Like Father, Like Candidate

How lessons learned around the family table are influencing the way would-be presidents are running.


"My father imbued me with 'duty, honor, country.' He literally devoted his life to service in the Navy." —John McCain

By + More

The couple married, and Barack was their first child. But when the elder Obama returned to Africa in 1963, when Barack was 2, mother and child stayed behind in Hawaii. Eventually, the parents were divorced; both remarried. His father took to heavy drinking and died in a car accident many years ago.

"As a child I knew him only through the stories that my mother and grandparents told," Barack recalled in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. He was a terrible driver, had a rich baritone voice and a British accent. He could be uncompromising and judgmental, and he was very self-assured. His grandfather once told him, "There's something you can learn from your dad. Confidence. The secret to a man's success." Obama still believes it.

Obama says his father's neglect gave him an "insight into a lot of what kids go through around the country...especially in the African-American community" where so many fathers have left their families and young men grapple with the problems that paternal irresponsibility has helped precipitate. But through all their difficulties and distance, one thing Obama did learn from his father was a respect for achievement: a belief that "you don't settle for second best," the candidate says.