Who's Your Daddy

My Brother’s Keeper

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Gus thinks I’m psychic. He finds my ability to know exactly when he’s about to torment his little brother disturbing. After all, I am able to I put a stop to his shenanigans before they even occur. But it’s not ESP; it’s surviving four big brothers.

Many of the more colorful antics I endured at the hands of my big brothers have become family lore. Like the time my then-teenage brother Dan grew so impatient with my picky eating habits that he tried to force feed me a steak sandwich.

Or when my brother John tried to teach me to drive a stick shift and ended up throwing me out of his car because I kept killing it on a slight hill in the middle of a particularly busy intersection.

But in spite of steak sandwiches and popped clutches, my brothers served as the most compelling reason for me to adopt Niko. No matter what logical and well-thought-out arguments people raised against the idea, I always answered, “But he’s Gus’ brother.”

There’s a special bond between brothers. I wanted Gus to experience that.

Right now, there are more similarities between my boys than differences: they have the same laugh; the same rhythm in their speech; the same way of running. And when they were each learning to speak, they both — separately from one another — referred to anything in the plural as being “two ones.” But as similar as they seem on the surface, my boys are also very different individuals. Just like my brothers and I. We may all have our dad’s voice and parrot his walk and gestures, but there’s plenty that separates us as well.

And I suppose having a gay brother can accentuate those differences. But I also think it’s one of our strengths. Being with my brothers, I’ve always had a great sense of belonging. The fact I love another man, that I’m attracted to other men has never diminished that feeling. For them I may be a big homo, but I’m their big homo.

Sure, when I’m out with my brothers, and they feel that weird, straight boy need to express how attractive they find some woman passing by, I pretty much kill the conversation by adding my two cents about the guy she was with.

What I find interesting, is that everyone seems to understand that brothers talk about these issues. Since my brother Dan’s divorce several years ago, our mom has quizzed me mercilessly about every woman he’s dated. All I’ve had to do is say, “I talked to Dan yesterday,” and she starts cross-examining me like Perry Mason about to make the real killer confess! Does he tell me about the women he’s dated? Yes. Am I about to divulge any information to our mother? Good Lord, no!

It’s that kind of trust and confidence that I’m hoping my kids find in each other. It goes beyond being discreet with our mom about our private lives. It’s about having someone who knows us so completely. Someone in whom we can confide everything, knowing full well that we may receive advice we don’t want to hear and didn’t necessarily ask for. But also understanding there’s nothing that can change the bond between us. Not even being gay.

That’s why it’s so rewarding to see Gus and Niko starting to develop that fine balance of brotherhood. Yes, Gus teases Niko to the point of tears sometimes. Yes, Niko intentionally irritates his brother until Gus reaches the breaking point. Yes, they quarrel.

But then again, when Gus gets home from school, the first person he hugs is Niko.

As for my brothers and me, I hope we’re good examples for the boys. I hope my kids recognize how much I love my brothers, and more importantly, how much they love me — even when we’re teasing each other mercilessly. Especially when we’re teasing each other mercilessly!

And until the time comes when my boys recognize that there’s nothing the other won’t do for him, I’ll continue to shock Gus with my amazing psychic powers. But I’m also working on helping Niko learn to roll with the punches his big brother throws.

I mean, after all, a few short years after John threw me out of his (yet again) stalled car, his far more patient wife, Jan, taught me to drive a stick. And even though the retelling of the steak sandwich story still elicits peals of belly laughter from every member of my family, I always have the last laugh: I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years! You don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to figure out what caused that!

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