A 28-Year-Old Empty Nester
I sent my brother off to the Philippines yesterday morning. He’s taking a six-month trip to travel through Southeast Asia, all on his own. He’s never done anything like this on his own before, as far as I know. It’s going to be great for him, I believe that.
My brother and I have a strange relationship. I was his guardian for a short but intense period, acting more or less like his dad when I was only 22. It only lasted for a few months, but neither of us ever returned to having a normal brotherly relationship. My brother’s estrangement from our actual father only made me seem more like a surrogate dad than a sibling. In speeches and rites of passage, I was the person he deferred to, spoke of, and went to. My therapist tells me that this isn’t necessarily healthy, and I believe her. Dysfunctional family dynamics often put siblings in parent roles.
I’ve deliberately taken steps to be more like a brother, behaving more like a peer than a guardian. I let myself take a disinterested distance at times, stopped trying to guide him so much as root for him. But older brothers are guides, right? We’re supposed to be smaller versions of dads, providing our own kind of guidance and protection. It’s a hard line to navigate, to be honest. Am I paying for dinner because I see him as my baby brother or as my charge, as someone I’m responsible for? What do I owe him? What do we owe each other?
These questions are on my mind because I’m worried about him. He’s ‘flown the nest’ so far that my arms can’t catch him if he falls. I’m glad for it, but part of me is worried in a way that I’m not sure older brothers are supposed to feel. He’s only six years younger than me. He’s the age I was when I took care of him, for God’s sake. He’s a full-grown man, someone with dreams and ambitions and a bachelor’s degree and stubble. In a perfect world, I would more or less regard him the way I regard myself: as capable, smart, and self-sufficient.
And I do! I fully believe that he’s ready for this trip, and even if he wasn’t, I believe he’d make himself ready. Let’s be honest, how many of us were actually prepared for our periods of intense growth?
Maybe I’m too worried about how I’m supposed to feel. It’s normal to be concerned for the people you take care of, to worry that you didn’t do enough to prepare them or gear them up or encourage them. Whatever the reason for it, I helped my brother get ready for this trip and for the stage of his life it represents. He’s enough for it, and that’s good enough for me.
P.S. Check out his Instagram.