X Close

What haunts Hunter Biden? The politician's son had the misfortune to grow up surrounded by saints

What works for the father does not work for the son. Credit: Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images

What works for the father does not work for the son. Credit: Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images


April 13, 2021   5 mins

Hunter Biden’s memoir of addiction is written by multiple people, and it reads like it. There is good Hunter, who is heartbroken and filled with shame, and wants to kill himself with crack cocaine. There is bad Hunter, who is angry with his father Joe, and will help good Hunter do it. (Bad Hunter is the best writer of the three, because he is the most honest.) Then there is — presumably — his father’s press team, which sticks a redemptive ending onto Beautiful Things, because that is what you do when you are heading into a presidential re-election campaign with a family member who constantly relapses on crack cocaine. Everything broken can be mended with kindness and prayer: that is Joe Biden’s personal message and his political bumper sticker, and they cannot be untangled. This book is pre-emptive surgery: the removal of Hunter’s sting. Either Joe is running in 2024 — or Hunter is.

In December 1972, Hunter’s mother Neilia was driving her three children — Beau (“Beautiful”), 3; Hunter (self-explanatory), 2; and Naomi, the baby, to buy a Christmas Tree in Delaware. Her husband Joe, newly elected to the Senate at just 29, was interviewing staff in Washington. Perhaps Neilia, with three children under 3, was exhausted. She ignored a stop sign and crashed into a tractor. Neilia and Naomi died. Beau and Hunter awoke in a hospital room. Their father was sworn into the Senate there. They subsequently lived inside the narrative of Joe’s rise to power. Willingly or not, they were seconded to public service. “Delaware’s residents placed their sorrows and their hopes in a dashing young widower suddenly left with two toddlers,” Hunter writes. “Our survival became a source of state-wide pride”. Delaware “adopted” the children. Gratitude was the only polite response.

But it wasn’t a truthful one. Two things interest me about Hunter’s childhood. The first is that he was, in his words, “practically raised” by his aunt and uncle. He was also “raised on politics like farm kids raised on sweet corn”. So, they were raised by an extended family, or the people of Delaware, or politics. I suspect Joe was so overwhelmed by Neilia’s loss he abandoned his children for office. He took them to the Senate — where they played in the sauna — and to endless public meetings. But is that, really, presence?

He couldn’t save Neilia or Naomi, so he would save America. It isn’t exactly selfishness, but it isn’t exactly sacrifice either. It laid on his children a terrible guilt, for having childish needs. “Beau and I never really grieved the loss of our mother and baby sister,” Hunter writes. “We were almost ashamed to admit to any sadness we might have felt because of how enveloped we were in that familial embrace.” There is withholding in that kind of love. It concealed Joe’s grief, but it concealed him, too.

Hunter has the misfortune to be surrounded by saints. His father is the anti-Trump. His mother is sanctified by death. His brother Beau was saintly too: he was attorney general of Delaware, scourge of sex offenders, preparing to run for governor in 2016. (If Joe didn’t win the presidency, Beau was next in line, his father’s choice). But Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 and is likewise beyond reproach.

If you are among saints, and you are not like them, what are you? A sinner, and Hunter couldn’t exist without his better half. When Beau dies, he asks himself: “If we weren’t the three of us anymore, what were we?” His father, meanwhile, “sat on his porch for hours and took one call after another from current and former leaders from every hemisphere and every country.” This repression is the family way. Hunter and Beau never asked each other what they remembered about the accident. And here again, “Dad and I never really sat together to have a heart-to-heart, to talk about what we were going through. Words,” he writes, “almost felt risky”.

Instead, emboldened by the public response to his eulogy, he asked his wife Kathleen if he should run for office on the wave of grief and sympathy. (It’s the other family way). She replied: “Are you serious?” After that, “We didn’t say another word to each other for the rest of the ride. Or, really, ever again”. Bereft of both Beau and Kathleen, his addiction took flight.

The first part of the book deals with his childhood — the enforced gratitude for their privileges and the conditional love of the people of Delaware — and loss of Beau. This part feels stymied. Hunter describes the relationship between the three men like this: “It’s a Biden love story, of course, which means it’s complicated: tragic, humane, emotional, enduring, widely consequential, and ultimately redemptive.” They all talk like this: in broad concepts of love, loss and courage. Do they talk like this in private? They might do. How do they order soup?

There is also a defence of his business dealings in China and Ukraine, which were used to attack his father by his opponents. It’s an across-the-board denial of wrong-doing, too comprehensive and outraged in tone to feel true. But if it isn’t entirely true, he cannot say otherwise. He is, again, constricted by his father’s need for power. (There are no politics in this book at all. It is the most telling blank.)

