Forging the Bond Between Brothers

by Bryan Schatz on November 9, 2010 · 38 comments

in Friendship, Relationships & Family

My brother was in the driveway, shooting free-throws at the basketball hoop our father had attached to the garage. Every day he shot free-throws until he made one hundred of them, all net. He didn’t count them if the ball even slightly grazed the rim. He was thirteen, and this is the kind of discipline he already exhibited. Being the younger brother, I positioned myself strategically by the nearby fence, several paces closer to the hoop than he was.

“Bryan, please don’t.” He already knew where this was leading.

“What?” I responded. Pure innocence, “I’m not doing anything.”

He frowned but tossed the ball anyways. It flew through the air with a high arc and dropped gracefully through the net, barely even skimming it. The instant the ball left his fingers he rushed the basket with a frantic sprint. But it was too late. The ball didn’t even hit the ground once before I swiped it from the air and ran halfway down our street.

“Bryan!”

“Come and get it.”

“Give it back!”

I grinned like an idiot and jogged further down our road. The chase was on, with me sprinting around the old vacant house down the block, hustling over the cliff edge behind and down to the cul-de-sac on a parallel avenue. This always ended in tears, my own, a half hour later when my brother was finally able to use his superior skills and agility, descending upon me like a justified demon. And oh, revenge is sweet.

***

I was a nuisance in my younger years. I know this because it is a simple fact. And my mind is not foggy enough to cloud over vivid recollections of times past when I would entertain myself by harassing my older brother as he innocently went about his life (i.e. stealing his books while he was reading, kicking his basketball over the fence, messing up his room, etc…).

As such, my relationship with my brother has not always been congenial. Rather, it required an evolutionary course that slowly smothered our sibling rivalries, our arguments, and our fist fights. Through lessons-learned, strong parental leadership, and shared circumstances, our relationship eventually developed into what it is today: a friendship based on mutual respect, loyalty, and a genuine interest in each other’s lives.

I’ve long been grateful for the relationship my brother and I have forged together. But I also know that it was not always like this, and it could have easily taken a course for the worse had we grown up under different circumstances, or if we were never able to bridge the gaps of our individual personalities and interests.

The relationship between siblings is fascinating one. They can be incredibly formative in our development, teaching us what is and is not cool. They can inspire us to be better or be the ones who introduce us to vice.  They can be our closest allies, and yet because we know they’ll always be there for us, we can treat them with a cruelty we would never unleash upon a friend. We can be as thick as thieves during our childhood, only to grow quite distant from each other as adults.

So what makes for a healthy bond between brothers? And how can this bond continue from boyhood to manhood?

Sibling Rivalries

According to Kids Health and Psychology Today, rivalries between siblings often begin before the younger one is even born and may endure throughout their lives and into adulthood. Experts attribute this to a variety of issues such as competition for attention and toys, age differences, each sibling’s individual temperament, and of course, parental attitude and the example they set for their children.

It’s natural for an older brother to be jealous of a new member joining the family. For some reason this smelly pink blob that is incapable of self-directed movement and communicates in sonic sound waves receives all of the attention, while they are left to entertain themselves. Despite the fact that a newborn simply requires more attention, the older sibling may begin to cultivate resentment.

***

I am told that I was at the receiving end of this jealousy-induced resentment at the age of two. I was googoo and gaga-ing over a colorful trinket and sitting on the carpet, perhaps even giggling to myself quietly with fascination over my toy.

My brother was there too, and he’d had enough of me and my ritual of crapping my pants and being applauded for it.

The toy jumped and twirled within my hands as I explored its intricacies and numerous uses. My brother cast a glaring eye in my direction, one in which his pupils dilated to pinpoints and a hot rage burned within his dark, five-year-old heart. There was something wrong with my face. My lips were turned up with a smile that meant I was happy, and that had to change.

My brother trudged behind me and pressed his hand to the back of my head, like palming a small basketball, and shoved my face directly into the carpet. He let it grind along the surface for a brief, satisfying moment until the toy within my hand crashed to the floor, and I let out a piercing scream of pain that enveloped the entire house.

In the corner of his eye, my brother noticed a sharp movement and jumped back. Realizing it was our father, he did the first thing that came to mind. “Bryan!” my brother shouted, his voiced drenched with concern, “What’s wrong?!”

Too late, Pops had seen it all.

