Monday, June 1, 2015

The Character Behind that Goofy Grin

Well I know this post may come as a surprise, since I've been extremely busy doing some very fun things and yet have not blogged about any of them; but this particular incident - the recent death of VP Joe Biden's 46 year old son to brain cancer prompted me to read a few articles about the VP.

I might mention that I am a Republican. Probably more liberal than conservative, but still a Republican, so I have never really given much attention to VP Joe Biden. All I've really known of him is that he always seems to have this happy-go-lucky, goofy grin on his face and is always in trouble for doing or saying something inappropriate.  He's always struck me as a prankster - sort of a comedy act.  He seems to always get caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Anyway, until the last few days, I was not aware of the grief this man has known. His life and entire career have been woven with tragedy. Many men would have been broken, yet, he never gave up - and he always has this goofy grin on his face as if he hasn't a care in the world!

It is a wonder this man can smile at all.  At the age of 30, just a week after he was elected to the senate, his wife and daughter were killed in an auto accident.  It was questionable, as well, if his two sons would survive.  He came close to ending his political career before it even started. However, the fact that his sons did survive was his saving grace.  He admitted, in a 2012 speech to grieving families, that had both boys died in the accident, he may not have found the strength to go on.  He told them he understood how someone could consciously consider suicide, "not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again."

He went on to say this: 

"There will come a day – I promise you, and your parents as well – when the thought of your son or daughter, or your husband or wife, brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen."

Well, tragedy struck the life of Joe Biden again this past Saturday.  His 46 year old son Beau, one of the sons who survived the 1972 auto accident, lost his battle with brain cancer.  So VP Joe Biden is having to bury another loved one.

I learned all of this just in the past two days as I was reading about Beau Biden's death.  One article lead to another, and I found myself watching an address VP Biden gave earlier this month to the graduating class at Yale University.  His speech was personal, funny, very touching and revealed to me a man I never imagined behind that goofy grin.

I am including here links to both the youtube speech itself and the transcript.  I read the transcript first and enjoyed it so much that I couldn't resist watching Biden actually give the speech.  Watching and listening to the actual speech was far better than just reading the transcript. I never realized what a great speaker Biden is.

Yes, it is long and takes some time, but it is so very worth it.  But because I know that most of you will not take the time, I want to list here a few lines in the speech that I highlighted primarily because I don't want to forget them.

(Biden's words in italics)

I was raised by a tough, compassionate Irish lady named Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden.  And she taught all of her children that, but for the grace of God, there go you — but for the grace of God, there go you...

...And a father who lived his motto that, family was the beginning, the middle, and the end.

It was one of his (father's) expressions.  It’s a lucky man or woman gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do, and thinks it still matters.

First, the most successful and happiest people I’ve known understand that a good life at its core is about being personal.  It’s about being engaged.  It’s about being there for a friend or a colleague when they’re injured or in an accident, remembering the birthdays, congratulating them on their marriage, celebrating the birth of their child.  It’s about being available to them when they’re going through personal loss.  It’s about loving someone more than yourself.  It all seems to get down to being personal.

It’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don’t know his motives. (Joe Biden quoting the advice given him early in his career by Majority Leader Mike Mansfield .)

Build real relationships — even with people with whom you vehemently disagree.  You’ll not only be happier.  You will be more successful.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that although you know no one is better than you, every other person is equal to you and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

But even if you get these things right, I’ve observed that most people who are successful and happy remembered a third thing:  Reality has a way of intruding. (This statement preceded Biden telling the graduates about the auto accident that took the lives of his wife and daughter and injured his two sons.)

I can remember my mother — a sweet lady — looking at me, after we left the hospital, and saying, Joey, out of everything terrible that happens to you, something good will come if you look hard enough for it.  She was right.

My dad’s definition of success is when you look at your son and daughter and realize they turned out better than you, and they did.
But resist that temptation to rationalize what others view is the right choice for you — instead of what you feel in your gut is the right choice — that’s your North Star.  Trust it.  Follow it. 


The speech was incredible. It was actually brilliant.  So much good advice that could apply to us all.  I never knew that so much character resided behind that goofy grin.

I will never look at Vice President Joe Biden the same way again!



  1. Wow! Really amazing speech! I think that it was absolutely worth the whole post on your blog! Thank you for sharing.