June 6, 2021
A beautiful, clear, breezy day here in Beverly Hills. It’s the 77th anniversary of D-Day, a staggeringly important day in world history. The Germans were already comprehensively beaten by the Red Army, probably the most capable, lethal army in the history of mankind. But if the Allies had not invaded and won in Western Europe, all of Europe except for the UK, Italy, Spain, and Portugal would have been communist, a slave continent of Russia.
D-Day was incredibly important.
On that same day, my father-in-law, Dale Denman, Jr., of Prescott, Arkansas, graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. In a few months he would be fighting the SS in Germany itself. After one particularly bitter fight near Zeitlen, the commanding SS officer stood in front of my father-in-law, surrendered, and spat in his face.
My father-in-law, a brave warrior but also a Christian down to his bones, did not shoot the man but simply took his dagger.
Lt. Denman (soon to be a colonel) later in that week took out a German pillbox by his brave actions directing artillery fire. The Nazi bullets came so close they took off both of his boot heels.
He was the best father-in-law there has ever been. His daughter, my wifey for some 53 years now, is the best wifey there has ever been. Beautiful. Brilliant. Loyal. Forgiving. A peacemaker.
“The man who can forgive is walking in the footsteps of God.” Goes for women, too.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.”
But my father was a saint, too. I can only recall one instance ever in my whole life when my father raised his voice to me. It was when I was about 13 and I was talking near him while he was trying to take a nap. Naps were life and death for him, and I woke him with a jolt. “If you do that again, I’ll break your arm,” he said. That was the only time he ever spoke harshly to me.
For the entire rest of his life, and my life, he was a saint. He almost never criticized. He was insistently uplifting. He used his substantial power and connections in Washington and around the nation to get me jobs, awards, and entry into schools.
He helped get me that job at the State Department where I met my wife-to-be in the summer of 1966. His pals, Peter Magnus Flanigan and Don Rumsfeld, helped me get my White House speechwriter job, which catapulted me into the life of a writer.
In 1974, when I was working on a speech to be sent to Congress (a “message” as we called them) on the subject of universal health care, I needed a statistic in a hurry. We had no cell phones or computers then.
But I had my Pop. He was chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. He was two floors up from me in the EOB, a part of the White House. I walked up to him and asked him if he could help me with the stat. “Only if you have nothing else more vital to do right this second,” as I said to him.
My father lit up his Kent cigarette. Inhaled such a deep breath that in a single drag he turned half of the cigarette to ash. Then he exhaled and gave me such a kind look as I have never seen since on any other human being.
“What do you think I have to do that’s more important than helping my one and only son?” he asked.
My father got terribly sick with heart trouble in the summer of 1999. I flew to D.C. to be with him. My mother had been in eternity for two and a half years already, and my father had been lonely. I used to spend one week each month with him, and so it was a natural progression to be with him at the Washington Hospital Center for eight weeks straight.
My father was an economist and the smartest one I ever met because he recognized how deeply imperfect a “science” it was. While he lay in his bed, we talked about the deficit and about interest rates and how I had always been surrounded by beautiful girls. I still have his blood-spattered notebook pages about Treasury calculations of interest rates and how they differed from bond market expectations.
His condition deteriorated. He never once showed fear. Not once. When the end came, I sat holding his right hand and my sister held his left hand and we read him the Psalms.
He was buried the next day. CBS all-news radio in D.C. interrupted their usual programming to cover his funeral for a few minutes.
It’s been almost 22 years now. I cannot imagine how I have lived so long without him. There are other men and women who are smarter than I am, stronger than I am, richer by far than I am. But I had the best father any man has ever had, and the best wife, and the best sister, and the best son and granddaughter.
For my 53rd birthday my father sent me this note:
Happy Birthday, Ben,
To the best son in the world.
My confidant, advisor, support, companion
I will never get over losing him.