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Ben Stein: Scared at 60
The American Spectator ^ | 3/1/2005 | Ben Stein

Posted on 03/03/2005 10:54:41 PM PST by Former Military Chick

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Scared at 60


Published 3/1/2005 12:05:38 AM

Der Tag. It is my 60th birthday. It is also Thanksgiving. It is a beautiful, sunny, clear but cool day. The plan here is to have lunch at the California Yacht Club out at Marina del Rey. This will serve to celebrate my birthday as well as Thanksgiving. We are going in two cars: my 2001 Cadillac DeVille DTS and Tommy's powerful Subaru WRX. Wifey and I are in the Caddy and Tommy and his pals Boris and Vlad are in the WRX.

You know how crazy I am, so the following little drama will probably come as no surprise to you. Tommy yelled at me that he wanted to race along Olympic Boulevard west of Barrington, where the road was wide and deserted. I said it was fine, and we peeled out. I won by the next block. I should say, to be accurate, that Tommy's car did not make a peeling noise because it has four-wheel drive. Mine made a peeling noise. My wife was telling me I was insane.

Tommy wanted to race again. We did. Again, I peeled, and he didnÃ-t. This time he got way ahead of me. Alas, moments later a police cruiser appeared behind him with its lights flashing. The car pulled Tommy over and I followed them. But the police, staring at me intently, motioned to me to stay in my car. They then went over to Tommy. Then they came to me. "We're just giving him a warning, because we know who you are and we like you," said a policeman. "But you should talk to your son. He refuses to admit he did anything wrong."

"Well, it's really my husband's fault," my wife said helpfully. "He's 60 years old and he should know better."

The policeman shrugged and went off.

Tommy was furious. He blamed me. He was sure I had somehow set it up. I tried to point out to him that it was because of me that he didn't get a ticket. He was furious anyway and very rude at dinner.

Well, so much for my one and only 60th birthday dinner (or lunch). It was a sullen, anger-charged affair. I wish some drug company would invent a med that counters the effects of teenage years, just as they have drugs that counter manic depression or PMS feelings. Maybe that's in the offing.

However, then Tommy went out with his pals and seemed a lot more cheerful later. I had a late supper with a friend from Fox News, and the day was not wrecked. But a pattern is developing with Tommy that is worrisome. More about it soon.

In any event, I refuse to let Tommy occupy all of the space in my head. What's more, I try to work with systems and to learn lessons and here are a few I have learned as of my 60th birthday:

1. I am unbelievably lucky:
a. To be an American;
b. To have my wife, the world's finest human;
c. To have never been severely or at least life-threateningly ill;
d. To have never been in combat;
e. To have had loving, caring, prosperous parents;
f. To have an interesting, well-paid career;
g. To have great friends, a great sister, nephew, niece, cousins, and above all, son;
h. Above all, to have learned to love and worship a God of love and understanding.

2. Compared with the huge problems that most people face, I have almost no problems at all.

3. I am a supremely lucky person, but what happens to me is not terribly important, to put it mildly.

4. Almost any "problem" I have can be dealt with by rest, reflection, and conversation with someone who cares about me, usually my shrink, the genius Paul Hyman.

5. There is no medication on this earth as potent in curing my ills as the simple prayer, "Thy will be done."

6. There have probably been about 15 billion people on this earth since the dawn of man, and I am among the most fortunate few hundred thousand, and all of that is an unearned gift of God.

7. Modest application of self-discipline in the area of study, work, and saving yields stupendous returns over time.

8. The amount the government can do to affect my happiness in a free society is tiny.

9. I am blessed beyond measure to be protected by the brave men and women of this country's armed forces and nothing I can do can adequately repay them, but they have my total gratitude and what little acts I can do.

10. The whole purpose of my life on this earth is to do what I think God wants me to do, which is mainly to love and care for my fellow man and woman.

11. Dogs and cats are my best friends and they are a special gift from the Almighty.

12. I make a great many mistakes and always will, and to expect myself not to make them is pure folly.

Anyway, that is a very short version of what I have learned.

Notice I talk a good talk. And in many aspects of my life, I walk a halfway decent walk. But in my life with my son, I am a stone fool.

