My father was part of a generation of men who, out of duty, married the women they impregnated. (Or, if they were already married, they concurrently acted married to their unintended baby mamas.) They took care of ailing and failing spouses ‘til death did they part—whether they loved ‘em or not—and made both spouses miserable in the process. In my father’s case, he drove fifty miles each way to nurse a dying brother with whom he hadn’t spoken in years.

My father's generation, conscripted into World War II, marched across France to put an end to Hitler’s madness while their women—if not themselves serving as army nurses or WAC’s—went to work in factories to support the war effort while subsisting on rationed basic necessities. Unlike my fellow baby-boomers, this was a generation for whom suffering and self-denial were an accepted part of the human condition, whereas personal fulfillment was nothing more than a fanciful pipe dream.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my father (on whom the character of Lee Moskowitz is based) was a miserable bastard. He complained constantly about the grudging sacrifices he made for his two families—and his country. So wretched a martyr was he that everything he touched turned to decay, including my oldest brother's physical and mental health, which I truly believe were sacrificed out of a misguided sense of duty to our unhinged father and a desire to gain his unattainable approval. In the face of such toxicity, can you really blame me for moving as far away from my family as I could? At the time, the only “duty” I perceived was a compellingly personal one to preserve what remained of my sanity and pursue my own sketchy prospects for happiness.

My middle brother wasn’t so circumspect. Having stayed behind, he is now bearing witness to our oldest brother’s slow-but-steady physical and psychological decline. I, on the other hand, have tried my darndest to turn a blind eye and ear to their symbiotic suffering for the past twenty years. I have my own obligations and commitments, after all; I cannot allow two unbalanced and financially insecure grown men to place my mental and emotional well-being in jeopardy. So why, after visiting them for the first time in three years, do I still feel a sense of duty to what is left of my floundering family of origin?

A duty is a moral or legal obligation. Clearly, I owe no such duty to my adult brothers solely by virtue of the fact that I escaped our family circus at all cost, while they made little or no effort to do so. Why should I feel guilty for having made favorable life choices when they did not? Furthermore, what have I got to offer them at this stage of our lives besides a pointless willingness to listen to their interminable tales of woe?

Nonetheless, having fled our father's madness to find happiness and meaning in my own life, I now feel a strange impulse to express my gratitude by being kind and generous to those around me, however far-flung. I suppose I could call my brothers more often, and send them a few bucks every now and then. As the saying goes, charity begins at home. And let's not forget, "There but for the grace of God go I." (Trite, but so true.) I hope my little experiment does not prove to be a big mistake. So please, wish me luck.