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Joe Biden, a father’s love and the legacy of ‘daddy issues’ among presidents

Chris Lamb, Indiana University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

President Joe Biden often talks about the close relationship he had with his father and how this influenced him growing up as “the scrappy kid from Scranton,” Pennsylvania.

Biden was born into wealth, the son of a polo-playing yachtsman. But his father, Joe Biden Sr., lost his job after World War II and abused alcohol, struggling financially for years before getting back on his feet and finding middle-class work selling cars near Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden’s relationship with his father contrasts with perhaps every president in the last four decades, who had either absent or distant fathers or abusive or alcoholic fathers or stepfathers.

“The measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down,” Joe Biden Sr. told his son, “but how quickly he gets up.”

His father’s support boosted young Joe’s political career, and offered comfort when Joe Jr.’s wife and daughter were killed in a car crash.

On the 2020 presidential campaign trail, Biden remembered his late father’s belief that “there’s no higher calling for a woman or a man than to be a good mother or a good father.”


My own father died in August 2020 at age 95. He, too, believed in the calling of fatherhood. My father and mother were there for us. They encouraged us to follow our own dreams and not theirs.

This sort of supportive father-child relationship is common – except perhaps in politics.

Former congressional staffer and political journalist Barron YoungSmith once wrote an article for Slate with the headline, “Why Do So Many Politicians Have Daddy Issues?” “American politics,” he wrote, “is overflowing with stories of absent fathers, alcoholic fathers, neglectful fathers.”

Gerald Ford’s father, Leslie Lynch King Sr., was an abusive alcoholic. Ford’s mother left King 16 days after the future president was born, when her husband threatened her and her infant son with a butcher knife. Ford’s mother married Gerald Rudolff Ford. When he was 22, Ford changed his name from Leslie Lynch King Jr. to Gerald Rudolph Ford.


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