A: We just do ordinary stuff. We might rent a movie. We might play a board game. There's the presentation of the tie, or the painting they've made, where I make a big fuss out of it. But the greatest pleasure I get is just spending time with them.
Q: What was your proudest moment as a parent? Your worst moment?
A: Well, my worst memory as a parent was when Sasha was 3 months old and got meningitis. Being at the hospital and hearing her crying and having to give her a spinal tap. I think somebody once said that being a parent is basically like having your heart outside of your body. You feel so vulnerable in those moments. Best moments come all the time. Malia and Sasha, they'll bring home report cards that I never saw in my life! [Laughs.] But the thing I'm most proud of is that they are kind, respectful, good kids.
Q: What can the many single moms and grandparents in the country who are raising boys with absentee fathers do to build them into men of character?
A: There are single moms and grandparents who are doing a great job all the time. Your kids can grow up to be president of the United States. And I think what makes up for everything else is love. What I always had growing up was a mother and grandparents who thought I was terrific. I'm a big believer in providing structure along with love. The big disadvantage for single parents is you're on all the time and you don't have somebody to hand off to. Having a community can help you — so if you're a single mom, to have your parents or grandparent involved. If you don't have grandparents close by, having an aunt or uncle or close friends who can just relieve some of that pressure.
Q: Last year you told us your 50th-birthday wish was lower unemployment and lower gas prices. Unemployment seems to be edging down. But there are people who are still hurting. What do we do for the 50-plus group, dubbed "the new unemployables"?
A: Well, first of all, that particular segment of the workforce will benefit if the unemployment rate generally comes down and the economy's growing. So the fact that over the last two years we've created over 4 million new jobs, the fact that manufacturing jobs are coming back in a way we haven't seen since the 1990s — all that makes a difference. Because the tighter the labor market, the more employers are going to look outside of the narrow, stereotypical target that they want.
You're absolutely right, though, that when you lose your job in your 50s, it's a lot tougher, because a lot of employers say to themselves, "Well, I might have to pay those people more. I may have to retrain them. I may not keep them as long. Their health care costs may be higher." So what we've tried to do is to make sure that retraining is linked to jobs that we know are going to be in high demand.
Last week I was at Lorain County Community College in Ohio. What they've been able to do is to take older workers who have a lot of skills and training, but maybe for jobs that no longer exist, and specifically shape their training experience to an industry or a job that is hiring now. The other thing is that for workers over 50 who've got a wealth of experience, some may want to start their own business. And we've actually put more financing through the Small Business Administration.