Were he alive today, Joseph Biden Sr would have been proud of his son, not only for his considerable political achievements, but also for the way he has repeatedly picked himself up after blows that would have left a lesser man down and out.
For his part, the 47th vice president of the United States, who visited the UAE this week as part of a Middle East tour, would give all the credit to his father, who died in 2002.
Biden Sr, Biden Jr wrote in his 2008 autobiography, “had been knocked down hard as a young man”, falling on hard times, and forced to lead his family from their home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to find work as a second-hand car salesman in a depressed part of Delaware.
Biden Sr hated his dead-end job, but remained resolutely cheerful and never complained.
"He had no time for self-pity," his son recalled in Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. "He didn't judge a man by how many times he got knocked down, but by how fast he got up.
“‘Get up’ was his phrase, and it has echoed through my life.”
The future vice president’s own ability to “get up” would first be tested early in life. Born on November 20, 1942, the first of Joseph and Catherine Biden’s four children was saddled with a debilitating stammer.
When the Irish Catholic family moved to Wilmington, Delaware, the 10-year-old found himself one of the smallest boys in his school, and was teased mercilessly.
“Other kids looked at me like I was stupid,” he later recalled. “They laughed … even today I can remember the dread, the shame, the absolute rage.”
Biden fought back, against the bullies – on and off the sports field, he went out of his way to show “I had guts” – and against the stammer, beating it in the end by endlessly reciting poetry in front of a mirror.
The impediment, he said, turned out to be his friend: “It strengthened me and … taught me … invaluable lessons for my life as well as my chosen career”.
Balancing academic work with a busy sporting life, Biden graduated from the Catholic Archmere Academy in 1961, going on to study history and political science at the University of Delaware.
During a spring break in 1964, he met Neilia Hunter, a student at Syracuse University, and by August 1966, they were married, while Biden was still studying law at Syracuse.
Biden was admitted to the bar in 1969, and the couple had three children in quick succession: Joseph (known as “Beau”), Robert and Naomi, born in 1969, 1970 and 1971.
In 1969, Biden ran successfully for office as a Democratic councillor in New Castle County, Delaware, but he told Neilia his sights were already set – on the Senate and beyond.
In 1972, few commentators gave the ambitious but inexperienced and underfunded 29-year-old much chance of unseating J Caleb Boggs, the popular Republican senator for Delaware, first elected in 1960, and running for a third term with the full support of the then-president, Richard Nixon, and the Republican Party.
Against all the odds, Biden pulled it off. Running a grass-roots campaign backed to the hilt by his teacher wife and wider family, on November 7, 1972, he became the US’s youngest senator.
But in his hour of triumph, fate dealt Biden the cruelest of blows. On December 18, a month after his victory, his wife and 1-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash that also left his two young sons badly hurt. Biden has never worked on December 18 since.
Biden wasn’t sworn in with the rest of the senators in Washington. Instead, on January 5, 1973, he took the oath at Wilmington Medical Center in Delaware. Robert, 3, who had suffered a minor skull fracture in the crash, sat on his grandmother’s lap for the ceremony. His brother, Beau, 4, lay in a cot, his broken body in plaster.
“We had a number of plans, Neilia and I, for the swearing-in day,” Biden said at the solemn ceremony. “My children were to have been with us … I felt I should be sworn in with my children today.”
Biden told the press he hoped to be a good senator, but wouldn’t hesitate to step down if it got in the way of his job as a single parent. “You can always get another senator,” he said, “but they can’t get another father.”
He never moved to Washington, choosing instead to commute the one-and-a-quarter hours by train every day so he could be with his sons each evening. In 2011, Amtrak renamed Wilmington station in his honour.
In 1975, he met Jill Jacobs, a high-school teacher. They married in 1977, and went on to have a daughter, Ashley. At first, she told The New York Times in 2008, the thought of becoming the wife of a politician she had voted for in 1972, and a mother to his boys, was daunting, but she came to see that "anybody who can love that deeply once can do it again".
Between 1972 and 2008, Biden was re-elected six times, and served a total of 36 years as Delaware’s senator.
He never lost sight of his ultimate goal, but once again fate had other ideas.
Biden launched his first bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1987, when he was 44. Not for the last time, he wrong-footed himself, and his attempt to become the youngest president since John F Kennedy foundered on accusations that he had plagiarised part of a speech.
He had credited the source in other speeches he had made, but neglected to do so at the Democratic debate in Iowa in August 1987. His campaign quickly unravelled, and he withdrew.
“I made a mistake,” he told National Public Radio in 2007. “I did not, in the debate in Iowa, attribute what I said. And it was born out of my arrogance. It was stupid. I didn’t deserve to be president.”
Fate wasn’t finished with him just yet. The following February, Biden very nearly lost his life to an aneurysm, a situation so touch-and-go for a while that a priest was called to administer the last rites.
In the end, Biden’s presidential disaster may have been a blessing. His wife was adamant that, had he pressed on with the campaign, “he would have definitely died”.
In 2008, two decades after his first attempt at the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden tilted once again at the biggest prize. This time he found himself up against rising Democratic star Barack Obama, and despite Biden’s experience and superior record at home and overseas, the rest was soon history.
Biden withdrew from the race after a disappointing result in the Iowa caucuses in January, but in August signed up as Obama’s running mate, becoming his vice president in November 2008.
Along with Obama, he was re-elected in 2012, despite a series of gaffes that had dogged his vice presidency.
"Mr Biden," The New York Times noted in May that year, "delights in speaking bluntly – even as that can complicate things for the White House, as it did Sunday when Mr Biden said he was 'absolutely comfortable' with same-sex marriage, an endorsement that went beyond Mr Obama's statements on the issue."
But when it comes to reaching out to ordinary American voters, Biden’s blue-collar roots and tragic personal history has equipped him with an empathy that few other politicians can match.
For a while, it seemed that Biden was contemplating a third and final tilt at the presidency. If he had entered the 2016 race and won, the man who once contemplated becoming one of America’s youngest presidents would, at the age of 74 upon taking office, have been its oldest.
In the event, fate stepped in again. On May 30, 2015, Biden’s son Beau, who survived the car crash that killed his mother and sister, succumbed to brain cancer, at the age of 46. He had followed his father into law, and was Delaware’s attorney general.
This final family blow seemed to punch the heart out of Biden’s presidential ambitions. Shortly before announcing he wouldn’t run, he gave an emotional, moving television interview, in which he spoke about his love and admiration for his son.
“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless … they can look at the folks out there and say: ‘I promise you, you have my whole heart and soul, my energy and my passion to do this,’” he told Stephen Colbert in September. “And I’d be lying if I said I knew I was there.”
When he steps down as vice president on January 20, 2017, Biden will have reached the end of a distinguished 42-year career of elected service.
By then, as even his inspirationally tenacious father would surely have acknowledged, he will finally need to “get up“ no longer.
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