Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen Reflect on the ‘Physical, Emotional, Spiritual’ Journey of Fatherhood
Obama says his two daughters "prevented me from either getting cynical" during his years in the White House
Saying that "the most important anchor over the years has been our families," the former president, 59, began the episode by crediting he and Springsteen's wives: Michelle Obama and Patti Scialfa.
"Michelle and Patti also gave us the single greatest gift of our lives; the chance to be fathers," Obama said. "To experience the joys and trials and profound humility of being husbands and dads."
The trials were certainly notable.
By the time their first child, Malia, was born — after the couple spent six years trying to conceive and suffered several miscarriages — the Obamas were "were more than ready to be parents," the former president said.
Obama said when they found out Michelle was pregnant with Malia, "there was no surprise to it" because the couple had been trying to have a child for years.
"There was no, 'Are you sure?' " Obama recalled. "But I had no doubt the minute I saw that little creature with those big eyes looking up at me, I said, 'My goodness. I will do anything for you.' "
When his second daughter Sasha was born, Obama said, he felt "the exact same way," adding, "the love of being a father was not something I had to work on."
"It was physical, it was emotional, spiritual, you know ... the attachment to my children I felt entirely and completely. And I ... thought to myself, 'Okay. If the baseline is unconditional love. I've got that,' " Obama said.
Springsteen, 71, also recounted his own experience with fatherhood, remembering a moment during his wife's pregnancy when she experienced bleeding.
"So, we go to the doctors, go in the office," Springsteen said. "I'm standing there and suddenly I realize, 'There isn't anything I wouldn't do in the world, right now, if somebody says there's a lion in the hall can you please go and get him out of the building for now ... there was nothing I wouldn't have done to have Patti and the baby be alright."
After his first child, Evan, was born, Springsteen said he began to have a better understanding of what it means to be a man.
"That is a gift you get from your children and from your wife," the rock 'n' roll icon said. "Your acknowledgment of a new self. And the realization of your manhood. It was huge. You know, I woke up. I felt as someone, not necessarily someone different, but someone so much further down the road than I thought maybe I'd ever get."
Later during the episode, the two men spoke about the emotional challenges of fatherhood, with Obama saying the balance with the other side of his life — politics — made things difficult.
"Eventually I'm running for office and then you know, I'm gone for five days at a time," Obama recalled. "And from Michelle's perspective, in which family was not just a matter of love, was not just a matter of being present when you are there, but was a matter of no physically being present, because you've made choices and organized your life so that you can be with your family more."
While Obama — who was serving in the Illinois state legislature when Malia was born in 1998 — was just beginning his career, Springsteen had already become a musical icon by the time he had children.
The musician was therefore "at a point in the life where the relationship and the family had really become a priority and I could give myself to it," he told Obama.
The reality of fatherhood is a stark contrast to the reality of being a celebrity, though, according to Springsteen. The singer shared he was treated very differently on tour, when he was the "king," compared to back home.
"You are the chauffeur," he said. "You are the short order cook in the morning, you know. And the thing is you've got to be at the place in your life where ... you love it."
In contrast, Obama's burgeoning political career was a central focus during the formative years of his daughters, who were four and eight when he was sworn in as a U.S. Senator.
Just three years later, he was sworn in as the 44th president. The time he spent campaigning cast an "enormous" burden on Michelle, he said, as well as on himself.
"The first six months of me running for president, I was miserable because I was missing that family bad," Obama said. "And we got through that only by virtue of Michelle's heroic ability to manage everything back home and the incredible gift of my daughters loving their daddy anyway."
Once the Obamas were in the White House, the then-president was able to spend much more time with his daughters, making it a point to have dinner with his "crew" at 6:30 p.m. every night, unless he was traveling.
Those nightly dinners, and all of the time spent with his daughters and wife during his presidency, Obama said, were his lifeline.
"In an occupation in which I'm dealing daily with mayhem, chaos, crisis, death, destruction, natural disasters ... I always say that the degree to which Michelle and those girls sacrificed and lifted me up ... prevented me from either getting cynical or despairing," Obama said.
Obama said family "reminded me why I was doing what I was doing."
It also opened the former president's eyes to lessons about individuality, with Obama telling Springsteen the biggest lesson he's learned from being a dad is that every child "is just magical in their own ways," even without any prodding from their parents.
"A branch is going to sprout when it's going to sprout. And a flower is going to pop when it's going to pop," Obama said. "And you just roll with that unfolding, that unfurling of who they are being comfortable — just discovering them, as opposed to feeling as if it's a project, right?"