In the spring of 1961, President Obama’s father revealed a plan for his unborn son that might have changed the course of American political history.Meanwhile, the son is a chip off the old block.
The elder Barack H. Obama, a sophomore at the University of Hawaii, had come under scrutiny by federal immigration officials who were concerned that he had more than one wife. When he was questioned by the school’s foreign student adviser, the 24-year-old Obama insisted that he had divorced his wife in his native Kenya. Although his new wife, Ann Dunham, was five months pregnant with their child - who would be called Barack Obama II - Obama declared that they intended to put their child up for adoption.
“Subject got his USC wife ‘Hapai’ [Hawaiian for pregnant] and although they were married they do not live together and Miss Dunham is making arrangements with the Salvation Army to give the baby away,’’ according to a memo describing the conversation with Obama written by Lyle H. Dahling, an administrator in the Honolulu office of what was then called the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Obama, the Subject, and his USC, or United States citizen, wife, obviously, did not put their baby up for adoption. Whether the young couple actually considered such a step, or the elder Obama made the story up in order to appease immigration officials who at the time were considering his request for an extension of his stay in the United States, is unclear. Family members on both sides of the marriage now say they never heard any mention of adoption.
But his statement provides a unique glimpse into the relationship between the president’s parents and the fragility of his connection to the father whom he would little know.
Dahling’s memo, dated April 12, 1961, is one of dozens of documents in the elder Obama’s “alien’’ file released by the Department of Homeland Security in response to a Freedom of Information Act request made in the course of research on a biography of Obama’s father. Obama was visiting the United States on a foreign student visa which required him to apply for an annual extension of his stay during the five years he was attending US colleges.
The memo advised that officials should continue to monitor the senior Obama’s personal life, and raised concerns about his behavior, noting that the previous summer he had been warned about his “playboy ways.’’
University of Hawaii and federal immigration authorities were already alarmed about Obama’s relationships with women and perplexed as to his marital status. Since his arrival at the university in 1959, Obama had repeatedly failed to complete routine paperwork at UH’s foreign students office regarding his domestic status that would have clarified whether he had a wife in Kenya, according to an employee in the office who declined to be identified. Even the exact year of his own birth was unclear. Obama alternately reported to immigration and academic officials that he was born in both 1934 and 1936. Although the INS memo records the year of his birth as 1934, Obama’s family members and other records indicate that he was probably born in 1936.Mysterious paperwork? Evasion of simple questions? Questins about birth status? Gee, this all sounds so familiar. Meanwhile, the elder Obama was some kind of chick magnet.
As it turned out, the matter soon moved out of Honolulu administrators’ purview. The following year, Obama left his small family in Honolulu and headed to Harvard University to pursue a doctorate in economics. While in Cambridge, Obama would not only meet his third wife, but the question of how many wives he had would spiral into a confrontation with devastating consequences.