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Hey, everyone, I'm Michelle Obama, and today I wanted to share an episode of a new podcast that I just love, it's called Renegades Born in the USA.
It's a personal conversation between two good friends who are willing to share their feelings, their fears and their experiences growing up in America.
It's hosted by my good friend Bruce Springsteen and someone else I know pretty well, Barack Obama. I'm going to play an episode of Renegades that I especially enjoyed. This one's about fatherhood.
For all of our outward success, Bruce and I both agree that the most important anchor over the years has been our family's. We were lucky enough to find remarkable, strong, independent women to push us and challenges and ground us and call us out on our B.S., women who helped us become better versions of ourselves and forced us to continually re-examine our priorities.
Michelle and Patti also gave us the single greatest gift of our lives, the chance to be fathers, to experience the joys and trials and profound humility being husbands and dads.
We spent some time trading notes about what wives and kids continue to teach us, what values we want to pass on, what examples we want to set, and what kind of country we want to leave behind for them to inherit. We're now dead. Oh, yeah, and. How did that change you? How much on the job training? Did you still have to do was there still a lot of.
Stuff you had to work out before you kind of got to the point where you said, all right, this is this is the kind of dad I want to be, the problem that I had was I didn't trust myself for a long, long, long time with.
Someone else's feelings, all you have is faith to go on, if you take a baby step, you'll be able to take another one. Where did it come from? Comes out of the love in your life. Patti was an enormous source. Love in my life and a deep well of faith for me gave me the faith in myself to risk parts of myself that I had never risked before and say, Hey, I think I'm there at a place where I can I can hold this down and let the chips fall where they may if it all crumbles and comes apart and winds up in ruin.
Then that's what happened, you know, but if it doesn't. What if it doesn't? Then what am I going to do? What if suddenly I find myself with a family and with a longstanding love? Who who am I then? All of these things came into question way before being a dad and, you know, we were just together and we were just loving, loving each other. That was that was our business of the day to build something.
I'm. Thirty five, thirty six years old, that's that's getting up there, you know, and deep inside. I want to have a family and I feel like I've got to be honest with I don't I don't know if I can make this. And she said, well, we'll see. You know, she said it's OK if we take it a day at a time. And so we did. I came home one night, I think I was away for a few days and.
I walked in the room, which is, oh, by the way, I'm pregnant. That's what it sounded like, crickets, crickets, and we're on the Ben.
She tells me. I look away and she doesn't know exactly how I'm going to respond, but there's a mirror on the inside of the door and she says, Hey, I just saw you smile. That was it.
Many smiles later. Here we sit. You know, my boy got to be 30 years old. It moves me. Yeah. Yeah. Well, how old is how old is Malia is 20 to 22. So she's 19. So. So I meet Michelle while I am. Working at a law firm for the summer. She's already a lawyer. She's younger, but had gone straight through school, I had taken my diversion into community organizing after college.
So so I'm an older law student, I'm twenty eight. She's twenty five. And she comes from a completely orderly family. And they had a big extended family beyond that. Michelle and I always talk about how part of the attraction that we had for each other, in addition to her being very attractive and funny and smart as a whip, was that in me. She saw some things that had been missing in her childhood, which was adventure, the open road, a bunch of risk taking to travel in the world.
And and so that appealed to her. I looked at her and her family and I thought, oh, you know, well, they seem to know how to set this up. And I had a vision of of wanting to make sure that my kids were in a place of love. And I liked the idea of and not necessarily a big family, but but an extended family, like there was a community of people who were all part of their lives.
Right. And Michelle's family was very much like that. And Michelle, you know, she wasn't shy, you know, pretty early on. She just says, look, I really value my career. But the thing I really want to be is a mom. And I really care deeply about family. That very first summer that we were together, I thought to myself, this is somebody I could see spending my life with, I didn't mean that it was going to be right there, that I'd have the wherewithal to go ahead and commit.
And so when I come back, I'm graduating from law school. I live in her apartment, which is upstairs from her parents apartment.
Her father had died in the interim. He had some health issues and I had flown back and been with her during that time and. I think from her perspective, she may be sore, but I'm not a guy who was going to be afraid to be there for her when she needed it. So by the time we get there, look, once you come back to a city and you moved in in her place, now the clock has to be taken because it's like, well, you're there.
What are you doing here? And I did not have a big panic about it. There was a part of me and this goes to our conversation about just being a man in a culture that says in comedies and television and popular culture, it's always like, man, you're going to get of course, they got their hooks into that and you got to try to wriggle free. And are you ready to I'm surprised you didn't have a bigger issue with that, given your history in your familial history.
