Fatherhood in the Great Debate

When Joe Biden debated Sarah Palin at the Vice-Presidential debate, it turned out the be a great moment in feminist history.

Here, predictably, was my favorite part of the vice-presidential debate. From Biden:

Look, I understand what it’s like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it’s like as a parent to wonder what it’s like if your kid’s going to make it.

I understand what it’s like to sit around the kitchen table with a father who says, “I’ve got to leave, champ, because there’s no jobs here. I got to head down to Wilmington. And when we get enough money, honey, we’ll bring you down.”

I understand what it’s like. I’m much better off than almost all Americans now. I get a good salary with the United States Senate. I live in a beautiful house that’s my total investment that I have. So I — I am much better off now.

But the notion that somehow, because I’m a man, I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone, I don’t know what it’s like to have a child you’re not sure is going to — is going to make it — I understand.

I understand, as well as, with all due respect, the governor or anybody else, what it’s like for those people sitting around that kitchen table. And guess what? They’re looking for help. They’re looking for help.

That felt true and heartfelt to me; I don’t think he was faking it. Whatever his shortcomings, this is a man who has experienced great pain, reflected on that pain, and allowed it to inform his work as a senator.

In contrast, I felt that Palin spoke about her family in the most robotic, scripted, shallow ways imaginable. She loves them at home, I have no doubt, but on the job she’s using her children as campaign props.

Does that contrast provide any reason to vote for one or the other? Not by itself, but in both the presidential and vice-presidential debates, both Obama and Biden have expressed depths of feeling and experience that I find tremendously encouraging. These are not careless men.

Alas, a Blog made a good observation:

Biden choked up in that moment, as I think one would forever. He wasn’t grandstanding, and he wasn’t attacking Palin, he was simply making a point: that dads, too, know about household fears. That just as Palin is not disqualified from talking about the statehouse just because she’s a woman, Biden is not disqualified from talking about his home life just because he’s a man. It was, ironically, the most feminist moment of the debate.

Photo credit: Kelly Kline/Flickr

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