After our father died, my brother David and I conferred by mail on the wording of his obituary for Assembly, a West Point alumni publication. My brother made some notations on the copy and sent it back to me with a note, which read in part:
It hasn’t been pleasant going over our father’s record. I can imagine it is also hard for you. . . . sometimes I think, well, I never really had a father–but then again, I most certainly did. We never talked. Not once. . . .
I believe that suffering and pain give us a possibility of understanding human dignity and what it means. And we do. Was it worth it? I wouldn’t do it again. To live a childhood and adolescence with my father was like being in prison. I hope there is no such thing as reincarnation. As Woody Allen says, if there is reincarnation, it would be awful: One might have to sit through the Ice Capades again. Or one might have to sit through hundreds of meals with the likes of our father.
Some people come to this earth and leave a trail of pain behind them in great and small ways. One usually thinks of criminals in such matters, but there are others who manage with careful attention to detail to accomplish the same, against all odds: quality pain, visionary confusion, a depth of suffering. No shallow accomplishment.
. . . My brother’s note continued. “I remember as a boy of eight or maybe nine wishing with all my might that I was a dog. A common escape, I was later told.
“But,” he added, “I never fully achieved that wish.” A sardonic sense of humor has always been my brother’s salvation.