Everybody should have a big sister and a big brother. It takes a lot of pressure off. Jimmy was the first born. Mom was just seventeen and Dad was going on twenty three. The first child is an experiment. They have the great advantage of being the center of the universe. They have the great handicap of being the center of the universe.
Parents have such high expectations for that first child and so little confidence in their abilities to raise that next Einstein, or Abraham Lincoln, or Billy Graham. The results are typically a high achieving workaholic who is always seeking approval, or a manipulative underachiever who feels they can never get approval.
Those of us born in the middle have the great advantage of watching someone else walk through the minefield of parental expectations. We get to choose who we want to be and how to navigate the challenges. More than all other children, the firstborn must live their lives against the backdrop of their parent’s hopes and dreams. I am so glad I am not a first born; it’s tough enough being married to one.
Never the less, firstborns have the opportunity to develop a special relationship with their parents. Parents tend to trust them more. They charged them in childhood to watch out for their younger brothers and sisters and they expect them continue doing that long after they are gone. That’s a heavy burden to bear, especially because younger siblings don’t want anybody looking over their shoulder. We want to do it for ourselves.
Growing up, Jimmy was a great older brother. He was often our baby sitter but it never felt that way. He busied himself cleaning the house for Mom while Shirley and I played and or watched TV. (When we got older we had chores to do before she got home.) Mom often commented on how Jimmy was such a great help, especially since as a truck driver Dad was gone a lot .
Like most older brothers he knew how to push the buttons of his younger siblings. We enjoyed rough housing and he knew just how much pain to inflict without causing harm. He incited the event that came closest to getting me a spanking from Dad. We had been instructed by Dad, at Mom’s urging, to never play ball in the house. We knew Dad was going to be home soon and we were wrestling in the house when I got hurt. I saw a ball, picked it up and threw it as hard as I could at his head. He ducked and the ball broke the window in the upper corner. Naively we pulled the curtain so it couldn’t be seen. It never crossed our minds the broken window was exposed on the outside. We were lounging in the living room when Dad entered. Setting his satchel down and inhaling deeply, broadening his shoulders, he spoke, “how did that window get broke?”
With fear and trembling I stammered out, “I broke it throwing the ball at Jimmy.”
“I thought I told you boys to never play ball in the house.” You could see the fury in his eyes.
“We weren’t playing ball Dad. We were wrestling and he hurt me. I threw the ball because I was angry.”
Pausing a moment to think and weigh carefully his response, he picked up his bag and said,
“You’re not going to throw a ball in the house again, for any reason, are you?”
“OK” And he walked through to the back of the house.
I guess anger at your older brother was something Dad could understand.
If we weren’t at the house or working on the farm, I didn’t get to hang out with Jimmy much. I was the kid brother. I did draw strength from his reputation. He was my big brother and I was confident he would look out for me. He was my ticket to security in the world beyond the safety of Mom and Dad. Boy was I naive.
There is a lot to respect about my brother. He is thoughtful, considerate, compassionate, conscientious and dedicated. He loves God and He is a faithful friend. He is loyal to a fault. He is highly respected by all who know him. Think of the ideal Boy Scout all grown up, that’s Jimmy. I am always proud to say he is my big brother, even if he is wrong when he disagrees with me.
March 3, 2010