I recently finished reading the Booker Prize winning novel Shuggie Bain.  It was an especially difficult read as it conjured up memories from my own childhood that I don’t often like to revisit.  A time when my mother’s struggles dominated our life.

If there was a silver lining in this brilliant but bleak book, it was to serve as a reminder of the absolutely pivotal role my brother has played in my life.

In Shuggie Bain, it is the older brother, Leak, who quietly plays the role of protector and grownup to his two siblings as their mother struggles with alcoholism and tragic choices This despite being just ten years old when the book begins. Seldom does he complain as he sacrifices his own dreams and happiness for those he loves. Such was the role of my own brother in my childhood.

I often write about factors that help us move up in life – both generally speaking and specific to my own circumstances.  After having read this book, I realized that I seldom speak of the role our siblings play in our lives.

Like Leak, my own brother protected me from the worst of what was happening when I was young. Like a fullback on a football team, he blocked for me so I could run free. Presumably taking more of the hard hits and blunt force trauma in the process. Growing up without a father, he stepped in and filled many of those duties, despite only being five years older.

The list of things he taught me could go on forever; ride a bike, throw a ball, drive a car, hammer a nail, how to drive, change the oil in my car, how to shave… Beyond teaching these hard skills, he also – by example – showed me how to live through adversity. He is dutiful and determined. Carries himself with a quiet dignity, while seldom complaining. He gives without ever expecting anything in return. He will be there whenever you need him for whatever you need him for.

There are so many people we often credit for our success – our parents, our teachers, our mentors, coaches, and caregivers. My brother was all of these and more to me.

It is easy to take our siblings for granted. Both personally and in the context of research and policy/program circles. Yet their impact is profound. We experience so much of our early childhood development together, how could it not be – for better or worse.

As we grow older, it is natural for siblings to grow apart, if for no other reason than we start our own families. Often, as is my case, we move far away from each other geographically.  

Which is why it is so critical, that we occasionally give pause and reflect on their importance.

For many reasons, I hated reading Shuggie Bain, but I cannot help but love the fact that it has provided me with the gift of renewed appreciation for all that my brother has done for me.

Perhaps, this short note has served the same purpose for you. If so, I hope you take a minute to reach out to your brother or sister and offer them a few words of appreciation and gratitude as well.  

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