In my freshman year of college, I received a letter from my father. We weren’t on speaking terms at the time, so letters were the only way he could contact me. In the letter he informed me that I had a new baby sister. I was 18, angry, and not yet ready to cope with this new development in my life. Twelve years passed before that anger had fled and by then I also had a new brother who was 21 years my junior. When the moment finally came for me to meet them, I was very worried how I would get along with these two kids who were young enough to be my children. Six more years have passed since that meeting and what I learned from these two amazing kids are five lessons worth sharing.
1. Big Brothers Are Put on a Pedestal – I certainly didn’t deserve it, not after avoiding them for the first nine and six years of their lives, respectively, but these kids treated me like a hero. It didn’t matter that I was a stranger. I was their big brother and they loved me and bragged about me to their friends. I had seen similar behavior with my other little sister (five years my junior), but didn’t fully understand how universal it was until I had two kids, whose combined age still doesn’t add up to mine, staring at me with adoring eyes. As that big brother, I know I can never live up to the ideal, but I am inspired to try.
2. Little Kids Understand More Than You Think They Should – Part of the reason I waited so long to meet my siblings was that I didn’t think they would understand why I was angry with my father and I wasn’t sure that I could explain it in a way that they would understand that I wasn’t angry with them. My concerns were for naught. These kids understood almost from the second I opened my mouth. It helped that their older sister had explained part of it to them, but mostly, they simply understood the complex relationship that I had with my family almost intuitively. I realized, too late, that I could have had this conversation with them years earlier.
3. Phone Calls Are Something From a Bygone Era – I had been a witness for many years as texting slowly became more common than phone calls as a form of communication, but I simply didn’t realize the extent to which that was true. It was only when I tried to call my brother and sister that I really fully understood how little value phone calls had in their lives. I was lucky to get three words out of them on a phone call, despite the fact that my little brother sent over 300 texts per day. I had to either adapt or visit in person if I wanted to communicate with them.
4. Young Children Can be a Panacea for a Broken Relationship – My bad blood with my father lasted for over a decade. It originally started when he lied to me directly, despite my clear request that he not do so. Honestly, I can say that I have never forgiven him for that lie. But, it doesn’t matter, because my anger has subsided. Part of the reason was time, but the primary reason was that I wanted to be involved in the life of my brother and sister. And, with children that young, there was no way for me to be involved in their life without also being involved in his life. Furthermore, it didn’t seem fair to siblings to continue to be angry. My anger at my father wasn’t something I could hide and obviously upset them. For the sake of these children, I found a way to stop being angry and to return to normal parent-child relationship with my dad.
5. My Skills Truly Have Improved Since College – One of the disadvantages of constantly interacting with people your own age is that you compare your skills to those people and it feels like you aren’t really improving. Your contemporaries have roughly the same experience that you have, so it is easy to feel like you are standing still in terms of skills. I certainly have felt like this many times in my life. Then one day my little sister was desperate for assistance with her college essays. I reminded her that I write professionally and offered to help. We stayed up until about 3AM two nights in a row working on the essays. As we worked, I realized exactly how far my writing skills were beyond hers. I had, quite literally, an extra lifetime worth of experience beyond her and it showed. With my editing assistance, the final essay she wrote was brilliant and I have no doubt that it was instrumental in her getting accepted to her top choice school.