Opinion: Mother’s Day regrets, and a gift, courtesy of President Obama

Barack Obama with his mother Ann Dunham in the 1960s.
(Obama presidential campaign / Associated Press)

Just in time for Mother’s Day, here’s a gift. Sometimes our sons and daughters do realize that we’re more than “snack mom,” as a few recent examples seem to demonstrate.

One very accomplished son recently revisited the other — professional — side of the woman he called Mom. In the Philippines, wrote Times staffer Christi Parsons, “President Obama sat down here … with the American director of the Asian Development Bank to review the work product of a contractor who had delivered business financing and leadership training to poor women in Southeast Asia. The papers showed the lacework of tight, cursive handwriting of Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, who died at age 52 in 1995. A scholar and anthropologist, she had spent her final years as a consultant to U.S. agencies and foundations aiding the world’s poor.”

Can you imagine? The president of the United States flipped through some papers that -- not surprising to any parent — confirmed that his mother possessed an incredible spark of her own.

She didn’t live to see her only son ascend to the pinnacle of American power, but oh what she started.


“She was a figure in her own right, respected by the people who worked with her,” said Robert M. Orr, executive director of the development bank. “These records show that so clearly.”

Those mothers. They stick with us, don’t they?

There was another resonating “mother” anecdote recently, from a daughter who grew up to be a governor. In the just-released HBO documentary “All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State,” Richards reminisces about a royal visit. In that priceless drawl, she talks about a time when “we received word that the queen of England was coming to visit Texas. And I don’t know how many of you have entertained the queen, but it’s a very complicated deal.”

On the hectic day of the arrival, as Richards rushed to greet her visitors, “racing through my mind came my mother’s voice, just as clear as a bell, saying, ‘Where do you think you’re going, to see the queen of England?’ ”

In the clip, the laughter from the audience is shared proof of that universal “my mother’s voice inside” — whether good or bad.

Richards’ daughter Cecile, interviewed about the documentary, pays it forward:

“Well, I think she’d say, look, you have one chance to really make a difference in your life.... She was always concerned that too many women did sort of take themselves out of the equation, whether it was the public scrutiny or just simply that they never thought they had the right skills or the degree or that their children were too little. There’s a million reasons … women hold back. And she was just a big believer that you really had to go for it.”

Well said.


So in lieu of the brunch and the flowers, kids, why not just tell your mom how much she’s meant to you?

And say it before it’s too late. Even if you get to be president, you may wish for a do-over or two.

“At a town hall meeting with young people in Kuala Lumpur,” The Times story went on, “Obama was asked if he had any regrets. He grew somber and choked up a bit.

“I regret not having spent more time with my mother,” he said. “She died early ... it happened very fast, in about six months. And I realized that — there was a stretch of time from when I was, let’s say, 20 until I was 30, where I was so busy with my own life that I didn’t always reach out and communicate with her and ask her how she was doing and tell her about things.”


Oh. Are you listening, sons of mine?

Sara Lessley is a freelance journalist and editing coach in Los Angeles.