Ask anyone if they believe fathers play a crucial role in the development of girls and you will be met with plenty of agreement. A father is, after all, our introduction to the opposite sex. Fathers write the first draft on expectations for all future male relationships. (No pressure, dads.)
But what about brothers?
My brother Eric is six years and four days older than me. I may have been a daddy’s girl, but I am certain that Eric was the only person in those early years capable of stealing my favor. He was old enough for me to look up to, but he was also just another kid. What he thought of me mattered most.
He was always around. I spent more time with my siblings than my parents; kids are forever playing in other rooms and getting sent outside. All those long summer days while my dad was working a typical day shift? Eric was on summer break right along with me. As the oldest kid in our neighborhood he would organize games for us younger ones to play. How many twelve-year old boys want to hang out with a bunch of six-year olds?
My brother is the reason I can hit a baseball and throw a pitch over the plate. He made up games like “The Blue and the Gray.” He did character voices while we battled with his Star Wars action figures. He taught me to play poker, Risk, and outdoor Hide and Seek in the dark. He loved John Lennon. I am beginning to think my brother Eric may have been the single most influential person of my entire childhood. Because really, who could compete with all that?
I think I have seen my brother three times in the last twenty years. That’s the trouble with both of us moving to different states. I have been in no hurry to visit Los Angeles, but I can’t pretend as if I believe Central Illinois is a better vacation destination. And unless something big happens you will never find us both home in Michigan at the same time. The good news is that our little sister is getting married next year….so fingers crossed. But time and distance do not change how I look at my brother, or his obvious influence on my life.
Outside of some brief misjudgment around the age of fifteen, I have had a pretty solid track record when it comes to the men I choose to spend time with. Sure I married the kind of guy you hope your daughter or sister would marry; but I also have a history of choosing male friends who can be held to a similar standard.
It feels like common sense, but common sense is subjective. Each of us have our own version of what is normal for every aspect of our lives. During our earliest years we are all sponges who feed on information for survival. We absorb our surroundings and apply our experiences both consciously and subconsciously for a lifetime. We can’t scrub it off; we will reference our childhood for even the most ordinary of things. It represents the history of everything we know.
And as any of us who grew up with siblings are aware, brothers and sisters make up a pretty big chunk of those formative years. A lot of blame gets put on parents, but I’ll bet more than a few of our quirks can be more accurately blamed on our siblings.
I always notice the subtle ways I have become my parents. It sneaks up and slaps me in the face when I least expect it. You know you’ve been there. My parents set my standard for marital relationships and parenting, and all the psychology about this rings true; so I have often wondered why I am never drawn to men who are similar to my father. Not just in romantic relationships, but male friends in general. The very specific traits I look for in members of the opposite sex…physical appearance, type of humor, or general mannerisms, do not ever match.
When I was younger I thought it was some kind of teenage rebellion that I should never find favor with any man who reminded me of my father, but it didn’t add up. Those first blueprints to male relationships were already drawn and forever planted in my brain. I was helpless to fight it. How was I avoiding this cliché of psychology? Funny that it took me this many years to come to the obvious conclusion that all this time I have looked for qualities that are most similar to my brother. Now that adds up.
So to any men out there who have valued my friendship (or in one case, my undying love for the last twenty years), I think you owe my brother a thank you. I imagine there are guys out there who are always hanging out with some version of their older sister, too. For some reason the impact of siblings gets overlooked; especially the role of older brothers on their sisters. My brother doesn’t have any children, but I am pretty sure that if he ever surprises us and has a daughter- she’s going to turn out alright. Of course, I may be biased.