Most brothers are not the kindest of individuals to one another. I’ve heard of brothers that physically beat each other up even into adulthood, be that as it may. Other brothers put each other down incessantly. Some brothers compete with each other fiercely in everything. My brother and I were no exceptions to this common trait among brothers.
One time my brother, John, was so angry with me that he took a kitchen knife and carved my name into the Plexiglas door on our microwave. He apparently thought that Mom and Dad would read the huge D-A-V-I-D in the door and I would get into big trouble. Needless to say that one backfired in a matter of minutes once they figured out I hadn’t done it. If that wasn’t bad enough, another time he took a knife and started to come after ME with it! Before you think this was all one sided—I had my share of guilty times too. Older brothers like me are just a little smarter about the kinds of ways to get at the younger ones. Sometimes I would make faces at him when he was getting in trouble, which caused him to nearly blow his stack and just get in deeper trouble. My favorite trick was to get really close to him, perhaps even draping a brotherly “loving” arm over his shoulder, and to whisper to him, “You’re the biggest baby I’ve ever seen” and then I would run away, pushing chairs in his pursuant path and locking doors behind me. But by far our most epic battles occurred in the back seat of our oft-traveling father’s car.
Most kids tell stories of their Dads warning to pull over the car if they don’t stop acting out. We pushed things to the limit so much that I remember several times that Dad actually did pull over and remove his belt on the interstate. Having different sides as our “turf” was always the prescribed remedy by our mother. She would pull the center seat-belt across the bench seat and that was deemed the sibling de-militarized zone. You couldn’t cross that line because that was the boundary. Of course, just like a wartime DMZ that line became the source of our squabbles from then on. I would place a hand across the line in a noticeable and flaunting way, and then my brother would push a shoe or a belt buckle hard into my hand and then claim he was safe because the violent incident took place on what was his side. Often he would dangle a hand over my trying-to-sleep face and say in a stupid voice, “I’m nooot touchinggggg yoouuuuu!” One of these times I had endured enough and simply punched him square in the sternum, knocking the wind out of him so bad that he couldn’t even cry effectively. We pulled over at the next underpass because of that one.
One time I thought I would pull a fast one on John with the whole boundary thing. I convinced him that I wanted to lay down on the floor of the car, because it was so very comfortable. I traded him two action-figures (by the way, Dads, they are always called action-figures and never dolls!) for the rest of the day to play with in order to receive this perceived luxury. So I plopped down in the gully of the back seat of that Caprice Classic, the middle of which had a horribly huge hump that had all the comforts of lying flat on the back of a moving camel. But I faked it good—even sold it by grabbing a pillow and acting like I was asleep and as content as a bug in a rug. Of course the jealousy I had counted on in my brother began to take over. He started complaining to Mom about the situation, clamoring to get a turn on the floor of the car. Just like my devious older-brother mind had planned, he was eventually begging me to trade with him. I did, of course, after bargaining for several action-figures, tapes to play on my walkman and all three pillows for the rest of the day.
Apparently he was so misled by my acting job before then that he actually enjoyed being down there sprawled out over the middle-hump in the car. My plan had worked flawlessly, and I stretched out on the cushiony seat with all the pleasures a grade school boy could dream of. But the big smile on John’s face made me wonder if I had been double-crossed by my own plan. His contentment hadn’t been a part of my equation
As you might imagine, by the time I was seventeen this situation had become rather untenable. Even though I was done with high-school and was about to enter college, my brother and I were still acting like we were first-graders, which was considerably more immature for me than for him, being five years his elder. It didn’t make sense for me, as a six-foot-tall teenager who shaved daily, to be acting like that with my brother. But my parents were long on patience, until one trip we made out west—which was to be the last with the four of us living under one roof. My brother was going through the particularly rough years of Jr. High and I was a mixture of aloof and irritated by him on the whole trip. By the time we had gotten to Tahoe, Utah, from Indiana, my Dad decided to have a talk with me.
Our usual antics had continued across the country, but Dad’s response had not been the usual punishments or threats of pulling the car over. Instead, he just looked tired of it all, feeling his middle-age. Dad told me about the tough times that John was having at his new school. He told me how much it hurt him to have me treat him poorly. He let me know that I was acting a lot younger and more immature than he expected of me. And he told me that I should begin to have an intentionally positive influence on my brother.
What he said was not quite as significant as the way he said it. He treated me like young man—like a friend almost, that he was just disappointed in. He didn’t scold me like a child; he respected me and treated me like a peer with a problem. My father knew that there comes a point when you need to deal with your children as peers. He also knew that being Dad means tackling the heart of sibling problems. From that day on two things happened: 1) I started to invest in my brother, mending the years of separation our sibling behavior had caused, and 2) Dad treated me more like a fellow man, or peer, than a kid.
Questions to Ask Yourself or a Group of Other Dads:
- Did you have siblings growing up and if so what kind of fights did you have?
- Do your kids fight a lot? Does it feel out of control at times?
- How could you coach your older kids in handling these fights?
- What could you do to help your kids understand how to treat each other in general?