Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Birthdays Aren't for Sissies

Richard with his two favorite nephews. 
When I was getting ready to return to my second year of college, my brother Richard was preparing to attend his freshman year at Wesleyan, our Dad’s alma mater. We had both worked all summer; I was a Fotomate--that’s what they called those of us who worked in those claustrophobic Fotomat booths--and Richard worked as a pizza delivery guy for Domino’s, driving his blue VW minibus all over Louisville. Knowing those pizza delivery guys didn’t make much money--and as the older sister—I footed the bills for our mutual outings that summer. When we went to the bank together at the end of the summer to cash out our savings for the coming school year, I walked out with a couple of hundred bucks and Richard pocketed his over seven hundred dollars. This was 1977--that was a lot of money. It occurred to me then that my brother was a shrewd planner. I made it easy for him that summer by being the overprotective sister--picking up the tab when we went for pizza or midnight madness at The Vogue movie theater.  I don’t remember feeling anything but shocked and amazed; not annoyed or taken advantage of. It was the beginning of seeing him as the person he was to become.

The intervening years have continued to prove his planning prowess. It seemed that he always had a plan, always knew what he was going to do next. Meanwhile, my life was like the little steel ball in a pinball machine, reacting to whatever obstacle or hurdle I was thrown up against.  He once drove out to San Francisco to rescue a friend from the Moonies. He and another friend drove back to California a few years later to live in San Diego. He always had a sense of purpose, a well-defined course of action. Although I still felt protective of him, he rarely seemed like he needed my “protection” and more often than not, it was I who looked to him for guidance or support during times of difficulty or confusion. He has always been the smartest person I know, and I’m not the only person in the world who has said that. His weighing in on matters of current events or ways of human behavior are about as spot on as anyone’s. 

During the time when I was single parenting, he was a male role model for my son. He took Christopher on hikes, to the movies and just hung out with him. Once he even took him to Florida to visit my parents. He was always there if I needed a little extra cash for groceries or school supplies. Years later, when my daughter decided she wanted to move across the country and live in California, the only reason that I said, “Sure, that’s a great idea, honey!” was because Richard would be there to look out for her. Which he did in spades, practically supporting her for the first few months after her arrival. He had moved out to California years before to become a screenwriter, a gift and a skill he has continued to hone and stay true to. For a while, he worked in a law firm to support himself while he put his work out there, but then, after several years of 9to5, he decided if he was going to do this screenwriting thing, he needed to do it full time. So he quit his job. This is where that shrewd saving part comes in. He was able to quit his full-time, benefits-supplying job and stay home and write. He had that much socked away. It surprised everyone but me.

And that is what is so impressive to me now. His commitment to his work. Although I’m not nosy enough to ask (and I can be pretty nosy), I am pretty sure his savings must have nearly run out by now. Yet he’s still writing every day, making phone calls and sending emails, working towards the day when he gets one of his scripts up there on the silver screen. He recorded his experiences on a blog. You should read them; he’s a great writer. While he’s doing all this staying-true-to-his-goal stuff he also found the resources to come East for Annie’s wedding and stayed to help drive my parents back to their home in Florida from Maine. His commitment to his work is surpassed only by his commitment to his family and I’m not sure I always let him know that I know that.

So this is me doing that. He is about to reach a certain milestone, which to him, makes him feel that he hasn’t accomplished all that he has set out to do. I know about this particular milestone…it can be a tough one. But, by my reckoning, he has accomplished everything he has set out to do: He is a man with integrity and conscience. He puts love and family first and has remained true to himself when conventional wisdom and societal pressure dictates otherwise. He might not think he is where he wants to be, but he is always there when you need him and that’s a success that not many people can claim.  You may not be ready to celebrate, Richard, but I am celebrating you. Happy Birthday.

*Sister's note: I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the sentiment and wishes remain current.