David Letterman's new show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, premiered Friday on Netflix, and the former late-night host scored a major get with his first guest — President Barack Obama. The two men talked for an hour on a range of issues, and some of the most moving stories revolved around their children. One example: Obama struggled to assemble Malia's college dorm lamp due to his overwhelming emotions about this next phase of fatherhood.
"It was like open-heart surgery," Obama told Letterman when the host asked how he'd handled sending Malia to college. The former POTUS referenced an analogy he'd heard about parenthood — how it was like living with your heart outside your body.
Obama went on to detail how things went during Malia's freshmen move-in day at Harvard. While former first lady Michelle scrubbed the bathroom, and sister Sasha folded and organized clothes, Obama said he was rendered "basically useless." So Malia suggested he put together a lamp.
"It only had like four parts and I’m just sitting there, toiling at this thing for half an hour and meanwhile, Michelle has finished scrubbing and she’s organizing closets and I was just pretty pathetic," Obama said.
Obama later quipped that he tried to keep it together in front of Malia before they left, but his emotions came out in the car afterwards. He joked that the Secret Service driving in the front were "pretending they can’t hear me in the back, sniveling.”
Obama also lit up sharing stories about his daughters' differing senses of humor. Letterman kicked things off by relating an apparently ne'er before heard tale of an encounter he had with Malia at the White House.
Letterman said that after he introduced himself to the first daughter and thanked her for inviting him to the party, she replied, "You look like someone who knows how to party."
That appeared to give Obama a real kick in the pants. And when Letterman asked if Sasha were the same, Obama said his daughters were funny, but in different ways. While both are "extraordinary writers," Malia is eager to share her work and get feedback. Sasha, on the other hand, doesn't want her parents to say one word about her written work — even when it's being published in the school's literary magazine.
This reminded Letterman of his own son, who, according to the bearded host, does not want to hear parental adulation for his high math scores.
Letterman quoted a typical exchange. "'Harry, congratulations, I heard you did well on the math test.' 'Don't talk to me about the math test.'"
Besides his role as father, Obama also talked about his own parents. When Letterman brought up Obama's memoir Dreams of My Father, the two ended up discussing mainly his mother. He spoke of her "great faith in education" — how she would get up and teach the young Obama for several hours before he went to his actual school, out of concern that education in Indonesia was not up to par.
Obama said his mother had been the "guiding spirit" of his young life.
Obama and Letterman did discuss the political state of America while carefully avoiding the man in the Oval Office. President Trump did not come up once, though in certain exchanges his impact on the nation seemed embedded withi their exchanges.
"One of he biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don't share a common baseline of facts," Obama said. Noting the disparity between stories covered on Fox News versus NPR, he argued, "We are living in completely different information universes."
But the bulk of the interview stayed on a decidedly hopeful plane. Even the hardship of sending a daughter to college wasn't so bad in this day and age, Obama pointed out. By the time he got home, Malia had already sent him a heart-emoji filled text message.