Make the sacrifice: Barack Obama talks about family and balancing duties as father, statesman in KL

Audrey Edwards
Former US president Barack Obama speaks during the ‘How the Asia-Pacific Shaped Us’ event in Kuala Lumpur December 13, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13 — For Barack Obama, it will not be the legislative bills that he has passed or speeches that he thinks of when he is on his deathbed.

Rather, it will be the moments that the former president of the United States has spent with his family like holding his daughters’ hands or taking them to the park.

“Seeing them laugh. That is going to be the thing that lasts. It gives my life meaning. The unbounded love I feel for them,” he said when answering questions from participants after his plenary session “How the Asia-Pacific Shaped Us” that was moderated by his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng at the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Programme.

The programme is a one-year leadership development programme that seeks to inspire, empower and connect emerging leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region.

Obama had been asked how he balances work and family life.

He is married to Michelle Obama and they have two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

“I don’t care how successful you are. If your children or the people you love are in pain and suffering, you have a problem.”

He also spoke of the time when his daughter Sasha had meningitis when she was three months old and how, as a father, he only wanted her to feel better.

Adding that there was no perfect formula to it, he said there would be phases in one’s life where work would take precedence and others when one’s children would be the priority.

“There will be trade-offs for both parties, not just one. Sometimes, the women will say, ‘I’ve got work that I’ve got to do’.

“At the end of the day, you love somebody and you make the sacrifices. And in countries like the US or Australia, the parenting can be (a feeling) that you have got to handle everything, schedule everything.

“If something isn’t right at school or they don’t get the best grades, ‘I’m failing as a parent’. And the child becomes a project. This is not good either.”

He also said that the most difficult decision he made was whether to run for presidency.

Obama also listed his reasons such as he, at the time, had a young family to take care of with Michelle while the couple had just started to stabilise financially and the fact that there were other strong candidates.

He said it came down to the fact that it was the best window in time for someone from historically-discriminated roots to run for the position and in doing so, show others that they too could do it.

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