I watched the very last press conference President Obama will ever hold this afternoon. The final question was a personal one from a reporter who had been covering him since he was a State Senator from Illinois, some twenty years ago. She asked how the outcome of the election had impacted the two first daughters, Malia and Sasha.
In one of his final official responses as our country’s POTUS, Barack Obama got to brag on his daughters. He responded as a dad and father, not as our nation’s president, just hours away from the end of his gig. It seemed fitting, somehow, as this man has never hidden his fondness for parenting or the woman he parents with, Michelle. He proudly (and cheekily) refers to her as FLOTUS.
They are unmistakably in love with one another. As a fan and supporter of both Michelle and Barack as individuals, the combination of them is like a one-two punch to the “I want that” valve in my heart. As incredible and accomplished as they are on their own, together, well, I just kind of fall into a fan girl worship of them. File their relationship under #lifegoals, you know what I mean?
She has been honest with the pros and cons of being America’s First Lady. Unlike their time when Barack was serving in Illinois’ State Senate, or the years he was based in D.C. as a U.S. Senator while Michelle and the girls remained in Chicago, during his eight years as POTUS, consistent family dinners together were possible for the first time. As a team, the Obamas seemed to manage it all — global crises, tween drama, garden growing, economic calamity, and dancing on Ellen.
We learned to trust in their capacity to stay high, even when the rest of us were losing our damn minds. And, let’s be honest, as the first POTUS and FLOTUS of color, they did not have the luxury of being anything other than exemplary.
The First Couple have, somehow, maintained a grace and dignity, a fierce capacity to stay above the fray during their White House years, despite unprecedented ridicule, much of it ugly and racial in tone and content. There was a comfort to their calmness. They seemed unflappable. We learned to trust in their capacity to stay high, even when the rest of us were losing our damn minds. And, let’s be honest, as the first POTUS and FLOTUS of color, they did not have the luxury of being anything other than exemplary.
Their strengths — their joy and humor and intelligence (both emotional and intellectual), their resolve and style and verve, have brought me much comfort over the past eight years. These days, I find myself able to connect to hope only when I listen to them as they prepare to take their leave. There is a groundedness they embody and inspire in others.
Even as a 47 year old woman with some hardcore life experience under my belt, the strength and steady presence of the Obamas seemed to parent me, in a slightly warped way. Everything was okay on their watch. I will miss that.
Now, on the cusp of their departure, my worry returns. Who will ground us now, I wonder, as Barack and Michelle enjoy, I hope, a much needed and well deserved stepping back. Where is our new anchor? Who might that be in these troubling times?
The mark of any good parent is instilling the ability to care for oneself, sending children off with the necessary skills to flourish on their own. I see whispers of this in both the farewell comments from POTUS and FLOTUS. A reassuring reminder that they will be there, but that it’s time to claim some responsibility ourselves for the messiness of democracy and stop relying on someone else to do it for us. They want us to want it. They want us to stop taking it for granted.
For all they have done, for all that they are, thanks, Obamas. We are better for having known you.