Belated Father’s Day Musings

Father’s Day has come and gone.  I took my husband out to dinner and bought the proverbial “You’re the best father in the world” card and cards from each of our two cats.

But my husband stepped into the father role when my son was eight.  The going was rough, but somehow we managed to weather and survive the continuous barrage of family relationship storms.

My son’s father remains very much in the picture.  He lives close by and, while he has a new wife (his third) and a young son thirty years younger than ours, he takes an active role.

Still, on Father’s Day, my son’s step dad (my husband) stands in the wings.  While my son tries his best to honor both dads and to spend time with both on Father’s Day, it’s not always possible.

Like this year.  There was a father/son golf tournament that teed off at 8:30 a.m. and lasted for hours.  It was over 90 degrees and, after a discouraging game, my son went home to recover.  He couldn’t muster the energy to then trudge out our way for a second Father’s Day commemoration.

Who could blame him?

Thankfully, his step dad took this in stride.  The three of us will celebrate later this week.

But these preordained days that “force” us to honor a parent seem artificial and, as in our case, complicated.  Why can’t we celebrate our parents on our own schedule, at our own pace?

Last year, I blogged “Apologies to My Dad on Father’s Day.”  Sadly, he passed away almost eight years ago, and my apologies were after the fact.  It felt good for me to get some stuff off my chest, but my dad probably didn’t get the memo.

Why hadn’t I told him when he was still around that I was sorry for having teased him when, at age 80+, he couldn’t get up from the exercise mat on the floor?  (I get it now: I’m having trouble pushing myself up from any lower than, say, two feet.)

Why was I so selfish in urging him not to die on my birthday?  He was in a coma of sorts and, hopefully, didn’t get that memo, either.  Still, he didn’t need any pressure from me as he struggled to move from this earth plane to whatever is next.  (He did die on his own terms the day after my birthday and waited until all of us, including the hospice nurse, were out of the room.)

My sister called me last Sunday.  We reminisced about our “daddy-o” and so many events both good and not so good that continue to give us pause, joy, and strength.  I treasure my sister connection and the special ways in which she and I can talk about things that no one else in the world can understand.

For that, dad, I am eternally grateful.





“Do We Really Have to Be Close to Our Siblings?”

I read a fascinating article on  In it, Lisa Freedman asks whether we really have to be close to our siblings.  She is not particularly close to her brother; in fact, she hadn’t visited him for at least five years.  And they live only a couple of hours apart.

Freedman has many friends who share close connections with their siblings: they call, text, visit as often as they can.  She wonders whether there is something wrong with her— “I’m half jealous of their relationships and half weirded out by their freaky codependence. And they look at me like I’m the worst sister ever when I tell them I usually see my brother only over the holidays.”

First of all some facts:  About twenty to thirty per cent of siblings have “cordial” but “distant” connections.  It’s not that they don’t like one another (although some of them do not); it’s that they don’t have time, or carry childhood hurts, were never close, even as kids, or just don’t care.  They have dear friends who are just like “family” and who give them all the support and guidance and patience they feel they need.

Freedman feels she may be missing out.  And she gets a lot of flak from others who feel sorry for her, even dismayed.  According to relationship coach Jeannie Bertoli, Ph.D., whom Freedman interviews, “It’s evolutionary to want to keep the family together.  We fear that without our family, we might not be OK.  It’s a survival instinct.”

As the author of The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, I interviewed scores of siblings of all ages.  What I discovered is that the sibling bond is deep and never static—that a conflicted relationship can be improved as siblings age and, conversely, that a solid childhood connection can fray around the edges.

Luckily, for those conflicted relationships, there is hope.  Siblings can reconnect and look forward to a more supportive connection as they age.

Speaking of aging: Studies show that a majority of seniors say they are closer to a sibling than to anyone else except their children.  Senior siblings have weathered a lifetime together.  They most likely cared for sick or dying parents.  They supported each other and their families as they navigated the sometimes chopping waters of life.  They remained constants, in spite of divorce, death, the distance between old friends and co-workers.

But Freedman is a woman in her thirties.  Understandably, thinking about her years as a senior is not in her wheelhouse.  She and her brother lead busy lives, have their own set of friends, their own professional pursuits.  They don’t have/make much time for each other in their day-to-day lives

And that’s just fine, Freedman writes.  She understands the history she and her brother share and knows that, “If I really needed my brother for something, he’d have my back—and vice versa. Apparently, her brother agrees.  “Our relationship works for us.  We’re both just really busy, but you’re right, we’d be there for each other in a bind.”

If I were a betting woman, I’d lay odds that when these siblings hit middle age (and who knows when that is, anymore?)—when the kids are off to college, the job is secure, the marriage/partnership has survived or not—they will make more of an effort to share their lives and develop fuller friendships. They will most likely deal with the illness/death of a parent(s), understand more the fragility of life, and value the history they share, a unique history that others can imagine but have not experienced.

