The father-child bond, whether strong, terrible or something in between, is inextricable. It can power a child forward or leave him or her adrift. Bruce Springsteen often writes and sings of the difficulties he experienced with his own old man, who was bi-polar. Springsteen captured that love and confusion in his song “My Father’s House,” the lyrics of which include: “My father’s house shines hard and bright / It stands like a beacon calling me in the night, Calling and calling, so cold and alone.” President Barack Obama barely knew his father, but came to understand that he was, is, and will always be his father’s son.
President Obama and Springsteen, in the latest installment of their Spotify podcast, Renegades: Born in the USA, ponder the question, “What does it mean to be a good man?” and discuss how they’ve structured their lives around being present husbands and supportive fathers. The episode, “Wrestling with Ghosts: American Men,” will debut March 22. Fatherly is pleased to present this exclusive podcast excerpt in which President Obama talks to the rocker about his absent father and about a concert experience that he never forgot. Here’s the recording, plus a transcript of the excerpt.
POTUS BARACK OBAMA: Because I had no way to connect to the guy. The guy is… you know, the guy is a stranger who’s suddenly in our house. So he leaves. I never see him again. We write. When I’m in college and I decide, “If I’m going to understand myself better, I need to know him better.” So I write to him and I say, “Listen, I’m going to come to Kenya. I’d like to spend some time with you.” He says, “Ah yes. I think that’s a very wise decision for you to come here.” And um… Then I get a phone call probably about six months I was planning to go or a year before planning to go and he’s been killed by a car accident. But two— two— two things I discovered later or understood later. The first was just how much influence that one month that he was there had on me in ways that I didn’t realize. So, he actually gave me my first basketball. So I’m suddenly obsessed with basketball but—
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: [laughs]
POTUS BARACK OBAMA: How’d that happen, right? I remember that he… one thing we did together he decided to take me to a Dave Brubeck concert.
[Take Five by Dave Brubeck plays under]
Now, this is an example of why I didn’t have much use of the guy because, you know, you’re a 10-year-old American kid and some guy wants to take you to a Jazz concert
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Take Five— [laughs]
POTUS BARACK OBAMA: Take Five! So I’m sitting there and I kind of don’t know what I’m doing there.
[Take Five by Dave Brubeck continues to plays under]
It’s not till later that I look back and say, “Huh. I’d become one of the few kids in my school who becomes interested in jazz.”
[Take Five by Dave Brubeck fades out]
And… when I got older my mother would look at how I crossed my legs or gestures—
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Right.
POTUS BARACK OBAMA: And she’d say, “That’s kind of spooky.” But the second… The second thing that I learned was… in watching his… his other male children who I got to know later when I traveled to Kenya and met some of them. I realized that, in some ways, it was probably good that I had not lived in his home. Because much in the same way that your dad was struggling with a bunch of stuff, he was struggling with a bunch of stuff and… it created chaos and destruction and anger and hurt and longstanding wounds in them that I just did not have to deal with.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I think what’s fascinating is the impact he had on you in one month. That’s in one month. The thing that happens is when we can’t get the love we want… from a parent we want it from… how do you… how do you create— How do you get the intimacy you need? I can’t… I can’t get to him and I can’t have him. I’ll be him. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll be him… I’m way into my 30s before I even have any idea that that’s… that’s not my method of operations. I’m on stage. I’m in workmen’s clothes. I never worked a job in my life. Played freaking guitar my whole life [laughs]. I got twenty or thirty extra pounds on me from hitting the gym. My dad was a beefy— a beefy guy. Where’d that come from? You know… Why do I spend hours lifting up and putting down heavy things with no particular, for no particular reason what so ever? Right? [laughs]
Renegades: Born in the USA is a series of conversations between President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen about their lives, music, and enduring love of America – despite all its challenges. New episodes will debut Mondays on Spotify until the first week of April.