Barry Obama was just 6 years old when Ann Dunham decided to take him to war-torn Indonesia, and Sunday’s New York Times Magazine examines the reverberations of that decision. On the surface the answer is simple: She was following her second husband, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian native who’d been called back to serve in the army. But the article offers a revealing look at Dunham’s life there. Some tidbits:
- The young Barack (then Barry) was subject to constant racial discrimination; once, when other children threw rocks at him, Dunham told a friend, “He’s OK. He’s used to it.”
- When Lolo got a job with a US oil company, Dunham refused to socialize with the wealthy American wives of the other execs. She once complained to a friend that Lolo “was becoming more American every day.”
- One former servant for the couple says that Dunham once emerged from an argument with her husband with a bloody nose—though author Janny Scott notes that no one else even hinted at any abuse in the relationship.
But perhaps the most interesting part is Obama’s surprisingly candid reflections on his mother’s parenting flaws. “She was a very strong person in her own way,” he says. But “she was not a well-organized person. And that disorganization, you know, spilled over. Had it not been for my grandparents, I think, providing some sort of safety net financially, being able to take me and my sister on … I think my mother would have had to make some different decisions.” Click here for the NYT Magazine's cover image.