Last night, Tommy very charmingly sidled up to me as I was reading the Wall Street Journal at our home in Beverly Hills. He said he wanted to know if he and a couple of his friends could drive out to the house in Malibu. "Will you be really, really neat and not do anything dangerous?" I asked him.

"Of course," he said.

"Will you swear to not start a fire or do anything that could endanger our house?" I asked him.

"Of course," he said.
"And will you leave the house as neat as you found it, recalling at all times that it's your house, too?"

"Of course," he said.

"I guess so," I answered. "But stay in touch with me by phone all through the night."

Okay. By one a.m., I had gotten calls from three of his friends wanting to know how to meet him there. One of them was bringing a girl. I tried to reach Tommy to tell him to come home right away. No answer on the house phone. No answer on the cell. I was HYSTERICAL. But I also did not feel very well and did not want to make the one hour trek out there in the middle of the night.

So, I tried to sleep and did sleep off and on through the night. I had visions of the house -- which I love like mad -- going up in a wild conflagration, lost to me forever. I could feel my blood pressure going into stroke and heart attack territory. But I finally fell asleep and next thing I knew, I could hear Tommy coming home. That was at about 11 in the morning.

"Did you burn down the house?"

"No, it's all fine," he said.

"Did you make a mess?"

"No, it's all fine," he said and then fell asleep.

Obviously he had been up all night.

Well, that is my own insanity, allowing him to go out there by himself. Anyway, no calls from the Fire Department so I guess it's cool.

Later in the afternoon -- this afternoon -- I drove out to Malibu with a creepy ESP feeling. Sure enough, the house was a mess. Dirty dishes in the sink with uneaten food on them. Singed newspapers outside the fireplace. That's right. OUTSIDE the fireplace, proving that my fears of a fire were well founded. The beds all unmade and messy. Keys missing. Tons of food missing. Well, the food is fine. It's for eating after all.

But as I, who make the family's living and whose health is never great, went about the house cleaning, I called Tommy to ask how he could have made such a mess. He was surly and refused even the slightest admission of responsibility or apology.

Now, here's the point I was promising to get to. It is one of the basic building blocks of human development to admit one's mistakes and to clean up after oneself. This is something so fundamental that if it's missing, the human never progresses past childhood.

Probably, most of the fault for the Malibu house incident lies with me or mostly me. It was idiotic to think that any 17 year old, and especially Tommy, would behave responsibly in a beach house without his father or mother there. (One adult was there, but he was a pal of Tommy's barely 20, and he obviously did little to help.) So, I claim the lion's share of the guilt. But how I wish Tommy could step up to the plate and admit some responsibility. I had a roommate in freshman and senior year of Columbia who simply could not ever clean up after himself or accept any responsibility. He's almost 60 now, and still a huge -- although likable -- baby.

John Gregory Dunne, a true genius who died far too young this year, said in one of his great books, "Having kids is not a day at the beach." How right he was. (He also said, "You often see beautiful young women with much older men, but never with much older poor men." I live by these words of wisdom. John had a great deal of wisdom and he is missed desperately.)

Wow, it is hard to be a parent. At least for me.

A stunning lunch at Morton's with a beautiful, highly capable woman correspondent for CBS's 60 Minutes. Her name is Lara Logan. She's a South African who started covering the apartheid struggle as a teenager and worked her way to being a CBS correspondent in Iraq and then for a year in Afghanistan. She is phenomenally smart and brave. Recently in Afghanistan her Humvee hit a mine and she was thrown into the air almost 20 feet. She landed on her face, bleeding like crazy, and nevertheless reported on TV very soon thereafter with blood coming out of her mouth.

I met her last night when she and I were both guests on CBS's The Late, Late Show and invited her to lunch. Wifey and Phil DeMuth came along. Lara talked nonstop about how bad things are in Afghanistan, how disorganized the U.S. effort is, how undermanned we are there, and how Rumsfeld (according to her) has a plan to sell out Hamid Karzai and the whole democratic movement there. She also talked at length about how unreliable the Pakistanis are and how we can't trust anyone there. She regaled us with tales of the thousands of young Afghans and Pakistanis at the madrassas getting filled with hate and fiction about the U.S. She had nothing but the highest praise for the U.S. fighting man and woman, but she said the State Department endlessly betrays them.

