The past week has been all about the men in my life. By the men in my life, I mean the two men who have been in my life since the beginning. My father and my older brother (much, much older! Sorry, bro!). It’s taken me almost fifty years to come to a true understanding of the value of these two relationships. This weekend crystallized their importance to me. I know, I am a slow learner.
When I began working with a therapist, exploring the why of how I gradually slid into such a destructive lifestyle, I was forced to look deeply at my own faults and flaws and how they got there. I had to examine my formative years, growing up primarily as the middle of four kids, and what led to my own isolation and hurt. As I did so, I recognized how the relationships with the two men in my life influenced who I was to become.
My father worked. Hard. He owned his own business in a very small town. As a local pharmacist, he was available to people day and night not just as a healthcare worker but as a counselor, friend and confident. I don’t remember a Sunday lunch after church where he wasn’t interrupted at home by a call from someone needing medicine urgently. I don’t recall him ever getting home at night until late. My mother was our primary disciplinarian because of that. And I resented her for it. And him. I wanted his attention, his approval, and his blessing. I ached to be seen. I wanted that relationship with him that my older brother had. The shared interests, time together hunting, eventually the shared military service. I just had a hole where I hoped my father would be and I built a story of not needing him or that relationship.
My brother is five years older than me. Our personalities have always seemed so different. He seemed disciplined and structured. A definite military focus. He pursued a degree in engineering and had a very close relationship with our older sister and her husband. My brother and brother in law were friends and college roommates even before my brother in law and sister married. At the end of my fourth grade year, my brother switched schools from the public to smaller private high school. I switched as well. Unknown to my parents and my brother, the change was traumatic. I went from a larger school with a focus on academics to a much smaller school with a focus on athletics. I was definitely not athletic, which was very obvious to my classmates. The next eight years were difficult and overwhelming. And I retreated into isolation. And unknown to me at the time, I looked toward my brother and father to rescue me. That didn’t happen.
My father is in bad health. He and my mother are now in an assisted living facility. My brother and I have had to work together with my younger sister to intervene for their best interests. Thankfully, this has been a healthy move for them. However, his health is deteriorating. And his memory is slipping away. I can’t reclaim those years of a lack of a relationship with him. But I recognize him for what he is. My father, a good man who loved his family and did all he could to take care of them. He loves my mother. He tells me he loves me and hugs and kisses me every time I see him. And I am thankful for this time we have left.
My brother and I now live about five miles apart. We are friends. He is actually a mentor to me. He has taken the lead in caring for my mother and father. And he and his wife and me and my wife are close. My sons look to him for guidance and as family. Last week he sent me a picture of my dad and his brother. He said he knew of two other guys who had the same kind of relationship that they did. So do I.