Around Christmas time in 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama called and asked to arrange a meeting with him, Abner Mikva and me in my office. When we met, Obama told us that he was going to Hawaii with his family to make the decision on whether to run for president in 2008. Ab and I had been urging him to run, and he said he had a major concern he wanted to discuss with us as fathers of daughters. He wanted more than anything else to be a good father, and he feared a presidential campaign would mean that he would constantly be traveling and would become an absentee dad and not be with Malia and Sasha and away from his wife, Michelle. He knew Ab and I each had three daughters who had turned out very well, and wanted our advice.
Ab and I both said we were not psychiatrists, but we believed that a father’s major influence on a child was not when the child was very young, but was more important when the child was older, especially in the teenage years. We added that if he was elected, he would live “over the store” and be able to see and be with his children all the time. He took notes, saying he would tell his wife. We emphasized that we were not experts, but he said he knew that of the six Mikva and Minow daughters, five were lawyers and one was a rabbi — and in his eyes that qualified us as experts.
Not long ago, I read an interview with President Obama in which he said he decided to run for president when his daughters were very young so he could be with them more when they were teenagers, and now that his family lives “over the store” he can see them every day. So, I believe the advice Ab and I gave to a young presidential candidate was heeded, and Ab and I congratulated each other.
I was blessed to be a lifelong friend of Ab Mikva. We were born four days apart in the same Milwaukee hospital. We were students at Washington High School in Milwaukee, growing up in the Depression years leading up to World War II. We served in the military during the war, returned home safely to go to college and law school on the GI Bill. We were lucky to have long happy marriages. We were fortunate to serve as law clerks to justices of the U.S. Supreme Court during the same term. We both had a desire for public service as part of what is now called the Greatest Generation and were admirers of public servants like Adlai E. Stevenson and John F. Kennedy, who taught us that politics could be an honorable profession. Ab went on to serve at the highest levels of all three branches of our government where he was chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, served in the Illinois House and the U.S. House and was White House counsel in the Clinton administration. And he and his wife, Zoe, created the Mikva Challenge to stimulate young men and women to make democracy work.
Last January, Ab and I celebrated our 90th birthdays together, raising a glass to toast the United States of America, which gave us and our families freedom and opportunity. Ab died on the Fourth of July, just as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams did. Inspired by Jefferson and Adams, Ab now joins them as a hero in 20th and 21st century American history.
– Newton N. Minow, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (1961-63), 7/5/16