Vice President, grandfather, father, humanitarian, author and ice-cream fanatic, Joe Biden is a man of many titles. This November, Biden’s latest book Promise Me, Dad came out in print and as a self-narrated audiobook. After leaving D.C. after eight years in office, Promise Me, Dad is one of the first times we’re hearing from Joe about his personal traumas in such a raw and illuminated way. This book, while depressing in subject, serves as more than just a memoir, but also as an inside look at Joe Biden and where he stands on many issues.
For those who don’t know, Joe Biden is no stranger to loss. At 30 years old, he lost his first wife and infant daughter two weeks before being sworn in as a Delaware Senator. Neilia Biden had taken their two sons and daughter Naomi out Christmas shopping in Hockessin, Delaware in December of 1972 when a car collision killed her and her daughter, hospitalizing both sons as well. Promise Me, Dad begins reminiscing about a trip to Nantucket Island for Thanksgiving with his second with Jill and his sons Beau and Hunter. A six-hour drive from their home in Delaware, the trip served as a break from the life of a politician, and became a tradition they still hold forty years later.
Beau was the Attorney General of Delaware and was planning a 2016 run for Governor, but was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer in 2013. After fighting for two long years, he passed away in May of 2015. Joe writes about his struggle dealing with the loss of another child, but also the toll it put on him throughout the last three years of his term. The story itself was a bit of a strange read in the way the personal contrasts the professional. While there are many instances of intense emotion that brought me to tears, there are long sections that focus on Ukraine and foreign policy, among other topics like the 2016 election. It’s no surprise that Biden learned to keep himself busy as a way to cope with grief, and you can tell that even in the worst of times he was focused on the country. Biden also uses this book as a platform to revisit events such as the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, the two police officers slain in Brooklyn, and the Charleston South Carolina shooting. As someone who no longer holds public office after 45 years of public servitude, it’s refreshing to hear his honest concerns and opinions without representing the Obama administration.
Joe finishes by revisiting his decision not to run for the democratic nomination in 2016, but leaves the suggestion that he will be emotionally ready for a 2020 presidential run. This book feels like a strange juxtaposition of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, and compellingly balances the emotional turmoil of losing a child with the cut-and-dry work of a Vice President.
Illustration by Jooyoung Park