Jack Ohman

Op Image: As Beau Biden is buried, thoughts go to his father

In 2008, then-Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden embraces his son Beau on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Beau Biden died last Saturday at age 46.
In 2008, then-Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden embraces his son Beau on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Beau Biden died last Saturday at age 46. Associated Press file

Vice President Joe Biden’s inextinguishable pride and love come into sharp focus as he gazes at his son Beau, who will be buried today at the too-young age of 46.

Biden’s personal tragedies are etched into the hearts of Americans. Shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate in 1972 at the improbable age of 29, Biden’s wife went Christmas shopping with her young children. A truck broadsided their car, killing her and their daughter; their sons Beau and Hunter survived.

In his grief, Biden considered resigning, but was dissuaded by Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Sen. Hubert Humphrey. He set about becoming a good senator and, more importantly, a good father. He commuted home each night on Amtrak back to Wilmington, Del.

Biden has had his share of bumps in politics, but he is one of Washington’s most well-liked leaders.

He’s a Democratic insider who gets along well with GOP leadership. He can be too voluble, but always irrepressible, and his heart bulges on his sleeve.

Children shouldn’t die before their parents; it’s every mother and father’s eternal nightmare. Biden has suffered this tragedy twice.

Parents invest in their children their hopes and aspirations. We parents falter some and succeed occasionally, but hope our children know they are loved unconditionally, even when, and maybe especially when, they fall short of our expectations.

The crashing fist of random, cruel fate is inexplicable when any child or young adult dies. So it is with Beau Biden, who was a father of two children, a former Delaware attorney general, a former major in the Delaware National Guard and a potential 2016 gubernatorial candidate.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives. Joe Biden has proven that to be untrue. But when your son, in whom you have vested so much, isn’t allowed to finish the first act, the stage becomes dreadfully empty.

Biden gave a commencement address at Yale University a few weeks ago and spoke about the importance of family, and talked about his sons, knowing that Beau was gravely ill. He proudly recounted that a paper in Delaware ran a story in 2012 under the headline: “Biden most popular man in Delaware – Beau.”

After his first wife and infant daughter died in 1972, Biden found his redemption by going home each night and spending the evenings with his sons. Now another is gone, and so too is another piece of the vice president. Biden has known many fine men, but called his son “quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”

We don’t know what Beau Biden’s future might have been. But what we do know is why he became who he was, and that was in no small way through his father’s love.

  Comments