I swam almost every day of the pandemic in my heated pool.
With every stroke, I thank God for the life I get to lead. I am surrounded by immense palms. I am in the heart of one of the largest cities in the world, but all around me is a garden of grass and bougainvillea, and the air is as clean and clear as man’s genius can make it.
I often think of what would happen if I had a sudden, overwhelming heart attack as I swam. Would I have time to say goodbye to those I love? My parents? My war hero father-in-law? To my wife, an actual saint of beauty, love, and forgiveness. A living, breathing goddess.
Would I be able to say goodbye to my son whom I love so much? Could I kiss goodbye to my always gorgeous granddaughter Coco and tell her how loved she is?
Most of all, I think that I wish that I had my childhood to live over again. Of course, I would want to buy Berkshire-Hathaway when it was a bargain. But far more vital than that, I would wish I could have spent a lot more time thanking my mother and, especially, my father for the gifts they gave me.
Both of my parents grew through childhood and young adulthood during the Great Depression. My mother had it really rough because her father died suddenly when she was only 9 years old. Her family was not poor, but her relatives could not have even imagined the lavishness of the lives that my sister and my cousins and I live.
I wish I could have told my mother how brave she was to have grown up fatherless in the Great Depression until her mother remarried. I wish I could have just looked in her eyes and told her that I shared her pain and admired her bravery. Without a lot of money, without the support of a father, she went to Barnard, one of the best girls’ colleges — that is what they were called then — and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
I would have told her how much I appreciated that for 17 years she made my sister and me a fine breakfast and then gourmet meals for dinner.
How many mornings did she wake up before dawn to make us all a warm breakfast? How many afternoons did she spend all her hours shopping and cooking when I was playing basketball? I wish I had thanked her endlessly.
My father as a boy worked at every part-time job he could get, entered every oratorical contest he could find, and then, at 15, got into Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
He worked washing dishes in a frat house that did not take Jews as members. No air conditioning. No fan.
When I asked him decades later if he’d been furious about the discrimination, he actually laughed. “Not at all,” he said. “I was just grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the best small college in America in the depths of the Great Depression.”
Williams was good to my pop and it is in my will. I was a super student but I never had to work at a part-time job. My pop bought me a V-8 Chevy Impala when he himself drove a 6. I never had to get a loan for college. My father and mother paid for every cent.
Fraternity life? I was in the best fraternity on campus at Columbia and never paid a penny out of my pocket. My pop, who washed dishes in a frat, paid for every dime. Right next to my desk is a framed letter to a high-ranking State Department official from my pop helping me get a really great summer job in Foggy Bottom — and there I met my future bride, Alex. We have been together since 1966 and I owe all of that to my pop.
When Richard Nixon was kicked out of office, Don Rumsfeld gently fired me. In one day, my mother and father got me three job offers. I eventually took one I got myself but you get the picture. I wish I were young again so I could hold my pop’s hand and pray for him as he entered immortality. Those of you who still have living fathers: Pay attention.
Ben Stein is a writer, an actor, and a lawyer who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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