Obama: household time , not politics, is likely to be my life’s ‘most precious’ memories

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Addressing a summit for young African leaders in Washington, the US president spoke reflectively about balancing family life with a political career

Birthdays are often cause for intimations of mortality. Barack Obama, who turns 55 on Thursday his last birthday in the White House is no different.

I am positive that if Im lucky enough to live to a ripe old age and Im on my deathbed and Im thinking back on my life, I wont be recollecting some speech I dedicated or some statute I signed, he mused on Wednesday. Ill be recollecting holding hands with one of my daughters and strolling them to a park. Thatll be the thing most precious to me.

The US president was addressing a summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington. He was greeted by chants of Yes, we can! a once thrilling sobbing that already has a wistful ring and a lusty chorus of Happy Birthday to You.

One member of the audience asked him about the importance of family life to political leaders. Preserving balance, having a strong partnership with your wife or spouse, raising children who are kind and helpful and strong and generous and all the things that my wonderful daughters are, that really is its own reward, Obama said to applause.

He noted that some great leaders have not had happy personal lives, and some outstanding fathers and parents have been bad leaders. The two things dont always align, he acknowledged.

For me, the reason that its been useful to maintain that balance is I think its grounded me. Its let me, during the course of my presidency when things arent going so well, to remember that I have this beautiful family and this wonderful wife.

And when things are going very well, its good to go home and then my wife pesters me about how I left my shoes in the middle of the living room, or my daughters think what Im talking about over dinner is boring, and that brings me down to earth.

Attendees cheer as Barack Obama arrives. Photo: Rex/ Shutterstock

Increasingly, as his presidency gale down, Obama is striking a reflective and wry tone. The media is now treating him kindly, he noted, as it concentrates on the battle to succeeded him. There have been days when I thought the press was very unfair and Id open up the newspapers and run: Agh, what? and Id start arguing, he told. But there have also been periods when the press have started investigating something and Ive thought, you know what, this is a problem.

He would rather have the press err on the side of liberty than be censored by a countrys chairwoman or “ministers “, Obama, the son of a Kenyan, added in a warning to many African nations.

Interacting with young leaders has been a cause close to Obamas heart. He discussed the merits of seeking a political career. If he had lost his US Senate race in 2004, he acknowledged, he was ready to quit politics and do something else. His advice to aspiring politicians: Worry less about what you want to be and more about what you wishes to do.

He added: Politics is a little bit like going into acting or being a musician … You can be really talented but perhaps the timing is off … Perhaps you didnt get the lucky break … When you think about me being president of the United States, it was quite unlikely.

His breakthrough moment in 2004 only arrived about because nominee John Kerry preferred him to speak at the Democratic convention, Obama remembered. I gave a pretty good speech, he told, and the next day he was an overnight media sensation and being “was talkin about a” as a future chairperson. But, he told a friend at the time, he hadnt magically become so much better than in his days as a nation senator. Fate had played a part.

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