But that was positively upbeat compared to her assessment of the situation in Iraq, which she sees as basically hopeless. The terrorists are out of control and getting more so.

"I'm passionate about fighting these people," she said (referring to the terrorists and "militants"), "because I don't want my kids growing up wearing burkhas."

"You live in London," I said. "There's not much danger of that there, is there?"

"There are millions of Moslems in Britain," she said. "They want to take over and impose sharia there."

"But that's impossible," I said.

"I don't know," she said. "You cannot believe the inroads the militants are making in South Africa. There are so many Moslem women in Durban now covered head to toe except for their eyes. All around the east coast of Africa there are forests of mosques. These people are on the move."

It all terrified me. I want to be in Sandpoint. I want to be in Priest Lake. I want to be among the hearty, happy people of the great inland Northwest. I hope Mr. Bush takes this seriously. If we are fighting a global war to protect free society, it wonÃ-t be won by tax cuts. If it's war, we need to mobilize for war. It's a choice between a society based on love and a society based on fear and repression. We've got to get our act together. We need to take it all a lot more seriously. I am scared. Of course, I am always scared, but now I'm really scared. I don't want to be beheaded.

I don't get it. How did all this bad stuff come along a few years after we were in "The Golden Age" under Clinton? What happened to "The End of History"?

Mr. Bush, you are far more of a wartime president than you may realize.

We finished our lunch (I had fresh tuna) and I got into my Cadillac and drove home to sit by my swimming pool in the sun under a palm tree with my dogs sniffing around the flagstone decking. How long can such a great life last? Is it later than I dare think? I'll say it again, I am scared.

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer in Beverly Hills and Malibu. His Diary runs every month in the The American Spectator. These excerpts are taken from our February issue.


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TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events
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Another great article from the GREAT ONE!! Enjoy.
1 posted on 03/03/2005 10:54:41 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: NorCalRepub; dead; GeorgiaConservative; squarebarb; garyhope; Mears; Darkwolf377; Loyal Buckeye; ...

Ben Stein **PING**

2 posted on 03/03/2005 10:59:03 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick
The muslims have been on a crusade for a long time and people are barely waking up to this. The old 'Crusades' we read about in history were battles with Muslims, Christopher Columbus wanted to find a new route to the east because Muslims had taken over the old spice routes and were demanding tolls and stealing and killing traders.

History repeats itself.

3 posted on 03/03/2005 11:01:18 PM PST by GeronL (Condi will not be mistaken for a cleaning lady)
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To: Former Military Chick

Ben goes from being warm and fuzzy, to warm, fuzzy and scared. I no longer pay much attention to him. Though I guess his middle-aged inertia is appealing to a lot of people his age, and his temperament.

4 posted on 03/03/2005 11:06:03 PM PST by willyboyishere
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To: Former Military Chick

Great read - sobering. Can you add me to the BS (snicker) ping list?

5 posted on 03/03/2005 11:09:23 PM PST by stainlessbanner
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To: Former Military Chick

Yo Ben,

This is from a long haired redneck. If I'm gonna get my ticket punched by some sheet headed Islamist then I would want it to be when I'm doing something I enjoy. A Chiefs game, a plane to Chicago to visit my family, the College World Series in Omaha. Bring it, but diaperheads we won't go quietly

6 posted on 03/03/2005 11:10:26 PM PST by hatfieldmccoy (Satan has a new name and it is Islam)
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To: Former Military Chick
He is spoiling his little rich son. His son is probably smoking pot and doing chicks. Why does he let him have so much freedom? They partied all night and trashed his beach house and all Stein cares about is that his son didn't apologize, and was rude to him?

Why doesn't he take away the kid's car and tell him he won't pay for college if the kid doesn't shape up?

7 posted on 03/03/2005 11:12:17 PM PST by Yaelle
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To: Former Military Chick

Hmmm. Quite the downer of an article. I don't think I'd take a liberal CBS reporter's version of events in Iraq and Afghanistan as the gospel truth.

And Ben needs to grow a parenting backbone. All this guano about "being friends" with "Tommy" has led to "Tommy's" spoiled brat behavior.

He's 17. I think he can be called "Tom" now.

