What is Barack Obama's family story, and what were his main issues growing up?

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

President Obama's mother was born in Kansas, his father in Kenya. They met in Hawaii while both were college students. Although she was white and he was black, they became friends, then lovers. When she became pregnant with Barack, they married, and their son was born in Hawaii several months later. Obama's father soon accepted an opportunity to do graduate study in the United States and left his family behind. The loss of his father at such an early age impacted Obama's life growing up in profound ways that he wrote about in his autobiography, Dreams From My Father.

The primary issues Obama faced in his growing up were dealing with his father's persona and absence and in finding his place in the world as a bi-racial child. Although he did not experience in Hawaii, and later in Indonesia, the racial discrimination he would most probably have faced if living in the United States at that time, his racial identity was a source of confusion for him. He grew up with his white mother and her parents, yet his African heritage was important to him. After moving to the United States to attend college, he dropped his family nickname, Barry, and chose to use his father's name, Barack, having been named after him. By remaining very close to his mother and grandparents and by using his father's name, Obama chose to embrace both parts of his heritage.

The other issues he dealt with while growing up were more common to youth in general. He dabbled with drug use for a while, which he has discussed honestly in his writing, and he was not a serious student until he entered college. After starting college, however, he became a voracious reader and student of history, which informed his life from that time forward.