Only in the second part — when Hunter details his relapses and half-life inside hotels rooms with criminals — is the prose alive. For using is his most vivid life, the only place where he is allowed to be angry at the things that are denied him. His writing on this is raging and horrifying. His description of his relationship with Rhea, a street homeless crack addict who moves in with him, is the best thing in the book: a bizarre and functional marriage, with crack as their beloved child.

Hunter is not long sober, if he is at all. He gave a long interview to the New Yorker in 2019 but reveals here that he was high during every interview. (He has been using, with gaps of varying length, since his father became Vice President; since he ascended to the mountain-top.) I would not comment on a fellow addict’s sobriety, but he is a Biden and therefore public property: I am invited to comment.

Hunter does not sound well. He still hates the drug dealers he was dependent on, though they were as addicted as he, and with none of his privileges. If he had what recovering addicts call emotional sobriety — or if he were truly a progressive — he would try to understand their behaviour. He married a second time, to Melissa, who had “the exact same eyes as my brother”, after knowing her for a week. He did not thank his first wife Kathleen, who suffered at his hands, in his acknowledgements. His thanks to Melissa, “the love of my life”, feel like whiplash.

And he never tells us what I most want to know as he tells of hotel tabs and hangers-on and profligacy: where did he get the money? There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply for his using. Its source is not divulged.

He is honest, though, about his love affair with his brother’s wife Hallie after Beau’s death. It was a pitiful attempt to reanimate the man they both loved. He wanted, he writes, to be close to Beau’s children: “I was seduced by the idea of providing the same kind of extended family that surrounded Beau and me after we lost our mommy and sister.” It’s a re-imagining of the extended family he was gifted to after the death of his mother, but here it feels explicitly insane.

Joe is the most interesting character in this book, of course, and he is not in this book. He is God on his mountaintop. You cannot be angry with God, though watching God try to operate amid the wreckage of his own distant benevolence is bleakly funny. How would it be if your father the Vice President arrived at your crack house with his security detail to ask: “Are you OK?” It’s a weird question to ask a child you know is using drugs. It invites a positive response, a rescuing. Hunter has none for him. Joe cries once, when Hunter runs away from an intervention: “I don’t know what else to do, I’m so scared, tell me what to do”.

Hunter emerges from this rowdy memoir not as a kind man — look to Beau and Joe for that — but as an angry man destroyed, though guiltily, by the imperatives of those he loves. Joe Biden fused his personal narrative into political success long ago because people are sentimental. It worked for the father. It does not work for the son. Here is the evidence, and in his own hand.


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

TanyaGold1

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

30 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Nothing ‘haunts’ Hunter Biden. He is just a very nasty and corrupt piece of work who has been enabled by his father. The corruption and nepotism runs through the whole family.

John Mcalester
John Mcalester
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Your comment could equally be applied to the Trump family.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
3 years ago
Reply to  John Mcalester

The article isn’t about Trump, it’s about Hunter Biden.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  John Mcalester

which of the Trump family members engaged in any of the things that we know about Hunter? Seriously, which one, since the “comment could be applied equally.”

John Mcalester
John Mcalester
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I was thinking in particular how Fred Trump enabled his youngest son, a more obvious example of nepotism would be hard to find.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  John Mcalester

A father ushers a child into the family business. Sure, that never ever happened before the Trumps. Ever. Really? And again, none of the Trumps has engaged in what we know about Hunter. I shudder to think what has not surfaced about this man.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Trump’s brother Fred specifically warned him against alcohol ( which led to his own early death )and drugs-and Trump seems to be almost puritan for someone who was young in the 1960’s.Also if Fred hadn’t have died he would have been the heir to the fortune-being the eldest son-something his daughter still seems rather bitter about missing out on.

sharon johnson
sharon johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Alex, Agreed. Here in the US, Mr. Trump (for whom half the country voted) is loved or hated, but his children seem to operate within the norm. (I would have responded to Mcalester’s comment but I don’t suffer fools gladly.)

John Mcalester
John Mcalester
3 years ago
Reply to  sharon johnson

Hey, I’m no fan of Biden either. I think the US has shown us over the last few years that the electorate gets the politicians it deserves.
Thanks for the kind words by the way.

Antony Hirst
AH
Antony Hirst
3 years ago
Reply to  John Mcalester

Yup. A President that spends his own money campaigning and finished his term in politics considerably less wealthy than when he started. You got him bang to rights.
Nobody can possibly criticise two-stacks Biden with the same despicable behaviour.

Last edited 3 years ago by Antony Hirst
Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago
Reply to  John Mcalester

The Trump family made their money by buildings – the Biden family made their money via taking bribes. There is a vast difference Mr Mcalester.

