I had a letter to the editor published in the NY Times Sunday Magazine Section in around 1970. Except that no one knew that I had written it except for me and my parents. It was published under my father’s name.
This situation came about in an unusual way. The NY Times Sunday Magazine Section had a cover story about a hippie dippy psychologist named R.D. Laing. His views ran counter to most psychiatric thinking of the time. I don’t remember the specifics. But my father, Abram Kardiner, who well-known psychiatrist, was furious about the pro-Laing slant of the article.
Dad ranted to a friend about the Lang piece. That friend was a lawyer who happened to represent the NY Times. The friend called the Times and they said that they would love to publish a letter to the editor about the Laing piece by someone as prominent and well-respected in the field as my dad.
So my dad sat down to write his response to the article. Dad was not a popular or commercial writer. He was used to writing in-depth, analytical, academic books and articles aimed at the highest level of professionals in his field. He could not write for the general public. At all.
Dad’s letter was abstruse, convoluted and way too academic. It had none of the punch or clarity that a short letter to the editor should have. My mom and I tried to work with him on editing the piece. We tried to convince him to scrap his draft and start over with a different tone and perspective. Dad got angry and dug his heels in. It was this or nothing. At this point, Mom and I felt that nothing would be better than the garbled mess he wanted published under his name. If the Times would even publish it.
I got disgusted and grabbed Dad’s draft and stormed off into my room. I was 21 and in college at the time, but I had been helping my mom edit my dad’s writing since I was fifteen. I felt that I could express my dad’s views in a way that was understandable and persuasive. I came up with something in plain, non-academic English that my mother loved.
But Mom was afraid to tell Dad that I had rewritten his letter. So she sent it to the contact at the NY Times without telling him. The letter was obviously submitted under the name Abram Kardiner. The Times loved it and agreed to publish it. They would never have published the letter if they had known that Kardiner’s 21 year old daughter had written it.
The letter was published. Dad found out about it and had a major meltdown. Then the congratulatory calls started coming in. Lots of people, including colleagues, called him and complimented him on the clear and concise letter he had written. The praise was universal.
Then a strange thing happened. Dad started to enjoy the accolades. His anger dissipated. Suddenly he was basking in the glory of a job well done. He quickly forgot, or ignored the fact, that he was not the one who had actually done the job in the first place.
Dad never thanked me or even acknowledged that I had been the one to write the letter. I think he was embarrassed that his 21-year-old had been able to do a better job explaining his views than he had. He was a titan in his field and I was a college student.
I was deeply hurt. But I also felt a great sense of accomplishment. I had written something that was worthy of the NY Times! Not only that, but what I wrote was universally accepted as the writing of a well-known, published psychoanalyst.
I got over my funk at my dad and felt proud of myself. My mother, the only other person who knew the true authorship of the letter, was effusive in her praise for me. So this became our little secret. I couldn’t brag to anyone about this episode, but I still felt really good about it. I knew that I was published in the NY Times, even if no one else did!