Obama's Hawaiian Roots Help Shape His Political Beliefs

Growing up with the "Aloha Spirit" helped make him the candidate he is today.

Obama went to live with his maternal grandparents when his mother returned to Indonesia.

Obama went to live with his maternal grandparents when his mother returned to Indonesia.

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He was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961, to a Kenyan father, Barack Hussein Obama, for whom he was named, and Dunham, a white woman from Kansas. They met while students at the University of Hawaii. His father abandoned the family when Barack was 2 years old, leaving them in Hawaii. The couple eventually divorced, and his mother married Lolo Soetoro, a cartographer from Indonesia. The family moved to Jakarta for a while, then Ann moved back to Hawaii with Barack and his half sister, Maya Soetoro, who had been born in Indonesia on Aug. 15, 1970. When Ann and Lolo prepared to return to Indonesia with their small family, the preadolescent "Barry" persuaded his mom to let him stay in Honolulu and live with his grandparents in their small two-bedroom apartment. His mother agreed, concluding that the opportunities were better for him in Hawaii than in Jakarta, and that his grandparents would provide a loving home.

Obama said he was admitted to Punahou, an incubator of young leaders in Hawaii, despite a long waiting list "because of the intervention of Gramps's boss, who was an alumnus." He attended the school on a partial scholarship from age 10 to 18, when he left for college after graduation in 1979.

Obama was a good student at Punahou but not an extraordinary one. His academic excellence came later, when he was in college and law school. But at Punahou, which was just named the top high school for athletics in the nation by Sports Illustrated, he was more interested in enhancing his lifestyle, dating, body surfing, fishing, hiking, and partying. He also experimented with marijuana and cocaine, although not seriously, according to his memoir and his biographer, David Mendell, in Obama: From Promise to Power.

He loved basketball and admired professional star Julius Erving but was relegated to seventh man on the Punahou team, a left-handed role player sent in by his coach for some quick rebounding and scoring. His point production earned him the nickname "Barry O'Bomber." "He was a hard-nosed player," says Alan Lum, a teammate who now teaches second grade at Punahou. "He'd go right at you. We called it 'fierce but friendly.' "

Those days at Punahou are still fresh in Obama's mind. Asked by a friend if he sleeps well despite the pressures of the campaign, he said yes, and for a very special reason: He often dreams serenely about body surfing and playing basketball with his friends back in Honolulu, just as he did as a teen so long ago.