Our television broke last week. Right in the middle of a Robert Redford home-run swing in The Natural, the picture tube gave up the ghost. The groans from my three sons—David, Paul, and Joe—were only the herald of days of wailing and gnashing of teeth as our household tried to cope with a post-television era.

Indeed, our post-TV days were bleak. The boys wandered around a suddenly large and empty house with bewildered, blank stares. It reminded me of the look on the faces of human bodies occupied by alien beings in science fiction movies.

Out of this bewildered stage emerged an unspoken war of nerves. We (Judy and I) decided not to fix the television set or buy a new one “just to see how it goes.” To my sons, of course, this decision seemed totally irrational. They knew how things would go without a TV: Death was the inevitable result, but only after many days of empty, meaningless suffering.

To their credit, however, they devised an insidious strategy. It had not escaped their attention that my typical pattern was to rush home from work, devour the hour-long McNeil-Lehrer news report for supper, capped by an ESPN basketball game for dessert. Let’s just see who cracks first, was their obvious, unchristian intention.

The main theater for this war turned out to be our bedroom, where Judy and I took to reading books. (Judy, who dislikes TV, has always spent much of her evening time this way.) The boys would wander in and out, not sure whether to stay, try to talk, or move on in search of who knows what.

After several days, they discovered “who knows what”: games with their brothers. You must understand that playing a game with one’s brother is a desperate move for most children. Watching ...

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