Bad Brother

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Dear Robin,

I have an asshole for a brother (John) that I tolerated forever. Two summers ago we got into an argument and he sucker-punched me in the face unexpectedly, which led to an all-out fist fight from two grown-ass men in their mid-forties. Ridiculous, I know. It happened, right there in the street in front of our mom’s house.

I haven’t spoken to him since and don’t plan to. I’ve had it with him. Prior to that he would never return my phone calls, and never called unless he wanted something from me. His family has made near zero effort to ever see ours. We both have kids, so the cousins relationships have suffered. We live in another state but visit in the summer.

My sister and mom and wife are pressuring me to make amends. My mom is old and not in good health. In my opinion John needs to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness, which he’ll never do. Until then he’s dead to me.

I’m tired of the hen pecking from these women. Should I just fake an amends to appease the others? It’s not in my nature, I’m very stubborn and still pissed.

Spike

Dear Spike:

The nom de plume you chose for yourself is revealing, because I can feel the anger and resentment oozing from your email as profusely as the blood does from an Ebola victim’s eyes.

Sorry for the graphic analogy, but I am striving to inject current events into my writing.  In my defense, I was going to insert a picture there but upon googling “Ebola eyes” I promptly vomited and made the wise decision to leave it out.  DO NOT DO THIS!

As your letter makes clear, your seething anger is not based upon one sucker punch, but years of your brother being an all-around shitty family member.  News flash for Spike: just because you both came out of the same spam folder it does not follow that your programs are compatible.

In other words, being related is no reason for spending time with someone if that time spent is chaotic, violent, strategic, and demanded by others.  Sometimes we just have to admit that certain people in our family suck and keep our distance from them.

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You referred to yourself as a “grown ass man” so it’s time for you to have a grown ass conversation with your wife, sister, and mother in which you tell them you understand their desire to mend the family but your personal ethics and boundaries won’t allow for a rapprochement at this time.

Speaking of rapprochement (don’t you love my fancy vocabulary?!) I have a couple observations:

1. There is no apology in the world that is worthwhile if it isn’t given freely, whole-heartedly and unencumbered by pressure from others.  It’s always amusing to me to hear people demanding apologies because that’s like demanding someone tell you they love you: shit don’t mean shit unless you mean that shit.*

2. You mentioned “making amends,” which is interesting because this has been a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.  If I assume that John was the one who started the brawl with the sucker-punch (classy move, by the way) I don’t think you have to make amends at all.

There is a world of difference between an apology and making amends, and while sometimes one will suffice, other times both are needed.

For example: if you step on someone’s foot in line for your daily Starbucks crack coffee, an apology is warranted.

Conversely, if you spill your coffee all over them as you are aggressively pushing your way past them out the door to ensure you arrive at McDonald’s before they run out of McGriddles, amends are in order.  Pay for their dry cleaning, buy them a Starbucks gift card – whatever it takes to make an effort at rectifying your error.

Not enough people do that these days.  Not enough people even apologize properly when they have done something wrong.

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3. I hesitate to suggest this, but do you think it’s possible that rather than “making amends” or trying to repair what seems to be an irretrievably broken relationship, you might be able to stomach John’s presence a couple times a year without devolving into front yard fisticuffs?

If you are troubled by your elderly ailing mother’s desire to see her boys together you should consider taking a Xanax during family events and just avoiding him.  Folks swimming in the pond scum of divorced and reorganized families have long perfected the art of “going along to get along” at family events like weddings and graduations because it’s part and parcel of being a good parent or stepparent.

I’m not saying you should “fake an amends” as you called it, but rather agree to a truce during those times you and John are forced together.  Of course, any such truce must be agreed to by both parties, hence my final suggestion which is contained within #4 below.  Please feel free to copy and paste into an email to your brother.

4. Dear Asshole John:

It is important to Mom that she spend time with both of us when we are all in town. It’s clear we haven’t gotten along very well for some time, but I would like us to agree to a mutual truce when we are with the family.  Our last interaction was incredibly disturbing for everyone and I don’t want Mom to have to suffer because we don’t see eye to eye.

Can you agree with me that we will be civil to one another when I come to town?  I’d also like our kids to get to know each other better but that won’t happen if we have to avoid each other.  Please let me know your thoughts,

-The Brother Mom Loves Best

Assuming he responds in the affirmative, I think you can tolerate him in small doses.

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However, if his reaction to your email is decidedly negative (for example, “screw you, next time I’m going to curb stomp you in front of your baby mama”) I’d forward that to the hen-pecking hens and tell them you will pass on the next family reunion.

I’m really curious what will happen next so please follow up with me and good luck!

-Robin

*Dear Team Robin: sorry for the profanity, but I stayed away from the F word!

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