“Zac,” I said as we drove along the well-traveled road to the high school, “what do you think of a gap year?”
“I don’t know what that is,” Zac said. Which seemed strange to me, since he knows so many things. He surprises me all the time.
“Kids in Europe do it. It’s taking a year off between high school and college. Some kids join the Peace Corps. Some travel and backpack through Europe. Some take a year internship in a field they’d like to work in later. Malia Obama is doing it after graduation.”
Zac thought a minute.
“It sounds pretty cool.”
“Of course, some probably take a job and work to pay for college, too.”
I know any of that sounds a heck of a lot better than the mandatory 2-year plus conscription male high school graduates in Israel must do. All we require here is registering with Selective Service.
“But I bet Malia Obama and her sister can go to school anywhere because they’re the president’s kids.”
“I don’t know about that. But I do think he can afford to send them anywhere they might want to go. Maybe they’ll even have to work part of the way through. That might be a good thing, too.” There I go, thinking like a parent again.
We fell silent again, enjoying watching the blooming rhododendrons and swaying trees whiz past.
“I bet Obama is a good dad,” Zac said.
“I bet he is, too,” I said.
In the history of my shortish time here on earth, no U.S. president has met all my criteria for great leadership. To be fair, I only truly remember Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan as presidents from my childhood. Yet I have to say Obama has proven to be a good husband and father, at least looking at it from way over here on the left coast. He has stayed faithful. He takes care of those in his family. He enjoys and loves them very much. Thanks for that, sir.
After I dropped Zac off, I considered the president’s kids. I thought about the Reagan kids, and how they never completely shed the limelight. The Will Ferrell movie depicting the decline of Ronald Reagan comes to mind. The family protested the ridiculing of their patriarch. I thought of Amy Carter. She was only a child when President Carter headed the country. She had a cat named Misty Malarky Ying Yang, like any kid would. It’s a lot to put on a child, all those cameras and the constant scrutiny. “Wear the blue dress, dear, and for heaven’s sake, smile!” I can only imagine their challenge to look and behave perfectly all the time. I know the adults in the scenario struggled. Your life – true story or not – becomes the fodder for books and movies, sometimes in a most unflattering way.
For better or worse, the world is always watching presidents and their offspring, past and present. Good things can come out of growing up in the spotlight. Amy Carter became an activist in her dad’s organization, the Carter Center, which champions human rights. All the attention can make you consider who you truly want to become, once the light shifts away from you. It can make you better. If you let it.