I overheard a conversation at a bar while I was traveling on business. The man next to me was waxing poetically on the angst and unbridled hatred he held towards his siblings and family as a whole.
I was aghast at his tone and it got me to thinking about how I find myself puzzled by people who loathe and are disaffected by their families.
The geographical distance that separates me from my siblings doesn’t reduce the pangs of my missing being in close quarters with them. However, these feelings are muted by the lessons that they have empowered me with.
I’ve previously touched on my harboring the unenviable position of being the middle child, as the 3rd of 5 children.
In retrospect this meant that I felt compelled (more often than not) to do something to draw attention to the fact – that I was here, that I mattered, that I was of consequence, even though I felt that I wasn’t.
In short, I was a child running wild from time that I was 10 up to my having an epiphany at 16 years old. But what wasn’t so amazing was the love and the lessons imparted that exorcised what would have consumed me otherwise.
In retrospect, being in the middle supplied me with a unique perspective. My siblings, (my older and the younger) served as my some of my greatest teachers.
The lessons that they provided me are too numerous to count. However, I was able to extrapolate some of the most lasting contributions to the person that it helped me to become.
Patterson Brother #1
I learned from my oldest brother that the final chapter is never written. He taught me that defeat is something to be conquered rather than an entity to be vanquished by. I never saw him hang his head in resignation, and if he did, he never let me see it.
I never told him until years later, that I found the hiding place to a journal that he kept. When he wasn’t around I would to sneak and read it.
I was amazed at how he neatly chronicled his thoughts, feelings and adventures. The words that were sketched out in cursive onto sheets of notebook paper held power and I wanted to be able do the same. I hung on the words that he wrote, as if he were Poe or Hemingway.
Then… Seemingly out of the blue. He did what I thought was an impossible feat in my young mind… As I always saw Chicago as the center of the Universe.
He had the audacity to join the Navy and he circumnavigated the planet. I was broken to see him go as the reality set in that his departure was more than an overnight trip.
But more importantly, he continued to write to me from his ship wherever he was in the world and our dialogue via U.S Mail before the age of Internet was a defining influence for me. I felt as if I was able to live vicariously through him. He planted that seed for me to write, a seed that would manifest itself when I needed it the most.
Patterson Brother #2
My second oldest brother served to shape me immensely, especially after my older brother joined the Navy. During our childhood there was a period where I was convinced that I was his least favorite person on the planet. But, he always placed that older / younger brother angst to the side to serve as my staunchest defender.
Thankfully, while some of my peers around the neighborhood had to endure being terrorized by the older kids. I was largely immune to it, as no one wanted to incur the wrath of my brother if I was to relay any news of my being accosted.
However, he didn’t spare me the typical diet of older brother beatdowns, but in retrospect 91.5% of those beatings did build character.
As I got older and some of my peers veered off the path of harmless mischief to venture into the realm of gangs, selling drugs and the like, I stayed pat. I was more worried at the prospect of him beating the hell out of me if he found out. So I steered clear and kept my flirtations with the “dark side” in my head.
I admired and attempted to pattern myself after him because he exuded confidence; he walked with a chip on his shoulder, seemingly daring someone to knock it off. He was suave and a consummate networker and he seemed to know everyone.
But more importantly he harbored a belief in me that I didn’t harbor in myself for the longest time. He willed me to excel simply because I couldn’t bear to let his expectations ring hollow.
Predictably I placed my brothers on a pedestal where they could do no wrong, whether that was logical or not was of no consequence to me, logic holds no value for a child. My brothers were probably blissfully unaware that I studied them and unconsciously I wove many of their core elements into whom I wanted to be.
Patterson Sisters #4 , #5 and my sister from another mister
I learned the value of unconditional love from my younger sisters. Despite their being a frequent focal point of my “big brother” rage, they were able to look past that and saw something redeeming in me.
At the core of all of my faults and imperfections that I was still their “big brother”. The resilience that they exhibited always served as a source of inspiration for me even before I realized the power that lay behind it.
Bearing witness to how they handled adversities with a grace and a fortitude that was seemingly inexhaustible was contagious. Eventually they helped me reach a point where I felt that I couldn’t fail because their questioned optimism had become part of who and what I needed to be.
My other sister is not my biological kin, but our Mother’s were best friends. It was a bond that they forged during their shared pregnancies with us.
I am only 28 days older than her. We came of age and did everything together from attending school, tutoring, skating, birthday parties and the like. Our experiences run deeper that any sequence of DNA, biology be damned! As “Sister” is the only title that she can be afforded.
She was my sounding board as we went to the same kindergarten and middle school. Being in a select group of African-American children bussed in outside of the district wasn’t as frightening of a prospect with her as my co-pilot in the experiment.
I struggled with the assumption held by many of people in the school administration that we were from we were disadvantaged kids from the “ghetto”. Being seen as “exotic” was something that was disempowering for me.
It was this unjust categorization that blurred a large portion of my school career with a blinding anger that was manifested in serial acts of recalcitrance that could have been far worse had she not been there for me. It was my sister who taught me to make people who doubt you to eat their words.
My siblings were and are my greatest treasure. It is the realization that some people lack the affinity that I have for mine that makes me extremely grateful.