Yeah, and and I was under no illusions that the family life I would have would be one in which I could sit back and just be the lord of the manor and have heard the doting on me. And, yeah, my mom.
I wasn't going to happen with that. Yeah, yeah. That just was not an option I found.
Patty, she was trying to define for me a broader sense of maleness and of masculinity, a freer sense of it.
And that that scared me, that I've met someone who can change me and who can assist me in changing myself. That's a great influence to allow into your life. But do you realize if you don't do that, you are not going to have a full life, you know? Yeah, that's the catch 22.
Well, maybe because in my family, it was my mother and my grandmother who were the adult figures that I both relied on most and respected most, that it was natural for me to see women as my equals, as my friends, as my partners in work or play. And it also meant that the kind of relationship where a woman's just batting their eyes at me and tell me how wonderful I am, I'd get bored. Right. Or I just couldn't take that seriously because, well, that certainly wasn't who my grandmother was.
I wasn't who my mother was.
You know, I expected to be challenged. I expected to be questioned and by the women I found most interesting. Most attractive were women who interested me because of how they thought. I'm not saying I wasn't paying attention to how they looked, but I'm sure their ability to make me laugh, their ability to make me see something I hadn't seen before, their ability to force me into asking questions about who I was and what I wanted when I did all that was something I naturally gravitated towards.
And I I don't know. I liked the idea of having something kind of heart attack, very similar to Mr.. My ready to go absolutely anywhere with a lot of guys, and she left a lot of broken a lot of broken hearts in her trail, and I was I was around. I said, damn, she in like I live in the way she was approaching her relationships. And she didn't like to get tied down. She didn't want the leash, you know.
And then I thought I found that attractive about her. And I found it like, you know what? I need somebody with that kind of power.
This is somebody who is my equal and that I am always going to think highly of. And even when I'm mad, even when we're in an argument, I'm going to say, yeah, but she's something she's not. Right. Because because to me, at least, if you didn't have that, then you wouldn't weather the storms. If you're going to have a family, if you are choosing a partner who you have confidence is going to pass on strength and values and common sense and smart to your kids.
And when I looked at Michelle, I could say she was sui generis. I didn't know anybody like her. I thought even if the marriage didn't work out, I would always admire and respect her. And so having been with her, I would have never I would never regret that.
So we I asked her to marry me and that that summer when when I moved in and and have a.m. and so I was 31. And so then we had this nice stretch of about three years where she was doing her thing and her career and I was doing mine. And then we started trying to have kids, took a while, Michelle had miscarriages and and we had to kind of work at it. And when Julia was finally born, we were more than ready to be parents.
Right. Because there had been the six year stretch in which I cried for about half of that. We had been trying. So so there was no surprise to it. There was no. Are you sure? 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 know. And when the second one came, when Sasha showed up, I felt the exact same way, you know, and the love of being a father was not something I had to work on.
I mean, it was just it was physical. It was emotional, spiritual. You know, the attachment to my children, I felt entirely and completely. And I and I thought to myself, OK, if the baseline is unconditional love, I've got that. That's something I haven't had an incident where daddy was two months pregnant. She had some bleeding. So we go to the doctors, go in the office and stand there and suddenly realize. There isn't anything I wouldn't do in the world right now if somebody said there's a line in the hall, can you please go and get them out of the building for now?
There's a bear out there. There was nothing I wouldn't have done. To have Patti and baby be all right. It was visceral, it was visceral, and it was my first acquaintanceship with unconditional love. There was a fear, I felt a fearless love for the first time in my life, first time in my life, I didn't I never knew that I'd be capable of even feeling that, you know, all I want to do right now is be the man that my wife Evan was was born first, then my son died.
He just don't want to disappoint them. And you don't want to disappoint in the idea of disappointing your family and not being there and doing right. You just you couldn't I could not abide.
I thought, oh, this would this would be. And I think that was the question. Am I capable of not disappointing? I wasn't sure. You're never completely sure, I suppose. But but after the children were born and you start to find the resources that you have inside you that you didn't know were there, that is a gift you get from your children and from your wife, your acknowledgement of a new self and the realization of your manhood.
You know, it was huge. 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.
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This is one place where I do think the idea of what it means to be a man change in a real way, by the time I had Muleya, it wasn't just that I was completely absorbed and fascinated and in love with this bundle of joy and this woman who had gone through everything to give me this joy. There was, I think, a sense that a dad should want to spend time with their kids and should want to ideally, you know, burp them and change diapers.
