Lest it get lost in the comments on Friday’s thread, Jeff Zeeman’s reference to a New York Times article by Ben Stein deserves its own post.

My father entered Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., in September 1931. The United States was entering the downswing of a small uptick at the beginning of what would be the worst industrial depression in history.

My father had an unemployed father (a former skilled tool-and-die maker) and a mother who worked as a sales clerk at a department store in Schenectady, N.Y. He had no money, no financial reserves, no social connections.

He told me of many jobs while he was at Williams, but one stays in my memory a dozen times a day, especially when I am working by traveling through a dismal, endless security line or waiting in a line to check into a hotel or noticing that my bed in my new hotel has a ripped sheet and is next to a noisy air-conditioner.

My father had a job thanks to a kindly man named Taylor Ostrander at a fraternity called Sigma Psi. My father’s job was to wash dishes in the basement of the frat house as the other boys finished their lunches and dinners. (One of the boys, Richard Helms, went on to be director of the C.I.A., but that’s another story.) He toiled down there at a huge sink, with steam rising and detergent getting on his unimaginably soft hands. He wore a stocking cap to keep his already curly hair from going crazy.

It was the 1930’s, and Jews weren’t allowed in any fraternity at Williams. Many years later, maybe in the 1980’s, by which time my father had become a major economist and public policy discussant, I asked him if he felt angry about having to wash dishes to pay his way through school in a fraternity that didn’t admit Jews. “Not at all,” he said. “I didn’t have the luxury of feeling aggrieved. I was just grateful to have a job so I could go to one of the best schools in the country.”

Stein has written other articles about his father’s experience at Williams, the most famous of which concerned his father’s 50th (?) reunion. That article was re-printed in the Alumni Review, but I can’t find a copy anywhere.

Then I spoke to about 500 widows, widowers, mothers, fathers, fianc´┐Żes of men who had been killed in the war on terror. They were totally devoted to one another and to helping one another through their grueling losses. They were probably the most spiritually fit, unselfish human beings I have ever met. One showed me the contents of his son’s wallet when his son was killed. A dollar bill still had a blood stain on it. The father cried when he showed it to me. Be grateful that the armed forces of this country have such brave families.

AS I told them, we could do without Hollywood for a century. We could not do without them and their sacrifice for a week. Gratitude. As my pal Phil DeMuth says, it’s the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme. Gratitude. Losing the luxury of feeling aggrieved when, if you look closely, you have an opportunity. My father washed dishes at the Sigma Psi house so that he could build an education and a life for the family he did not even have yet.

At my house, I always insist on doing the dishes, and I feel a thrill of gratitude for what washing a dish can do with every swipe of the sponge. Wiping away the selfishness of the moment, building a life for my son. The zen of dishwashing. The zen of gratitude. The zen of riches. Thanks, Pop.

I did the dishes myself last night, as my father did after so many week-end meals during my youth. Indeed, he still does the dishes when we visit my parents in the house in which I grew up.

Thanks to Eph fathers everywhere.

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