In 1997, I was a student in the inaugural class of the MFA in Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Living and working in the city, I occasionally met my father, Walter Dudycz, who was an Illinois State Senator at the time, for breakfast when he wasn’t in session. We often talked about his political and my literary endeavors.
One morning over waffles, he mentioned a colleague of his who particularly impressed him. Even though my father was a Republican and this man a Democrat, my father was struck by the younger statesman’s integrity and charisma. My father recounted an anecdote about the early days of this newly elected Senator.
As an Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate, my father often presided over the legislative proceedings. Whenever a senator addressed the chair, protocol required him or her to address the presiding officer as Mr. President or Madam President. During a lull in the proceedings that my father was presiding over, he approached Illinois State Senator Barack Obama to ask how he was enjoying his experiences as a freshman legislator.
Addressing my father as Mr. President, Senator Obama explained that he was enjoying his time very much. My father responded that while Senator Obama may have had hidden aspirations to be President someday, my father was content with being called Walter. This was the beginning of a friendly working relationship, where the two family men occasionally shared details about their personal lives.
When my father mentioned that I was in the process of writing my first novel, Senator Obama revealed that he had recently published his first book. The next day, the Senator handed my father a first edition of his book, Dreams From My Father: inscribed with:
“To Valya – I understand I’ll be reading one of your books
soon! I wish you all the best! Warm Regards, Barack Obama.”