6 min read ⌚
A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose
Joe Biden served as the 47th Vice President of the United States between the years 2009 and 2014.
“Promise Me, Dad” covers mostly the events happening during 2014-5 and it encompasses everything from the pain over the loss of a child through the presidential race of 2016 to Ukraine’s civil war and ISIL.
It’s both captivatingly political and deeply personal.
Who Should Read “Promise Me, Dad”? And Why?
“Promise Me, Dad” is an honest book, written by someone who was both a Vice President and a grieving father at the time of the events described in the book.
Consequently, it can both show you the inner workings of Obama’s administration and help you deal with grief and sorrow over the loss of a loved one.
“Promise Me, Dad” will be an attractive read for the former; more importantly, it will be a solacing experience for the latter.
About Joe Biden
Joe Biden is an American politician who served as a Vice President of the United States during the Barack Obama administration between the years of 2009 and 2017.
Before that, he represented Delaware as a U.S. Senator for more than 35 years, starting from 1973, when he became the sixth-youngest senator in American history.
He sought the Democratic presidential nominations twice (in 1988 and 2008) and was expected to seek it once more in 2016. However, a year before that, his eldest son, Beau Biden, died from brain cancer, and he opted against it amid a personal struggle with loss and grief.
“Promise Me, Dad” poignantly chronicles the period.
“Promise Me, Dad PDF Summary”
Promise Me, Dad” is, as its blurb says, “a deeply moving memoir about the year that would forever change both a family and a country.
The country is the United States.
The year is 2014.
And the family is that of then-U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden, aka the handsomest man alive according to Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope.
The book, however, is bereaved of jokes.
In fact, it starts at Thanksgiving on the annual Biden Thanksgiving dinner in Nantucket which, we learn, has been a tradition of the family for decades.
However, the 2014 dinner is somewhat different and much quieter.
Because Joe Biden’s eldest son Beau is struggling with a serious disease which increasingly weakens and incapacitates him.
The U.S. will learn of its nature only after Beau’s death: it’s brain cancer and by 2014 everybody in his family knows that it can’t be more serious.
And Joe Biden, the Vice President of the most powerful country in the world, feels so powerless and incapable to help Beau.
Meanwhile, he goes on doing what he does best: being an integral part of the presidential administration – then Barack Obama’s – to an extent no Vice President before him had been.
Ever since the beginning, according to Biden, Obama trusted him strongly and, thus, to his pleasure, gave him a lot of obligations Vice Presidents usually don’t have.
During this period, Biden deals with three awkward situations.
Number 1: Ukraine, where there’s a bloody Civil War and numerous pro-Russian protest, which Vladimir Putin uses to annex the Crimean Peninsula.
Number 2: Iraq, where Haider al-Abadi, the newly elected (and still serving) Prime Minister of the country is trying to stifle the Islamic rebel coalition which has successfully created a proto-country, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL for short.
To add insult to injury, Al-Abadi is continually critical of Obama’s administration and its failure to comprehend the threat of ISIL, slowly gravitating toward Russia.
Finally, number 3: Northern South America, where negotiations for all kinds of reforms are happening on a daily basis.
However, it seems that Biden’s most difficult battle is one he is basically unable to participate: the one his son is having with his brain cancer.
Beau’s struggle, however, haunts almost every experience Joe Biden’s going through.
And it hits him especially deep during two public events for which he is the designated speaker.
The first is the murder of two on-duty police officers, and the second the Charleston church shooting, during which a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In both of these cases, Biden dug deep inside him, and he was able to feel the pain of the unfortunate ones. He too had been unfortunate one in the past: his first wife and his one-year-old daughter were killed in a tragic car accident back in 1972.
Beau survived it with a broken leg and few other wounds, but, now, forty decades later, he was struggling with a much worse and bigger enemy.
Everybody expected Joe Biden to run for President at the time.
The book details his personal struggles because, at the moment, the Presidency was not the first thing on his mind. In fact, he took some time from his office to go and spend it with his family.
However, it was also not the last – since he still believes that as a President he will be able to do some good in the world, and you don’t pass on such opportunities.
But, then, on May 30, 2015, tragedy struck: Beau Biden died.
The VP’s office issued a short statement that’s still heart-piercing: “The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words.”
It was the moment which changed Biden’s outlook: just like Seinfeld, he chose not to run.
“Promise Me, Dad” ends with Biden trying to recuperate and reclaim some meaning in his life, one he believed in as a young man, one he wants to believe in until the day he dies.
Key Lessons from “Promise Me, Dad”
1. Something to Love: Beau
2. Something to Do: Write
3. Something to Hope For: Presidency?
Something to Love: Beau
Immanuel Kant once wrote that there are three rules for happiness: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.
Biden quotes him as the epigraph of the book – and frames the very existence of “Promise Me, Dad” within these three dictums.
Beau Biden, his son, is the something Joe loves – and the something he lost in 2015 due to Beau’s brain cancer. This changed his outlook on life altogether, resulting in him giving up on the possible opportunity for a run at the Presidency.
Biden informs us that it was a lie that this was Beau’s deathbed wish.
His was much more human and gentle: “Promise me, Dad,” Beau asked him, “that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right. Give me your word, Dad, that you’re going to be all right […] Give me your word as a Biden. Give me your word, Dad. Promise me, Dad.”
Something to Do: Write
There may be two reasons why Joe Biden wrote this book.
The first one is to give himself something to do, to find a filter to cleanse himself from the feelings of grief and sorrow which had overcome him during the past few years.
Aristotle claimed that this was the reason why people went to the theatre to watch tragedies. Biden learned this the hard way.
In fewer words, the main purpose of the book is the book itself.
The writing of which, in turn, gave Biden a purpose in his life.
Something to Hope For: Presidency?
Now, there may be another reason.
This is purely circumstantial, but, there are at least two paragraphs in the book which suggest that Biden is thinking of something along the lines.
The first one is the following one:
What Andrew Cuomo did express to me that day at the end of July was that his father Mario Cuomo, who had died a year earlier] never truly made peace with declining to seek the presidency. ‘Whatever decision you make, make sure you won’t regret it,’ he told me. ‘Because you’ll live with it the rest of your life.’
The second sounds all but oath-like:
The question of running for president was all tangled up in Beau, and purpose and hope. Giving up on the presidential race would be like saying we were giving up on Beau.
Also, there’s that third part of the happiness formula: something to hope for.
Is that something, in Joe Biden’s case, presidency?
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“Promise Me, Dad Quotes”
So I try to be mindful, at all times, of what a difference a small human gesture can make to people in need. What does it really cost to take a moment to look someone in the eye, to give him a hug, to let her know, I get it. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“Promise Me, Dad” earned a lot of rave reviews and became an instant #1 “New York Times” bestseller. Deservedly, since there is nothing you won’t like about it.
Be warned, though: you’ll need some tissues.