his wife and daughters.
Thank you, President Obama, for that lasting legacy. No one can take that away from me, and I’m not sure you can understand what that means to a woman who was born four years before John Kennedy became president.
My first awareness as a teenager of the private lives of public figures was as a 13-year-old, when Ted Kennedy drove his car off a one-lane bridge into the waters of Chappaquiddick Island, leaving 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne to drown. In the wake of that incident I also first heard rumors of President Kennedy’s escapades with women like Marilyn Monroe. Their behavior reinforced what I learned by watching the men in my own extended family, whose stay-at-home wives endured the repeated humiliation of their husbands’ and our fathers’ “carousing,” as our mothers vaguely labeled their behavior.
Even the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wasn’t above being unfaithful to his wife, though I didn’t know about that until his friend Ralph Abernathy wrote an autobiography shortly after my daughter was born.
In my lifetime, I have watched a long line of men in leadership positions behaving badly—from Hart, Condit, Gingrich, Vitter, Clinton, Edwards, Sanford, Spitzer, Craig, Weiner, and more. And while some of them have had their careers destroyed, others have continued with impunity to hold positions of power in the public arena.
My daughter was about the same age I was as I heard about the Kennedys when the infamous blue dress took control of the nightly news. My friends and I switched the television channel when news anchors began to report on Clinton’s semen stains on Monica Lewinsky’s clothing, but we couldn’t protect our children from the salaciousness of the story. All of the mothers I knew talked about how we were going to explain to our daughters that oral sex was, in some ways, a more intimate act than intercourse and that STDs could be transmitted orally as well as vaginally.
I remember feeling that I’d like to take my family to a cabin in the woods with no cable and come out when the scandal died down. And I felt much the same way last night. To kill time until President Obama’s speech aired, I opened my computer after dinner to read on the front page of the New York Times that the president and the president-elect had been given a memo during last Friday’s security briefing on Russian hacking which described allegations of the existence of sex tapes involving prostitutes and the president-elect in a Moscow hotel in 2013. Though rumors of this had swirled in some circles during the campaign, I tend not to give credence to “news” sites that report from the extreme right or left. But last night, all of our most respected publications—from the New York Times to the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal—were reporting that, though the stories were unsubstantiated, the intelligence community had determined that the sources were credible enough that they needed to brief the president and the president-elect.
The contrast could not have been more pronounced. On the small screen of my laptop I watched the horror of another scandal swirl, while on the big screen of my television I watched a truly good man, with tears in his eyes, pay tribute to the love of his life—a woman we just happen to be lucky enough to have as our First Lady for just a few more days.
As we look forward, I will hope fervently that by the time I have granddaughters and grandsons who are teenagers, our country will be wise enough to elect another man or woman who will be the role model our children deserve.
In the meantime, I will give thanks for the legacy of the only First Family of my lifetime to be utterly without personal scandal.
Thank you, President and Mrs. Obama, for sharing your lives and your love with a disheartened baby boomer. After eight years in the White House, you still give me hope.