On the front page of the New York Times website is a glowing profile of Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, who died of ovarian cancer in 1995. Soetero lived the bohemian '60s counter-culture dream, except she replaced all the LSD with Indonesian microfinance non-profit work. She was born in Kansas and went to the University of Hawaii, where she met Barack Obama senior, the college's first African student. The marriage didn't work out, and a few years later she got hitched to Indonesian student Lolo Soetoro. "She always felt that marriage as an institution was not particularly essential or important," Stanley Ann's friend Nina Nayar told the Times. The only important thing to Stanley was to be loved deeply. But enough about her relationships; Soetero's career trajectory was impressive as hell. She was getting her doctorate at the University of Hawaii when Barack was a teen, and decided that she wanted to do her field work in Indonesia. Barack did not go with her, and that decision, more than any other, seemed to shape his destiny.

Barack was separated from his mother for all of high school, and according to the Times, this was when his racial identity fomented. Meanwhile, Stanley Ann was finishing her doctoral thesis on village industries in Indonesia, after which she became a "consultant for the United States Agency for International Development on setting up a village credit program, then a Ford Foundation program officer in Jakarta specializing in women's work," says the Times.


The Times posits that her legacy is apparent in Obama's "self-assurance and drive, his boundary bridging, even his apparent comfort with strong women." I think her legacy has other ramifications as well. If Barack wins the presidency, the specter of Stanley Ann could put the nail in the coffin on the right-wing love affair with the "nuclear family." It's obvious that in this country, and in much of the world, the shiny, suburban two-parent household is mostly a Dick Van Dyke-ian fantasy. If a boundary breaking, unapologetic single mother could raise a son who becomes President, the notion that being raised in a traditional household is ideal would take a real hit.

On the other hand, Obama seems to have embraced all that his mother eschewed: he married into a tightly knit, Christian family. He's never moved his kids around โ€” he and Michelle have (smartly) created a very stable world for their daughters, Malia and Natasha (nicknamed "Sasha"). The other conclusion to draw from Stanley Ann and Barack is that children will almost always rebel. Barack's mom was an independent international wanderer, so Barack becomes a steady family man. One can only conclude that Malia and Natasha are going to be the biggest bohemians of all. The second coming of Amy Carter!


A Free-Spirited Wanderer Who Set Obama's Path [NYT]