12 Days of Gratitude – Derek

Derek

I’d like you to meet my friend Derek (the tall one), although the word “friend” seems too small, while buddy, pal and fellow-reprobate don’t quite fit either.

Although Derek and I have no blood ties, he is easily a brother to me, a constant companion for the last 20 years or so; a man who enjoys a good laugh, a quick pint (or several) and a jovial nod and wink.

If you ever get the chance, come say hello to Derek and see how quickly he invites you to the perpetual party that is his life.

 

(Part Seven of my 12 Days of Gratitude…because the rest of the news sucks)

Blood and name calling

He ain’t half heavy, he’s my half-brother – The Adopted Hollies

If you haven’t got a penny, then half a penny’ll do. If you haven’t got a ha’ penny, then God bless you. – some British thing (not the Hollies)

I read an article this weekend that described the murder of a man by his half-brother. Normally, I don’t read these kinds of stories, but I was drawn to this one because of the phrase half-brother, which made me wonder why this phrase was still in common use.

What the hell is a half brother? (Shawn, Scott, me)

What the hell is a half brother? (Shawn, Scott, me)

I appreciate that historically there may have been a reason to keep track of who one’s siblings were from a legacy perspective. Family homes and farms (and for the wealthy, estates) possibly hung in the balance when Dad died…although I question how often this was a concern. And no self-respecting Shakespearean comedy or drama would be complete without an evil half-brother. But why now?

To quote the Bard:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

Likewise, to quote Merriam-Webster:

Blood (n): the fluid that circulates in the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins of a vertebrate animal carrying nourishment and oxygen to and bringing away waste products from all parts of the body.

So again, I ask why the fixation on a surname and the concept of blood ties?

The last time blood ties mattered

The last time blood ties mattered

I never knew my father—not something I take personally; just a fact—and so I have no particular attachment to my last name aside from convenience and familiarity. I feel no compunction to continue the family name. Other people have the surname of Willis…let them continue it if they want.

And my brothers and I only share one common parent—our mom—and so have different surnames. Does this make them any less my brothers, however, than a pair of siblings who shared the genetic legacy of the same pair of parents (pairents)? Not for me (you’d have to ask them their perspectives on this).

For the famous, an argument can be made that sharing DNA somehow opens doors from one generation to the next: Ken Griffey Jr., Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Kennedy Jr., Paris Hilton.

Not sure how that last one works

Not sure how that last one works

But in most of those cases, sustained success comes from inherent talent and drive, not simply DNA. (I still don’t understand why Paris Hilton is famous.) Likewise, for every case of possible nepotistic success, there are hundreds or thousands of cases of success despite lineage (no disrespect to parents anywhere).

Perhaps I am the anomaly on this, but I simply don’t understand the importance of the nomenclature to who I am as an individual or how I respond to a family member versus a close non-genetically linked person (aka friend).

Agah, Nicholas and Marsha are my siblings despite the lack of genetic links

Agah, Nicholas and Marsha are my siblings despite the lack of genetic links

Scott and Shawn are my brothers more for our shared experiences than because of any genetic connection, much as Agah and Nicholas are my brothers and Marsha my sister for our shared affection and experiences.

Call me Ishmael, for all I care…if we are good friends, you have likely called me worse.

In the meantime, I’ll use my bloodlines to circulate oxygen to tissues and white cells to fight infection.

Brothers...no half-measures

Brothers…no half-measures

My preferred quote:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:

Brothers by birth

Image

When we were young, my brothers and I were very close. The house was so small, we had little choice.

We moved a lot when we were kids, so we tended to see each other as playmates as much as anything, even though we were 5 and 5 years apart, me being the eldest. My brothers were constants in a sea of change.

At our youngest, spending time together was easy. Scott and I would use Shawn as cannon-fodder for any number of experiments, and he would respond as though it was great fun. The fact that Shawn did not die in childhood or does not suffer the after-effects of brain damage today is a testament to the strength and resiliency of the human skull.

As we got older, though, the strengths and directions of our individual personalities began to interfere with our genetic and social bond. I was the studious, overly verbose nerd. Scott was the quiet and reserved one; the observer. Shawn was the independent freedom fighter.

What were once common goals became more fractious, and as Shawn became older, he began to realize that his lot in life didn’t have to be guinea pig, and with his fiery temper, he in fact became a weapon of filial destruction. Only my decadal seniority kept him from killing Scott, who wasn’t always in my good books.

The genetic link continued to sever as we continued to age and each of us found less reason to spend time with the others. Our interests were different. Our needs were different. And our attitudes about the other two changed.

Around the time that I buggered off to college, Shawn’s rebellious streak took solid hold and he headed across the country to do his own thing. And Scott folded more into his own world.

In one way or another, we had effectively abandoned the family unit, and more important to my mother, the family unity. I can appreciate now how hard this must have been on her, but at the time, it all sounded like mom whining.

Over the next bunch of years, I think I saw Shawn twice…both weddings, one his. I saw Scott more regularly, but a lot of it felt forced as we would often meet at my mother’s place. I can only speak for me, but it felt like we were trying to maintain an illusion of what was.

There were good interactions between us. And I like to think there was still love. But there was no friendship. Genetics just wasn’t enough.

We parted company and lives. If asked, I am confident that any two thought the third was a complete asshole.

Time passes. We evolved and continue to become the men we need to be for ourselves. And from my perspective, something great has come out of that. We have been given a second chance at friendship.

As full-grown men with our own lives, interests and goals, we have chosen to welcome each other into our lives in one way or another. It is not the bond we shared in our youth, but I don’t know that any of us are too worried about that. (Shawn’s still too big and strong to let Scott and I pile drive him into the basement floor.)

The friendship I have with Shawn is different than the one I have with Scott, but both friendships are meetings of equals. One of the only bonds we seem to share as a trio, other than our familial link to our mother, is a neurological link to alcohol (damn, that’s one hell of a pub tab).

Shawn is the successful restaurateur, who is still the independent freedom fighter.

Scott is the dedicated family man, who is still the observer.

I am the raconteur, wit and writer, who is still the sexiest man in town (okay fine, the studious, overly verbose nerd).

But none of these descriptions is sufficient. We are simply the men that we are.

Shawn, Scott and I are brothers by birth, but we’re friends by choice. And that’s the way it should be.