***

Though rivalries have the potential to breed life-long resentment and at times even hatred, moderate conflict can actually be beneficial in the development of a child’s social interactions, according to an Adoption Media article, The Joys and Complexities of Sibling Relationships. Children who have a balance of conflict while maintaining a level of warmth and support generally are more socially competent and emotionally mature. This is where family dynamics play an important role.

Families that cultivate a strict “we stick together” atmosphere in the household foster positive sibling relationships, whereas families that take more of a hands-off approach or regard sibling conflict as an issue of little importance may have further trouble down the road. According to an Ohio State University sample study, approximately 44% of adult siblings remained either intimate or loyal, another 34% congenial, and 22% either indifferent or hostile. For those who remain affable towards each other, the study points to two theories that address why siblings stick together in adulthood: One is attachment, and the other is due to the norms that parents have instilled in their children. Those who retain resentment and hostility often have deep-rooted and lingering issues that were never addressed or alleviated as they grew older. According to Dr. Laurie Kramer, one of the foremost experts on sibling relationships:

“It’s not all that important whether you’re spaced closer together or farther apart….What’s really much more important are the social behaviors that children learn in their early years that they can use to develop a positive relationship with a sibling. That’s why it’s important for parents to encourage siblings to be engaged with one another and develop a relationship where there is mutual respect, cooperation and the ability to manage problems.”

Appreciating Differences

A younger sibling will often try to differentiate himself from his older brother or sister. This is what researchers call “de-identification.” The younger sibling works hard to carve out his own niche and personality so that he isn’t in direct competition with his sibling and is able to gain his own identity.

Appreciating the different strengths and characteristics of our brothers may be the big key in overcoming rivalries and fostering a strong bond into adulthood. The separate interests my brother and I have pursued have formed a complimentary set of characteristics and skill sets that we both recognize in each other as valuable. For example, my brother exhibits a fierce sense of discipline that I cannot help but look up to. It is one of his natural traits that I attempt to emulate with my own endeavors. Likewise, I believe that my inherent wander and thirst for adventure has been at least part of what has inspired him in his own travels and wilderness outings. Instead of feeling like we’re in competition with one another or one of us feeling left in the shadow of the other, we feel confident in who we are as individuals and are able to appreciate what makes us both alike and unique.

Circumstances

Dr. Kramer has found that sibling relationships that start out well in childhood, where on balance siblings experience more positive interactions than negative ones, tend to continue to be healthy into adulthood. The tone for sibling relationships is set early on and influenced not only by parental guidance, but the circumstances siblings experience together.

In the first months of my middle school years, my family moved from a small mountain town to the sprawling suburbia of southern California. The culture was vastly different from what my brother and I were used to. The population was enormous, and of the thousands of kids that attended Ensign Middle School in Costa Mesa and Newport Harbor High School, we knew not a single soul. For my brother the transition was equally unsettling, and it was in the initial weeks of attending our new schools that we started to become inseparable allies.

Middle school and high school are the two primary places that you will be introduced to the majority of the world’s assholes. This is a fact. Here you encounter the bullies whose physical intimidation brings terror to those who, for whatever reason, just don’t make the “cool kid” cut.

For the first time in our young lives my brother and I had no one our own age to rely on but each other. My brother had just started driving, and it is possible that our friendship was further strengthened by our need for personal self-belief and mental resilience. We found this in the heavy metal band Metallica. Because we were so terrified of going to school every day (fear of being made fun of or judged or having to speak in class; petrified by the thought of causing a ripple in what we perceived as a still pool of social understanding) we rocked out to Metallica every morning on the way to school, letting the electric guitar crunch fill our hearts with heavy metal confidence.

Eventually we assimilated, finding our own friends and carving out a community that benefited our individual needs. But this took a long time, and the years that led to our eventual comfort in an unfamiliar setting is what it took for my brother and me to truly appreciate each other. This was the time that we developed a bond and a boundless dedication to each other.

Staying Connected

Even if your relationship with your brother was always great when you were kids, you still have to work to maintain that bond and connection.

Though my brother and I do not live close to one another, we are still very much involved in each other’s lives. One of the things that we do to stay close is simply talking on the phone frequently (we probably talk about two times a week, if not more, depending on what is going on in our lives).

Since we do not have the opportunity to see each other often, we make it a point to meet up several times a year to spend some time together, even if just for one weekend. And at least once a year, we will go on some sort of trip together. This year, for example, my brother and I and several of our friends took to the High Sierra mountains for a five-day backpacking trip into Dusy Basin of Kings Canyon National Park in California. We scaled shale and granite cliffs, built fires, swam in alpine lakes, got rained on, argued about proper tarp placement in creating a shelter to play cards in said rain, drank whiskey-you know…mountain stuff.

