Perhaps the most poignant and telling episode in Barack Obama's 1995 autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, is the story of his first and last meetings two decades ago with his doppelganger, his estranged half-brother Mark, who was then a physics student at Stanford.
Like Obama, Mark is also a son of Barack Obama Sr. and a white American woman. But, as the excerpt from Obama's memoir below shows, Mark's individualism, well-adjusted personality, and lack of black racialism disturbed Obama because, while Mark looks much like him, Mark's values are different. After their lunch in Nairobi in the late 1980s, Obama cut off ties with Mark.
I've now figured out who Mark is. Here's his picture, with his eyes blanked out to preserve his privacy. [We've removed it because of privacy concerns.]He may have earned an MBA, and he appears subsequently to have had a long career in high technology and other industry. He lives and works abroad, neither in America nor in Africa. I'm not going to reveal his surname. It's not "Obama."
There's no evidence on the Internet that Mark has ever attempted to boost his career by calling attention to the fact that he's the half-brother of a potential President of the United States. This is in sharp contrast to Billy Carter (Billy Beer and a dubious loan from Col. Gadaffi) and Donald Nixon (Nixonburger and a dubious loan from Howard Hughes). So, I'm not going to drag him into the madness of the campaign.
Their complicated family tree looks like this: Barack Obama Sr.'s bigamous second marriage to the Presidential candidate's mother Ann dissolved when he abandoned his new family in Hawaii to take up a Harvard scholarship. He then married Mark's mother Ruth and brought her to live in Kenya (where the Senator's polygamous pop introduced his surprised American bride to his other wife, Kezia).
Obama Sr. and his third wife had two sons, Mark and David, before a bitter divorce. Their American mother married another an affluent man from Tanzania, and the boys were educated at a prestigious international school in Nairobi.
Mark absorbed his mother's values, but the younger boy, David, rebelled as a teenager against his mother's Western ways. Obama wrote: "He told her he was an African, and started calling himself Obama." David ran away from home. Months later, the Senator's hard-drinking half-brother Roy (Obama Sr.'s first son by his Kenyan first wife — Roy later took up the name to Abongo when he became an Afrocentric teetotaling Muslim) happened to see David begging on the streets. Roy took him in.
One night, not long before Obama's 1987 visit to Kenya, Roy and young David went out drinking on Roy's motorcycle. Roy got into a drunken brawl and was jailed, so he lent the boy the key to his motorcycle. David crashed it and died.
The details about Mark in Obama's memoir all check out. Obama didn't include his last name, but he also didn't alter any details about Mark to protect his identity, so I can ascertain with virtually absolute certainty that the Mark pictured above is the Mark depicted in Obama's bestseller. For example, I've found a published physics paper authored by Mark and others at Stanford in 1991. I've been able to determine that for the Mark shown above, his parents live in Nairobi; his youngest brother's first name is the same as that given in Dreams; and that his step-father's family comes from Tanzania, as Obama reported.
Unlike Obama, who long dreamed of Kenya but knew little about it, Mark spent his summers off from his American studies in Kenya at his mother and step-father's upscale Nairobi home, where Obama met him on his first trip to Africa in the late 1980s. Here's what Obama wrote about him (pp. 341-345):
"'So, Mark,' I said, turning to my brother, 'I hear you're at Berkeley.'
"'Stanford,' he corrected. His voice was deep, his accent perfectly American. 'I'm in my last year of the physics program there.'"
They meet once more, for lunch:
"I asked him how it felt being back for the summer."'Fine,' he said. 'It's nice to see my mom and dad, of course. … As for the rest of Kenya, I don't feel much of an attachment. Just another poor African country.'
"'You don't ever think about settling here?'
"Mark took a sip from his Coke. 'No,' he said. 'I mean, there's not much work for a physicist, is there, in a country where the average person doesn't have a telephone.'
"I should have stopped then, but something — the certainty in this brother's voice, maybe, or our rough resemblance, like looking into a foggy mirror — made me want to push harder. I asked, "Don't you ever feel like you might be losing something?'
"Mark put down his knife and fork, and for the first time that afternoon his eyes looked straight into mine.
"'I understand what you're getting at,' he said flatly. 'You think that somehow I'm cut off from my roots, that sort of thing.' He wiped his mouth and dropped the napkin onto his plate. 'Well, you're right. At a certain point, I made a decision not think about who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was still alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife or children. That was enough.'
"'It made you mad.'
"'Not mad. Just numb.'
"'And that doesn't bother you? Being numb, I mean?'
"'Towards him, no. Other things move me. Beethoven's symphonies. Shakespeare's sonnets. I know — it's not what an African is supposed to care about. But who's to tell me what I should and shouldn't care about? Understand, I'm not ashamed of being half Kenyan. I just don't ask myself a lot of questions about what it all means. About who I really am.' He shrugged. 'I don't know. Maybe I should. I can acknowledge the possibility that if I looked more carefully at myself, I would …'
"For the briefest moment I sensed Mark hesitate, like a rock climber losing his footing. Then, almost immediately, he regained his composure and waved for the check.
"'Who knows?' he said. 'What's certain is that I don't need the stress. Life's hard enough without all that excess baggage.'
"… Outside we exchanged addresses and promised to write, with a dishonesty that made my heart ache."
Notice that it's Obama's own dishonesty that is (supposedly) making his heart ache—he can't know what's in Mark's heart as they exchange addresses, but Obama knows that he will not write to his own half-brother. The physics student is Obama's intellectual equal, but his realism about Kenya, his lack of an identity crisis, lack of black ethnocentrism, and lack of illusions about their mutual father leave Obama so uncomfortable that he doesn't want to hear from Mark anymore