March 27, 2020

The Day My Father Came to School

By Barack Obama

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t imagine worse news.

I spent the night and all of the next day trying to suppress the thoughts of the inevitable: the faces of my classmates when they heard about mud huts, all my lies exposed, the painful jokes afterward. Each time I remembered, my body squirmed as if it had received a jolt to the nerves.

I was still trying to figure out how I’d explain myself hen my father walked into our class the next day. Miss Hefty welcomed him eagerly and as soon as I took my seat, I heard several children ask each other what was going on. I became more desperate when our math teacher, a big, no-nonsense Hawaiian named Mr. Eldredge, came into the room, followed by thirty confused children from his homeroom next door.

“We have a special treat for you today”, Ms. Hefty began. “Barry Obama’s father is here, and he’s come all the way from Kenya, in Africa, to tell us about his country”.

The other kids looked at me as my father stood up, and I held my head stiffly, trying to focus on a vacant point on the blackboard behind him. He had been speaking for sometime before I could finally bring myself back to the moment. He was leaning against Miss Hefty’s thick oak desk and describing the deep gash in the earth where mankind had first appeared. He spoke of the wild animals that still roamed the plains, the tribes that still required a young boy to kill a lion to prove his manhood. He spoke of the customs of the Luo, how elders received the utmost respect and made laws for all to follow under great trunked trees. And he spoke of Kenya’s struggle to be free, how the British had wanted to stay and unjustly rule the people, just as they had in America; how many had been enslaved only because of the colour of their skin, just as they had in America; but that Kenyans, like all of us in the room, longed to be free and develop themselves through hard work and sacrifice.

When he finished, Miss Hefty was absolutely beaming with pride. All my classmates applauded heartily, and a few struck up the courage to ask questions, each of which my father appeared to consider carefully before answering. The bell rang for lunch and Mr. Eldredge came up to me.

“You’ve got a very impressive father”.

The ruddy-faced boy who had asked about cannibalism said, “Your dad’s pretty cool”.

-Excerpted from the book, Dreams from My Father, Copyright 1995, Three Rivers Press, New York.

 

 

 

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