“Hey, Michael. If you give me a bite of your popsicle, I’ll give you a bite of your popsicle.”
Wait. What? I thought to myself, as I watched my friend Matt skillfully fool his younger brother Michael right before my eyes.
I was 11; the year was 1986, and I was staying over at Matt’s house on a beautiful Idaho summer night. His parents had given each of us a popsicle, but Matt — being the wiser, older brother — knew how to game the system. My mouth nearly fell to the floor at the sheer genius of it all: Matt would take a bite off his younger brother’s icy treat, and then hand him the same popsicle for a bite of his own, as though he were doing his younger brother a solid.
Why did I think something that was so simple was akin to magic? Probably because I was the younger brother in my house — by almost six years. And it dawned on me in that moment: I bet I’ve only received one-third of every popsicle my parents have doled out, too!
My own brother, Phil, had all the standard big brother moves. We’d put on boxing gloves and pretend to box on a bed. He’d hold my head with one hand while he pummeled me with another. Finally, he’d let me go, and I’d connect with a punch or two. It was then that Phil would get “knocked out.” There he was — my idol, the person I loved the most in the world — lying motionless on the extra basement bed in what my 4-year-old brain assumed was some concussive coma. He’d lie there for what felt like minutes. Maybe hours.
I’d shake him. I’d try to lift his head. I’d plead with the universe to make sure he was OK. And at the exact moment my brain decided that it was time to call an ambulance, Phil’s eyes would pop open and he’d give me a roundhouse shot that would knock me straight off the bed. Like one of those Mickey Mouse cartoon punches, where it felt like I was sailing through the air.
Truth be told: I fell for that trick weekly for about three years.
But there also exists photographic proof that our brotherly bond wasn’t all terror and boxing gloves to the jaw. When I was much younger, he would spread books out and read to me for as long as I would lie next to him. There I was — chunky legs and wide eyes, staring intently as he read a book. There’s also a picture of him holding me on a rocking chair, my head nestled into his neck. There are my own memories of him taking me to a lake to jump off rocks and swim with his friends; introducing me to people at high school basketball and football games; writing me thoughtful and encouraging letters when he was off in college and I was still at home.
I think of this now, because my wife and I are two months away from introducing the Little Man to his own little brother. My boys will be almost exactly three years apart — much closer together in age than I was to Phil.
Often, I lie awake and wonder, will they like each other? Will popsicles be surreptitiously stolen? Will hidden haymakers be thrown? Will books be read and secrets kept from their parents? Will that inexorable bond of brotherhood be as strong in them as it is with me and my own brother? Will they fight and laugh and hold each other’s secrets and dislike one another and betray one another but, ultimately and always, circle back to brotherly love as we have done?
My life has seen immense and unforeseen enrichment because of my own sibling. And I can only hope that our kids find that same value in one another. Or, at the very least, have epic games of nerf basketball and kick-the-can.More On