The year before that, my brother flew out to visit my girlfriend and me in Thailand. We went fishing, snorkeling, and cruising around on motor scooters on thinly populated islands. We ate tarantulas and drank cobra whiskey. Putrid stuff, by the way.

It has been cultivating positive experiences and memories such as these that have been, in large part, the most important aspects of our relationship in adulthood. I imagine others have their own versions of what my brother and I do to stay in touch.

This is what has worked for my brother and me. But pointing to a set of guidelines or a quick-fix recipe for executing and expecting amiable sibling relationships seems unrealistic. Relationships are as unique as the individuals who make them up and even under the best of circumstances, things don’t always work out the way we plan or hope. So this is where I’d like to turn it over to the AoM community-

How can we become better brothers? What are some of the issues that you have faced that have either been a benefit or detriment to your relationship with a brother (or sister)? How might we better grow together rather than apart? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tony November 10, 2010 at 2:15 am

Ever since I can remember, I have shared a room with my younger brother. Living with him has always been a struggle. I see him as the arrogant generation nexter with entitlement issues, and he sees me as the uptight conservative entrenched in the protestant work ethic. We say absurd things about each other in jest when we talk during the day in attempts to poke holes in each others ideologies. But at night, the tone changes as we lie in our beds about to fall asleep. A strange sort of civility arises that allows us discuss our values seriously.

Recently, I moved into my own room. Although I can feel my brother drifting further and further away from me, we’re still able to connect through videogames. Especially when we play on the most difficult setting; there’s lots of screaming “HELP ME!”, “GET DOWN!”. It feels great sharing the joys of victory and nice to have someone supporting you when you fail.

2 Milan November 10, 2010 at 4:49 am

As a boy I shared a room with my brother until age 13. We constantly fought each other in our younger days and our relationship was often stretched. At 17 I began sharing a room with my brother. It was at this point that we began to put our differences aside and help each other out. Now we have an open, honest, trusting relationship. We have our differing viewpoints but we can share them and work around them.
My father also instilled in us a strong sense of brotherhood. He always told us from a young age “by yourself you will do well, together you will be unstoppable”.
Finally the simple act of watching a television series had brought my brother and I together. We regularly sit down with a glass of wine each and watch Entourage or Boardwalk Empire. It’s our little thing.
I think from here on out whatever we choose to do we will always have a close bond.

3 John November 10, 2010 at 6:41 am

Excellent article! My older brother and I had an equally turbulent childhood where I was the instigator and he was the one that eventually got into trouble for beating me up. I can’t say it was good parenting that brought us together. In fact, I would say that we found a common bond in that we felt we had to stick together, and that each other was all we had to depend on. Our step-father was abusive at times, and we didn’t feel as though our mother stood up for us. We would make plans on running away, but they always fell through.

As I entered high school as a freshman while he was a senior, our bond only strengthened. I even followed him to the same college where we lived together for a couple of years. One night during my freshman year of college, we promised that we would live near each other in the future because during childhood, we never really knew our extended families. Now in our late 20′s, we still keep in regular contact, and I still consider him to be my best friend.

4 Men's Leather Jackets November 10, 2010 at 8:23 am

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5 Jeremy November 10, 2010 at 8:57 am

To follow the theme of other comments . . . the two of us (my brother is 4.5 years older than I) shared a room for only the first few years of my life, but I quickly escaped that bunk-bed dungeon and moved into the guest room (thus being displaced by my grandfather whenever he came to visit). We always fought, of course, as two boys who were raised on a fairly loose leash in the middle of the woods generally do, but we also cared for each other and shared good times. We rocked out to The Offspring, Blink 182 (older is better), Green Day (ditto), and chilled out to Arlo Guthrie, The Grateful Dead, and Peter, Paul, & Mary (courtesy of our parents). We constructed cities with our legos and destroyed orcs and machines alike in computer games. We even teamed up with our sisters (I am the youngest of 4, and everyone is approx. 2 years apart) to create a club with a treehouse and everything.
However, jealousy reigned as time went on. Not out-right, of course, but my brother is incredibly intelligent (MIT to Columbia U to the White House) and driven, at that. He and our eldest sister would stay up late on school nights, laughing and talking about whatever, usually keeping me up WAY past my bedtime. I was not a happy camper, especially because I had few friends early on.
Despite all this, my brother protected me against the neighborhood bully (his father still says hi to us every time we pass their house). We still buy each other graphic novels, music, and unique clothes. We – or maybe just I – can only stand being home (with the parents, together) for a certain period of time, but that short while is fantastic.
I think what held us together is that our parents would always say (after breaking us up out of a fight) that “He hits you because he loves you.” Yea, we still wrestle in the yard. But now we know why.

