Barack Obama on raising daughters: ‘The single greatest gift’ of my life

'The love of being a father was not something I had to work on.'

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Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen credit their wives for helping to guide their spiritual and emotional journey through fatherhood. 

In the latest episode of their Spotify podcast, “Renegades: Born in the USA,” the duo reflect on how their own fathers were not the best role models and this presented many personal challenges as they developed their identities as dads. 

“I think that was the question, ‘Am I capable of not disappointing?’” Springsteen said of his doubts before becoming a father, per PEOPLE. “You’re never completely sure, I suppose, but after the children were born and you start to find the resources you have inside you.”

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Obama noted that “the most important anchor over the years has been our families.” The former president shares daughters Sasha, 19, and Malia, 22, with wife Michelle Obama. Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa have three grown children, sons Evan and Sam, and daughter Jessica

First Family Attends National Christmas Tree
Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, mother-in-law Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama and Barack Obama. (Photo by Olivier Douliery- Pool/Getty Images)

“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.”

Obama said by the time his youngest daughter Sasha was born, he felt “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 added. 

When their children were younger, Springsteen’s wife told him to curb his late hours or he would miss out on some of the most magical moments of their kids’ lives. 

“She just came over to me and she says, ‘You know, you don’t have to get up. But if you don’t ,you’re going to miss it … They’re at their most gorgeous at that moment in the morning, and you’re never going to see it.’ OK, I think I don’t want to miss that. You know? So I said, ‘What am I going to do?’ She says, ‘You’re going to make breakfast.’ … And ugh… she was right about the children. If I saw them in the morning it was almost like I had seen them for the entire day. And if I missed them in the morning you could never quite make up for it for some reason.”

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(former) U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to singer, songwriter and rock and roll legend Bruce Springsteen. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Obama also recalled how during the early years of his political career, his wife had to remind him to set aside time for their daughters. 

“The challenge of fatherhood for me was the nature of my work was exhausting, all absorbing, and often took me out of town,” said Obama. “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 physically being present because you’ve made choices and organized your life so that you can be with your family more.”

Once he became president of the U.S., Obama made time to eat dinner with his family every night he was at the White House. 

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“I have a 30-second commute and so I just set up a rule, I’m having dinner with my crew at 6:30 every night unless I’m traveling,” Obama explained. “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.” 

The family dinners, Obama said, prevented him from becoming “cynical or despairing.”

“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,” said Obama, adding that his family “reminded me why I was doing what I was doing.”

Fatherhood has taugth him one valuable lesson, that every child “is just magical in their own ways,” Obama shared with Springsteen.

“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,” he continued. “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?”

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