Yeah, and I took the night shift so long because I was a night owl and so was I. And there'd be some breast milk in the freezer.
And I had a sudden instructions and midnight and two o'clock in the morning, I'd be petting them and feeding them and putting off putting them on my laps. And they're staring up at you and I'm reading to them and talking to them. And I used to love playing music for. Yeah.
And I think the joys of that were something that, you know, in the same way that for a long time men couldn't even see the delivery. Right. I mean, that was like taboo in I. I completely loved that. And the timing was good because Malia was born. He's a Fourth of July baby. Wow. The state legislature was out. I was already in the state legislature at that time. The law school was out. I was teaching law at the time.
I could put my law practice on hold. So I just had all this time to just wallow in high school. And then Sasha was born. She was a summer baby, same kind of thing. Now, here's the one thing that I, I had to wrestle with and Michelle challenged me with and the challenge of fatherhood for me was the nature of my work was exhausting, all absorbing and often took me out of town. The emotion, emotional investment in fatherhood was never hard for me.
There is nothing I enjoyed more. Then just hanging out with my kids. Listening to them as they get got older and started having their own little insights and the discovery. Of the world, my acquaintance would wonder that they provide looking at a leaf or a snail or asking questions about. Why this and why that all that stuff? I love children's books, love children's movies, I was all in. The only thing I didn't love, you know, children's pizza, I was a little bit they like that little those little flat cheese pizzas that don't have anything on them.
But but but what I was going to say, though, is, is that eventually was in summer and eventually I've got to go down to Springfield, Illinois, a three hour drive through the state legislature. And when I get back, I've got town hall meetings that I've got to do, mine I've got. And then eventually I'm running for office and then, you know, I'm gone for five days at a time. 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 were there, but was a matter of not physically being present because you've made choices and organize your life so that you can be with your family. Right. So you had your children. Let me say, young in your work life. Yeah. All right. I had my children relatively late in my work.
You were you were sufficiently well established that you could set your own. Absolutely. I feel like if I don't want to try now, I don't know if I had already gone to the top of the hill and over the other side, you know, I was like I had a certain kind of success. I wasn't going to have again, didn't expect to have it again, wasn't pursuing to have it again. I was happy. Now I'm just I'm going to be a working, playing musician.
And I had all that out of the way really before Patti and I even got together, you know?
So, yeah. So I was at a point in my life where the relationship and the family had really become a priority and I could give myself to it because of where I was. And also, you're a musician. Musicians create their own schedule. If you've had a certain amount of success, you get up when you want to. You go in a studio when you want. You put your record out when you want to. You go where you want to go.
You come home. When you want to come home, you can say, I'm going to go away for three days. I'm going to go away for three months. But if you know, when I go away for three months, it's bad. When I when I come back. When I go when I go away for three days, it's okay. When I come back, I've got to start going away for three days. It's better, it's the better choice.
We figured out things like, well, whenever you're away for more than three weeks, that's bad enough for a touring musician. That's not much. But all we knew was that when we passed a certain point, it wasn't good for our relationship. We started to split into other and separate lives. Anything that's going to add to my stability, I want as a part of my life the things that are disabling my life. I don't want those as a part of my life now because they will poison me and they will poison my beautiful love here, you know?
And so we slowly figure all this out together and, you know, through making some mistakes and you're king on the road, everybody just wants to say yes and you're not king at all. How can I do this for you? What can I do to make you happy or what can I give my at my house? You take my my girl, take my girlfriend. You know, Islam is like everybody. Just what can I possibly give to you?
The man who writes the songs that the whole world thinks. So you're out there and you're going like, that is so bad. I mean, you know, but. When you come back, you are not king, you are this chauffeur, you are the short order cook in the morning. Yeah, and the thing is, you've got to be at the place in your life where and you love it. What you're saying about your schedule, though, and where you were at your career, that is a difference because essentially we have kids and within the span of.
Two or three years, I am suddenly being catapulted. I mean, look, Sasha was when I ran for the U.S. Senate. She's only three years old when I'm when I'm sworn in as a U.S. senator, Sasha's four and Malia's eight, some like that. Three years later, I'm president of the United States. And in the interim, for a year and a half, I've been on the road not for three weeks spans, but for. Yeah, big chunks of time.
What? Look, look at all of them. Look at all of you. And it was hard for you guys.
