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WONDERS OF BROTHERLY LOVE - IT'S A WONDER BOYS SURVIVE IT

Brothers are a new experience for me. By new, I mean 12 years, the age of my younger son.

I come from a line of small families, never more than one son. The phrase "McFeatters brothers" was unknown on our side of the family until now.Being ignorant of brotherdom, I doubt if this is true of other families, but my sons seem to thrive - blossom, even - under a steady diet of mutual abuse.

The two cannot pass each other in the hallway without one trying to hip-check the other into the wall.

An invitation to do anything - play catch, basketball, Monopoly, video games - is like the start of a sumo match:

"You're too chicken to play me."

"Shut up."

"You know I'll beat you."

"I said, `Shut up.' "

"You're stupid, that's why."

"I go first."

To our inventory of mayhem, we have now added pass-blocking for the refrigerator. When one of them goes to the refrigerator, which is alarmingly often, the other feels compelled to keep him from getting there.

After the younger brother's first football game, the older brother came rushing up to me, looking tense and anxious: "How'd Matt do?"

"I thought he did real well. He shows a lot of promise."

He brightened and shouted at his little brother: "Hey Matt! Dad said you stink."

At dinner one night, Matt proposed that if his mother would let him drop out of school, he would attend church every day, a prospect that would appall the local parish since Matt's ecclesiastical history is checkered at best. He once cleared a pew of elderly ladies when, during the course of what Matt judged to be an exceptionally boring sermon, he emptied his pockets of live locusts.

I remember when they were much smaller and I had them with me at the supermarket, where they got into a fight in the checkout line and began rolling around on the floor.

Encumbered by groceries and ignored by the tiny combatants, I would slide my toe under the struggling mass and sort of lift them forward as the line moved.

I apologized to the woman in front of me, who was taking it all in with a suspicious equanimity.

"Oh, don't worry," she said pleasantly. "Mine still act like that, and they're 17 and 19."

There's probably a providential reason I have two younger sisters. If this is brotherly love, I never would have survived it.