When my sister was 6 months old, my mother started leaving her with me to take care of while she went to work. I was 4 years old. I remember that first day so vividly because we ALL remember that first experience where we became men. My mom showed me how to prepare a bottle, then she left. I spent an hour silently crying while I cradled my little sister in my arms because I was scared shitless. Then after an hour of crying, I stopped feeling sorry for myself, warmed up a bottle, then watched, “Denver the Last Dinosaur”, as I fed my sister. When she was done I burped her, changed her diaper, then we played for awhile until she got tired and I put her down for a nap. A year later I had two sisters I was taking care of.
I never really had the kind of relationship with my brothers that I do with my sisters. I didn’t raise my brothers and because of that we had a very different sort of bond. With my brothers we would horseplay, call each other names, and shared this ineffable camaraderie I have never known with my sisters. My sisters would NEVER be rude to me, or treat me like one of their friends because to them I am somebody they respect and look up to more as a parent than a sibling. They remember the years when I sold my surfboards to buy them christmas presents and stood guard with a bat on our front porch to keep their father away. I am the guy who tucked them into bed at night and sang them lullabies, and I am the guy they came crying to when they had nightmares.
I love my sisters so very much, words can’t even express what they mean to me. But the relationship I had with my brothers meant so much but in a completely different way. They were my brothers, not my children, and because of that I didn’t have to base every life decision on how it would effect them. Loving my brothers came with so few strings attached and because of that it gave me a freedom and a lightness in our relationship that I never knew I could have with my family.
That’s over now. I lost one brother and now the only brother I have left needs me to be the man I spent the last decade trying to forget how to be. Figuring this out all over again has been a tricky and painful process. I have made a lot of mistakes but I have also learned so much from each of them. Early on I figured out that this wasn’t something I could just drag my feet on. I made a decision to become my brother’s guardian and I couldn’t be angry or bitter about how we ended up here. I just needed to stop feeling sorry for myself, take care of my brother and put on some cartoons to lighten the mood.
The thing that took me a hot minute to understand was that for all of our many many MANY similarities, my baby brother isn’t me. When I was Andy’s age, all I wanted was to be left alone. So in the beginning when Andy first moved in with me I tried to give him a lot of breathing room. That turned out badly. Very Quickly. My brother needs attention, boundaries, and affection in order to be at his best.
Once I became the guy who protected my brother from the people in his life who were harming him, and he knew he could come to me when he had a nightmare, things changed. We lost that ineffable camaraderie I cherished so much. We still joke around and horseplay and all that stuff, but it's definitely different now. He's starting to see me as our sisters do. I really am going to miss whatever it is that I lost, even if I am probably never going to be able to put into words what it really is.