Ben Stein's Diary

So Much Sadness

Love among the ruins -- from Ben's monthly print edition Diary.

By From the October 2012 issue

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This is August 27, 2012, just for the record. It is my father’s birthday. He was born on this date in 1916. My father was born in Detroit. His father was an immigrant from Russia—came here at about age 5. His father “borrowed” his brother’s birth certificate, ran away from home, at age 16 joined the U.S. Army, served in the cavalry (unusual for a Jewish boy), was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, then went to the Philippines to chase the Filipino insurgent leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, all around the jungles on a horse and then on a mule.

Then he came back and worked as a skilled tool and die maker at Ford Motor (I have always loved Fords, and Mercury and Lincolns), then at GE in Schenectady. He was unemployed for a great part of the Great Depression.

Our family was supported then by my Grandmother, who worked as a sales clerk at a department store in Schenectady.

She was a wonderfully hard-working and devoted woman.

My father, at age 15, entered Williams College, the finest small college in America. They treated him magnificently. He graduated second in his class behind Richard Helms, who went on to be head of the CIA and a genuinely great man and a patriot.

I won’t detail for you my father’s achievements except that he was a brilliant economist and superb writer. His main contribution was to say how little economists know and to found the “I don’t know” school of economics. He was research director for the Committee for Economic Development, did research at Brookings, and then was saved—and I mean literally SAVED—to do what he had always wanted to do, be a pundit, by Richard M. Nixon, via Nixon’s advisor, the legendary genius Milton Friedman.

RN made him a member, then chair, of the Council of Economic Advisers (sic). It was glory days for my old Pop. Through the aid of our dear family friend, the uniquely fine Peter M. Flanigan, war hero, movie-star handsome, Princeton summa cum laude, I got a job at the White House and my father and I got to work together. It was bliss.

One day, as I may have told you, I came to my father with some statistics question for a speech I was writing. I asked my father for the answer, as I said, “...only if you don’t have anything else to do that is more important.” My father looked up from his 50th Kent cigarette of the day in his stupendous office at the EOB, and asked, “What do you think I have to do that’s more important than helping my one and only son?” That tells you the kind of man he was.

My mother was equally devoted, although by no means equally even tempered. Still, she wrote me a letter every single day I was in college. How many mothers do that?

Anyway, both Mom and Pop are long gone now. My sister (I am blessed with the world’s smartest, funniest, most well-mannered sister) and I miss them keenly. Today is a particularly keen sense of loss day.

How will I ever get to my eventual resting place without my father to take care of me? He always said he made a small difference in my life, but that was just modesty. He made all the difference. He encouraged me, inspired me, made me his colleague, got me jobs (my mother was really good at that), made me feel as if I belonged, took care of me even when I was in my 50s and afterward. I try to be a good father to our son, our stunningly handsome Tommy, but I will never be in the same league with my Pop.

Those of you who are fathers—know that you are life and death to your sons and daughters. Those of you blessed to still have your Pops, praise God for every second you have them.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.