My little brother Justin has a birthday towards the end of this week. I will be sure to text him; I might even call and leave a message on his cell. If he picks it up, I will sing to him – badly – with perhaps the grand finale that I sometimes do to make up for my lameness:
…. HAPPYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY BIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRTHDAYYYYY TOOOOOOOOOOOOO YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!!!!!!
He will sort of chuckle and say “Thanks, Em.” We will try to make plans for a family gathering at some to celebrate which may or may not work out. I will ask him what he wants; he will tell me “nothing.” I will get him a Visa gift card. And we will be done with it.
In January, I celebrated my older sister Julie’s birthday by taking her to lunch on that VERY day. That was after I called her that VERY morning with my birthday rendition, which cracked her up. We had spoken weeks before about what exactly she wanted and what her plans might be. But we speak every week. Because that’s what sisters do with sisters.
Justin and I rarely speak, except for when we find ourselves at a family gathering. I can’t remember the last time – or if ever – we picked up the phone to just check in and see how the other one was doing. No long conversations about life, hopes and dreams. No deep analysis of true happiness and if it is ever attainable. No silliness or seriousness for any reason. Because that’s what sisters do with brothers.
Or do they?
These words are difficult to write because in doing so, the realizations that have been ruminating on a part-time basis in my head suddenly become real. They hit the page and ricochet back – nailing me in the gut.
I love my brother. I am super proud of the man he has become. Even calling him a “man” makes me giggle a bit because to me he will forever be this little guy who I would hold down and spit on when he was five. It was the same giggle that erupted years later, when friends informed me that Justin was a “hottie.” OK. Ew. But he was. And smart. And funny. And kind. Here we are in present day and I see him as the guy who puts his family first, takes care of his wife (who I love), and loves his children who are thriving. But I see him from a distance. And for years I have pulled The Brother Card in rationalizing my complicity in the whole thing. In doing so, I am doing everyone a disservice.
The Brother Card supposes that men don’t connect with their sisters on a level worthy of pursuing. It is gross generalization about men that extends beyond the brother and sister relationship. Brothers don’t relate to brothers; fathers don’t “really” get daughters; and sons won’t stay close to mothers – at least not the way daughters will. People will ask me about my brother and I will usually respond that he is fine. But I don’t really know. Why not? Well, you know – he is my brother. He doesn’t want a deep relationship with me. Don’t you know that brothers come with an invisible force field that prohibits contact of any substance? My sisterly powers are useless against it!
The truth is – and this is the hard part – my lameness goes far beyond my Happy Birthday solos. In terms of staying close, I haven’t been that great of a sister. Connection with anyone takes an effort and when it comes to my brother, I have fallen down. I enjoy him a great deal. When we do see one another, it makes me happy. He has been a huge supporter of mine; he reads my work and proudly posts it on his Facebook page; and at one time, long ago when we were children, he was my closest friend. Now in our 40s, I rush right by opportunities to really reconnect with him, waving The Brother Card as I pass.
So this week, I am tearing it up. Little brother, expect the call on your birthday to include my usual serenade, but also an invitation to lunch – or possibly out for a drink. Just the two of us. I hope you say yes – and give me the chance to be better. I may hold you hostage for some real life conversation, but I promise I won’t spit on you.