It's been a couple of weeks since Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden famously choked up during his debate with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, but I still choke up myself just thinking about it. Every day or two, I get to relive the moment on YouTube.
Much has been said about this moment. It's been lauded and derided. Analyzed and politicized. Many have called Biden's tears political gold, but few have questioned their authenticity. It's hard to fake the fear of losing a child.
In fact, watching a United States senator and vice-presidential candidate reveal his fear before a national audience was quite a remarkable thing. Most of us were brought up to believe that our nation's leaders must be strong. That our nation's fathers must be brave. We must not show we're afraid. But Biden did, and in doing so, I think he provided some much-needed release for our nation's mothers and fathers.
But especially the fathers. Fear is something we are trained not to readily convey. Especially not in plain sight. I never thought of my father as fearful, but years later in raising my own child, I presume he was. In fact, in thinking back, I realize he wasn't afraid to show his fear at all. Only he didn't express it through tears. He expressed it through discipline and instruction. He expressed it by being around and spending most of his waking moments preventing me and my siblings from stepping into harm's way. And he was always there.
I've taken to guiding my own son much in the same way. Every day, as the world reveals more of itself to him, we talk about the things to watch out for and how they can be circumvented. I fear what the world can do to him. I fear what he will one day be able to do to himself. I want him to know there are dangers to be wary of, but I also want him to enjoy his childhood and feel safe. So I pretend not to fear. And I try to take the edge off his own fear by convincing him no matter what might step out of the shadows, daddy's got it. And I try to always be there.
After a couple of days of replaying the "Biden Chokes Up" video on YouTube, I went to work creating my own video. I took a song I wrote about the fear of not being able to reach a child in trouble, and I set it to some old family footage I discovered on the Web from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. I found something so strange, magical and sad in these old films. All the little boys depicted in them have become the men they were to become. Most of them are either very old or have passed on.
I was amazed by how beautifully and concisely the films captured the boyhood experience. How tender and pushy boys could be. How a toy train could provide not only the wonder of exploration, but also a segue into the grown-up world. But I was distraught over not being able to find more clips of the boys with their fathers. The fathers! Where were they during these critical moments? For the most part, they were painfully absent. So much for paternal guidance. So much for always being there.
It wasn't until a few days after I had posted my video on YouTube that my son and I happened to be watching some old family movies of our own. I was pained to discover that in these family movies, I too was grievously absent. In fact, it seemed I had missed out on many of my son's biggest moments. His first birthday cake. His first Winter recital. His first haircut at the barbershop.
But as the sharp pangs of guilt began to set in, the TV revealed a reflection of someone in the barbershop mirror. And with a great sigh of relief, I realized I was there watching over my son after all.
I was the one holding the camera.