Last Saturday was a strange day. It started with the unfathomable pain of the Biden family, for all to see at the funeral service for their son and brother, husband and father. All of last week the untimely death of Beau Biden, the oldest son of the Vice President, has dominated the news. The obvious love and mutual admiration between father and son was on display in many video clips, from early childhood images of Beau in the hospital, after the traffic accident that killed his mother and sister, to his presenting his father as candidate for the Vice Presidency at the 2008 Democratic convention. The sadness of it all even made no drama Obama, to whom according to some observers Joe Biden alternately has become the father he hardly knew and a brother, choke up during his eulogy, and there was no dry eye in the church and in many a home when Hunter Biden, Beau’s brother, told of holding his brother’s hand while he passed away. And then, in the evening, American Pharoah gave the country tremendous joy by winning the Triple Crown.
There is a public and a private aspect to the compassion that flowed to the Bidens, in particular to Joe. As for the public part, Beau’s death and his service to his country also put the spotlight on his father, and made many Americans, maybe for the first time, realize what a force for good Biden has been in DC, and how much selfless support Obama receives from him. That awareness was still enhanced by the fact that a moral low life like Ted Cruz picked last week for one of his tasteless Biden jokes, which only served as a reminder that Biden is indeed an original, one of those rare politicians who wears his emotions up his sleeve and speaks his mind without much calculation. Privately, the passing of Beau forced many to look into their own relationships, in particular sons with their fathers and fathers with their sons. The latter aspect probably explains the massive grief even more than the former, and I’m guessing that this time men were more ‘emotional’ than women.
In one of Joe Biden’s acceptance speech fragments that was played over and over again last week he quotes his own father’s statement that a father knows he’s a success when his son turns out to be a better person than he is. Obviously it was an homage to Beau, who had put a stellar political career on hold to serve with the Delaware National Guard in Iraq, but it also made people realize how similar the two Bidens were, both looks- and personality-wise. Fittingly, Obama called Beau the 2.0 version of Joe.
Personally I have a problem with Biden’s statement, because it doesn’t apply in my life. My father was the sweetest man I ever knew, without a trace of malice in his whole being, so I cannot stand in his shadow, but acknowledging that would make him a failure by the Biden rules. Contrarily, my son often amazes me with the high moral standards on which he operates, and I have on occasion told him that he is a much better person than I am, but I don’t feel that I deserve any credit for that.
And after all that sadness there was the horserace, giving America something it had missed out on thirty seven years in a row. In a beautiful Dutch poem, a nightingale starts singing in the evening of a day filled with sorrow. The last line says “dear God, forgive the little nightingale.” Similarly, we can now ask God to forgive American Pharoah.