In high school, my friend showed me a list of things from the web that every guy without a father ought to know. It had things like shaving in the shower to save time, tying your tie, cooking a good steak, the obvious date-related tips…
I had learned most of these ‘lifehacks’ from my two uncles and necessity – if you need to shave, you need to shave. My friend who showed me the list has had a dad for his whole life. The Tomlinson family lost, my brother, mother and me, our father from a heart attack in 2006.
My brother Mitchell and I have lived longer without him than with it’s been 12 years since that day when neither of us were yet 12. I don’t remember him that well, neither does Mitch. I remember he liked dark chocolate, cranberry juice and the Habs, but not the sound of his voice, or the warmth of his approval.
Growing up this left a rift, a huge impasse, in how we were to grow and live as men. We had no way to figure out how to be a man. A question that all boys grapple with as they grow up.
The pictures in my house show my dad, a Hungarian with a wide face, a moustache and acne scars. He’s smiling, there’s no signal to his fate in these images I cherish.
I’m young, and so’s my brother. But, the aspects of being a man that were shoved on my shoulders at 10 have changed my perspective. Life takes forever, even if its troublingly short.
I know I failed the people, the ones I love especially, around me when I was younger. I think I have learned from my mistakes, but I care more about whether or not Mitch has.
I love him as something more than a brother. Or maybe it’s just that I love him as you ought to love a brother. There’s a bond between us that I cannot see ever breaking. Despite the fact that we have pretty different interests, he’s into hockey, computers and money in all of its forms and downsides. I am artsy, I like museums and reading all day. I like talking to people and he likes typing them messages on his computer. I haven’t played a video game in years, he plays them every day.
So, we aren’t really friends, per se.
I am a role-model to him, and I’m not just preening myself. He wrote an essay for class a few years back about the lessons he’d learned growing up fatherless but with me. How, much like in this piece, he was lost after our dad died – we still call him ‘daddy’ because we never got the chance to call him anything else.
I think that essay changed me more than all the other pieces of writing I’ve read. It had become all me since our dad died. I worked hard, I did the dishes, walked the dog, kept in touch with family, I did what I could.
Here was this boy, this man, this beautiful person who’d been sleeping down the hall from me, watching me, loving me and growing as I did and I had failed to take stock of that. To consider what his love for me meant. That I was not doing all these aspects of life for myself, for the righteousness of it all. It was for my brother, it was because I didn’t want him to end up sad and confused like me.
It was transformative, he was me and I him because there was no one else for us to copy. We couldn’t watch our dad shave or go on a date, so we looked to one another.
But, more importantly, we had to look to each other to see how to struggle and persevere under the responsibilities we’d undertaken. How to face adversity and not give up, how to be a man.