Little Angel; Little Brother — by Laura Houston

On the day this blog is published I will be on a plane headed home to visit family — mostly to see my father who is very ill. No matter our differences, I love my family. Very much. I have three siblings. They are generous, loud and fun. In younger days, we all played soccer together, went to concerts, baseball games, and bonfires together, and we genuinely enjoyed one another’s company. But things change with the addition of wives, husbands, kids, and age.

There was a time I was really close to my younger brother Joe. He was funny, receptive, amusing and a good friend. In fact, chances are you know my younger brother — or at least an incarnation of him. He’s the 42-year old, bald guy with a beer gut sitting next to you at the soccer game who yells unhelpful coaching tips at his son, uses obscenities regarding the other team, and complains about the coach the entire game. He shakes your hand like he means it, and he’ll buy you a beer after the match while your kids play video games in the corner. He’s opinionated and loud, but not necessarily informed. He’ll gladly tell you everything you already know about anything while lending you a hand retiling your bathroom. He’ll even bring the beer. Joe uses the “n” word casually in conversation, thinks people are poor because they don’t try, and follows Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

He’s a good guy at heart but obnoxious as can be on the outside, and he can combine these qualities into almost every act he does. For instance, he makes his wife a healthy, tasty, turkey meatloaf for dinner, but he molds it in the shape of a big penis. Balls and all. Funny? Yes. Crass? Yes. He’ll cook you one of the most amazing, gourmet dinners you’ll ever eat — complete with fine wine and microbrews, but then after consuming mass amounts of roasted garlic, he lets them rip unabashedly at the table. You can’t help but love Joe and be appalled by him at the same time.

But the challenging thing about my brother is that deep down inside he is angry. There are insecurities and a sadness that run deep within him. He’s not even good at hiding it. He competes. He compares. He looks for ways to tear others down so he can feel better about himself. He learned this behavior from my mom. So did I. We all did. And we all work hard not to be that way. Except Joe. That’s why I can see past all of the nonsense and prejudice and remember he’s a sensitive guy who had big hopes and dreams for himself. He just can’t figure out how to get there. Like so many of us, he became distracted by new cars, a big, luxurious house he barely afford, electronic gadgets, excessive amounts of sports gear, and Facebook. There’s not much feeding the heart.

This is where I have to check myself and not be completely angry and disappointed with his behaviors and his bigotry. The four of us were never taught how to be happy. We all had to go out and learn it on our own, and we came up with different ideals. And even after a lot of hard work to achieve these ideals, they changed. And so did we.

So when I see my brother Joe for the first time in two years, I know I have to endure a few racist jokes, some personal jabs, some derogatory remarks about my sons and husband, and a political rant or two before I get to the heart and soul of who the guy is. He is entrenched in emotional armor that comes out aggressively and obnoxiously. But I still love him. He’s family. And that’s that. I believe we are given family so we can gain understanding about who we are and how people in the world work.

And me…I am the naïve optimist. I hope that when he meets his nephews for the first time that familial feelings will rise to the surface and soften that armor. I hope that as a father himself he will feel bonded to all of us simply by a common lineage and a respect for that lineage. But I am not counting on it.

Next week I’ll tell you how it all goes.