[In the wake of my uncle’s death, and a few years removed from the deaths of both of my parents, I continue to try to put the pieces together of the whole story. I’ve experienced too many moments over the last few years of wishing and wanting to know more. I’ve experienced moments where I ask myself, “Why didn’t I know these things?” As much as I talked with my parents, I feel like so much of their story remains a mystery to me.
Over the past few days, I was able to find some more of the pieces as I spent time with my aunt and my cousins remembering my uncle, my father’s brother. While the pieces are still coming together and the results remain cloudy, I’ve learned so much.]
Once upon a time, there were two brothers, born about four years apart. These brothers came into the world at the tail end of the Great Depression, raised in Brooklyn to the daughter of immigrant parents and the son of Virginia farmers.
Their father was a truck driver and, somewhere along the way, he found solace in a bottle. He wasn’t a sleepy drunk, a playful drunk, or a harmless drunk. He was a violent drunk who used his fists to fight back against a world that had dealt him a hand with which he wasn’t happy. He used his fists to lash out against those who loved him the most, those who were closest to him.
The older brother, seeing the violence of the father, was all about protecting his mother and brother. Sometimes he would stand in the way and take the beatings for the others. Sometimes he would turn his little brother away when he reached the door of the apartment in hopes that his father wouldn’t discover that his little brother had returned home. He would stand in the way, he would take the licks.
There was an occasion or two when the little brother found out for himself just how angry his father could become when he’d spent time in the bottle. On one occasion, he questioned his father, not in a rebellious way, just in a curious way, the way that most children do. On that occasion, his father hit him and a tooth was knocked out. That younger brother never questioned his father again.
As those boys hit their formative years, their father was in and out. He tried to exorcise his demons, he tried to find freedom, but it never happened, at least not that they would ever witness. Although he had gone to a place where he could get help, where he could find healing, where he could dry out, his wife had seen it too many times before and she had nothing more in her to believe that this time would be different from the rest. He was released but she refused to let him back. And that was the end of the father of those boys. They never heard from him again. She worked and the four became three.
In the midst of the 1950’s, these two brothers found themselves labeled and judged because of who their father was and because of his absence from their lives. They were expected to become juvenile delinquents. They were expected to amount to nothing. They were expected to live up to every stereotype that those around them had watched before, that those around them heaped upon them. In the midst of an environment that seemed to stack the odds against them, all of the expectations pointed towards them becoming just like their father.
But they didn’t.
The older brother worked and worked and worked. He worked to live, he worked to survive, he worked to care for his mother and his brother. He worked to put his brother through school. He worked and worked and worked and he didn’t look back.
That older brother continued to rise and rise. He found success. He found love. He passed that love on to the family with whom God had blessed him. He followed his gifting and rose out of the ashes, out of the judgment, out of the expectations to become something that no one may have dreamed of……no one but him, and maybe his mother and brother.
That younger brother followed a different path. He found love. He passed that love on to the family with whom God had blessed him. He didn’t have a father around, but he had a brother who cared for him, who provided for him, who protected him. He became who he became because of sacrifices that had been made for him.
Once upon a time, there were two brothers who lived separate lives, but they had some things in common: family, faith, and love. Now those two brothers are together again, united together, seeing things more clearly than they have ever seen things before. Now they both understand in a way that they never did before.
As they see each other face to face once again, I think they’ve got a lot to talk about.