When we first told Gus that he was going to be a big brother, he was insanely excited — he desperately wanted to be a big brother. And we wanted that for him too; we wanted him to have a sibling. We were already investigating adopting another child when we learned Niko had been born.
Both Kelly and I have siblings and we understand the important role they play in a person’s life. According to a study by Dr. Shawn Sidhu of the University of New Mexico, “healthy sibling relationships promote empathy, prosocial behavior, and academic achievement.” These positive relationships can also be a source of support.
Honestly, although there’s something to say about a brother-sister relationship, and I’m very tight with mine, I think there’s a special bond between brothers. When they were little, as soon as Gus walked in the door from school, Niko would run to him for a hug. It was incredibly sweet. Just like their dads with our brothers, the boys tease each other good-naturedly. One minute they’re arch enemies and seconds later best friends again.
And Dr. Sidhu notes that one of the advantages of having siblings is that they will share and discuss with each other topics they won’t ever broach with their parents. When there has been girl trouble, they turn to each other, not to their dads, for advice. Now that may be because they think, as gay men, we know nothing about women, but I think it’s a deeper connection than shared heterosexuality. I think it has a lot to do with them being brothers.
A few weeks ago, we lost my big brother, Dan. As a kid, I thought he was the coolest person in the world. At nine years my senior, we had the luxury of him being more mature and patient, allowing us to have a fun relationship.
Honestly, I wanted to be just like him. For Christmas, I begged our parents for Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac albums because Dan listened to those bands. I started watching Saturday Night Live because he watched it. I learned to love hiking because he took me with him.
When I told Dan that I was gay, he asked me a simple question: How can you have sex with another guy? I had an equally simple response: How can you not? That was it, he understood, I guess. The topic changed to him offering me advice about being smart with my decisions and being careful during what was the height of the AIDS pandemic.
Apparently, he once shut down a rather ugly conversation about marriage equality between his blue-collar coworkers by asking why it mattered to them. When they hemmed and hawed, he came out as the brother of a gay guy, one whose one-and-only relationship with another man has lasted longer than all of these guys’ marriages — his own included.
He was also a huge supporter of my parenthood and showed it to my kids. On Gus’ first Christmas, Uncle Dan sent a baseball mitt — one as big as my seven-month-old baby. When he noticed Niko subtly trying to compare their darker, very similar skin tones, Dan pushed their forearms together and announced, “We’re the same color!” to Niko’s delight.
Growing up, the greatest gift my big brother ever gave me was the freedom to be myself, to grow into the man I wanted and needed to be. I don’t think he knew it, but tacitly he was giving me his blessing to be gay.
I hope my sons saw in us an example of what brothers can be for each other. I love you, Dan.