As an artist, he dared to write the unthinkable: that it's totally insane to be 22 years old and to see another soldier's half-digested lunch spill in a bloody mess out of his flak jacket after he'd been pulverized by a bomb.
In 1967, my life turned a sharp corner. I impulsively decided to audit Heller's playwriting seminar at Yale. His mordant new novel, Catch-22, was suddenly as relevant as Bob Dylan, whose music I would learn he loved.
My father was not Hannibal Lecter crossed with Mussolini, as a few have apparently thought I've depicted him in my book. His teasing sometimes hit the wrong note, but I think half the time he said things simply because they were too clever to suppress.
The first time I saw Catch-22, I fell madly in love with it. I was only nine years old, and read about three pages before putting it down. Although I've tried many times to finish reading it, I'm only reading the whole book for the first time now.
Joseph Heller's crowd was not, shall we say, exactly Gertrude Stein's Parisian Salon. Dad's evenings of recreation and creative amusement ended more as Midnight at the Rickshaw Garage than Midnight in Paris.
In retrospect, perhaps Catch-22 was our religion. It came with its own holidays, code of ethics and conduct, with joy and with tsouris, not tsimmis.
I prepared for my book reading the way I prepare for most new life experiences: I broke out in hives, didn't sleep for a week, misplaced the mascara, was limned in a perpetual clammy sweat, couldn't breathe and felt bizarrely seasick.
Listening to Dee and my father having a conversation was like snaring front seats at the Sarcasm Olympics, with barbs and ripostes flying back and forth over the table, whizzing past your stuffed derma like torpedoes.
I witnessed the spectacular transformation of my father, Joseph Heller, as he started to become a celebrity and a charmless believer in his own schtick.