Now, this is the lifeblood of this campaign, you know, volunteers like you guys coming in, you know, the burden I put on Michelle was enormous because she was look, I wasn't even as if I was working for money that would allow her to take a break. She was still working initially full time than part time when I started running for president. Here's, you know, smart, accomplished woman who has her own career that she now has to adjust to my my my crazy ambitions.
You know, I'm missing the girls terribly. The first six months of me running for president, I was miserable because I was missing that family band. 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, what I didn't anticipate was the fact that I get to spend much more time with my kids. Once I'm president. Because now I'm living above the store naturally, and I have a 30 second commute, and so I just set up a rule, I'm having dinner with my crew at six thirty every night.
Unless I'm, you know, traveling, but my travel schedule is is very different now because people come to see you. Yeah. And so unless I was overseas, I'm going to be home at six thirty for dinner and I'm going to be sitting there and I'm going to be entirely absorbed with stories about the annoying boys and the weird teacher and the drama in the cafeteria reading Harry Potter and tucking them in and listening to whatever music they're now listening to.
And and that actually was my lifeline, right? In an occupation in which I was dealing daily with mayhem, chaos, crises, death, destruction, less natural disasters. Right.
And so I always say that the degree to which Michelle and those girls sacrificed and lifted me up kept me going. Yeah. Prevented me from either getting cynical or despairing, reminded me why I was doing what I was doing and and spurred me on because man, this it better be worth it. What I accomplished this job, this work is worth the time that I've spent away from them and the birthday parties, the soccer games or whatever that I've missed, you know, I better count.
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Comcast will continue working with their network of thousands of nonprofit community organizations, city leaders and business partners to create even more opportunities, particularly in media, arts, technology and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit Comcast Dotcom Slash Education. What do you think you learn being just a dad now? You know, we talked a little bit about being a husband, but I know it was tough being president.
But let me explain to you how hard it is to make an album, making an album, making a make it make you very mad that you can make an album is pretty hard, but it does seem a little more fun sometimes. I think so. A little more fun. The what what you learn, what you learn from being from being a dad.
So the hardest thing that I had to learn to do was to be still. I had some habits I wouldn't give up. Old musician habits partly was my schedule. I like to keep I like to stay up till 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, get up at 12:00 in the afternoon. And for the first several years of when our children. Patty was kind of. She's kind of letting me do it. I was picking up because the kids were still babies and so I was taking the night shift.
If they cried at night or something happened at night, I was awake and I was. And then so when the morning came around, late morning came around, she kind of pick it up. But, you know, as the kids grew older, there was a lot more morning work than there was night work. And I was kind of enjoying that. And she just came over to me and says, you know, you don't have to get up.
But if you don't. We're going to miss it. I mean. Well. Kids are at their best in the morning. That's when they're the most beautiful, is when they have reawakened from a night of dreams. They're at their most gorgeous at that moment in the morning, and you're never going to see it. OK, I think I want to miss that, you know, so I said, well, what am I going to do? Is it going to make breakfast?
I don't know how to do anything. I wish I had a strum that friggin box, try to put me anyplace else, and I'm no good to anybody. Well, you know, I got pretty good at it. I got pretty good eggs, like a pretty good like I say, I became a pretty good short order cook. If I could get a job at one point anywhere at any diner from, say, six to noon and I'd be all right, you know, and and she was right about the children.
If I saw them in the morning. It was almost like I'd seen them for the entire day, and if I missed them in the morning, it could never quite make up for it. For some reason that was present. This one, I was not my father. I didn't have to chase that ghost or worry about that any more. That was the part of my past to. Be present in this world, wherever you are at any given moment, be present in their lives.
I used to think like if somebody interrupted me while I was writing, what the fuck? Holy smokes.
Do you know the great thoughts I'm thinking right now?
I've been the greatest American song ever could have been had walked in here. Now I'm being that's being a you know, so that's where I started. And where I ended up was I realized, oh, wait, wait, wait. Songs. Yeah, yeah. A good song is there forever, music is there in my life forever. Children. Go on, they grow up. So those were the things I picked up from fatherhood. Yeah, man, what about yourself?
What's the biggest lesson you learned from becoming a parent? You know, Michelle figured out much earlier than I did that kids are like plants. They need sun, soil, water, but some of them are rocks and some of them are pines and some of them are willows and some bamboo and those seeds of who they are and the pace and ways in which they're going to unfold are just uniquely theirs. I think I had a notion with Malia and Sasha, there was sort of a way of doing things and what Michelle figured out earlier than I did.
