Dear Michael and Caroline,
We all went to a diner with my father in New Jersey once. For some reason he decided that dinner was the ideal occasion for him to give all of us an explicit description of brain surgery. We’re all there in a booth enjoying our food and he’s telling us how the skull has to be sawed open, even demonstrating with his hands the act of cutting. He might even have made some reference to drilling.
He went on in this vein, evidently utterly clueless of the likely effect on anyone with an interest in uninterrupted digestion. I felt kind of grossed out. But merely to say so would hardly be imaginative, nor would it make anyone at the table, least of all me, feel any better. So I went for the funny.
As I recall, I winced with disgust, waved my hand to indicate all of us eating, and said, “Dad, do you think you could give us a break?” My father paused and you could see him in that instant recognizing the incongruity of it all – incongruity, by the way, so often being absolutely essential to comedy – this explicit narrative on cranial surgery during our family dinner.
Suddenly he exploded with laughter, bending forward in his seat, laughing harder and louder than ever before. All of us laughed right along with him, and the meal went better from then on, the food going down just right.
Sometimes humor works its trick. It’s magic, a sprinkling of fairy dust.
P.S. – Are you funny? Are your kids funny? Is this good, bad, both or something in between?