Fair warning, I never cry on planes. Unless I’m coming back from a funeral or something emotionally exhausting. But mostly, I sleep, read, and do some writing if the wifi’s working. This book, though, was a whole other ball park out of left field. I bawled — I’m pretty sure there was some snot and I’m shocked I was able to make it silent. Maybe it’s because of the nature of the book or I had an exhausting weekend or that cancer always hits close to home. Or maybe it’s something else that I haven’t uncovered yet. But Promise Me, Dad was invigorating, motivating, and damn near heart breaking.
When I picked this book up a couple weeks ago, I heard phenomenal things and that it was a tear jerker. But I hadn’t had a book make me cry more than a couple tears — other than from laughter — in quite some time. And I’ve read some pretty emotionally tumultuous books over the past few years. Maybe I’d built up a tolerance for the human condition but this book broke me in the best way.
If you’ve been living under the rock or aren’t from the US, Vice President Joe Biden lost his oldest son, Beau, to a malignant brain tumour eventually leading to an aggressive form of brain cancer in May of 2015. He also lost his wife and oldest daughter while he was a young Senator in the late 80’s or so in a car crash. Biden details the year from their last Nantucket Thanksgiving to Beau’s death in May in a refreshingly honest way and how difficult it can be to not only juggle your loved one battling quite literally for their life with being one of the most prominent people in the US, if not the world.
Biden writes in a way that grips you from the first word that isn’t condescending or judgemental. you get a real sense for who he is, what he values, and just how difficult it is to see a loved one in so much pain. He’s a brilliant person who obviously cares deeply for his family, his country, and the world.
One of my favourite stories is when Biden recalls a time when he went to New York to speak at two police officers funerals — one of whom was born to Chinese immigrant parents. Unfortunately, as the latter was trying to fly family out from China for the service, Biden couldn’t make the actual service. But he still went to the family’s home and even with a language barrier, it was evident that both fathers knew the other understood. And *small spoiler alert*, that same Chinese family made the trip out for Beau’s family and embraced the VIce president in a much-needed hug. I was a hot pile of tears when I read that and I have no shame.
But what Vice President Biden also goes into is his decision not to run for President in 2016 in part due to his still understandably grieving his son. I would have LOVED to see Biden as president — the guy just seems hilarious — but you have to respect a man who knows what it takes to be President and bow out when he knows he can’t give the job the attention it rightly deserves.
From an outsider’s perspective, it appears that writing this book was cathartic for the former VP. HIs honesty in reocunting not only the great times when his son was doing well in treatment to the harrowing sense of loss was not something I was expecting. This book isn’t always happy and it isn’t always sad. But it does do justice to what it means to be human. It’s a beautiful read that will bring things up in your own life that you might not want to internally address, as it did for me, or it’ll remind you that life is a ridiculous mix of emotion, lessons, and more. But it really can be so beautiful at times. And like that cliche saying goes, you can’t enjoy the sun if you don’t have a bit of rain.
The book does end on an uplifting note. Biden is looking to help cure cancer in our lifetime — and he’s heading up a national movement of sorts to do it. In his words, it makes him “nostalgic for the future” and I cannot wait to see it happen.