A ‘Promise’ Fulfilled: How Joe Biden Found Purpose After Tragedy

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Former VP Joe Biden Releases New Book About His Late Son
Credit: Flatiron Books

I have been looking forward to a number of new releases this month, including Jenifer Lewis’ The Mother of Black Hollywood (released Nov. 14) and Duane Tudahl’s Prince and the Purple Rain Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 (released Nov. 15).  As I set up my list of reads for the Thanksgiving holiday, the first of these on my list is the new book by Joe Biden (whom I affectionately call “Uncle Joe”), Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.

Nearly a year after completing two terms in service to the country as Vice President for Barack Obama, Joe Biden is speaking about the last few years of his term in office marked by the pain of losing his eldest son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer in 2015. Beau was an Iraq War veteran and former attorney general for the State of Delaware. His cancer diagnosis came in 2013, just months after the senior Biden was re-elected as Vice President.

Telling almost no one about the personal struggle his family was facing, Biden continued to work as he had prior to the diagnosis, showing very little of the emotions raging within at the prospect of yet another tragic loss. In 1972, a then Senator-elect Joe Biden lost his wife and young daughter in a traffic accident that also injured his two sons Beau and Hunter.  It, therefore, had to be especially painful to lose Beau in 2015 after nearly losing him 40 years prior.

Joe biden and son, Beau, courtesy of NBC News.

Promise Me, Dad is as much a book about politics as it is a book about the bond between a father and son. For Biden, like many, the personal is political and has always been so. One of the things readers will learn in reading this book is exactly why Biden didn’t seek the presidency, himself, in 2016 as he had in 2008 and whether not he harbors any regret over that decision and his opinions about how the race turned out.

In 2014, the Bidens began contemplating what they would be doing after 2016.  There was never a question as to whether Joe would remain in public service, but the capacity in which he would serve was wide open to possibility. On Thanksgiving of that year, Beau made it very clear that he wanted his father to seek the presidency; it wasn’t a “now or never” issue given the senior Biden’s age, but rather the selfless act of a son who didn’t want his illness to be the reason his father did not seek higher office. Joe knew this was weighing heavily on his son’s heart and to appease his request, the entire family went along with it, pretending he would be running in order to give Beau some sort of peace as he fought for his life.

President Obama and VP Joe Biden courtesy of National Archives.

A part of Joe Biden really did want to run, it had been a dream of his.  However, he was so overwhelmed by the impending loss of his son and feelings of vulnerability, both of which are expressed in journal entries he shares in the book, that a presidential bid was just not feasible at the time.  Biden discusses feeling lonely and adrift even as there was a whirlwind of change all around him as the Obama administration began winding down and preparing for transition.

President Obama awards VP Joe Biden the Medal of Freedom as a surprise. Image courtesy of NBC Today.

Is Promise Me, Dad a promise fulfilled? From various reviews and interviews, it appears that Biden delivers a very relatable story that regardless of political affiliation, at its heart, is the fulfillment of a father’s final promise to his child. But there’s more, so much more here. Promise Me, Dad is also about the son of a nation in chaos explaining why we are here and how we move past our feelings of loss and despair toward a purpose-driven life.

Three years ago this Thanksgiving, Biden made a promise to his son that he would try and pursue his dream; this Thanksgiving, in his memoir, he asks us all to promise ourselves we will do the same.  Will you heed that call?



Image courtesy of National Archives.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., was born November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the first of four siblings. In 1953, the Biden family moved from Pennsylvania to Claymont, Delaware. He graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School and served on the New Castle County Council. Then, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.

In 1977, Vice President Biden married Jill Jacobs. Jill Biden, who holds a Ph.D. in Education, is a life-long educator and currently teaches at a community college in Northern Virginia. The Vice President’s son, Beau, was Delaware’s Attorney General from 2007-2015 and a Major in the 261st Signal Brigade of the Delaware National Guard.The Vice President’s other son, Hunter, is an attorney who manages a private equity firm in Washington, D.C. and is Chairman of the World Food Program USA. And his daughter Ashley is a social worker and is Executive Director of the Delaware Center for Justice. Vice President Biden has five grandchildren: Naomi, Finnegan, Roberta Mabel (“Maisy”), Natalie, and Robert Hunter.

As a Senator from Delaware for 36 years, Vice President Biden established himself as a leader in facing some of our nation’s most important domestic and international challenges. As Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 17 years, then-Senator Biden was widely recognized for his work on criminal justice issues, including the landmark 1994 Crime Act and the Violence Against Women Act. As Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, then-Senator Biden played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy. He has been at the forefront of issues and legislation related to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, post-Cold War Europe, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia.

As the 47th Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden has continued his leadership on important issues facing the nation and has represented our country abroad traveling over 1.2 million miles to more than 50 countries. Vice President Biden has convened sessions of the President’s Cabinet, led interagency efforts, and worked with Congress in his fight to raise the living standards of middle class Americans, reduce gun violence, address violence against women, and end cancer as we know it.

Joe Biden bio courtesy of Obama White House Archives at: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/node/360106.


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Aisha K. Staggers has been writing since middle school. She had her first major publication in her local newspaper's entertainment section while a sophomore in high school, a publication in another state paper followed. Aisha has been contributing to various paper, magazines and textbooks for over 15 years. In addition to her time as an instructor of social sciences in higher education, Aisha has served as a director of education and policy research centers, and on the staff of legislative commissions. Aisha previously served on the Executive Board of the CT Young Democrats Women's Caucus and has remained active in politics and public policy. She is an alumni of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT and Fisk University in Nashville, TN where she earned Bachelor's and Master's Degrees, respectively, and completed the South Carolina Education Policy Fellowship Program in 2008. Currently, Aisha is Senior Editor for BookTrib, a division of the literary public relations firm, Meryl Moss Media. In addition to her own work, Aisha will be writing the liner notes for an upcoming Prince tribute album and contributing a chapter to a 2018 scholarly work on Prince and the Minneapolis Sound.

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