On Tuesday night, I watched the first presidential debate of 2020 on TV in a Kansas living room with my father. And, among other things we saw as we sat there together, we watched as the president of the United States attacked former Vice President Joe Biden because of his son Hunter Biden.
"I know Hunter," the president said, though there's no evidence (and it's unlikely) that they ever met. "Hunter got thrown out of the military. ... He was dishonorably discharged" — which he was not. "For cocaine use," Trump added.
Biden responded to the smear: "My son, like a lot of people at home, had a drug problem," he said, looking directly into the camera. "He's overtaking it. He's fixed it. He's worked on it. And I'm proud of him. I'm proud of my son."
My father is a one-time Republican and now a staunch Biden supporter, but you can never assume to know how someone else experiences a moment like that or exactly what my father saw in Joe Biden that night. I know what I saw: a reflection of my dad. Biden is a father whose unwavering love has been essential in his child’s struggle and recovery from addiction. And my father's love has been essential in mine.
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Tuesday marked six months and 14 days into my recovery from alcoholism, and six months and 14 days since my father, my best friend and a team of EMTs saved my life. My dad and that friend together made what I know now was a difficult but instant decision to call 911, and then insisted that those EMTs kick in the door of my apartment in Washington, D.C. Because they insisted, the first responders found me on the floor, semiconscious and unable to stand; I had both pneumonia and hepatitis. I learned later that I had been close to death.
So, Biden was right: There were a lot of people at home who understood what it was like to have or love someone who has an addiction.
In a country with a growing opioid epidemic — more than 40 states have reported an increase in opioid overdoses since the beginning of the pandemic — as well as studies that show binge drinking on the rise this year (in a nation that already had 15 million alcoholics), substance abuse on the rise and nearly one-third of Americans suffering from pandemic-related depression and/or anxiety, there are an increasing number of victims of addiction. And in a world in which Covid-19 has dramatically increased the sickness and despair and death with which we all must deal, many of us are being forced to face our demons, often in isolation, or quite literally die trying.
But that doesn't mean we aren't loved, or that we aren't worthy of love. It doesn't mean our worst mistakes deserve to be fodder for attacks on those whom we love. And it doesn't mean that, with love, assistance and understanding, we can't change as part of the process of recovery — which, as Hunter Biden knows, is indeed a process and not an end point.
Joe Biden knows that. And while he could have turned the president's attack around on Trump's children, and he could've brought up their missteps — including Donald Trump Jr.'s own admission of his years of problematic drinking, for instance — he instead took the opportunity to remind his son that the attacks weren't Hunter's fault, and that he was loved. And in the process, he reminded a lot of people like me (and my dad) that we are, too.
That's the kind of man he is. And it's the kind of president I know he'll be.
This wasn't my first experience with Joe Biden: Nearly 13 years ago, I drove across the country to work for his campaign in Iowa, in the lead-up to his 2008 presidential campaign. That caucus experience was a huge, wild, exhilarating experience; anything I could say as a tiny cog in that big wheel would just mirror everything everybody else says about his determination, love and resilience. But If you are just getting to know this decent, thoughtful, intelligent and kind man in this election cycle, please know that my experience having worked with him is that he is truly and honestly all of that and so much more.
He is a father, son, husband and brother whose love is boundless and whose care can heal. I saw a reflection of my dad in him on Tuesday when he spoke of his love for Hunter, but I'd seen other reflections of the father I love in him before; that's why I campaigned for him in the first place.
Many Americans are most likely still thinking about what they saw on stage on Tuesday night: a man — the president — who threw a hateful, unhinged, racist and nearly unintelligible temper tantrum, who will, no matter what happens in November, have to lead this country until the next president is inaugurated; and Joe Biden, who we desperately need to lead, support and heal us as a country.