In Defense of John Edwards

By Peter Ehrlich

For many years I’ve had this fantasy - to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with my teenage son. Climbing this iconic African mountain with Noah would be symbolic in that I would be passing the torch to my son. He would start the climb as a child-man and summit as a man. And as we stood on the top overlooking the Serengeti Plains far away below, we would embrace in loving desperation, the culmination of every mile we ever walked together as father and son. My fantasy mirrored the immeasurable depth of love I have for my boy.

John Edwards lived my dream with his beloved first born son, sixteen year old Wade. They summited Kilimanjaro together. Actually, Wade got there first, while his dad John was vomiting not far behind. I imagine John Edwards was feeling much the way I want to feel when I get to the top with my son-euphoric, a love so strong it could tear his heart away. 

Soon after their climb, Wade Edwards died; on the way to the family beach home when a gust of wind swept his Jeep off the highway. His passenger was unscathed.

Edward’s extensive revelations about Wade during the 2004 presidential race came in his book, “Four Trials,” in which he described the loss as “the undercurrent of my life.” That’s an eloquent way to put it I suppose. Personally, this primitive would simply say, “my son was my whole life and now I don’t care about anything anymore, or whether I live or die now.”

On paper, through the lens of the camera or by the wearing of Wade’s Outward Bound pin, the public message attempted by Edwards after his son’s death was clear; the family will prevail, I will prevail and we will move forward along with America.

But was that too much to hope for? Yes, obviously it was.

I remember reading this 1991 story about a hunter who shot his son by accident. Gene Bulak, 41, and his son Michael, 18, were on the road, riding in their new pickup to a hilly stretch of land fifty miles south of their hometown of Taberg, N.Y. Michael was supposed to be waiting for the deer on the hilltop, but he left his post and his father killed him instantly by shooting him in the head.

Bulak kneeled over his dead son’s body crying, “Mikey, Mikey, my baby.” A moment later, father and son were lying side by side, their faces virtually obliterated by their wounds. Bulak had committed suicide. Loading his son’s shotgun with a spare shell from his jacket pocket, he had knelt down on one knee and placed the barrel under his chin. Bulak was a tractor-trailer driver. He hauled copper wire. And that’s how I suppose most truck drivers would respond if they too killed their first born son. They’d kill themselves.

But John Edwards wasn’t a truck driver. He was a politician, and politicians don’t carry the necessary salt of the earth DNA to be able to commit suicide. But, they can do something else to alleviate the pain they imagined they could conquer for the sake of career. They can commit political suicide. And that’s exactly what Edwards did.

If you’re a parent, on the rare but consistent occasion, you’ve allowed yourself to imagine what you would do if your child died. We delve into this twisted dark fantasy so we may see the light and count our blessings.

What is your image? This is mine. If my son died, I would burn my house down with everything in it. I would rid myself of every possession but the essentials. I would then beg, borrow and steal every cent I could, jump on a steamship and begin walking across the nearest desert, not caring if I lived or died. In order to go forward with my life, I know I would have to try giving up at least once and damn the consequences or whoever got in my way.

Like John Edwards, I wouldn’t have the guts to kill myself. But whether I was conscious of the fact or not, I have no doubt that I would invent my own version of what would be tantamount to creating my own personal scorched earth policy, and destroy something I had built while sharing my life with my son. It seems like the right thing to do, to give something up you once felt you deserved. In Edwards’ case it was his marriage and political career.

After your first born dies, is anything sacred anymore? Ask yourself, if your first born died at the age of sixteen, would you really give a shit about anything anymore? I wouldn’t.

Dear John, yes, what you did was wrong. But I understand. I really do.

[Back To My Writing]

[Back To Home]