My Brother Does Not Look Like My Father
My brother Ron cooked spaghetti on Saturday mornings for
the two of us when our mother was at the beauty parlor. He
had always been a “take charge’ kind of guy who preferred
using Open Pit Barbecue Sauce on his pasta instead of
concocting his own special blend, but that was okay with me.
I’ve loved Open Pit ever since.
Ron did, I guess in the great tradition of older brothers
everywhere whose parents had divorced, assume the role of
surrogate dad. And, it made sense because-as it happened-he
was always bigger and stronger than I. He looked out for me
and you know what? I rather liked it. Our relationship was
straight out of “Leave It To Beaver” but without Ward
Cleaver-our parents had divorced, and though we visited with
our father no more than three-four times a year, he was
forever able to cement and reinforce a very strong bond
It will not surprise you to know I look like, dress like, emote
and sound like my father. I am my father’s son, as is my older
brother Ron but who looks like our mother although not nearly
Our father’s illness brought us back together after a
hiatus of many years. We had never before faced any problem
of this magnitude, but of my brother Ron, I can say it was an
pleasure to get to know him again. i had never known Ron
beforeas an adult, a grown up, caring and loving son to our father.
Ron and I spent the better part of a Wednesday afternoon
with our father at his dental office. He’s closing it down after
more than a half century of business. Though he enjoyed an
all too brief improvement after his first hospitalization, he
knows he can no longer treat patients due primarily to his
neurapathy.* Though he has been practicing dentistry in
Chicago since 1950, (“One of these days, I’ll get it right,” he
often quips with an irrepressible smile.) he accepts his
involuntary retirement as he does his cancer, with grace.
Nattily dressed in suit, a freshly laundered and starched white
dress shirt with French cuffs, with matching silk tie and
handkerchief (stuffed in his outer breast suit pocket with just
the right panache), topped off by a black straw fedora, my
father looked that day as he had always and as far back as I can
The three of us hailed a cab home that afternoon-actually it
was Dad who stood at the curb and waved his hand while
attempting a shrill whistle. For some unknown reason, my
father could never whistle well though I guess he thought he did.
What came out invariably was more spittle than whistle.
Ron and I always thought that enormously funny, never
disrespectfully, just in good fun. You know what I mean.
“Eleven ten north Michigan please,” my father directs the cab
driver. We have ridden in cabs many times together, but
today was the first time in many a year. Dad fell asleep almost
instantaneously, Ron opened his copy of Ekhart Tolles’ new book and ...
I was six years old, my brother eight when the three of us left
Dad’s office at 25 E. Washington Street on the east side of
Chicago’s Loop. We would hail a yellow or green Checker
Marathon cab. Failing that and, should one arrive first, we’d
hop on the bus. Frankly, I preferred the cab although It never
ceased to amuse us to watch Dad fall asleep while hanging on
to the “standees’ strap”. Naturally, a taxicab was the preferred
choice because it had two distinctive folding jump seats
anchored to the floor for additional passenger seating. Great
for kids. “’Fellas’, always enter and exit the taxi on the
curbside,” Dad faithfully reminded us. My father was an
effective teacher who chose his pragmatic life lessons carefully
and hammered them home. They remain with me to this day.
He awoke one half block before our arrival. Ron marked his
page. “Son, get out on the curb side,” he reminded
me, pointing toward the right passenger door with the thumb
of his right hand as if he were hitch-hiking. “Yes Dad. I know,”
I reassure him. Even though I’m fifty-four years old and have
been exiting from the curb side ever since I was six and sitting
on the folding jump seat in the back of the old Marathon
cabs, it annoyed me a bit. I glanced at Ron whose shrugged
shoulders and faint smile reminded me that some things
simply do not change. Then again, maybe Dad and I had had
the same dream.
It was getting late in the afternoon around 4:30. I got up to
leave for home around 5 o’clock. Ron walked me to the front
door I could see our father reading the paper at the kitchen
table. His wife, Bobbie, sat across from him.
“So, Alan, any words?” