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Fixing What's Broken - Rebuilding Family Relationships

My brother and his wife Tracy were just in Dublin visiting Aaron and I for ten days. I was surprised they were the first of my family to visit as they are not big international travellers. For once I was going to be able to repay some of their hospitality and visit with them without the rest of the family around. You know, a little quality time. Most of my family spends a good amount of the winter in Arizona and when I go I usually stay with Rob. His family is very low key and fun to be with. I have a great time with Tracy, his two girls, who really aren’t girls anymore since they are like 22 and 24, and Brandi his Labrador. Rob only has two rules for me no farting or walking around nude. When you have lived by yourself for so long you forget your manners.

Aaron, Mike, Rob and Tracey in Ireland

I was most looking forward to the 4 of us just hanging out and for Aaron, Tracy and Rob getting to know each other better. They did and all had great time. I think what Aaron enjoyed most all was seeing how much Rob and I are alike. Aaron liked how our sense of humours seemed to bounce of each other. Aaron and Tracy laughed at how inpatient we can both be. I’m not sure if I agree but Aaron insists we are always late. He also says we are the only two people he has seen eat pizza with a knife and fork. Our drinking limit is three cocktails or pints. We are lightweights compared to the Irish.

Aaron has a gay brother. I told him once I wondered what it would be like to have a brother that was gay. Would you be closer? Would you talk to them about everything gay? Anyway after the first night Rob was here I realized my question was stupid. I told Aaron I had the best brother in the world and would never trade him in. Actually in addition to being my brother, I consider him one of my closest friends. How can he not be, even when I send him, “dick pics,” by mistake he doesn’t get pissed, he just tells me he’s bigger. I beg to differ.

Rob and Mike chilling outside New York

Rob and I were never that close, it is something that has happened slowly. I was to blame. More about that later. I was never that close with my family. I think a lot of gays who are not out put up some sort of invisible wall that lets people know they can only get so close to you. It was when I was probably mid 40’s that my mother finally asked and I said yes. It felt good to have that secret out in the open with my family, My friends had known for years.

I don’t know if they saw a change in me, but for the first time in my life I felt relaxed and myself with them. Secrets are exhausting. Of course, I had to first answer multitudes of questions from the family. It was like interview. Do you have a boyfriend? What does he look like? What does he do? Where’s he from? Are you a top or bottom? Kidding. Later I learned but was not surprised but my sexuality had been a common topic of conversation with my family. I would imagine they probably knew I was gay before I did.

I know I was luckier than so many people who have had bad reactions from their families. I probably would have told them myself had we been closer. I think the wall I built was too high to take down and that if they wanted to know they would have asked.

They all said they were too scared.

After I left home for college as I recall I rarely saw my brother or spoke to him unless it was at a family occasion. I think when I was 32 or 33 he came to visit me in California and I believe I went to see him once in Arizona. At this point any effort in communication was done on his part. I was loving my life in Los Angeles, especially finding my gayness and not having to explain myself to anyone. I was becoming more comfortable with myself.

Soon I was seeing more of him as most years we went on a family vacation and there was usually a trip to Arizona as my parents or other people would be there. When I was with Rob I kept the conversations away from anything personal. If I got personal with him he could with me and I did not want that.

After I was out I would stay at Robs. Not having my big secret anymore I began getting to know my brother more. I saw what a great dad he is and how much his daughters love being with him. The fact he is such a great father and husband is even more surprising considering the house we grew up in. When I walk his dog with him he is constantly stopped by all the neighbors who want to talk to him. Everyone knows him and he is always willing to go out of his way for them. Since I have moved to Ireland he has done so much for me I really owe him big time. I wish Aaron and I lived closer and we could spend more time together.

Rob, Mike and Aaron hiking in Arizona

I said earlier Rob and I did not get along until we were basically adults and I was to blame. It is something I have never spoken to him about because I still feel guilty and ashamed even though I did not know any better. My mother and I spent a considerable amount of time in therapy to rectify our relationship and talking about what kind of mother she had been. With our therapist and my own therapist I also spent time talking about how I treated my brother. I will have to talk with him and find out if he remembers

From the time I was about 5 until I was about 15 my younger brother by about 22 months was the golden child of my parents. He was the only person I probably hated more than myself. From the time he was three all I could remember hearing was how cute he was, how adorable he was, how funny he was, where did he get that blond hair from, I could go on and on. Then there was me, chubby, quiet, sullen and always keeping to myself. He was everything I would never be. I knew that even at age 5 or 6.

