Maybe we can too

Obama's steady temperament unusual for men raised in chaos he endured.

obama says hi inauguration 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
obama says hi inauguration 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
I had to take a red-eye from Utah to New York's Kennedy airport, rush early in the morning upon my arrival to La Guardia to catch the shuttle to Washington, and then somehow wade through the largest crowds I had ever seen, all the while trying not to freeze to death, just in an effort to be present at the inaugural of Barack Obama. What was it that would have driven me to that kind of effort? It was certainly not hero worship. Yes, I am highly impressed with the inclusiveness and sound judgment of our new president. But I am naturally averse to lauding any man whose major achievements undoubtedly lie ahead of him. Rather, what took me to the inaugural were these three things: love of history, love of oratory and a desire to understand how broken people can heal. The history was obvious. I have always adored America. I love its focus on strong individualism, its commitment to freedom and liberty and its commitment to human majesty. But that emphasis was always undermined by the twin sins of slavery and segregation. I wanted to see this moral abomination buried before my eyes. It wasn't enough to see it on television. As a Jew, I am part of a people who has always suffered persecution and bigotry. Obama's victory is the triumph of the image of God that rests equally in each of us and one which minorities should especially take pride in. As to oratory, a friend of mine said, "What would you have given, Shmuley, to be present at Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech of August 1963?" He was right, and I quickly booked my ticket. But on that front, Obama, who has few peers in eloquence, failed to deliver. I waited in line for three hours to get into the inaugural and expected to hear Obama's finest speech ever. To my mind, it lacked the cohesion of a single great theme reminiscent of, say, JFK's inaugural which focused on America as the torchbearer of liberty. Its most memorable line was a promise that America would meet its challenges, which sounded more like a campaign speech. The new president also seemed nervous, speaking just a little bit too fast and missing the stirring cadences that were the hallmark of his most memorable speeches. But the main reason I was prepared to be crushed and frozen as at the inaugural was to gain insight into the mystery of the man himself. When it comes to President Obama, what most people focus on is his meteoric rise from nowhere. Four years ago no one had heard of him. Now he is the leader of the free world. A fascinating story. BUT FOR me there is another aspect which is even more remarkable. How did this man heal himself? How could he have been raised in such utter volatility and still be so calm and self-assured? It doesn't add up. He was born to a father who abandoned him completely and a mother who left him to be largely raised by her parents. Such a man could be forgiven for growing up to be highly insecure, bitter and more than a little resentful of those who were dealt an easier hand in life. Yet, what primarily won Obama the presidency was, as the pundits agree, not his eloquence but his temperament. In these very challenging times the country saw Obama's steady hand, how he refuses to get rattled, and decided that his confident and even-keeled character was exactly what the doctor ordered in our tumultuous condition. During the transition, he further won over harsh critics by reaching out to his rivals and bringing them under his tent. As a family and relationships counselor I can tell you that none of this is common for men raised with the kind of chaos which Obama endured. We would expect to see some unresolved issues like anger, jealousy and a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy. Instead, here was Obama giving his arch-rival Hillary Clinton the second most powerful role in American government. Which brings me again to this singular question: How did Obama heal himself? By his own admission, the scars of his youth once manifested themselves in drugs and a bad social scene. But from there he got his act together, went to Harvard, became the president of the Harvard Law Review and developed an unflappable character that can be magnanimous to arch-rivals. No doubt the answer to how Obama healed will become more clear as time passes and we get to know him better. But for now one of Obama's greatest contributions to America lies not only in fixing our broken economy but in fixing our broken people. About half of us in this country were raised in broken homes or in families where our parents did not provide us the love and affection that was required to give us rugged and confident characters. And it shows. Many of us go into relationships questioning those who love us, convinced that there must be some hidden agenda, because, to our mind, we just are not lovable. Our insecurities causes us to feel jealousy toward those who outperform us in work and often we take more pride in seeing them fall then seeing ourselves rise. Now we'll have to look nightly at the image of someone who is described as the most powerful man alive. But his power does not come from an office, which can be taken away, but rather from his ability to rise above the volatility of his developmental years and find an inner sturdiness and confidence that allows him to lead and contribute. And if he can do it, maybe we can too. The writer's book The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets to Recapture Desire and Reignite Passion for Life has just been published by HarperOne.