The Blog

Renegade and Dreams of My Absent Father

Obama's election was not only a door opener for people of color. It also showed that people with absent dads, or no dad at all, can grow up and live in the White House.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

"Don't you forget about me."

Simple Minds

I recently finished Richard Wolffe's book Renegade: The Making of a President, a must- read account of President Obama's victory.

Wolffe book is more than the history of a presidential campaign. It reaches to Obama's personal motivations that helped Obama achieve victory.

If you hate Obama, skip the book.

Although Wolffe maintained journalistic integrity, it is obvious that he likes Obama. That chemistry between journalist and candidate allowed Wolffe to get a number of exclusive interviews and candid insights.

The book is what Theodore White would have written if his Making of The President series started in 2008 instead of 1960.

I read the book a few weeks ago but a line that Wolffe quoted from Obama's Dreams of My Father keeps haunting me.

Obama said, "every man is trying to live up to his father's expectation or make up for his father's mistakes,"

Obama went on to say, "I suppose that may explain my particular malady as well as anything else."

Obama didn't have many real interactions with his father to build from. As Wolffe notes, the book is about Obama's own quest, self-reflection and ability for story telling.

Skills that made Obama President of the United States.

When I read the Obama quote, it made me wonder what side of the equation I fell on. Was I living up to my father's expectations or making up for his mistakes?

In my case, it's a little of both.

Anyone who read my second book, Son of a Son of a Gambler, recognizes that I worshiped my father. He was the role model for how I raised my children and how I live my life.

He convinced me that I can do anything I set my mind to doing.

What doesn't come out in the book is that I actually had two fathers. A pre-Playboy bunny and a post-Playboy bunny dad.

That is where it gets complicated.

For the first nine years of my life, my father worked two jobs, seven days a week. He worked every holiday.

I saw him for the two hours that he was home for dinner and after church on Sunday's. (He skipped church during football season to book bets but otherwise was at mass every Sunday.)

He rose from extreme poverty to make some money. Bought us a big house in a nice neighborhood and then ran off to live with a Playboy bunny.

The Playboy bunny hated dad's children and me in particular.

During my early teen years, Dad was not really part of my life. I rarely had any private interactions. He didn't really know whom I was or what I did. I don't think that he met any of my friends.

I was embarrassed by him but didn't think about him much.

It left some permanent scars. Some of his mistakes are those I won't make.

I am never going to run off with a Playboy bunny. Not even if all three Girls Next Door invite me to live in the mansion.

When I was in high school, Dad had a serious stroke. It should have killed him and he spent nearly a year in the hospital.

Through focus and hard work, he defied the original prognosis and came back to health. He also came back a changed man. He wasn't "born again" in the religious sense (he was still a professional gambler with hard living friends) but everything else about him changed.

He stopped living with the Playboy bunny and married a wonderful, well grounded woman. They were the epitome of true love. He became a great dad.

He was even a better role model. The way he overcame the stroke showed me that hard work and perseverance can overcome anything.

I wrote a book about the second dad. The Playboy bunny years didn't make it into the story. In fact, I've never written about them before now. I don't want those years to reflect on the great dad that I wound up with. However, those years play into who I am.

You can only ignore your past at great peril to your future.

The Obama quote gave me a chance for reflection. It made me wonder where other men fall on the expectations versus mistakes equation.

If you look at our recent presidents, we have had the whole range of outcomes.

It's obvious that John Kennedy and George W. Bush were living up to their father's expectations and George H.W. Bush probably was, too. Nixon and Reagan were embarrassed by their father's mistakes.

Gerald Ford was adopted and Bill Clinton's father was killed before Clinton was born. It seems like Ford's adopted father was supportive and Clintons' wasn't.

Like Obama, Clinton developed role models outside the family unit.

We live in an America where the unwed birth rate is 40 percent and climbing. Most of my family came into the world that way. Some cite the statistic as a stigma but I don't mean it that way. It reflects a lot of societal norms and changes and it is what it is. We do have to factor it into how our future generations will develop.

I can say, from firsthand experience that having an absent father can hurt your development. I can also say, from firsthand experience, that having an encouraging and loving father can be the key to achieving greatness.

My dad wanted me to be elected President of the United States. Just like Barack Obama.

Obama's election was not only a door opener for people of color. It also showed that people with absent dads, or no dad at all, can grow up and live in the White House.

I'm not on a path towards political office but somewhere in the back of my mind, Barack Obama knocked down one of my childhood barriers. If Obama can do it, every other child of an absent father can make it too.

Renegade is the story of how Obama achieved the dreams of an absent father. It's a book that's definitely worth reading.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is one of the world's leading authorities in helping injured people and lottery winners deal with complex financial issues.

McNay is also an award winning syndicated financial columnist.

McNay founded McNay Settlement Group, a structured settlement and financial consulting firm, in 1983. The company's primary office is in Richmond, Kentucky.

McNay has Master's Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Eastern Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

McNay has written two books. Most recent is Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You When The Lottery.

You can write to Don at or read his column at
You can reach him on Facebook at and on Twitter at

McNay is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services field.

Popular in the Community