As Joe Biden marks a somber anniversary, his son’s fate weighs on him

This election could be different. In a September NBC News poll, 60% of respondents said they had major concerns (45%) or moderate concerns (15%) about Biden’s possible awareness or involvement in the business dealings of his son including alleged financial wrongdoing and corruption.

The Long Recovery

Hunter Biden’s last words to his brother in 2015 were the same as the first he’d heard from him 42 years earlier. And after his illness and death, he “completely unraveled,” as he told Moby.

“It’s not an excuse, but it is the reason,” he said.

Four-year-old Beau Biden, foreground, rests while his father, Joe Biden, center, is sworn in as a U.S. senator from Delaware in a Wilmington hospital, on Jan. 5, 1973. AP file

But Beau Biden’s passing only reignited addiction challenges Hunter Biden had faced before. In his 2021 memoir, Hunter said he felt the unresolved trauma both he and his brother dealt with after the accident in 1972 “manifested themselves differently in each of us,” for the rest of their lives. 

To blame it for his own substance abuse battles would be a “cop-out,” he wrote, but added later that it took him decades “to acknowledge that original loss, address that original trauma, recognize that original pain.”

Reflecting on grief recently in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Joe Biden said that as difficult as losing Beau was for him, it “was even more profound for Hunter” and his daughter, Ashley.

“It made me a little more fatalistic. It also caused me and Jill enormous pain because he should be the one sitting there talking to you, Beau. He was a better man than I am, and so is Hunter,” Joe Biden said.

Hunter, in his book, wrote that he and his father initially “dealt with our grief in ways that often were incongruent with helping each other.” His father immersed himself in his work, as vice president and then in the run-up to his 2020 campaign, but ultimately the attacks on him in that campaign helped bring them together again.

“Whenever I apologized to him for bringing so much heat onto his campaign, he responded by saying how sorry he was for putting me on the spot, for bringing so much heat onto me, especially at a time when I was so determined to get well,” he wrote. “That’s the biggest political debate my dad and I had for months: Who should apologize to whom?”

Neilia Biden Car Crash
The wrecked car of Neilia Biden, 1972.Bettmann Archive/Getty Images file

Ambassador of Grief

The president has often discussed how the 1972 accident nearly led him to quit the Senate before he’d even taken office, saying after he took the oath of office in his sons’ hospital room that if there was ever a conflict between him being a good father and a good senator, he’d choose the former. 

A career full of personal trials has also led Biden to say, as he often did ahead of announcing his plan to seek a second term, that he is a “great respecter of fate. It also helped him not only build personal relationships across the aisle but was the root of what Biden aides have long called his “superpower,” his empathy.

Just moments after Hunter Biden delivered his statement at the Capitol on Wednesday, Joe Biden held his first in-person meeting with family members of hostages being held by Hamas terrorists. 

During the two-hour meeting, which began in the East Wing and included a tour of the Oval Office, Biden shared his own history of loss, specifically raising with the families about the upcoming anniversary of the 1972 accident, according to multiple attendees.

“He recounted getting the worst call a parent can receive, that his wife and three children had been in a car accident right before Christmas,” Yael Alexander, the mother of 19-year-old hostage American Edan Alexander, told NBC News. “There is no question he understands the longing I feel as a mother to have my son home with me during the holidays, and the urgency with which we need a deal to bring the hostages home now.”

A hostage parent would later say they were able to remain composed during the emotional session until the president himself teared up.

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