When Barack Obama, the future 44th President of the United States, transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University, he was leading what he called an ascetic, self-disciplined existence. David Maranass, in an adaptation from his biography on Obama, found intimate information about the powerful politician through both Obama’s old lover’s diary and his letters with another girlfriend.
“He was conducting an intense debate with himself over his past, present, and future, an internal struggle that he shared with only a few close friends, including his girlfriends, Alex McNear and Genevieve Cook, who kept a lasting record, one in letters, the other in her journal,” Maranass wrote.
These are the secrets of the young, 20-something year old Barack Obama, revealed by his former lovers. There’s one we’ll need to see to believe (page 6)!
He was on a search for purpose and identity in New York City
Like many college graduates in their early 20s, Obama was searching for his purpose in the Big Apple after he transferred from Occidental to Columbia for his junior year. His letters to his girlfriend at the time, Alex McNear, show just how vulnerable he felt in such a big city with so many options. “Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me … The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [and] classes; make them mine, me theirs,” he wrote.
Obama referred to that period of his life in an interview and discussed the effect it had on his politics. “There is no doubt that what I retained … The only way my life makes sense is if, regardless of culture, race, religion, tribe, there is this commonality, these essential human truths and passions and hopes and moral precepts that are universal … So that is the core of who I am.”
He had lived many places, but never felt at home
Genevieve Cook realized in her first conversation with Obama just how similar the two were. Little did she know they’d have a whirlwind romance.
According to Vanity Fair, the two met at a Christmas party in the East Village in 1983. The two had a significant amount in common. Both lived in Indonesia for periods of their childhood, both had lived in many places, and neither had ever felt at home in one of them. “They talked nonstop, moving from one subject to another, sharing an intense and immediate affinity, enthralled by the randomness of their meeting and how much they had in common.”
He used to pronounce his name differently
Cook and Obama began their relationship, “the deepest … of his young life,” six months after he’d graduated from Columbia. She called him Bahr-ruck, “with the accent on the first syllable, and a trill of the r’s.”
While it’s unclear if Obama preferred this pronunciation, she said that is how he pronounced it himself — at least when talking to her. Anglophile Kenyans pronounce it Bear-ick, and the American public knew him as President Buh-rock Obama.
He hated his first job
Cook’s diary revealed Obama’s dislike of one of his first jobs as a junior employee at Business International, or “B.I.” Obama’s duties included researching and writing reports to assist the company in updating newsletters for corporations engaged in international business.
“He talked quite a lot about discontent in a quiet sort of way—balancing the tendency to be always the observer, how to effect change, wanting to get past his antipathy to working at B.I.”
He pushed his mother away
According to one of Cook’s diary entries, Obama may have had a fear of dependency — both of him depending on others and others depending on him. On May 26, 1984, Cook wrote that Obama, “Told me the other night of having pushed his mother away over past 2 years in an effort to extract himself from the role of supporting man in her life – she feels rejected and has withdrawn somewhat.”
Cook iterated her fear that this was an example of Obama’s fear of dependency, both, “his own dependency on me, but also mine on him … He wants to preserve our relationship but either felt or wanted it to be well protected from some sense of immediate involvement.”
He liked to cook
One of Cook and Obama’s first dates included a simple, home-cooked meal and a lot of conversation. “I think maybe he cooked me dinner. Then we went and talked in his bedroom. And then I spent the night. It all felt very inevitable,” Cook wrote in her diary.
The couple spent a lot of time cooking. One of Obama’s favorite dishes to make was a ginger beef dish recipe he’d received from a friend. He also liked to make tuna fish sandwiches like his grandfather had taught him. Cook, inspired by their shared love of both cooking and reading, bought him an early edition of The Joy of Cooking as a gift.
He had a Sunday routine
Cook wrote of a Sunday routine that a young Obama would follow religiously. The routine included a cup of coffee, the New York Times crossword puzzle, and Obama shirtless in a blue and white sarong. He would also indulge in his two “disciplining activities,” writing and running.
Obama’s routine reflects what he’d later do in the White House during his precious, rare alone time. A self-declared “night guy” Obama, as president, would retire to the Treaty Room after dinner with his family. He would work on speeches, look over briefing papers, and read the ten letters from American citizens chosen by his staff. He would also watch ESPN, reads novels, or play Words With Friends on his iPad.
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