Barack Obama is an emotional dad. He’s shown this time and time again, when he cried as he was thinking about his daughter Malia approaching college, when he got super-emotional about her graduation, and when he admitted saying goodbye to her when started as a freshman at Harvard this past September was “like open-heart surgery.” There’s something extremely relatable in his tearing up, as the passing of time really is a cruel thing, and many parents can relate to feeling like time is flying as they watch their kids grow up.
In an interview with David Letterman on the host’s new Netflix show My First Guest Needs No Introduction, taped in 2017 and released today , the former president revealed new details about the memorable day when he, Michelle, and Sasha helped 19-year-old Malia move into her Harvard dorm.
Each member of the family reacted very differently to the life change. Michelle and Sasha got right to work. “Michelle, she had like a cleaning glove, you know? One of those yellow ones. She’s scouring the bathroom and has all these plans about how everything should be,” he said. “And Sasha, it was really touching, because Sasha tries to be cool, so she didn’t want to admit that she’s going to miss her sister. But she’s neater than her sister, so she was helping to make the bed and fold clothes.”
As for dad? “I was basically useless,” he admitted. “Everybody had seen me crying and misting up for the previous three weeks. So, Malia, who is very thoughtful, she says, ‘Hey, Dad, you know, I’ve got this lamp in this box. Can you put this desk lamp together?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So, I grab it. It should have taken three minutes or five minutes… I’m sitting there and I’m just toiling away at this thing, and it’s taken half an hour… I was just pretty pathetic.”
He managed not to cry in front of Malia, which is something he’s described doing before — holding it together for his daughter’s sake. But when they drove away from her dorm, he said, “Secret Service is in the front, and they’re just looking ahead. They’re pretending they can’t hear me in the back sniveling. But the ritual of it was powerful.”
When he got home, he says Malia texted him hearts because “she knows I’m pathetic,” which is basically father-daughter goals. As Sasha Obama, who is 16, goes off to college soon enough, we can only assume Dad will be just as emotional about the whole thing — although the second time around might be easier. Either way, his candidness about fatherhood is refreshing (and a welcome break from pretty much any other news of the day).
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