8 posted on 03/03/2005 11:14:14 PM PST by Choose Ye This Day (I *am* the CNP. Fear me!!!)
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To: TheWyzzyrd


9 posted on 03/03/2005 11:15:09 PM PST by Lovergirl (A living Will isn't good enough. A Power of Attorney for Health Care leaves NO gray area)
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To: Former Military Chick

h. Above all, to have learned to love and worship a God of love and understanding.

I can understand those who don't have faith in God using the term "lucky" but I just cannot understand why people of faith have such a hard time saying "blessed" when it comes to how God has "blessed" them. As an example, here is what Ben says, 3. "I am a supremely lucky person,...". It's almost as if they mean that God rolled the dice and they came out a winner.

10 posted on 03/03/2005 11:18:24 PM PST by taxesareforever
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To: Former Military Chick

Thanks for the ping, and your pleasant presence on FR.

11 posted on 03/03/2005 11:18:43 PM PST by Richard Kimball (It was a joke. You know, humor. Like the funny kind. Only different.)
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To: Richard Kimball

What a nice thing to say, thank you. You made me smile and with beloved overseas right now it is at times tough to smile.

12 posted on 03/03/2005 11:22:15 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: stainlessbanner

Glad to do add you to the list.

13 posted on 03/03/2005 11:25:24 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick

Note to Ben,

That'll be $100.00 please,


14 posted on 03/03/2005 11:27:19 PM PST by Sarah
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To: Yaelle

Wow tough words. For one, I think Tommy should have fessed up and his father deserves at least that much from his son.

I do not know if he is doing girls or anything of the like. He is a teen though and I recall my teen age years.

My father bought me a 69 Cougar. It was to die for. It had a 351 Cleveland and kicked butt. My Mom owns a 1976 280Z and one weekend I was meeting my folks in Leesburg and actually caught up with them and Mom and I raced and lets just say she was in my dust. My parents should have known better.

Perhaps he should have addressed the punishment but nobody is perfect.

To not pay for college is a bit extreme at least in my opinion.

Tommy attends boarding school and I doubt has a car so taking it might not make a difference in the long run.

Thanks for the comment.

15 posted on 03/03/2005 11:35:04 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick

I thought Stein was smart. How can't he understand that the CBS chick is a simple propagandist and was playing him.

16 posted on 03/03/2005 11:41:58 PM PST by FreedomSurge
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To: Former Military Chick
Oh, my, somebody isn't taking his 60th very well. Stein turns out to be a neighbor of sorts although I've never met him. I've been following his stuff in the American Spectator for some years now, and have watched little Tommy grow up into the spoiled brat that was inevitable from about age 6. A WRX at 17? Well, whatever.

I doubt that his depression concerning the Middle East has continued given the events of the last couple of weeks. His friend Lara need not worry about her kids wearing burqa, courtesy of that dumb cowboy who can never get anything right, George W. Bush. Nor is Tommy likely to have to put his front sight on center mass of an armed jihadist, which is a pity in a way, because a uniform and overcoming cold fear in your gut makes up for many an adolescent shortcoming. For some of us it's about the only cure for affluence.

Thanksgiving was a rough period in Iraq, and if this seems a bit depressed it's probably that and Stein's contemplation of beginning his seventh decade. It's only a number, Ben, just the superstition of an even number. If the good Lord had given us an extra finger on each hand we'd be counting in base 12 and it wouldn't mean diddly.

17 posted on 03/03/2005 11:46:03 PM PST by Billthedrill
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To: Former Military Chick
Tommy is a spoiled brat and as been all his life. But he may also be angry that his father writes about every aspect of his life. I would not even write about my children's misdeeds in such detail on FreeRepublic, and no one knows or care who I am or who my children are.
18 posted on 03/03/2005 11:54:57 PM PST by Iwo Jima
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To: Yaelle

I like Stein but that article is really disturbing. His son is going to end up wrapped around a telephone pole. If the kid drives like that when his dad is next to him, imagine what he does on his own.

I don't want Stein's son killing himself...or my son.

Ben -- get up from the pool and pay attention. Your son should occupy MORE of your head, not less.

19 posted on 03/04/2005 12:09:42 AM PST by Dr. Eckleburg (There are very few shades of gray.)
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To: Former Military Chick


20 posted on 03/04/2005 12:14:24 AM PST by dennisw (Seeing as how this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world .........)
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