‘You fall, you get up, you carry on’: Michelle Obama shares tools she learned from her father on Chicago stop of book tour

Former first lady Michelle Obama discusses her book, “The Light We Carry,” coping with the pandemic and polarization before a sold-out crowd at the Chicago Theatre.

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Former First Lady MIchelle Obama writes that she relied on the wisdom of her late father to survive during the pandemic. “I was just spinning.”

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

When the pandemic forced everyone inside, Michelle Obama searched for ways to cope with an uncertain world.

“You were shut in. You were stuck in your thoughts, and I was no different,” Obama told a crowd of fans at the Chicago Theatre Monday night. “When you have that amount of time alone to think about yourself, your life, your world, for me, I was just spinning.”

To keep herself from spiraling, the former first lady said she relied on tools she learned growing up on the South Side with a father who had multiple sclerosis and who faced uncertainty every day.

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“When your father is disabled, you are living with a level of uncertainty your whole life,” she said, adding that her father never complained about his disability and taught her and her brother an important lesson. “You fall, you get up, you carry on.”

Obama was in Chicago promoting her new book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.” She was interviewed on stage by former late-night talk show host David Letterman, and both drew huge laughs from the raucous sold-out crowd as she shared stories and lessons from the book.

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Former first lady Michelle Obama greets fans during the hometown stop of her book promotion tour for “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.” She was interviewed by David Letterman.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Letterman introduced Obama, whom he called “America’s favorite first lady,” with a story about him accidentally stepping on her gown during a gala in 2017. At the end of the night, Obama remarked that her gown had been catching on something.

“It was probably your chair,” he quipped.

Obama said another tool she picked up from her father was to learn to value herself, even when the world around her didn’t, she said.

“My dad’s motto was no one can make you feel bad when you feel good about yourself. When you’re a Black woman in America, and you’re not wealthy, you have to practice liking yourself a lot,” Obama continued.

She said she had to often lean on her dad’s wisdom during Barack Obama’s first term as president, when media caricatures made her briefly think twice about campaigning with him.

“But then I had to think to myself: that would let them win,” she said.

It’s Obama’s confidence and belief in herself that drove Patty Steward to bring her daughter Zoe along to see the former first lady in person, even though tickets to the event were going for as much as $250 on Ticketmaster.com.

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Patty Steward and her daughter Zoe with copies of Michelle Obama’s book. “I brought her to see Black excellence,” Steward said of the Chicago Theatre outing with her daughter.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“She’s an example of what can be. I brought her to see Black excellence,” Steward said, pointing to her daughter. Obama “always has a positive word to say. She’s a Black woman, I’m a Black woman, and to be able to feel that inspiration and that empowerment was important for me to share with my daughter.”

Joel Cencius drove from Milwaukee to see Obama, who, he said, gives him hope. “I would never miss an opportunity to see her, she’s super-inspirational and just a delightful person to be in the presence of.”

He said he also saw her in 2018 in Chicago. In November of that year, Obama launched the book tour for her best-selling memoir “Becoming” at the United Center, where she was interviewed by her friend Oprah Winfrey.

Chicago, particularly the South Side, has remained a touchstone for Obama. It’s where she and her brother, Craig Robinson, were raised in an apartment at 7436 S. Euclid. Her relatives all lived within a short drive.

Cencius said he enjoyed reading Obama’s latest book and appreciated how open she was to readers, displaying a vulnerability that he connected with. Obama opens up a bit more about her personal life in the new book, offering details about her daughters, Malia, 24, and Sasha, 21.

The book reveals that Malia and Sasha are living together as roommates in Los Angeles. Obama writes in generalities — Sasha is in Los Angeles “going to college” and Malia is “working in an entry-level writing job.”

Obama said her daughters moved in together in 2021, finding “a grown-up place for themselves,” and she is charmed that the girls wanted to live together.

Obama will have another conversation at the Chicago Theatre Tuesday with author Heather McGhee.

Contributing: AP, Lynn Sweet

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Joel Cencius of Milwaukee shows off his Michelle Obama T-shirt while in line to see her on the Chicago stop of her book tour.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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