6 J.A. Greystone November 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

I have 2 brothers (we’re only 4 years apart from youngest to oldest) and we all shared one room up until we stared moving off to college. I actually think I’m closer to them then I am to my wife (god, let’s hope she doesn’t see this :) ). We’ve traveled the world together, dealt with joy and happiness together and they are the ones I turn to first when I need to talk. I talk to them multiple times a week, exchange texts daily and we plan vacations together.

I also have 3 sons, and I hope that they are seeing the relationship with my brothers as a model for what their relationship should be. I’ve told them all, when they are frustrated with one another, that the only person they can truly count on in this world is their brother.

7 Eric Granata November 10, 2010 at 9:12 am

I shared a room with my twin brother for most of my childhood. We were very different from each other. I was a tubby nerd and he…wasn’t. We often fought and had little to do with each other, however, now that we are approaching 30 and for the past 7 years or so, we’ve been pretty close. I think much of that has to do with maturity.

8 Bayan November 10, 2010 at 9:29 am

It feels as if I wrote this article. My younger brother and I shared a very similar experience growing up and today, as young adults, we are closer than any other two people I know. I cherish the relationship I hold with him more than any other I have ever formed. Though I know one day when I’m married, I’ll put my wife first, I can’t imagine ever having with someone else what I have with my him. You did a fantastic job with this.

9 J November 10, 2010 at 10:16 am

My brother and I have rarely been close throughout our years together. He’s slightly less than 2 years older than me and, according to my parents, has resented me since before I was born.

We slept in the same room for all but about 4 years of our time together. There were times where we had to sleep in the same bed for years at a time as well. Perhaps that contributed to his resentment.. Had I never been born, he’d have a bed and room to himself, along with all of the attention.

My parents generally turned a blind eye to his mistreatment of me so he continues to do it to this day. Hell, the day before my wedding, he was walking behind me to a building to help bring out some chairs and he was purposely walking on my heels. No reason for it.. It must bring him some sort of pleasure.

There were times where we got along vaguely, such as when we worked at the same place after high school and had to travel around together for said work. Those times are few and far between, though.

I expect that he resents me more now for my success rather than for being born, so we continue to be estranged. We never call each other.. We don’t even know the phone number of the other. Any communication we do is through our parents. We see each other, maybe, once a year and when we are in the same building we tend to try to pretend like the other isn’t there.

Honestly, I don’t like being this way, but whenever I try to close the gap and forge some sort of bond he mocks me. I’ve tried numerous times throughout the years, to always get the same response.

10 Todd Helmkamp November 10, 2010 at 11:11 am

I don’t have any brothers, but my sister is great. She and I have always been close, even when she made me watch “Dirty Dancing” every day during the summer (she was older, so she was in charge).

I do have two sons, aged 5 and 2.5. I’m already seeing the rivalries, but also the bond is beginning to form. The younger hero-worships his older brother, and always wants to do what Luke is doing. And Luke, although Brennan can be a pest, generally tolerates his “shadow” pretty well, and teaches him stuff (although not always good things….).

This article has given me some insight into the bond brothers share. Good stuff.

11 Tim Woolery November 10, 2010 at 11:21 am

I don’t want to detract from the great information in this article and yet, I don’t have that kind of relationship with my brother and I never will. I’m glad that things work the right way for you and your brothers – I just wanted to say that it isn’t like that for everyone.

My family was dysfunctional and occasionally abusive – when we became adults we went our separate ways and it’s only recently that my sister and I have a semi-good relationship. We have to work at it, learn good interpersonal habits and consciously avoid bad habits.

12 Rob November 10, 2010 at 11:26 am

Very long road trips do the trick just nice. I could write a book and my brother and I’s road trips.

13 E November 10, 2010 at 11:56 am

I thought all five of us brothers and sisters had a fairly decent relationship growing up. Sure, we had our spats, fights, and rivalries but we’d also pulled some pretty elaborate shenanegans together, defended each other, served in the miltary together, taken trips around the world together, taken in each other’s kids over the summers, spent relaxing and enjoyable holidays together, and everyone thought we were such a great family–as did I. But the ugly truth came out about our relationships when our parents started needing round-the-clock care and later passed away. We’ve barely spoken a single word since that didn’t come through a lawyer in the 10 years since our parents died.

14 Bryan Schatz November 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm

@ E – Interesting that you mention that. There is a whole field of research dedicated to sibling relationships during the time when parents need care. I didn’t go into it because it was vast enough to require an article (or more) in and of itself… If you are interested at all, you may want to take a look here: http://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/content/25/1/19.abstract It has links to several articles regarding the topic.

15 Nick D November 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm

My brother and I were never really close growing up. We shared a room for a long time and later move just a door apart but it never really made any difference. Through the years all I can remember was doing our own thing. Mom and dad were the hands-off type. As long as we weren’t at each others’ throats all was good. From the outside we probably looked like the perfect family. From the inside we were 4 people sharing a house.

His senior year in high school – I was in my 3rd year at college – he dropped a girlfriend off at high school. He essentially kicked her out of his truck and tore out of the parking lot. I got a ride home from a local constable to get the news that he’d taken his life that morning. No one ever had an inkling why, but there were a lot of things we’d not known. I can’t help but think the non-information is exactly what we wanted and expected. A few short years later my wife and I announced our engagement. It was on or around this day that dad told my mom he wanted a divorce. I was the last bit of mortar and our “home” came crashing down upon my exit.

I find myself fortunate now that I’ve married my wife. She has 2 sisters, and they shared the same upbringing of which many of you brothers speak. Not only that I’ve essentially become a blood brother to them (sibling rivalry and “abuse” notwithstanding) and her parents even accept me as one of their own. I didn’t know any of them until high school but I feel like I’ve been given a second chance to have the family I always needed yet never realized.

16 TR November 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

My older brother and I still share the same room, which kind of sad since we are both in our 20s. The thing is, I seem to be the conservative one and he’s the one with entitlement issues and is materialistic, kind of opposite to Tony’s (first comment) situation. He smokes cigarettes, weed, drinks, has serious weight issues, and is bad with personal finance (got into a lot of debt and had collectors calling our house while he was in college). Its important to realize that although you may have similar genes, your personalities can be strikingly contrary to one another, as can your values and beliefs. We do put our differences aside and get along, but its unfortunate that I did not have much to learn from him, except what not to do.

17 M. Crawford November 10, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I am very happy and grateful that I can say that my two brothers are my best friends now that we’ve grown up. There were always spats when we were kids (and sometimes still are) and we weren’t always the nicest to each other by a long shot, but that is what families go through. I am very proud to be a good friend of my two brothers and would do anything for them; as they both would do for me. I try to never take that for granted because I know not everybody turned out as lucky as we did.

18 G November 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I have a good relationship with my sisters, but I do have a half-brother. I shared a room with my him when I was a teenager for a couple of years when he first moved into my house (Dad’s previous marriage). When I first heard of the news, I was so excited because I always wanted to have an older/younger brother (older in this case) and feel that brotherly-bond since I only have sisters; unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be a good experience. I learned a lot through the ordeal. I’ve never really been close to my Dad or brother and I guess that’s why I’ve always looked for those Fatherly/brotherly qualities in the guy friends I hang out with, which is probably why the men I hang out with are usually older than me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to experience but wasn’t afforded the opportunity to experience. I truly hope that when I have children one day, they will have the type of relationship I’ve always wanted with a brother and often find myself being jealous of when looking at others.

19 Thomas November 10, 2010 at 4:59 pm

My relationship with my brother (2 years my junior) was/is pretty normal. When we were children, there were times that we got mad at each other and times that we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company thanks to shared interests and passions. For 19 years, he was the only person to whom I would ever really open up.

My sister , two years older than I am, is a different story. For a long time, I hated her. And I don’t mean some temporary juvenile loss of temper; at every turn she treated me, and made sure I felt, like complete and utter crap. I truly, genuinely hated her. When I first got an invitation to her wedding, I had no intention of going and my ears would have been closed to any appeal my parents might have made.

I met up with her a couple of months before that wedding, though, and I saw that she just wasn’t that person anymore. I started to remember the inconsiderate things I did as a boy that would make her angry with me and realized that neither of us was blameless. Our relationship now is actually good; we rarely spend time together (she lives in Dallas, I live in many other places) but when we do…we treat each other like a brother and sister ought to.

20 Nicholas F November 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

As always, I found this an excellent read, very insightful! Thank you so much for touching on this important topic. As a dad to be in just under a month, I feel that this is something I really will try to encourage in my children in the future.

21 Ron November 10, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Very touching post, especially since I’ve grown up with 3 little brothers. It’s interesting to see how all of our personalities differ so much, and in some ways are so similar.

There was never a dull day growing up in my house. Play fights, jokes, insults, real fights, bickering, misunderstandings, and play-turn-to-real fights…. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I mean, four boys!? That’s Nintendo 64, Xbox, and Wii competitions all day. Good times, good times.

One of my brothers just recently got married in another country. I miss the little guy, but hey, life goes on. I’m happy for him, and this was definitely a useful article to help me to keep in touch with him. Another just went off to university, and keeping in touch has been difficult. But with technology these days not staying in touch is inexcusable.

A great way to build the bond with your brother is to honor him. I don’t care what any of them has done in the past, I do not…under any condition, speak an ill word against any of them to anyone. Honoring them among their friends and associates is vital, as it builds strength in each other. That is actually a motto that we all share when we would get together (I borrowed it from Gladiator) “Strength…and Honor!” I try to take a general interest in whatever they’re interested in as well. It helps to build a more trusting and communicative relationship.

Here’s to brothers!

22 Martin Schatz November 10, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Great article, Bryan! I still remember vividly the feeling of terror and guilt when I looked up and saw Dad, staring at me as I crammed your face into the carpet.

“BRYAN, whats WRONG???!”

23 kowalski November 11, 2010 at 12:26 am

I have two older brothers; 2 and 4 years apart. I get along just fine with my oldest brother, but the middle brother has always been a pain in my ass. We just dont have the same views on life and it really gets in the way of having a brother to brother relationship. I can remember back to high school and how he complained to my parents about having to pick me up from practice. Now that I think about it, I dont think he has ever done a nice thing for me that was not forced.

24 Splashman November 11, 2010 at 2:06 am

I wish I belonged to the “positive example” category, but I don’t.

I’m one of eight children. My parents weren’t “hands-off”, but as parents they focused on correcting our superficial behaviors instead of underlying attitudes. The bonds of friendship were never developed, and as adults we have quite literally scattered across the globe. Fittingly (and with hindsight, predictably) the relationships are now mostly cordial but entirely superficial.

With my children, I’m trying to reverse that formula — I’m nit-picking the attitudes while relaxing about the superficial stuff. And, thank God, it appears to be working. Their interaction is probably 95% positive, 5% negative. It’s a genuine pleasure to hear them laughing and playing and working on projects together. Even if I fail in everything else in life, if they still have the “bond of brothers” as adults, I will consider myself a success.

25 Riley Carson November 11, 2010 at 5:51 am

You know, this is a lot how I would have pictured Martin as a kid – shoving his brother’s face into the carpet and doing free throws until he had a hundred.

26 Mark Petersen November 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I’ve always enjoyed brotherhood. Yeah I’m the runty one in my family (even though I’m not the youngest) and that led to getting picked on by my brothers. But I’d tolerate the hazing from my brothers in exchange for the protection they gave me. God have mercy on the soul of any who wasn’t a Petersen boy who tried to pick a fight with me, because the wrath of God was nothing compared to the awful savage beating that they had coming from my brothers.

27 John Smith November 11, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I remember fighting w/ my older brother. We used to get into crazy fist fights, he broke my nose, and I threw him onto our coffee table (breaking the legs off of it). We’re over those days now, we get along pretty well. I think all of that made us a lot more… normal as far as brothers goes. Going through Hell and back made us closer in my opinion.

28 Steven C November 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Excellant post. My younger brother and I are in this wierd, what i hope to be temporary phase. Our parents took the hands off approach never setting good example or giving us brotherly love advise. They had there own problems. I thought we would be closer when they slit but nope. Now I am off on my last year of college and he is still stuck with our mothers second husband. In all these four he never once called me. Sured we hang out when at home but he only uses me for my car.

What the fuck do you want from me. I try and talk to you, figure out why your so damm closed off from me. Should i have not gone to college? Should I have finished off our step-father that one fateful night? Do you want to see me get a girlfriend? I tried to call tonight but you don’t fucking care. I know you have pretty much emulated me in every way whether it is through the same music, diet, beliefs, anger. Are you too dam egotistic to know where I stood for you.

I wish I had advice but i haven’t earned that wisdom yet!

29 Will November 13, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I am incredibly glad to dee a post on this subject. My little brother and I actually have the same age difference described in the post. Like all brothers, we have our fair share of arguments… daily… over the stupidest of the stupid. I have always felt like i have had to ‘protect’ him from the world and this has always caused a little bit of tension because I tried to act like more of an authority figure rather than a brother and friend. As of late though, i have found that we are working together much better and hanging out with more ease as i have sort of let that parental role go. Maybe the most important thing we can do as older brothers is to let the ‘small ones’ figure things out on their own with some much needed guidance, not direction, and advice of the ‘older ones’ and to always be honest with them on everything.

and @steven c, man you gotta let some of that anger go man. Believe me you will regret it later. Sit down and talk to your little brother. Find the reason he is so distant and fix it.

Totally agree with John Smith, my brother and I have also gone through hell and back… a few times, but you’re completely right! That has definitely made us closer!

30 Keith November 15, 2010 at 7:16 am

Much like the author I was a nuisance as a child. More than a nuisance, in fact. If I met my teenage self today I’d kick my own ass with relish. I was short, intelligent and cruel with a habit of starting (and losing) fights with kids much bigger than me well into my teens. My older brother (by two years) took the brunt of my bad attitude, though, and his response tended to swing between entirely justifiable verbal retribution and bafflement. He never once struck me but he was very skilled at twisting the knife with insults when I became particularly insufferable.

I still don’t understand what drove me to act like such an overwhelming pain in the ass but I’m thankful that the intervening years seem to have erased (or at least dulled) that part of my personality. In any case my brother and I had a tense relationship all the way into my early 20s – I’d throw random and undeserved insults at him, he’d be embarrassed and ashamed to be seen with me.

What healed our relationship was a trip to Australia in my 21st year. God knows why I thought it was a good idea to fly to the other side of the world to see him, or why he offered an invitation to spend a summer at his apartment in Melbourne, but I went. He’d been gone six months by this point on a year-long round the world trip, and from the moment he opened the door, groggy and hungover, at 5AM on a chilly St. Kilda morning I knew our time apart had magically fixed everything.

The next six weeks were a revelation. As we sat around the apartment watching the 2002 World Cup with a steady supply of Victoria Bitter I realised that I’d spent the best part of two decades missing out on a friendship with this incredible person: likeable, friendly, cool, knowledgeable, curious about the world and everything in it. His positive attributes go on and on while his negatives would fit on the back of a postage stamp with room to spare.

Almost a decade has passed since then, and each year has seen us grow closer. I caught the travel bug from him (for which he has my eternal thanks) so we don’t see each other as often as I’d like, but thanks to the telephone and the Internet we always keep in touch no matter where I lay my hat.

Last month I was lying in bed in my apartment in Ulaanbaatar (thanks, Scott) and my Mongolian girlfriend took it upon herself to list the things she likes about me. When she was done I realised that every point she’d mentioned – everything that makes me someone people want to be around, everything that makes me a good person – I share with my big brother. So, to paraphrase Aaron Sorkin, if someone were to ask the question ‘How are you different from your brother?’ my answer will always be this:

Hopefully in as few ways as possible.

31 Derk November 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Nice article. One of the best ways to get to know each other is to go on a trip. My brother and I healed wounds from gowing up together on that trip, got to know each other better and now fondly look back at that trip whenever we get together for a catchup.

32 Walt November 19, 2010 at 12:21 am

Great article!

33 G9 November 21, 2010 at 6:27 am

Has anyone considered that sometimes it is best for brothers to just go their seperate ways? That sometimes having someone in your life that is more detrimental than their presence is worth is grounds for a parting of ways?

If one gains nothing from a relationship with ones brother (while giving constantly), why would one keep that person in their life???

34 Keith November 22, 2010 at 5:48 am

Sure, G9. I’m certain that many sibling relationships become broken beyond any hope of repair during a tempestuous youth. However, I think the teenage years of most people could be likened to catching someone at their worst moment (albeit a moment that lasts many years), and I expect many relationships are forever coloured by impressions that became unfairly calcified many years ago.

