In today’s “I can’t believe we have to educate adults about this” news, conservatives on Twitter are attacking Joe Biden for showing affection to his son Hunter Biden — specifically, a hug and kiss on the cheek in a sweet black-and-white family portrait photo. Let’s unpack why this (the criticism, not the affection) is a problem.
Right-wing TV commenter and ex-police officer John Cardillo tweeted the photo in question Wednesday night, asking “Does this look like an appropriate father/son interaction to you?” He was immediately met with both backlash and support on Twitter.
Does this look like an appropriate father/son interaction to you? pic.twitter.com/XDMIsgjUKI
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) October 22, 2020
While the vast majority of reactions and responses came from individuals — many of whom are parents themselves — who see in the photo nothing more than a father’s enduring love for his son, critics of the photo seem to believe that only different-sex familial affection (like, say, Donald Trump touching his daughter Ivanka) is appropriate. Which, for one thing, there are so many problems with that Trump/Ivanka touching footage and his comments — and for another, how is it 2020 and we are having to explain that men and boys are allowed to have emotions and exhibit vulnerability?
Biden supporters have also called out the fact that the Presidential candidate and his son have experienced tremendous loss: the death of Hunter’s mother and Biden’s first wife, Neilia Hunter, as well as Hunter’s sister Naomi many years ago and his brother Beau in 2015. Joe and Hunter have been through so much together; their lasting love and support of each other should be celebrated, not twisted into something it’s not.
The attackers were not swayed by this argument. “Grief is not an excuse to touch anyone inappropriately,” one commenter wrote in response.
Unsurprisingly, the responses in support of Cardillo’s argument veer quickly into QAnon territory:
Inappropriate [sick] to you?
Normal to them?
Some of us already know. Very soon everyone will.https://t.co/vNINTKATjD
— HELEN means Light (@Manifest_Utopia) October 21, 2020
Conspiracy theories aside, we mainly want to address here that the implication that men should hide their love for their children — of any gender and any age — is absolute hogwash.
Nancy S. Buck, PhD previously told SheKnows how important it is for parents to be open with their children — that means affection, emotions, and crying as well. “Would it make sense for parents to hide their laughter from their children?” she asks. “The same answer applies to both laughter and tears.”
For his part, Cardillo is sticking with his position despite widespread pushback. He told the Miami New Times today that he and his own dad shared a laugh at the commenters who thought the Bidens’ father-son affection was normal.
“We’d never take a photo like that,” Cardillo told the publication, doubling down on the stereotype that to be a man means to have/show no feelings. Well, except anger, of course! Never mind the fact that this kind of bottling-up of emotion or affection is entirely detrimental to both parent and child.
“Discouraging men’s emotional expression… reinforces the popular stereotype than women experience emotions more than men, when if anything, the opposite may be more true when it comes to emotional extremes,” social psychologist Ilan Shrira wrote in Psychology Today.
Psychologist Dr. Lindsay Henderson previously told SheKnows that the necessity of teaching boys what safe, normal familial physical affection looks like is part of why she encourages boys to play with dolls. By cuddling dolls boys can develop “skills related to caretaking, nurturing and even parenthood,” Dr. Henderson explains, although she adds that this kind of play doesn’t only benefit “future parenthood; empathy, responsiveness, love and caretaking can be applied to any relationship or interaction throughout life.”
Bottom line: Empathy, love, and caretaking are all things we absolutely need more of in this country — in our families and in our leadership. And Biden is showing he’s not afraid to embody all of those things.
We’ll just leave you with these Twitter reactions to Cardillo’s tweet, which really say it all.
It explains so much and I had a realization that every male Trump supporter in my life lacks or never had a genuine, loving father figure in their lives. Trump, too, never had a loving dad. I truly feel sympathy. They don't know what it means to be a man.
— Hunter (@JHunter65284456) October 22, 2020
I’m a trained therapist and if anyone looks at this photo and sees anything other than father + son love, I’d recommend therapy until the person knows diff bw healthy + unhealthy touching.
— Kim C. Dickerson, M.S. (@kimcdickerson) October 22, 2020
Fathers should kiss their sons so that their sons grow up to be men who don't see compassion as a character flaw, who don't mistake toughness for strength, who aren't afraid to love people fully.
We could use more men like that now.https://t.co/atbpO8YyST
— John Pavlovitz (@johnpavlovitz) October 22, 2020