Barack Obama "Sobbed" After Taking Malia to College: "I Was Basically Useless"

"She knows I'm pathetic," the former United States President says of the Harvard freshman

By Zach Johnson Jan 12, 2018 1:55 PMTags
Barack Obama, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David LettermanNetflix

David Letterman booked a major guest for the premiere episode of Netflix's My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Barack Obama. The episode, now streaming, features a touching moment toward the end, when the former United States President talks about dropping his 19-year-old daughter Malia Obama off at Harvard University last summer.

"It was like open-heart surgery, man," the 56-year-old said, echoing comments he made in another interview last fall. "One of the best descriptions I ever heard of children is it's like having your heart outside your body. They're not that smart, and they're kind of wandering around, crossing streets, getting on airplanes. You're like, 'Come!' You want to put 'em back in."

The entire family—Michelle Obama and Sasha Obama included—helped make Malia's dorm feel like home. "It was interesting to see how everyone handled things different. Michelle, she had like cleaning glove, you know? One of those yellow ones. She's scouring the bathroom and has all these plans about how everything should be. And Sasha, it was really touching, because Sasha tries to be cool, so she didn't want to admit that she's going to miss her sister. But she's neater than her sister, so she was helping to make the bed and fold clothes," Barack recalled. "[Sasha was] just being really quiet about it, but in a way that was really moving and touching."

Famous Harvard Students

As for Barack? "I was basically useless," he joked. "Everybody had seen me crying and misting up for the previous three weeks. So, Malia, who is very thoughtful, she says, 'Hey, Dad, you know, I've got this lamp in this box. Can you put this desk lamp together?' I said, 'Sure.' So, I grab it. It should have taken three minutes or five minutes. It had one of those little wrenches—the little tool. It only had like four parts or something. I'm sitting there and I'm just toiling away at this thing, and it's taken half an hour. Meanwhile, Michelle has finished scrubbing and she's organizing closets and all this, and I was just pretty pathetic. I held it together in front of Malia, and then when we drove away, Secret Service is in the front, and they're just looking ahead. They're pretending they can't hear me in the back sniveling. But the ritual of it was powerful."

Barack admitted "technology" has made it easier to stay in touch with Malia—a far cry from when he was a college student. "I get home, and she knows I'm pathetic, so she texted me hearts and, 'This is all great. We're talking on a regular basis, but when we were kids, you had to go down to the hall at the end of the dorm. My grandmother, who had grown up during the Depression, she hated long-distance calls. It was a waste of money. It was too expensive. So, if you called collect, you weren't sure if she was going to accept. 'What does he want?' Like you're calling from jail or something,'" the former President joked. "'I'm wishing you happy birthday!'"