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Watching Joe Biden made me realize, sadly, that my grandfather was elderly — and human too

Joe Biden grumpy old man
Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images

"The State of the Union was profound. But in due time, bad days start to outnumber the good," writes John Casey.

My grandfather was a ball of fire. He lit up every room. He had his own language, a booming voice, and a tremendous sense of humor. He moved at an accelerated clip, was jovial —and volatile, particularly when his beloved Notre Dame failed to win. He defied explanation. He was super-human.

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Many in my family say I’m a carbon copy. And I wear it with a badge of honor.

He died in 2005 at the age of 84. Toward the end of his life, he fought myasthenia gravis gallantly. It slowed him down, dovetailing with his age. He could no longer drink — he’d sneak in a whiskey or two — but he tried the best as he could to keep his buoyant personality humming.

When I would visit him over those final years, he never lost his spirit, but he was a bit slower and was a little more sedentary than I wanted him to be. Before each ensuing visit, I talked myself into thinking that he would be better than the last time I saw him. That never happened.

I was in denial about the fact that he might be slipping. I was in my 40s. I still had a grandfather and bragged about how vibrant he was. All my friends knew about my Pappap. When he died I was devastated.

Even after all these years, I still picture my grandfather as this bigger-than-life character, morphing that image into his later years and final years. Unfortunately, watching President Biden has made me recall my Pappap, and made me rethink how I wrongly envisioned him in the years before he died.

I am not the only one, I am sure, who is having similar recollections.

Watching Thursday’s debate was personally painful. I thought a lot about my grandfather. Like I said, he had his own language. He was verbose, and in his younger days, when he’d hit a part of one of his famous stories where he didn’t know what to say next, he’d segue into his own vernacular. It was hilarious. When he was older, his unique native tongue wasn’t so nimble. He’d hem and haw and utter something like “Blah, blah, blah.” I was expecting Joe Biden to do the same thing.

Anyone who has watched a parent or grandparent start to wane can sometimes be in denial and like I did, think along the lines of, “Well, the next time I see them, they’ll be back to their old self.” That never happens. That’s not what Mother Nature intended. Benjamin Button is fiction and far away from the truth.

I think that’s how Democrats have been treating Joe Biden, as if the next time they see him, he’ll be the younger version of himself — a spring in his step as opposed to a shuffle, roaring oratory versus a raspy voice, instant recall instead of a hem and haw. Sure, there are good days, and bad days. The State of the Union was profound. But in due time, bad days start to outnumber the good.

And so often, we are reluctant, even afraid to tell that grandparent or parent that the time has come to make adjustments to compensate for the walk, the voice, the memory. No one – and I mean no one — wants to tell someone they’re getting old, and it’s time to give in to that and go to assisted living, for example.

Even worse, not only does hardly any parent or grandparent want to admit to aging, but they don't even want to hear it. “I am fine. Leave me alone,” they say.

Who is going to tell Joe Biden that it’s that time? I can’t think of anyone outside of his wife. His kids arguably can’t tell them because he’s their father, and a parent has to remain stronger than his kids. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. And are the octogenarian leaders of the party like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer going to tell him? Or the youthful House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries? It’s hard to see that happening.

Biden’s situation is compounded by the fact that he is president of the United States. You are the most powerful person on Earth. To admit you are decreasing and fading might be a red flag to our adversaries that the United States is a reflection of that.

Biden, his family, and Democrats must confront the fact that this election is much too important to turn a blind eye to what is happening — the natural cycle of life and the diminishing of the human body that cannot be erased or turned around.

The American people understand this evolution because they experience it with their loved ones in their own lives. I have always suspected, that’s why Biden’s poll numbers have been abysmal. It’s not so much about him but more about how the population is personally affected by the age of someone who is 81. They look at the 81-year-olds in their own lives, and in their own judgments make the call that that 81-year-old person they know could not handle being president of the United States.

That perception is not going to change, and after the debate on Thursday, it’s just going to get worse. In essence, those dwindling poll numbers are America’s message to Biden, as painful as it is, that the time has come.

After seeing Biden on Thursday, my heart broke. Suddenly, I realized that my own dominant grandfather was not just elderly, but he was human too.

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ and Allied community. Visit Advocate.com/submit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at voices@equalpride.com. Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists, and editors, and do not directly represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.