But I also ended up learning was each one is just magical in their own way, is they 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 back. And, you know, you just. Roll with that unfolding, that unfurling of who they are, being comfortable just discovering them, as opposed to feeling as if you've got it as it as if it's a project. Right. As sometimes you watch there's a terminal helicopter parents.
Right? Yes. But that idea of, OK, I approach this the way I would approach some PowerPoint, you know, project. I've got to check every box. I've got to be you know, this is when my kids has to be doing this. And this is when they, you know, thinking of it more as just throw a bunch of stuff at them, be with them. Play with them. Teach them values, you know, that we were good about saying to the girls things like.
We're not going to sweat you on your grades, but we are going to sweat you out. Did you put in some effort? Absolutely. We're not going to we're not going to give you a hard time about making a mistake. But we will give you a hard time if you're lying about making a mistake or. If you. Mistreated somebody, right? So, you know, you put some guardrails around them in terms of values, but otherwise and I think this was particularly important because they were brought up in the White House.
They had more than enough expectations and eyeballs on Jesus and, you know, Secret Service following them around my and at that, you know what I mean?
I remember look, we'd go to William or Sasha. They'd have a playdate. Secret Service had to go to the house of person they were visiting and check everything out. And the poor parents, you know, we had to make friends with the parents and say, listen, sorry about the intrusion. And when they went to the mall or the movies, you know, they've got somebody. Oh, boy, they handled it with such grace. They did.
And so given all that, the last thing I wanted to do was to make them feel as if. They have to be something right, as opposed to just being themselves. I still measure myself and I still fall back on a lot of those attitudes about what does it mean to be a man, right. And if I had a son, I suspect I would have been tougher on him in some ways. And I'm wondering for you with your boys how conscious you had to be.
You know, I'd learned the grade word in my house was, no, you know, we we we don't go outside of our comfort zone and we don't talk about our feelings in this way. We don't cry over these things. And I realized at a very young age, I had taught my oldest son to say no to the things, things that he needed. And and he was quite young. And I remember I came into it might have been eight or nine.
He was still pretty young. But I remember going into his room one day and saying at. I think I've told you a very bad lesson, and I would like to apologize to you. Fordoing I think I've taught you to not need me because I've been afraid of what that meant as your as your father, and that's something I really I need to apologize to you for. And I need to tell you, I need you I need you so badly in my life so, so dearly as my son.
That I would like to try to connect with you now in a way that that I hadn't been doing, you know, and I realized that was going to take a lot of work. And so when I was working. Instead of thinking, oh, I'm so busy now thinking great thoughts, I don't want to be disturbed. I stopped any time he came in or any of the children came into my room. I stopped working. The only way to Teach-In that no wasn't the answer was for me to start saying, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, over and over and over again.
At. Renegades born in the USA is a Spotify original, presented and produced by Higher Ground Audio in collaboration with the site productions from Higher Ground Audio, Dan Fierman, Anna Holmes, Mukta Mohan and Joe Paulson are executive producers. Carolyn Lipka and Adam Sachs are consulting producers. Jenny Marrable is our editorial assistant from Slate Productions. Mischa Youssef and Erwin Nix are executive producers Elizabeth Nakano, Mary Knoff and Tamika Adams. Our producers Mary Knoff is also editor. Andrew Eappen is our composer and mix engineer.
Reinier Harris is our apprentice transcriptions by David Rodriguez. Special thanks to Rachel Garcia, the dust like development and operations coordinator Daniel Ek, Dawn Ostroff and Courtney Holt are executive producers for Spotify. Gimblett and Lydia Polgreen are consulting producers, music supervision by search party music from the great state of New Jersey. Special thanks to Jon Landau, Thom Zimny, Rob Labrecque, Rob Dammartin and Barbara Carr. We also want to thank Adrienne Gerard, Marilyn Labadie, Tracy Nurse Greg Lynn and Betsy Whitney, and a special thanks to Patti Scialfa for her encouragement and inspiration and to Evan Jess and Sam Springstein from the District of Columbia, thanks to Christina Shockey, Mackenzie Smith, Katie Hill, Eric Schultz, Caroline Adler, Moralez, but only Mesko, Alex Patkin, Kristen Bartolone and Cody Keenan.
And a special thanks to Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama. This is Renegades. Born in the USA. Thanks for listening, everybody, you can hear more from Barack and Bruce on renegades born in the USA. All you have to do is search for renegades born in the USA on Spotify. And thanks again to our sponsors Dollar Shave Club and Comcast.