No matter what you need
On Joe Biden’s longsuffering love for his son
Two of the world’s most famous dads were in the news this week.
Elon Musk, the wealthiest man, gave an interview in which he blamed “neo-Marxists” at unspecified schools for his 18-year-old daughter’s estrangement.
“It’s full-on communism and a general sentiment that if you’re rich, you’re evil,” Musk told the Financial Times. He added that he has good relationships with his other children, of whom there are at least 8.
“Can’t win them all,” he said.
The other dad in the news was United States President Joe Biden, who seems determined not to lose his 52-year-old son Hunter no matter how many bad decisions he makes.
The Daily Mail recently got their hands on a voicemail message the president apparently left for Hunter in October 2018, in the depths of Hunter’s addiction to crack cocaine. Around this time, according to the Mail, Hunter allegedly lied on a Delaware gun purchase form about being a drug user.
“It’s Dad,” the recording begins. “I called to tell you I love you. I love you more than the whole world, pal. You’ve gotta get some help. I don’t know what to do, I know you don’t either, but I’m here, no matter what you need. No matter what you need, I love you.”
I understand the news hook that the conservative media thought they had with this audio clip. But the net effect of releasing it was to make a lot of people cry, or call their parents, or give their children an extra kiss on the way out the door. I heard Joe Biden’s steady ragged breaths and I thought about the longsuffering love of God.
I am hardly a Joe Biden apologist; this might be the only nice thing I say about him all year. But his open-hearted love for his son is one of his finer qualities. We got a reminder of that quality this week, and it made for a stark contrast with Musk.
On the one hand we had the president in an intimate moment expressing unconditional love for his adult child, despite his many failings. On the other hand we had a tech billionaire in a public forum callously dismissing his own daughter at age 18, not for any actual offenses or deficiencies of character, but simply because they had disagreed and she had pushed him away. “Can’t win them all,” he shrugged, as if she were a bad investment in a portfolio.
My son had a birthday recently and I was thinking about the day he was born — how it broke me open and made me a different person. Not better, but different.
He had a soft pug-like look to him, as if he had too much skin for his tiny body, but his grip was sure when his hand found my finger. He held on tight in the chaos of the hospital and I felt a rare clarity of purpose: I’m here to nurture this. This is all that matters.
As for me and my parents, I was too square of a kid to get in any serious trouble, but I knew then (and I know now) they would love me no matter what. I knew it because they told me so, but also because I saw them showing deep care, hospitality, and forgiveness to all manner of people who entered our lives and our home. I aspire to live up to their example.
Family bonds are dissolved every day by the acid vat of capitalism, the crucible of addiction, or ordinary human frailty. For those of us who become parents, we have to consider what we would be willing to sacrifice to hold on to our children. A fortune? A career? A habit? An ideology?
“No matter what you need, I love you.” That’s the answer.
I’m a father of three in North Charleston, S.C. If you would like to support my work and get access to the complete archive of subscriber-only content, paid subscriptions are $5 a month.