At the height of our mutual dislike, in the midst of chasing each other, eager for a fight, over some perceived and forgotten slight, my brother and I found ourselves in a neighborhood far from home. Suddenly we were surrounded by kids we did not know who saw two boys separated from their pack of friends and were hungry for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
I had been running after my brother who was on his bike. As the other boys surrounded me, I saw my brother take off, pedaling with furious speed, a feral grin on his face. It made sense, I didn’t begrudge him. I had been chasing him to administer a thrashing, and the fact that I in turn should be surrounded served as poetic justice. I put on a brave front, preparing to take my lumps, while my heart raced and my hands shook in fear of the Cricket equipment they carried, hoping to make it out without broken bones.
Their leader was a big boy, cruel, and he indulged himself, shoving me around, mocking my name, my bone-thin frame, my brother who had just abandoned me while his friends laughed. I retaliated with weak retorts and a quickly fading voice from a drying throat. Five minutes passed, and I had barely suffered a few bruises when I saw a bike come around the corner of the street.
It was my brother, that same feral grin on his face, as he sped up to me. Following after him were a half dozen of my friends.
What does this have to do with anything?
Well. After a perfectly normal 20 week anatomy scan on Monday, my dear wife announced her pregnancy on Facebook.
This unexpected occupation by an unannounced tenant in her body is a source of both relief and worry. We hadn’t planned for this, nor allowed for its eventuality in our long term plans, but the surprise is not unpleasant. Our first child is a human male, and since that worked out quite well for us, our genes decided to play things safe and produced a sequel.
As evidenced above, I grew up with a younger brother myself, and while we were relatively close until I hit puberty, we reversed polar for the next ten years. Much of it had to do with things that are far too complicated to get into here, but sometime in my mid-twenties, we began to reconcile and the last ten years have been significantly improved, the sometimes-cold, sometimes-hot war had been replaced with a peace treaty and bricks from the wall of separation between us have been used to build bridges instead. Problems, of course, remain, but they seem less intractable.
When I tried to think about my son without me and my wife in the picture, it often left me feeling sad and anxious. The idea of being completely alone in the world is the greatest source of agitation and stress for me. As someone with a small but intensely loyal group of friends that is something of a chosen family, I don’t devalue their contribution to my life. Certainly, they have been the reason I was able to get through the difficult steps necessary to become who I am now.
But I like to imagine that there is some value to be had in family as well. Coming from a culture of intense familial closeness in my psychic infancy, I value relations of blood quite highly. The fact that I remain more or less segregated from the vast breadth of my own blood family for whatever reason (lack of faith, or difference in age, or geographical distance, or cultural incompatibility) is a constant source of consternation and regret. I’m grateful now that my partner and I will parent two children, my son will share blood companionship beyond just his elders. And that he will be part of a family beyond his own, in his later life.
Rather coincidentally, I recently played a game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – which is probably the finest example of art, emotion and storytelling I’ve ever experienced in a video game. I’ll write about it on its own once I have some perspective, but it left me feeling incredibly grateful for this happy turn of events.
Briefly, the game follows two brothers in search of a cure for their ailing father, and must work together to overcome obstacles. The older brother is stronger, the younger more agile and able to squeeze through openings too small for his elder sibling. This elegant set-up allows for incredible depth of storytelling and emotion, and it very accurately depicts the relationship between two brothers as I experienced it.
It made my heart yearn for the sort of adventures I had with my brother when I was young. And it made me heartsick and grateful to imagine that my sons might have such adventures as well, together. Stories I’ll never hear, but with fallout I’ll see, whether in bruised limbs and torn clothes, angry words or desperate misdirections from truths that might anger or worry. I know there will be arguments, fights, and I’ll see their lives through a veil, obscuring much, whether by design or accident.
But I hope – hope for them to be friends, like my brother and I turned out to be, after our time in the desert, after years when our hatred for each other was so intense that it seemed like we might be pleased to see each other murdered.
I hold on to the fact that in the worst depths of our loathing for each other, my brother raced to fetch me help, when he saw I was surrounded, despite himself and our differences. He came to my rescue.
My son seems quite excited by the possibility of becoming a big brother, and announces it with glee to everyone he meets. I’m grateful for the changes we’ve made to our house recently – and that we made the move to a house from an apartment at all! – making it more permanent, and further adjustments will be essential, but for now, this pregnancy has put to rest an anxiety that I never even bothered to acknowledged, because it had seemed uncontrollable before.
It’s funny how far this is from how I imagined life ten years ago, and how glad I am to experience this bounty of new and unexpected experiences. I’m excited to see my new son in a few months time, and introduce him to his brother.