oh, brother.

My brother is not quite three years older than me. We are very different people. We have never been particularly close, outside of the ways in which surviving an alcoholic/addict parent forces you to be. We spent much of our respective childhoods fighting one another about petty bullshit while we were left home alone after school. As we grew up, he mostly just ignored me. My family moved when I was in 5th grade and my brother kept attending school in the old attendance area while I moved to the new one, so we hardly even shared a context outside of our limited interactions at home.

Oh, there have been moments where he felt like an actual sibling, where some sort of legitimate connection seemed to exist. When I was a freshman and he was a senior at the same college, he would occasionally invite me to parties and then drunkenly lecture me about how to defend myself from would-be predators on my way home; later on, when I was a senior and he was a 20 something bachelor, he would call me late at night drunk to talk of his heartbreak or his dreams of kids or sometimes our family; we have commiserated about our mom and her challenges or our father’s social ineptitude; once he told me he was sad we were moving because he’d pictured our kids growing up together. There may be a few more, but I doubt it. We share DNA and parents, some of our childhood story, but in so many ways we are strangers.

In many ways, this is no big loss. I don’t find my brother to be a particularly good person. He is mostly interested in making money – to spend it, yes, but also just to have it. His ethics when it comes to this are at best questionable. He works for a very large investment company and he’s good at what he does, but he will admit he feels no passion for it outside of his ability to profit from it. He is angry and defensive and almost never admits when he’s wrong. My sister in law has all but called him a second child and for the first few years of my nephew’s life, if my sister in law went out of town, my brother would pawn his kid off on my parents or hers to avoid having to do the actual job of parenting. This past Christmas, he told my mom he was mad that she “gave more money” to us for the holiday when, in fact, my mom just gives a set amount of money per person and because we have two kids and he only has one, the check she writes to us is technically bigger. He is actually the type of person to be upset that his nephews might each get a Christmas gift of the same amount as his child.

My grief about my brother and our lack of connection is not so much that we don’t connect as grief over not having the kind of brother I’d like to connect with. But, even still, the things he does or doesn’t do continue to hurt me or enrage me. I know it’s a lost cause but I can’t help it.

In March, Ansel turned four. The day passed with no text, no call, no fucking FB post (his go to is “HBD Andie!” – heaven forbid that he actually spell the words out), definitely no card or gift. A week later, I sent a text saying, “I’m just letting you know that it hurts my feelings that you forgot Ansel’s birthday.” His reply? “Whoops. Tell him happy birthday.”

In part because what the actual fuck and also because she asked, I ended up letting my mom know that he hadn’t sent anything or called for Ansel’s birthday. My mom was upset, but I asked her not to say anything to him. My mom agreed but decided to follow the letter of the law and not the spirit, and instead called my sister in law and complained to her. In the space of two hours, I was getting nasty texts from my brother that ultimately culminated in him telling me to “stay the fuck out of his life” but which also included some choice comments about how he’s been too busy “taking care” of my parents to remember his nephew’s birthday. I made sure my mom knew that while I didn’t appreciate that she had contacted his wife, that she should know that according to my brother, she’s being waited on hand and foot. A week later, my sister in law sent an e-mailed digital gift card to build-a-bear workshop with no explanation, simply addressed to Ansel.

I haven’t talked to him since. I reached out to my sister in law to ask what my nephew wanted for his birthday and sent a card and gift card to target, per his request. (though I never heard from her that he received it and had to send a text to make sure it arrived which, WTF?)  I’m not going to let him dictate my relationship with my nephew, to the extent that it’s possible. And his wife is much more reasonable, which mostly makes me question why she continues to put up with him.

My mom keeps me updated. She told me about a month ago that my brother and sister in law had unilaterally decided not to host a birthday party for my nephew, who turned six two weeks ago. My sweet, kind little nibling was very sad but resigned. Instead, they took him on a hiking trip that he didn’t request and, reportedly, he cried on every hike and said the big one was “the worst day” of his life.

Angus turned two last Friday and, perhaps unsurprisingly, neither my brother nor my sister in law said anything. I guess it’s possible there will be a card in the mail but I’m not holding my breath. And even though I expected this, I feel so deeply hurt by it. Ansel talks about their cousins all of the time, and I want so badly to forge a connection between all of them, but right now I’m dependent on my brother and sister in law to facilitate that and it would appear neither of them give a shit.

I really hope that my kids grow up loving one another, staying connected, treating each other with kindness even if they are very different people. Sometimes I think it might be lonelier to have a sibling who is an asshole than to not have one at all.


  1. I’m estranged from one of my sisters and am very close to the other. I do think it would be easier to have only one sibling than to have one with whom maintaining a relationship is so difficult. I commiserate!


  2. My siblings and I aren’t close either. There’s no real animosity, but we don’t acknowledge any birthdays/holidays either. There was a lot of trauma and abuse in our childhoods, I wonder if that plays a part? I hope for better for my kids.


  3. I have only one living sibling (my mom lost our sister and our brother drowned). We were estranged for several years after I stopped financially supporting him and his family when I had my own. It hurt me a lot that he never responded to my invitations and kept my niece away from me and my child then children. Now he is sometimes in contact (with no explanation for or acknowledgment of the years of radio silence) and it feels so vacuous and unsafe I share your question, would not having a sibling be easier? I also truly hope my children grow up connected even though they are different. I am sorry for the sad and hurt or angry feelings your situation creates.


  4. Sorry to hear about your struggles with your brother. No wonder you are frustrated with him! And it’s really hard when your nephew is little so your contacts with him mostly have to go through his parents.
    Your last line really got to me. I haven’t heard from my brother in almost exactly a year, after my partner and I set some limits with him about how he is allowed/not allowed to talk to our children. And my mom has been trying to “help” resolve the conflict in some incredibly unhelpful ways.


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