I have many good male friends who I consider my ‘brothers’ even though most of them aren’t related to me by either marriage or bloodlines. As far as regarding another male as being a sibling – surrogate or not – one can debate whether an only child can have the innate sense to foster brotherhood from birth, or, being a social skill, one needs to learn how to be a brother from someone else.
In my case, I’m lucky enough to have learned this skill very early in life, and I credit my brother, William Frederick Schuttler, for being the one to teach me what it meant to be – and to deal with – a brother. Billy is about 15 months younger than me, so I’ve been able to create and share my complete childhood memories with another. It’s something I would never change about my life if I could, even though I frequently get blank stares from my brother when I attempt to share previous events from my own memories… evidently we weren’t keeping our fingers on the ‘RECORD’ button at the same time.
We learned together what it meant to have a brother: you got the same type of gifts (usually they varied in color only), you had to share everything – bedrooms, bathrooms, bathwater, parental attention, the last bit of dessert, seating options, control over the TV, control over the radio – the list was endless and it was a drag most of the time for both of us. But it taught us how to compromise, and to share
. And, to a certain extent, how to pitch a deal so that there was no apparent advantage to either choice (but usually there was, unbeknownst to the other).
We fought and argued, as siblings do, and we learned not only how to improve our debating abilities, but how to resolve our arguments and make up too. While my mother still maintains there was always a sibling rivalry between us, I never sensed it; having a brother so close in age made me regard him as my equal, both intellectually as well as physically. For me, it taught that everyone’s opinion mattered and points can be valid on either side of a conflict… though it took me a while to get to that idea with Billy, as I had to develop some maturity first.
As we got into high school I remember thinking, we resemble an elderly couple who’d been married for years: finishing each other’s trains of thought, bickering over insignificant things, exhibiting a level of familiarity around each other that can only exist with years of experience living together.
(Being married now for quite a bit longer than the time Billy and I actually spent together as brothers under the same roof, I realize only part of my initial impressions were correct.)
We went our separate ways in the last years of high school: I moved to the east coast to finish my schooling and go to college, Billy served our country in the Air Force before moving back to Illinois for college. We’ve always tried to keep in touch and not let the other ‘fall off the map’ too much. We’re both pretty busy raising our own kids and working and doing the regular things that make us all too busy to talk and catch up frequently, like we’ve been told we should. It’s almost as if we got enough of each other having to live together as kids; we’ve been satisfied with the small doses we get of each other over Facebook. Another lesson learned: it’s easy to get too much of another sibling, and space between brothers is necessary, lest one gets labeled as ‘clingy’ and suffocates the relationship.
That said, there’s nothing like having relatives you really
like come visit: Billy and his family did come out to visit right after I finished my 6-month chemo schedule. While our wives and children played together, we indulged in our assorted running jokes and shared passions: discussing menu options, smoked meat products, baked beans, Chicago Bears football, and British humor. The things you savor most with brothers: Male Bonding.
I’m very lucky to have had Billy with me growing up, to teach me the rules of brotherhood. It frames how I treat others as a whole and reminds me that I’m not in this life by myself, for better or for worse. I have good friends I consider brothers, but I wouldn’t have them without Billy.
After I came home from the colonoscopy that opened my eyes to what was going on, scared and uncertain of what the extent of the damage was to my body, Billy would be the first to hear my news. He’s offered his own liver to me many times since, even though I patiently point out that he’s still using it.
I love you, Billy. Thank you for teaching me how to be a brother, whether you liked it or not. Happy Birthday!