CHARLOTTE, NC—The first family has turned more than a few heads at this week’s Democratic National Convention, where the president, as he greets delegates and waves to crowds of supporters, is often accompanied not only by his wife and two daughters, but also his rarely seen 19-year-old son, Luther.
The shy, slightly overweight teenager, who has lived his entire life with his mother in central Illinois, seldom appears in public with the president, with whom he has reportedly shared a somewhat distant and occasionally strained relationship.
“When I saw that kid with President Obama, I had no clue who he was,” said Georgia delegate Kathy Tyson, stating that the teen appeared to have difficulty sustaining eye contact with others and stood uncomfortably alongside his father when he shook hands with voters Thursday. “I guess he does kind of look like the president, though a bit shorter and stockier.”
Luther was born in 1993 to Andrea Pletcher, then a 24-year-old diner cashier whom Obama, a young law professor at the time, met during a brief trip to the state capital of Springfield. While the president’s son is said to have faced numerous obstacles during his childhood, including academic troubles, repeated emotional outbursts, and his mother’s bouts with alcoholism, family friends have stated that overall he was a “good kid” who “genuinely meant well.”
White House aides said the president sends money to Pletcher each month for Luther’s care. After he became a U.S. senator and moved to Washington, Obama reportedly visited his 11-year-old son every other Saturday afternoon, playing wiffle ball with him or taking him out to a movie matinee and then dinner at the local Applebee’s.
When he became president, however, Obama’s contact with the boy reduced markedly, though sources confirmed he would still send Luther a birthday card and speak with him on the phone every month or so, often talking him through his schoolwork or asking about his son’s interests in music and online gaming.
According to reports, the two have often struggled to find common ground, owing largely to their sharply differing levels of motivation and expectations for academic and personal success.
“There was a rough patch during Luther’s early and mid-teens when he and his dad didn’t get along at all,” said Pletcher, speaking from the $600-a-month ground-level condominium she shares with her son and live-in boyfriend. “But Barry came to Luther’s high school graduation last year, and that was a big step forward for them. And now that Luther’s rebellious phase seems to be winding down, there’s definitely a greater respect between them.”
“I’ll tell you, though, Luther was a real handful for a while there, with his ADD and all,” Pletcher continued. “But he’s doing okay now. And I’ve been with [boyfriend] Ian [Williams] for the past three years, so Luther’s had a male figure he can look up to a little bit.”
In a sign of their improving relationship, Obama is said to have congratulated his son heartily upon learning Luther was giving school another shot this fall, enrolling part-time at Lincoln Land Community College. Additionally, Obama expressed optimism that his son could have a “real bright future” in the field of sales or, if he applied himself, computers.
With Luther now slated to join the first family on the campaign trail, staffers confirmed the president has encouraged them to entrust the frequently expressionless teen, who often dresses in all-black clothing, with some minor tasks to help him learn about responsibility.
“We’ve got Luther stuffing envelopes and handing out pins to the delegates, and he’s doing a great job,” senior campaign aide Stephanie Cutter said. “It takes a while for him to come out of his shell, but once he opens up he’s a real nice kid. Plus he’s just so great with Sasha and Malia. They really love their half-brother.”
“Luther may not have his father’s smarts or gift for rhetoric,” Cutter added, “but he tries. And he’s got a good heart—a real good heart.”
Despite comments that interactions between the president and his son have remained noticeably stiff and awkward, Obama said he was excited that he and Luther were spending quality time together and “finally starting to get to know each other.”
“I can’t say I was the perfect father by any means,” said Obama, admitting candidly that he “wasn’t always there for Luther.” “While my son has battled his share of problems, his mother really did the best she could raising him, and I think she did a fine job. Now Luther and I are ready to move forward and make up for lost time.” “I’m real proud of my boy,” he added, putting his arm around his son, who flinched ever so slightly at the physical contact.