The Search of a Workable Meaning of Life
By Grace Wright
“What is family? is it just a genetic chain, parents and offspring, people like me? Or is it a social construct, an economic unit, optimal for child rearing and divisions of labor? Or is it something else entirely: a store shared memories, say? An ambit of love? A reach across the void?”. This extract describes how bewildered Obama was about what the true meaning of what family is. The son of a black African from Kenya and white American mother, Obama, sought to find to find a workable meaning of life as a black African American man, and the title explains it all. The title, Dreams from My Father explains a perspective about passing on dreams from father to son and the search of the son’s fathers past. This perspective is then emphasized further in the subtitle, a story of race and inheritance, which links to the search of Obama’s father, a figure he knew more as a myth than a man.
Barak Obama’s mother Ann Dunham and father Barack Obama Sr.
If you are looking for an article about Obamas presidency, you’re in the wrong place, Dreams for my father is more about Obamas heritage, inheritance, family history, race and racial discrimination that Obama experienced even at a young age.
Dreams from my father is broken into three distinctive parts, the first part is “origins”, this is where he writes in first person describing his childhood upbringing, the second part is ‘Chicago’, this is where Obama describes his life about living in and finally ‘Kenya’ this part of the book is about Obama's visit to Kenya, on his trip, he learns his family history through stories told by relatives. This three-part journey is the reason why Obama is the man that he is today.
For me personally, it was from the first opening, “A few months after my twenty-first birthday, a stranger called to give me the news” that captured my attention. It was very clear that Dreams from My Father was going to be something remarkable. Dreams from my Father is a compelling and unsentimental memoir that has a voice and an unmistakable authority, it’s more like a record and story of a personal and psychological journey, on the quest to find a workable meaning of life, which is beautifully told.
The cover of Dreams from my father
Obamas voice is exceptionally young, honest and fresh in this memoir. None of the typical political vagueness that we hear from every important politician these days. Dreams from my father is far from vague its voice and unmistakable authority is the reason why it’s such a remarkable memoir that is unique and unforgettable. Barak is a highly intelligent, thoughtful, introspective, good man with a rare capacity for empathy, he is very much looked up to. The way that he wrote the book quite clever, it’s like a narrative, a cross between a family saga and life stories from childhood to adulthood. He invites the readers to see that no matter what type of place or environment you grow up in, you don't have to settle for mediocrity.
“Sometimes you can’t worry about hurt. Sometimes you worry only about where you have to go”. At the age of 21 Obama got an unexpected call from a stranger who told him the news about his father’s passing, a figure he knows more than a myth than man who he only met once when he was only 2 after his parent’s divorce. This sudden death inspires an emotional journey to find out more about his father’s past as well as his family history.
Throughout the emotional odyssey in making his life meaningful, there is one key problem that Obama tries to work through, that key problem is race. “I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so, I was ingratiating myself to whites”, these words are from the introduction which gives us the first glimpse of race, discrimination and racial issues that Obama faced even at the age of 12 and 13. Considering the era in which this autobiography is written, it is not surprising to find a discourse of race and family history operating within the text.
This quote emphasizes the feelings Obama felt about, not knowing anything about his family history especially from his father’s side, blaming colonialism for why he knows nothing about his family history. In the epilogue Obama talks about the need of finding the “solutions to the puzzle of being a black man”, he describes the feelings he felt about belonging to two worlds, therefore belonging to neither. Obama positions the reader to share a sense of sympathy and understanding because the feelings of angst he felt at the time, it’s what drove him to go on the journey, trying to find a connection of his family history regarding his race and ultimately finding the true meaning of his life as a black African man. The odyssey made Obama discover the true meaning of life while grieving for the man that he never knew and finally reconciling his divided inheritance in Kenya after learning his family history through stories told by relatives. This is all emphasized in this extract “if I had come to understand myself as a black American, and was understood as such, that understanding remained unanchored to place. What I needed was a community…. A place where I could put down stakes and test my commitments”.