A love story that was not meant to be. This appeared on front page of the Australian Newspaper... today.
4 May 2012
Obama's early Aussie romance
by Brad Norington, Washington Correspondent
'He had notions of gaining power to change things' GENEVIEVE COOK FROM HER DIARY ON OBAMA
BEFORE Michelle, there was Genevieve.
The unnamed ''New York girlfriend'' from Barack Obama's bestselling memoir, Dreams from
My Father, was based largely on an Australian woman with whom he shared ''the deepest romantic relationship of his young life''.
Genevieve Cook, a girlfriend from the US President's youth, has shared her observations publicly for the first time about his early emotional detachment and struggle with his racial identity. Ms Cook, the daughter of an Australian diplomat, has told the author of a new biography of the first AfricanAmerican President how she met Mr Obama at a New York Christmas party in 1983 and briefly lived with him.
In diaries written during their 17-month relationship, Ms Cook said Mr Obama's admirable ''strength'' and ''integrity'' were mixed with a ''coolness'' and ''smoothed veneer, of guardedness''.
As they spent more time together, she realised he needed to resolve his ambivalence about being black or white and ''it became very obvious to me that he needed to go black''.
When they parted ways, Ms Cook wrote in her diary: ''Now, at this point, I'm left wondering if Barack's reserve, etc, is not just the time in his life, but, after all, emotional scarring that will make it difficult for him to get involved even after he's sorted his life through with age and experience.
''Hard to say, as obviously I was not the person that brought infatuation. (That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!)''
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Ms Cook shared her diaries with Washington Post journalist David Maraniss for his biography Barack Obama: The Story, which is due to be published by Simon & Shuster next month.
In a Vanity Fair magazine extract from the book, Mr Obama is said to have had ''the deepest romantic relationship of his young life'' with Ms Cook while he was living on New York's Upper West Side before moving to Chicago.
Ms Cook's father, Michael, was a prominent Australian diplomat who headed the Office of National Assessments in Canberra and was appointed by the Hawke government as Australia's ambassador to the US.
Born in 1958, Ms Cook is three years older than Mr Obama. When they met, she was working in New York as an assistant teacher for second and thirdgraders, having recently left a small Manhattan publishing company that employed the host of the 1983 Christmas party.
One of the things that helped spark the young couple's interest in each other was discovering that part of their respective childhoods had been spent in Indonesia at roughly the same time — Mr Obama during four years of living with his mother, Ms Cook during one of her father's postings.
Ms Cook's parents divorced when she was 10. At the time she met Mr Obama, she was living in New York's Upper East Side with her Australian mother, Helen Ibbitson, an art historian from a Melbourne banking family, and her US stepfather, Philip Jessup, general counsel for the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Ms Cook soon found an apartment of her own, and her routine was to spend Thursday nights and weekends with Mr Obama, mostly at his place, sometimes at hers.
When he became fed up with his then New York job writing business newsletters, and quit in late 1984, Mr Obama moved into Ms Cook's apartment in what was meant to be a temporary arrangement until he left for Hawaii to spend the Christmas holidays with his family.
Living with Ms Cook did not go well, as they had difficulty adjusting to each other's constant presence, including one flare-up over her ''irritation at doing the breakfast dishes''.
Still, Mr Obama had no place of his own when he returned from Hawaii in mid-january. He moved back in with Ms Cook and found his first organising job with a public interest research group.
When Ms Cook moved to another apartment in March 1985, Mr Obama helped her but found his own. They continued their routine of seeing each other on weekends but the relationship ended by the middle of May.
In his book Dreams from My Father, Mr Obama writes about an unnamed woman from his New York years.
''There was a woman in New York that I loved,'' he wrote. ''She was white. She had dark hair, and specks of green in her eyes.
''Her voice sounded like a wind chime. We saw each other for almost a year. On weekends, mostly. Sometimes in her apartment, sometimes in mine. You know how you can fall into your own private world? Just two people, hidden and warm. Your own language. Your own customs. That's how it was.''
Interviewed in the Oval Office by Maraniss for his biography, Mr Obama said the unnamed New York woman in his book was a composite of girlfriends, including one who followed Ms Cook after he moved to Chicago.
A question of identity had arisen when Ms Cook told Maraniss that one incident recounted in Dreams from My Father — in which Mr Obama said he had a ''big fight'' about race with his New York girlfriend after watching a play together — did not happen with her.
''That was not her,'' Mr Obama confirmed to Maraniss. ''That was an example of compression. I was very sensitive in my book not to write about my girlfriends, partly out of respect for them.''
According to Mr Obama, he introduced the New York woman, like many characters in the memoir, to advance a theme as he explored his thoughts on race.
Three years after their breakup, on October 22, 1988, Ms Cook married Mohamed Moustafa, a New York accountant and son of Egyptian parents. Their wedding at New York's Cosmopolitan Club was reported the next day in the Style section of The New York Times. A short article, headlined ''Genevieve Cook Weds Accountant'', said the bride would be known as Mrs Moustafa-cook.
Mr Obama met his wife-to-be, Michelle Robinson, in June 1989 when he was employed as a summer associate of the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin and she was assigned as his adviser. They became engaged in 1991 and married in 1992.
Ms Cook told Maraniss she remembered how the 22-year-old Mr Obama would lounge around in his apartment on Sundays, drinking coffee and solving The New York Times crossword puzzle, bare-chested and wearing a blue and white sarong.
Even in the early stages of their romance, she noted in her diary that Mr Obama had a certain reserve, an observation consistent with comments from people who have worked with him as President that he can be cool and aloof.
''The sexual warmth is definitely there — but the rest of it has sharp edges and I'm finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all,'' Ms Cook wrote.
Early in the relationship with Ms Cook, who began keeping her diary in 1975, Mr Obama told her about his ''adolescent image of the perfect ideal woman'' and how he had searched for the ideal ''at the expense of hooking up with available girls''.
Ms Cook wondered who was this ideal woman, and concluded it was someone other than herself.
''I can't help thinking that what he would really want, be powerfully drawn to, was a woman, very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-experienced — a black woman I keep seeing her as.''
Ms Cook said in her diaries that Mr Obama looked black but felt like an imposter ''because he was so white''. She accepted he needed to search for his identity.
She knew he harboured ''faintly articulated notions of future greatness, of gaining power in order to change things''.
But when she once talked to him in a park about ''playing out a superhero life'' and the comics he enjoyed as an adolescent growing up in Hawaii, she said Mr Obama shut down and ''didn't want to talk about it anymore''.