My mother Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden is the soul, spirit, and essence of what it means to be an Irish American. She honors tradition and understands the thickest of all substances is blood.
She has taught her children, and all children who flocked to her hearth in my neighborhood, that you are defined by your sense of honor and you are redeemed by your loyalty.
She is the quintessential combination of pragmatism and optimism.
She also understands as my friend Pat Moynihan once said, there is no "point in being Irish if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually."
But she is more. She measures success in how quickly you get up after you have been knocked down. She believes bravery lives in every heart, and her expectation is that it will be summoned.
Failure at some point in everyone's life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable. As long as you are alive you have an obligation to strive. And you are not dead until you've seen the face of God.
My mother, I believe, is a living portrait of what it means to be Irish -- proud on the edge of defiance. Generous to a fault; committed to the end. She not only made me believe in myself, but scores of my friends and acquaintances believe in themselves.
As a child I stuttered, and she said it was because I was so bright I couldn't get the thoughts out quickly enough. When my face was dirty, and I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome I was.
When my wife and daughter were killed, she told me God sends no cross a man is not able to bear.
And when I triumphed, she reminded me it was because of others.
I remember her watching through the kitchen window as I got knocked down by two bigger guys behind my grandfather's house, and she sent me back out and demanded that I, to use their phrase, bloody their nose, so I could walk down that alley the next day.
When my father quit his job on the spot because his abusive boss threw a bucket full of silver dollars on the floor of a car dealership to make a point about his employees, she told him how proud she was.
No one is better than you. You are every man's equal and everyone is equal to you. You must be a man of your words, for without your words you're not a man.
Her pragmatism showed up when I was in eighth grade, a lieutenant on the safety patrol. My job was to keep order on the bus. My sister and best friend Valerie acted up. At dinner that night I told my mother and father I had a dilemma. I had to turn my sister in as a matter of honor. My parents said that was not my only option. The next day I turned my badge in.
I believe the traits that make my mother a remarkable woman mirror the traits that make the Irish a remarkable people. Bent, but never bowed. Economically deprived, but spiritually enriched. Denied an education, but a land of scholars and poets.
When I think of my mother I think of the Irish poem 'Any Woman' by Katherine Tynan:
"I am the pillars of the house; The keystone of the arch am I. Take me away, and roof and wall Would fall to ruin utterly. I am the fire upon the hearth, I am the light of the good sun, I am the heat that warms the earth, Which else were colder than a stone."