To My Brother, On His Birthday

I always wanted a younger brother. Two sisters happened; I love them and I’m grateful because growing up with them helped me understand and relate to women. It was a brother that I really wanted, though, but my parents told me it would never happen. I wanted a best friend, sounding board, someone I could pass along what little knowledge and wisdom I’d picked up along the way, a guy to whom my old boring jokes would seem funny, and to whom my completely obvious insights would seem profound.

Long after I gave up on the idea, my college girlfriend wanted me to meet her younger brother, some middle-school brat with a skater haircut who played basketball and used Michael Jordan cologne. He was artistic, she told me, and liked video games and comic books and we’d have a lot in common. I groaned inwardly, because I was way too cool to hang out with some punk kid. But I wanted to be a good boyfriend, stay on good terms with my future inlaws, so I relented and invited you over to my apartment.

And that’s how I got the brother I always wanted.

Digger & Jamie, 1998 (Wisconsin)

You showed up later than I wanted, but I’m so glad you did. You were far better than the little brother I imagined growing up, and matured into a man that I love and admire.

I hate that you didn’t have the kind of close relationship with your father that I had with mine, but I hope that my clumsy attempts to guide you through adolescence helped. I’m sorry that your talents weren’t encouraged earlier in your life, but I was blown away by your gifts and have been astonished to see you steadily become better at your craft than I’ll ever be at mine. It was a joy and honor to work and create with you and see our names together on a page. It sucked seeing some of your early romances go south, but overjoyed I introduced you to one of the best women I’ve ever known and got to stand by your side when you spoke your vows to her.

As I get older and more sentimental and I tell stories of the brother who came in my life unexpectedly, I tell of early misadventures and unexpected triumphs. New Years Eve and the vomit-covered diaper pail, the construction of The Dig Site, Deravon and Jack, the stripper and the anthill, Williams Bay and the Barn. I reflect on our explorations of Lake Geneva, New York, and Lucca, Italy.

Digger & Jamie, New York (2007)

My brother gave back to me more than I ever offered, and granted my greatest wish for him. You’ve lived well, accomplished much, and you’re a man worthy of trust and respect. I can’t claim much credit for any of it, because you did all the work. But I said some words to you over the years, listened to you, and we played games and got drunk sometimes. So I like to tell myself that I helped.

I hope this year orbiting the sun brings you only more success and happiness. And that you remember the big brother you never asked for but barged into your life and started running his mouth. He is very proud of you.

Digger & Jamie, Texas (2015)

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