On Intimacy Part Two: Coming Up
Earlier this year, my younger brother married a wonderful person. He asked me to toast and I immediately obliged. When I was handed the microphone, I thought about our brotherhood. My heart ached as I remember living in the same house as children. When I sat on my own reading a book, my younger brother would sit next to me and lean his head onto my shoulder. I was annoyed of course but looking back as I began to speak at his wedding celebration, I realized I miss those moments of intimacy. When I was in elementary school, we lived in a one bedroom tenement in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My brother and I slept together for much of our young lives. It was not when we moved to the Bronx where we began to sleep in our own beds. We finally got our own room together and we stayed up late talking on one another to sleep. My siblings and I horseplayed, hugged, and took naps with one another. When we watched TV, we piled on one another and laid there for hours. During these visits, we would pile up with all of our cousins. Our parents would force us outside because it was just too many children to be in those tiny NYC apartments. With our cousins, it was not all roses. I fought with my cousins over the smallest of things. If someone messed with one of them, however, there was hell to pay. Just imagine twenty or so cousins running up to your doorstep. We ate, sung, played, and shed blood together. We were all very close when we were children. I think of my cousins often and remember those times fondly. Being a parent of four children, I have watched them interact with one another in the same manner. It makes my heart so warm to see this happening.
As I grew older, I learned that many people to have this form of intimacy with their siblings. My siblings and I have share very healthy relationships that continue to evolve as we have gotten older and started families of our own. These evolvement took work but it happened organically. Oftentimes, it took one of us to set things right for everyone. While we all live in different states, when we do meet up it is as if we never dropped anything. This all feels natural. We always tell one another how much we miss and love one another. There are moments when my heart aches at not seeing them everyday. My siblings have been crucial in the rearing of my children. For my spouse, they have filled in as sister and brothers easily. Quite honestly if my siblings were not feeling my wife when they all first met, I doubt our relationship would have lasted this long. I don’t believe I would be the husband and father I am today without the support of my siblings.
Our mother did a wonderful job instilling the importance of family and always filling us up with the idea of hope for many things. She made sure we ate together and spend so much time together. She ensured that we all felt like we belonged and had a safe place with her. This was so crucial in my growth and development. This really enabled me to have a strong sense of self and of who I really wanted to be. The love we had in our home is something I carried with me since joining the Navy oh so long ago. I always tell people that if you feel warmth and belonging around me it is because of my mother and how she raised us. She taught us through example how special those moments of intimacy were. They belonged to us and only us. It was a lesson I carried with me everywhere and I always hoped to share that with others who were not kin. I have to be clear and explain that for my mother it was a form of survival to shower us with love living in the projects during the height of the crack cocaine era. For me, that love would become a shield from all of the madness that surrounded us.
As I stated before, I realized that many people I encountered did not have these forms of intimacy with their families for several reasons. Many parents work hard and long hours and at times cannot provide the love they need. I have many students who were latch key kids. When I leave for work after supervising an extra curricular activity at almost 5:00pm, there are usually several students waiting for work. I know people who were raised by their grandparents who tried to provide that same love they gave their own children. I can go on and on. In my privileged space, I assumed that everyone had what we had. I assumed that relationships with siblings were as strong and warm as ours. I was dead wrong. What I was right about was the idea that those early bonds would shape us as adults and how we deal with intimacy with our friends and later romantic partners.