Obama Reflects on Dogged, Flawed Mom

Reminiscing comes in profile about his time in Indonesia

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 20, 2011 1:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – 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.

Barack Obama, 9, is seen with his mother, Ann Dunham, center, his Indonesian step-father, Lolo Soetoro, and his less than 1-year-old sister Maya Soetoro in Jakarta, Indonesia.   (AP Photo/Obama Presidential Campaign)
A young Barack Obama, then known as Barry Soetoro, center, is pictured at a classmate's birthday party in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1971.   (AP Photo/Hadi Surya Dharma)
A young Barack Obama, then known as Barry Soetoro, front center, at a classmate's birthday party in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1971.   (AP Photo/Hadi Surya Dharma)
Barack Obama with his mother Stanley Ann Dunham.   (AP Photo/Obama Presidential Campaign)
WWII veteran Stanley Armour Dunham playing with his grandson Barack Obama.   (AP Photo/Obama Presidential Campaign)
This photo provided by the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., shows Obama in 1979 during his high school graduation in Hawaii with his grandmother Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham.   (AP Photo/Obama Presidential Campaign)
Barack Obama with his grandparents, Stanley Armour Dunham and Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham in New York City, during a visit with Obama, who was a student at Columbia University.   (AP Photo/Obama for America)
Barack Obama's father, also named Barack Obama, and mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Obama's father left the family to study at Harvard when Barack was just 2.   (AP Photo/Obama for America)
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To describe Dunham as a white woman from Kansas turns out to be about as illuminating as describing
her son as a politician
who likes golf. - Janny Scott

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