He saved my life time and again.
My father was the most reasonable man I have ever known. The most loving man I have ever known. He had a challenging life: father unemployed during most of the Great Depression. Shy. But brilliant beyond words. Entered Williams, the finest small college in the world — at 15. Worked his way through partly by washing dishes at a fraternity that didn’t admit Jews. Never complained about it. He said it didn’t make him angry. He was just grateful to have been able to go to a super great college in the midst of the worst industrial depression on record. (Thank you, Federal Reserve.) Graduated very high in his class, second only to Dick Helms, who became the distinguished director of the CIA.
My father. Sitting outside in Silver Spring, listening to the Senators on a radio he played by running an extension cord out of the window. There were no transistors in those days. Fireflies lighting up the Maryland sky. Smoking and drinking his favorite, Pabst Blue Ribbon. My father always seemed to prefer my sister to me, but my sister is a loving, reasonable person, too. And she was a junior high school cheerleader.
My father thought I was extravagant. How right he was! He used to tell me that I was not the “scion” of a wealthy family. That I would inherit “nothing from him but brains.” How utterly wrong he was.
My father jumped out of a canoe off Cape Cod and pushed it to shore by swimming when it leaked. I was in it and I couldn’t swim. My sister was furious that she had missed the excitement. But then she never liked excitement, and I did.
I didn’t drown.
My father bought me a fire engine red V-8 1962 Impala for me to have status at Montgomery Blair High School at Dale and Wayne, the best high school anyone could ever want to go to, although we did have certain trouble makers like me. My ideological nemesis, Carl Bernstein, next door neighbor, went there a year ahead of me. Goldie Hawn was a year behind. Connie Chung a year after that. Sly Stallone had gone to Monkey Hills Jr. High, the worst hellhole on earth, with me. After that he went to Philly to find his fate. Many times I almost died in that car.
My father and my beloved mother sent me to Columbia for college. I didn’t get into Harvard because a teacher whom I had called a Communist (she was, too) blackballed me for the Honor Society. At Columbia, I lived like a king at the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. I was lucky I went to Columbia because AD was the greatest group of guys I ever met. Through one of them, I met my girlfriend, Mary. She set me up with enough self-confidence to woo and win my wife of 49 years, my perfect Alex. My father never said I should get a job. Never wanted me to get a loan. Just took pride that I learned so much economics from Lowell Harriss and Milton Friedman (yes, Friedman was at Columbia for one year).
When I was at Yale Law School, I developed colitis and dropped out for a year. I moped around the house and my father said, “You’ll feel better if you work.” I went to the Bureau of National Affairs and got a great job except for all of the cigarette smoke and went back to Yale after ten months and again, lived like a hippie-king. This time, my Pop said I must pay for it, and I did with easy money from Uncle Sam and from the Yale Law School Film Society, best job I ever had.
Years later, just a few years later, I worked at the White House as a speechwriter for my hero, RN. One day, I had a question about a statistic. I walked up two long flights of stairs and asked my father, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, if he had a moment to help me with that stat. My father inhaled so deeply on his Kent cigarette that in one drag he turned a third of the cigarette to ash.
“What do you think I have to do that’s more important than helping my one and only son?” he asked.
I am sitting here in Beverly Hills sobbing as I write about it.
After work at the White House, I moved to New York and had trouble adjusting. My father was always there with advice and help. “If you ever need to quit, we’re always there to support you,” he said.
He never needed to. When my mother died on April 21, 1997, my father entered a space of grim misery. I flew out there every month for a week to keep him company. We went for many long rides over to the “Sho,” Easton and Oxford, and he talked about how much he missed my mother. I just listened for hours on end. I loved it. On my birthday in 1998, my father sent me a fax. “Happy Birthday to the Best Son in the World. My confidant, adviser, support, companion and friend. Love, Pop.” I have it framed next to me at my desk in BH.
My father died on September 8, 1999, at 2:50 PM in the Washington Hospital Center, the result of massive malpractice. My sister and I were holding each hand and reading him the Psalms. I have the best sister in the world. He was an important man and the news radio stations broke into their programming to announce the news. At the funeral. Wlady cried. Bob threw in dirt like the strong Irishman he is. Aram was there. My wife and son were there and my son cried.
My father was wrong. He left me much more than brains. He left me a sense of loyalty to RN, and a powerful patriotism. As my father often said, every other decision any Stein made was nothing compared with the decision to come to this heaven on earth, America. He left me a sense of the value of hard work and not abandoning your principles. He was a Republican down to his bones and yet never bought supply side. I feel the same. My father left me with a sense of charity. He often said the happiest he ever was was the day he helped a blind woman on a bus to find her destination.
But he loved having friends and he also said the single best day of his life was when Chris DeMuth, a GOD in my life (his brother Phil is my best friend), arranged for a lavish surprise 80th birthday party for him at the AEI. (The DeMuths walk on water.)
Well, now he’s in eternity with RN and Friedman and Paul McCracken.
I miss him so much I often call out his name just in the course of the day.
God sent me Pop. I am on my knees. The best wife. The best sister, the best father. The best country. Devoted mother and gorgeous, handsome, brilliant son whom I love to tears.
Pop. Pop. Pop. You were so good to me.
Photo: President Nixon meeting with economic advisors, including Herbert Stein (on far left), and Cabinet members on May 7, 1974 (Wikimedia Commons).