So, no, we don’t really have to be close to our siblings.  But for many, an intimate sibling connection can make us more human and better able to understand who, what, and why we are.



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When Siblings Are Friends: The Sibling Effect

When Siblings Are Friends: The Sibling Effect

In her New York Times Ties article, “When Friends Are ‘Like Family'”, Deborah Tannen explores friendship for a book in progress.

As the author of The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, I read Tannen’s piece with great interest.  I guess you might say that I’m a sibophile (I just made that up.  You won’t find it in the dictionary.)  I believe in the sibling relationship with all of its twists and turns and the many ways siblings help us understand why, how, and the way we are .

Of course, it’s not an either/or between siblings and friends.  Tannen points out that comments by the people she interviewed “shed light on the nature of friendship, the nature of family, and something that lies at the heart of both: what it means to be close.”

  • “Her friends are more precious than her sisters because they remember things from her past that her sister don’t and can’t, since they weren’t there.”  Our siblings have been there since the beginning.  How many of us have a best friend from childhood?  Sure, some of us.  But not many.  From high school?  Perhaps.  College?  Probably.  But these friends have no memory of us as kids, possibly not when we were adolescents.  Unlike our sisters (siblings of both genders), the majority of our friends were not part of our lives in our most formative years.  While it’s true that our siblings don’t always remember the same events in the same way we do, they were there and can offer their take which can be eye opening.  And as older adults when our parents have died, siblings are the only ones who can reminisce about our immediate and extended families.
  • “Many grown children continue to wish that their parents or siblings could see them for who they really are, not who they wish them to be. This goal can be realized in friendship. “She gets me,” a woman said of a friend. “When I’m with her I can be myself.”  According to one large study, two-thirds of people said a brother or sister was one of their best friends.  Jill Suitor, a sociologist at Purdue University, and her colleagues polled 274 families with 708 adult children (ages twenty-three to sixty-eight) and found that the majority had good feelings toward their siblings.  And when you ask older siblings to name their closest relative, they say they feel closer to siblings than to any other relatives except their children.
  • ” . . . family conjures longevity, love, support.”  Precisely.  Siblings often provide, not just conjure, “longevity, love, support.”  For example, I have known my sister since the day she was born.  (She is six years younger.)  Can’t say that about any of my friends.  Sure, we’ve had our issues over the years (No relationship is perfect.) but have worked through snafus and are as close as two humans can be.  Though she lives in another state, we talk and email often.  When the second-to-last of our surviving aunts died recently, she represented our immediate family at the funeral.  I was in Mexico and could not travel back to the U.S.  When I need information about, say, our grandparents and want to compare notes, I call my sister. When I have concerns about my adult son, I often call my sister.  When my parents were dying, my sister and I worked together as a supportive team.  None of my friends could have fulfilled that role.
  • “When a friend dies, a part of you dies, too, as you lose forever the experiences, the jokes, the references that you shared.”  True.  But what about the death of a sibling?  For adult surviving siblings, there is the sadness of the loss of family history.  One sibling I interviewed for The Sibling Connection said, “Our parents were both born in Europe. As a younger person, I was never concerned with the details of my roots.  In the last few years, I’ve been very concerned because my kids have been asking me.  I always depended on my brother, but he’s no here.  My historical roots . . . my local historian is gone.”   Verifying the past, resolving long-standing conflicts from childhood, and pulling up family roots are tasks cut short when an adult sibling dies.  Who are our checkpoints?  Not parents who are old or dead, nor spouses who entered into our adult lives.  And rarely friends because the majority don’t “go all the way back.”  Our siblings can be the only verification of our previous lives.
  • “Just as with literal families, friends who are like family can bring not only happiness but also pain, because the comfort of a close bond can sometimes morph into the restraints of bondage. The closer the bond, the greater the power to hurt – by disappointing, letting you down . . . ”  To be fair, this applies to siblings, too.  Siblings who are close—and brothers and sisters whose connections are frayed, sometimes for good—have hurt one another during childhood and beyond.  We may have said something hurtful in the heat of the moment or competed for parents’ attention or forgotten an important event.  My sister let me down by not consulting me before she suggested that my parents move to her town.  My brother let me down by not supporting my desire to give my mother a proper funeral. And then there were the issues around our inheritance.  (The illness and/or death of parent can be a dicey affair.)

We all have friends who are “like family.”  Eighty per cent of us have at least one sibling.  Both relationships can be loving, supportive, fun.  But unlike friends, our siblings are the only ones who go all the way back and can help us understand where we came from and where we’ve gone.



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