Obama Farewell: Not An Easy Goodbye
My father was the first to believe.
It began with a photo on the fridge. I came home from Brooklyn and saw the coffee and cream colored man smiling up at me with a Redskins magnet just to the right of his head. His hand extended as though caught mid high five, in that now-familiar politician wave. I knew the face. I'd spent enough time in Chicago to know the name. I didn't understand what he was doing in our Nigerian home, tacked amongst old family photos and reminders to buy milk.
"Your father’s boyfriend. He donated to his campaign," My mother sniffed behind me, the sizzle of oil bubbling around the plantain she was frying. "Imagine. A whole senator in Chicago and your father is here in Maryland giving him money. Why? I don't know."
She shook her head and smiled to herself. That was my father. He tend to pick things up and invest in them even when it made sense to no one other than himself. It was terrible when it came to real estate but his belief in people could warm you like a thousand summers.
My father was the first to believe.
Each visit home, there would be a new photo. A form letter shaped to feel personal.
"He wrote it to me, of course!"
We were never sure if he was joking. We tried to explain to him how these things work. They want you to feel special but it's just politics. We knew he knew but we didn't want him to become to invested. These people will disappoint. You can't trust them. They would never let him...
I was in Brooklyn. Alone. A screaming newborn in my arms. Just days away from a surgery that would remove ten pounds of violent growth from my belly. I was soaked in misery and shame. My father called to check in on me. Our conversations had been stilted. He had invested in me and I had disappointed him.
“Did you hear,” He asked his voice quivering with excitement, “he’s running for President! I knew it! He will win. I am telling you the truth.”
I couldn't bear the possibility of his disappointment.
I went home again a month later another hospital a short stay that has yet to end. The photos on the fridge had grown and my mother ordered them moved to his office. Week after week, there was an addition. Another photo. This time a woman was added.
Michelle. She was beautiful but not in that way that made sense in this world. You could tell by the way she held him that she was just as much something as he was. You could tell by how he held her that she was everything. I became fascinated with this family. This man and woman and those two beautiful girls. I began to sit with my father and watch the interviews and read the articles. And each week, another letter, another “personal” thank you note, another photo. My father and I began a shaky climb back to each other as we discussed politics. This man that would be President. This Obama. My father found joy in two things that inexplicably tense year: His new grandson and this man that would be President. Together they sat in front of the TV, this old man that was the first to believe and the child that embodied and watched him speak, heard the crowds chant his name: “Obama! Obama! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!”
I saw how it changed them both. How that believe became victory and how it moved the world.
And over the years, I have watched them grow together: The father, the grandson and the man that would be President.
I'm off to pick up the boy from school. He is now 10 years old. All he has ever known is a Black man as President and this grandfather who whispered hope into his ear. He is now shoulder height but can still be found folded in his grandfather’s lap every night, giggling and conspring against the 9’oclock bedtime.
I find my father alone in front of the TV, the channel flickering words of good bye to the man he always believed in undercut with the one he never wanted to welcome. There is a heaviness. A quiet louder than anything he's ever said.
I know but ask anyway:
“Will you watch tomorrow?”
He shakes his head and points the remote towards the offending newcomer. As the TV clicks to Black, he turns and walks away. I notice that his gait is slower-- that pain in his hip-- I wonder if he heard me. As he passes me, leaned against the kitchen island, he responds:
“I don't think I can.”
He shakes his head and disappears into the hallway. He is headed to his office, to his computer filled with better news and his collage of photos collected over the years.
This is not an easy goodbye.