Ian Wigg
IW
Ian Wigg
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Sounds like a description of the womanising, drug addicted, alcoholic who was perfectly happy to risk global nuclear destruction 60’s years ago. Fortunately he got lucky and became a blessed martyr.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

Sleeping with your brother’s widow than cheating on her with a stripper who you have a kid with.
What a charmer and a man you would usually hate but he’s on the correct side of politics so good luck hunter

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Please stop. If Hunter’s last name was not tied to a political figure, he would be just another inmate in some state prison. His list of bad acts borders on sociopathic.

kathleen carr
KC
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The authorities ( and it has to be them as according to Hunter he has been totally off his head with drugs for the last 30 years) have decided to adopt a high risk strategy-the one of hiding in plain view. This book is to tie up all those loose ends which they were unable to totally suppress last autumn -but they have missed a thread or two. Why would any firm take on anyone as useless as Hunter ( his father claims he is totally not involved in any of his business deals)-how would they benefit-he has zero skills and expertise? Secondly the first husband of the present first lady states he knows she and Joe were ‘seeing’ each other before the first wife’s death. Joe couldn’t get a divorce as that would be career suicide as a Catholic .Was the first wife’s death a classic case of suicide ( from which Beau and Hunter were the tragic unspoken survivers and the ‘leaving’ of the laptop his cry for help) or something even more sinister? Anyway it looks like America’s second Catholic President has a family life as complicated as the first one.

Mark Rothermel
Mark Rothermel
3 years ago

“Surrounded by saints.”

Hard to even begin to take the author seriously.
If you want to say his dad was a successful empty suit who faked a modest background who enriched himself supporting credit card companies while his kids and offspring were drug riddled immoral ne’er do wells, I am fine with that.
The family is loathsome, like most political families. To suggest otherwise insults our intelligence and sensibilities.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago

Joseph Biden is one of the most corrupt people in Washington D.C. – and there is a lot of competition for that title. Hunter Biden was not undermined by his father being a “saint” – he was undermined by his father being a corrupt man who insisted that Hunter bring home bribe money for “the Big Guy” (Joseph Biden).

Paul Marks
PM
Paul Marks
3 years ago

The establishment claim that 80 million people voted for Mr Joseph Biden – “80 million” is nonsense, but millions of people did vote for him. They voted for a man who, in his own televised “Townhall”, admitted (no boasted) that he supported the sexual mutilation (“Trans Rights”) for eight year old children – eight year old children.
I do not care if only 40 million (rather than 80 million) people really voted for Mr Biden – that is still tens of millions of people. Can a nation that has that many evil people within it survive? Does it even deserve to survive?

Derek M
DM
Derek M
3 years ago

If you think Joe Biden is a saint you have a very warped view of the world. The man has never had a job outside politics but has become a multi-millionaire

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 years ago

Maybe I will jog on to mainstream media for a change and see how this story is covered. Hilarious laughter.

Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale
2 years ago

The author’s definition of saintliness is in definite need of refinement.
In actuality, the corruption of the constituents of the Biden crime family is depthless.
The perennially venal buffoon and decades in duration senatorial cypher is now an advanced to the presidency, by flagrantly fraudulent means, figurehead and effectual instrument of the completion of the process of the dissolution of the American Republic.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nathan Hale
Jorge Toer
Jorge Toer
3 years ago

Americans winners & losers a terrible dichotomy of a sick society,
you can’t live in sorrow all life for the losses ones,,but without love and carelessness is impossible live.

Marcus Tiro
Marcus Tiro
1 year ago

Terrific. Absolutely terrific.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

I love the attacks on Hunter Biden, it’s like watching an arsonist fail to light a fire over and over again. No matter how much the fringes on the right try to stoke some sort of Hunter-related blaze, in the end most people just don’t care.

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

I don’t care either. Which is why I only read the comments.

J A Thompson
JT
J A Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

On the other hand, if this had been criticising Trump you’d be piling in with any tattle you could find. It’s not the rightness or wrongness that grates, it’s the hypocrisy.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  J A Thompson

On the other hand to what? I’m not pro-Hunter Biden, could not give the first crap about the man, no interest in defending him.

It’s just hilarious watching you folks fail to manufacture controversy.

Dan Martin
Dan Martin
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

The number or lack thereof of people who care about an issue is a ridiculous measure. Hunter wrote the book, this author responds. Your comment should read, “I don’t want people to care about this because, like a Trump supporter for Trump, I am going to use any device to defend and ignore anything negative about Joe Biden.”

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Dan Martin

I don’t give the first crap about any of the Bidens.

It’s highly amusing watching y’all fail miserably to ignite a scandal though.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Hunter Biden got a two million pound advance for this book. As we were told repeatedly in the election run-up -we are voting for Biden not his son. So we are entitled to ask what is so fascinating about this man that makes him worth so much. The answer is nothing-the book has hardly sold and even democrat supporting papers have given it a bad press.So we have to ask why publish and promote the first book of this man?