One of the great sadnesses of my life is that my second brother and I aren’t close. We’re not just not close, we might as well live in different galaxies on other sides of the universe.
Ever since I left home at the age of 16, we have probably had about a dozen conversations, most of them in drink.
The only sober exchanges have been when Big Events – Stuff That Really Matters – have affected us. Our mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, our mother having to move into a nursing home. Our mother passing away last year.
This is not to undermine the bond between us. My brother would kill for me – and I mean that almost literally. He is a Very Hard Man, and often Very Hard Men are Men of Few Words. Action not analysis.
We really couldn’t be more different, and yet we were so incredibly close when we were growing up.
He is 15 months younger than me, and from the moment he was born we first shared a bed, and then five years later, a room, right up until me leaving home.
I left home partly because of that claustrophobia which comes with spending so much time with another. I let home because I needed my own space and wanted to break free.
There were times, when we were children, when we would peer out of the window of our council house on the outskirts of Manchester and I would tell him adventure stories with me and him as the central characters. It was called Swinging On The Lights. In our imaginations, we would use the light fitting at the centre of our room as a Tarzan rope, then swing ourselves through the window, beyond the petrol station at the bottom of the road, and into fantasy lands of our imaginations. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe eat your heart out.
As we grew up, our personalities formed. I was the Sensitive Over-Analytical One; he the Strong Silent One.
Our other brothers came along, but Brother 2 became close to Brothers 3 and 4. I drifted away and became The Man Who Became The Writer of Self-Flagellating Blogs while they became decorators and electricians. I moved 200 miles away from home; they stayed within a stone’s throw of the home where we grew up.
Their connection is something I envy and admire, and if I had the wisdom I have now, I would turn back the clock. But we all know that the arrow of time only goes in one direction. You can’t reinvent the past, even if you can invent words on a page.
Fast forward to six years ago. The birth of my first son was the greatest moment of my life. When he emerged from inside his mother after a mercifully short two-hour labour, he was handed to me from beneath her crouching body. During the whole process, my wife and I didn’t lose eye contact once, except for the moment that Tom was put into my open hands. I looked at him, then looked back into her eyes. And we both burst into tears.
Three years later, another wailing, vulnerable body was placed in my hands in the comfort of our own living room while a David Attenborough documentary was playing in the background. And although I confess I had wanted a daughter, the sight of this bawling hairy little monkey changed my mind in his heartbeat. This was a brother for my son.
My boys have an older sister, but she is my stepdaughter. She sees her dad every weekend and every holiday. No matter how close she is to them during the week, she is always absent for two days. They miss her terribly when she’s not around, but it is the price we pay for her connection with her father. None of us would change that for the world.
But the upside has been that when Daisy isn’t around, it facilitates the bond between my sons.
And, oh, what a bond it is. My friend Dan stayed over the other night. He hadn’t seen the boys for a while and immediately remarked on how close they were, how much love they had for each other. How the oldest looked after the youngest, and how the youngest followed his brother in every thing he did (not necessarily A Good Thing, especially when the oldest is throwing balls and wet sand off our roof terrace!)
Of course, he didn’t need to tell me this because the evidence is there before my own eyes each and every day, from the way Tom chaperones his little brother in the school playground, to the way Sam hugged his older sibling when he emerged from the pool after learning to swim the other day.
Their bond is as close as it was with my own brother when we were pretty much the same ages as they are now.
I can’t predict the future. I wish I could. But can I influence it? I don’t know. I don’t know if I will even try. But I know I will hope that instead of drifting apart and mourning the loss of a relationship with a brother they will remain as close and connected as they are now.