Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way. [Pamela Dugdale]
My brother Danny was almost two years old when I was born. According to our mom’s notes in my baby book, Danny’s first reaction to me was “pretty baby Marian” as he watched me sleeping in my crib. His next recorded comment was an exasperated, “Marian cries so loud I can’t think!” We’ve had a love-hate relationship ever since – for the past 65 years. I agree with Anna Quindlan when she says, “There is a little boy inside the man who is my brother… Oh, how I hated that little boy. And how I love him too.”
As little kids, we played together – baseball, football, croquet, cowboys and Indians, Monopoly, and on very rare occasions – maybe once or twice in our whole childhood – we played with dolls. We worked together – feeding calves, gathering eggs, baling hay, washing and drying dishes, and whatever other chores Mom and Dad gave us to do. And almost every day we got into a fight over something – such as which story book Mom should read to us before bed, or whether or not the other person had done their fair share of the work we were jointly responsible for doing. Sometimes the fights were simply words and looks. Other times we’d hit each other. I was usually better at word fights. Danny was better at hitting. Fortunately, our anger at each other never lasted longer than a few minutes.
As we got older, we fought less, but we played together less, too. In grade school, I had become the studious little girl who got straight A’s, and Danny had become the boy who was interested in construction and mechanical challenges, and had little interest in books. If we passed each other in the hallway, Danny would look the other way rather than acknowledge that he knew me. I was an embarrassment to him. I guess the feeling was pretty mutual. The closest friendly thing I remember doing for Danny in high school was type a book report that his girlfriend had written for him so he would pass English.
We lived through those awkward years. When I graduated from college, Danny and his wife (who had written the book report) and their 3-year-old daughter helped me move from Wisconsin to Connecticut for my first job as an English teacher. From then on, we learned to relate to each other as adults, mostly.
I still love Danny, and I know he loves me, but we’re fighting again. He’s become the conservative, and I’ve become the liberal. Usually, we can avoid topics where we strongly disagree. But that wasn’t possible last weekend. A friend of ours held a wedding reception in her home for Mim and me. Our friend wanted to provide an opportunity for my family and a few close friends around Cambridge to celebrate our happiness. Although Danny has treated Mim as extended family for the forty years we have been together, he refused to come to our wedding reception because he doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage. That hurt me just as much as all those childhood punches. I’m sure our mom and dad are looking down from heaven and saying, “Won’t those kids ever stop fighting!”
No, I don’t think we will. We’re both human, and I’m sure we’ll both hurt each other, and forgive each other, until we die. “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” [Desmond Tutu]