My hatred of him was really displaced . It should have been directed at my parents, but that would have just gotten me in more trouble. Much of my hatred for him came from the comments I would get from my parents, letting me know what they thought of me and how they treated my brother

One time I was no more than six. We were leaving Chicago to see my father’s family in Michigan. I guess my mother was busy and she had me walk my brother to the barber shop. Really, at six years old. Anyway my brother had beautiful straight blond hair and I always wanted long hair like his, for some reason I always had to get a crew cut. You would have thought maybe my mother would have given me a note telling the barber what to do, but no. The barber asked me what he should do and I told him to make my brother look like me.with the best of intentions. The minute I we got home I got the wrath of my mother, “why would I ever want him to look like you.” This was the first time I started to realize the differences in us.

Rob and Mike at the subway in New York

Another time we were in the our station wagon, my parents and the four of us kids, my older sister about 8 and my younger sister about 2, and my brother and I, 4 and six. My brother and I were in the very back singing. I remember my mother or father telling me to stop because I could not carry a tune and my brother sounded so good so he could keep singing.

I still am not sure to this day what it was about me that made my mother dislike me so much except that I was different, not gay at this point just different. She did not know how to deal with different. Even in my nursery school report card it said I preferred to play by myself and not with others. Believe me I heard about this and not nicely.

This went on until high school. I knew whenever I was called up to her bedroom it was trouble. First the questions. Whats wrong with you? Why don’t you have any friends? Don't you think you're as good as everyone? Why can't you be more like your brother? I knew whatever answer I had would be wrong so I would never say anything. Either way I was going to be hit and hit and hit. To avoid my mother’s anger and beatings I would hide in our basement for hours or in the woods behind our house just counting for some reason. When I did come home she thought I had been with other kids. This went on from the age of 8 until I was fourteen and started to make a few friends. During this time my brother only got cuter, more popular, everyone wanted to be his friend and the adults all thought he was so cute and personable.

Growing up my parents did not get along at all! Their battles were physical and verbal. My older sister and I received much of my mothers anger and physical abuse most likely because in those days you suffered in silence and she did not talk about her marriage or anything else that went on in the house. My parents motto was what goes on in this house stays in the house, Of course because I was the odd one I got it the worse.

So now being a kid and not being able to talk to anyone for fear of what would happen to me, I started to take my anger out on my perfect little brother who at this time could still do no wrong. I began to take every bit of my aggression out on him. I had so much hurt and anger in me I doubt I showed him any mercy.

I was in the eighth grade at the time and began to sense I was different, gay. Despite the fact I had no idea what that was and wouldn’t for a good many more years . This only made the situation worse. I just wanted to be normal like everyone else. I wanted to be my brother. I wanted to be good looking, have lots of friends, be popular, excel at sports and be a daredevil. Instead I was a loner, chubby, wore glasses, was not very cute and had parents who thought something was wrong with me.

Rob was pretty strong now. At one point he started fighting back. We didn’t exactly reach a truce. I knew I could not stand him even though it was not his fault. I can’t imagine he had any good feelings for me, the way I treated him. We certainly never had a brotherly relationship. I can’t ever remember having a conversation with him until we were both out of college.

About the time he hit high school he began his own version of acting out. For the first time I could remember the attention on me was deflected. He still remained very popular, very good looking, great body, lots of girlfriends, and never afraid.

Over the years I have seen that most families have problems. My family was fortunate that my mother realized she was hurting her kids. She worked hard at changing and eventually we became a family. I was lucky to spend time with her, as I said in therapy and we were able to build a relationship. This also allowed me to discover what a great brother and friend I have.

Mike and Rob having a drink

I always look forward to my Arizona vacations. Rob and I get to spend a lot of one on one time together since my sisters are busy with kids, grandchildren etc, during the days. Whether its taking the dog for a walk, going to the bagel store for breakfast, doing a hike or sitting by the pool it's great spending time together and now we have Aaron to join us. What could be better. By the way I'm much better looking than him now.

What are your opinions on family relationships and what experiences did you have? Tell us your story on the gay forum below.


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