Friday, July 01, 2011
Stanley Ann Dunham
Right off the bat you have to ask, who the hell names a girl 'Stanley?'
(Remember 'A Boy Named Sue'?)
Stanley Ann Dunham appeared in no way handicapped by her unusual first name. Indeed she comes across as a strong, determined woman who thrived living off the grid.
Who is Stanley Ann Dunham?
She's Barack Obama's mother. Born in Kansas, her parents moved to Hawaii and Stanley met Barack Obama Sr. at the University there. They courted briefly and Barak was born in 1961. Papa Barack soon returned to Kenya. That was it, except for a one year visit some time later. She raised her son alone, in Hawaii and in Indonesia. Stanley Ann's life's work was not as a wife and mother but as a cultural anthropologist. She had a second marriage to an Indonesian, and a daughter, Maya. But as determined as she seemed to get the best out of her children, she was equally determined run her own race. And work she did for years, as as researcher, student and teacher of women's business initiatives in Indonesia.
I most admire people who have the guts to follow their own way and to live the lives they want. These lives cost people and who's to say what's worth what at the end? Stanley Ann became a large, dramatically dressed woman. She is described as being entirely 'present. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there was quite a there there. From Kansas to Hawaii to Indonesia. Marriage to two men of another race. Mixed race children. The devotion of co workers. She labored for years on a doctoral dissertation-the final document ran over one thousand pages. She was awarded her Ph.D. in 1994. She was fifty-three years old. Her son had graduated Harvard Law, married and moved to Chicago to work in community organizing. She had worked under the auspices of the Ford Foundation for years. It was a life of high achievement, if two marriages and children raised at a distance. Her kids did okay, without her constant presence. I imagine Stanley Ann's influence was very strong.
Stanley Ann Dunham didn't have long to appreciate her hard work. She died of cancer in 1995, aged fifty-four. Janny Scott's book A Singular Woman takes us on quite a ride of this woman's life. Read it, and go break some molds.