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An open apology to my little brother

“Elliott! You can't force your little brother to play games with you all day long!” I caught myself saying that the other to my precocious 5-year-old who was livid that, after running all morning in the yard with sticks together, followed by a rousing round of building block towers and knocking them over with a toy firetruck, his 3-year-old brother now simply wanted to look at books instead of participating in his elaborate play, the plot of which borrowed quite heavily from the movie “Frozen”.

The moment the words left my mouth, the wave of irony that washed over me was almost palpable.

There is a distinct chance that, nearly three decades ago, my mother had directed the same phrase I had just uttered to me verbatim. And I never really understood her point of view.

My brother was three years younger than me and, at the time, significantly smaller. I could force him to do what I wanted and, if not physically, there was always the option of bribery. Temporary ownership of a prized GI Joe figure was often the going rate for 30 minutes of whiffle ball.

But who would need to be forced to participate in playing with me? My games were awesome. Elaborate two-person backyard baseball leagues? Foosball tournaments where I kept stats of what specific fixed figure scored the goal? Obstacle table-tennis? What's not to like?

For me? Nothing. Especially considering that, with a three-year age difference and the fact that I spent hours shooting hoops on our postage stamp court on our patio, blasting whiffle balls into the neighbor's yard and practicing my backhand against the propped up ping-pong table, I racked up a pretty impressive winning percentage against my poor brother.

To his credit, he was a willing participant more often than not. Despite preferring to play with LEGOs over formulating a power ranking algorithm to rate made up baseball teams, Peter calmly played the role of the Washington Generals in my heavily skewed competitions.

Ironically, despite my borderline obsession with sports and statistics as a kid, it was Peter who was, by far, the superior athlete.

By junior high he could hang with me in games of one on one and he was far more successful on the traditional youth soccer and baseball fields than I ever was.

By college, he progressed to become an NAIA All-American distance runner and, to this day, I'm not sure there's a sport where I could beat him (a fact that was never more sobering than when he bested me over 18 holes at Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course this winter.)

As much as I'd like to take some credit for his success due to my years of brow-beating him into playing with me, it would be disingenuous to say the least. The games I created relied as little on athletic prowess as possible so as to tilt the scales in my favor as much as possible.

So, after watching my own son attempt to micro-manage his brother in an all-to-familiar fashion and me, as an unbiased observer, often siding with my exasperated youngest son, I now have a new perspective.

I hope Peter looks back on at least a few of those memories in the backyard with fondness (although probably not the times he took a line drive to the chest or a bony elbow in a game of one-on-one) but I'll still offer the apology.

And, if he feels the need to even up our winning percentage, I'd be happy to run a few hundred foot races against him.



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