For whatever reason, pretty much as long as mankind has been around the oldest son has always held a special place in the family hierarchy. Historically in nearly every faith and culture the eldest, male child has been responsible for keeping the family name going and looking after the other children when the family’s patriarch is not around. While now days there is not such an emphasis on this familial role, there are still some things that we associate with being the first born son. As this is my place in the family pecking order, I am all too familiar with the societal norms that come with playing this part. One of the duties of this role is in relation to how you interact with your siblings. You are expected to watch over and protect your sisters and to help guide and advise your brothers during their journey into manhood. Even though my brother and sister are more than capable of taking care of themselves, for whatever reason, be it some evolutionary drive or just my caring nature towards my family, I have always been driven to fill this role in my family. Having the desire to do something and being able to do it are two entirely different things however, and predominantly as a result of my physical limitations I struggled with my ability, or more accurately my inability, to complete this task and fulfill my familial role.
Even though my sister, Stephanie, is the oldest child and two years older than me, as her oldest brother I have always felt a responsibility to watch over her and protect her from the evils of the world. I have already discussed how similar Stephanie and I are in how we approach life, and one of the many traits we share is being extremely independent. As a result of this, she is completely able to look after herself and does not need me there (or want me there I would guess) to make sure she is safe, and for the last decade or so she has lived several hours away from me, and I would have no way to get to her quickly anyway. These facts in no way lessen my sense of responsibility as her oldest brother to protect her and make her feel safe and secure though. Any time I know that she is upset or struggling with something or someone in her life, which due to her independent nature is not often, I always try to do as much as I can to comfort her from thousands of miles away, and I always have a hard time with the fact that I cannot get to her to give her a hug and tell her “Everything will be alright.” Thankfully, no major catastrophes have ever occurred in her life, and I hope they never do, but being the planner I am I have already worked out the logistics of getting to New York to be with her as quickly as possible, in the event that she needed me. I am also exceedingly grateful that she has a good man in her life, her boyfriend of over two years, Anthony, who I trust to take care of her while I cannot be there.
With my younger brother, Ryan, at this point in our lives my responsibilities as an older brother are minimal now that he has matured into a man (and an incredibly good man at that). While we were growing up however, this was definitely not the case. A big brother is supposed to wrestle around with you in the back yard to toughen you up, teach you to throw a spiral, and act annoyed, but actually enjoy, that you always tag along with them. Obviously, I could not do many of these things because of my disability, and this is something I have always felt somewhat guilty about. I feel like Ryan got cheated out of some of these experiences, and given everything he has done for me over the course of our lives, this is completely unfair to say the least. Now, yes we got to share numerous other experiences together, and I am closer to him than anyone else in the world, but this does not change the fact that I caused him to miss out on certain parts of life. I didn’t completely fulfill my role as his big brother, and I hate that I am the reason he didn’t get to enjoy certain aspects of growing up with an older male sibling. Despite my not being able to perform all of the physical duties of my role, I am happy to say that he has grown into an amazing man that I am so proud to call my brother, and I would like to think that my guidance and advice over the years played a small part in making this happen.
I want to be clear that all of these expectations I place on myself to carry out these duties as the oldest son and sibling are entirely self-imposed. Stephanie and Ryan have never even brought up this subject, and I doubt they even know how much I have thought about this or how I feel (although they will now). Once they are aware of my feelings of guilt after reading this post, I am sure they will tell me that I played my role wonderfully, and that any feelings to the contrary are misplaced and silly, but I am certain I will always have these emotions to some degree. I think that may be a good thing though, because it means that I love them both so much that I want to do everything humanly possible to give them the best life I can.
Things like being the “man of the house” and getting the family farm when you reach manhood may no longer be associated with being the oldest son, but this place in the family’s pecking order still does retain certain societal norms. At least in regards to my duties as the oldest brother, I believe that I have fulfilled my responsibilities well, despite my physical limitations. I hope Stephanie (and Ryan) knows that she can call me anytime, and I will get to her as fast as I can. I hope Ryan knows how proud I am of him, and the man he has become. I hope my parents are proud of how I carried out my duties as their oldest son. Whether you are an oldest son or not, take the time to think about your role in your family. More importantly, think about how important your family is to you. Make sure you are adequately appreciating these priceless relationships, because these are the people who will always be there for you no matter what. You cannot replace them, and you will not find more fulfilling relationships with anyone else, nor will you find people who bring your life more happiness.