F’r'instance, If you’d met me last week at the end of a loooooooong flight back from Tokyo you’d have quickly come to the conclusion that I was a short-tempered, humourless dick, and you would have gone away certain that you’d never want to see me again. It may not occur to you that my tremendous lack of appeal was caused by a 20-hour trip in taxis, on trains and crammed into a tiny seat in an airless tube (think Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles). Your conclusion would have been accurate at that moment but after a good sleep and a visit to the pub I’d be back to my old, cheerful self while your impression would remain the same.

Of course it’s just as likely that an estranged brother is still the unpleasant moron he was while you were growing up. Not everyone improves with age, we can’t choose our family and some people, unfortunately, are born assholes and will forever remain.

35 Jerry December 7, 2010 at 10:24 pm

I wonder if you have a sister, does this advice still apply? Are there any modifications that should be made? Or should you just give up on that relationship all together? (kidding)

36 James October 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm

I have three brothers, and we are really close. I am the youngest, the bottom three of us are one year apart each. My oldest brother is in the US military, and has taken after my dad. We have all enjoyed each others company from the very beginning. There is something understood between brothers, a special bond of sorts, where you don’t even have to talk to each other.

37 Smith January 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I was the only child until I was roughly 5. Being there was such an age gap, my younger brother always seemed to start fights and instigate until I retaliated and my parents stepped in. Being older and quite a deal smarter than he was, even at our younger, undeveloped age, I would always strategically place a contingency scenario if he stepped in and decided to try and mess with me. Typically, if he tried, and failed, he would cry and run to mom or dad and say I hit him or some other such nonsense, unknown to me. Most of the time, they would believe him, which only added to the level of resentment I had from him straight from the get go. We’ve never truly gotten along, even though I’m now 19 and in the US Army, which saddens my parents quite a great deal. It’s hard to overcome a deep seated dislike for someone who turned your own parents against you time after time.

However, my next little brother was different. 4 years younger than my now 14 year old younger brother, he wants nothing more than to be exactly like me. He walks like me, talks like me, and does NOT under any circumstances let our middle brother get his own way over him. I’d almost be proud of him if I didn’t know I would one day have to compete with him in some way or another. Still, at his birth, I essentially raised him, with my parents working and my grandmother succumbing to surgery after surgery to give her the ability to walk again. I made his bottles, changed his diapers, played with him, even with a 9 year age gap.

So personally, I think a lot of the dislike and hatred some siblings have comes from where their state of mind was when the other child entered the picture. I was old enough to understand and cooperate with my youngest of two brothers, but neither of us get along with the middle brother, due to his snarky and downright rude attitude.

38 JG June 18, 2013 at 10:48 am

I found this article as I am 63 years old and have been struggling with how I should regard my relationship, or lack thereof, with my two brothers.

I am the middle son, my parents were good people, provided amply for us and encouraged the family relationship. I somewhat emulated my older brother even though I found my own identity through our growing up years. My younger brother was unlike my older brother yet I related to both of them and felt like I bridged the gap between the eldest and youngest over the years.

As we grew into middle-age my older brother became increasingly more competitive to the extent it was no longer comfortable to be around him. By the time I turned 40 we had a serious falling out to the extent we didn’t see each other for 4 years even though we lived in the same metropolitan area. When my older brother’s wife was dying from cancer my mother said “You need to forget how you feel and go support your brother through this”. That I did, and I maintained contact with him after his wife’s death, daily at first, then more spaced apart until I felt comfortable he was doing okay. He finally remarried.

A few years later, I was visiting my brother at his house at a time that my marriage was dissolving. I stated some complaints about my wife and he brusquely told me he didn’t want to hear about it. I was shocked and disappointed at his reaction and made some smart comment back and he went to the door of his home and asked me to leave. That was 13 years ago and I haven’t gone back.

Over the years I have made it a point to contact my brothers at the holidays and on their birthdays while they often either forgot mine or were considerably late in “remembering”. I decided last year I was done with the holiday greetings even though I can’t, and don’t want to, break the habit of offering timely birthday greetings.

I have thought about preparing a letter for each of them to be read after my death to clarify my desire toward having a better relationship with them and the despair I have felt that it just wasn’t going to happen. Yet, that concept seems foolish and useless. If we don’t have an amiable, supportive relationship during life then there’s no use confronting them through the written word after death. I suppose my feelings will die with me and that will be the end of it.

My take on our brotherly relationship is that is a shame to not be more supportive of each other and we are all three to blame. As long we are not disruptive to each other’s lives then that is probably the only high road left we will have taken. It saddens me, but there is also an element of emancipation to just letting it go. To live and let live is also a virtue.

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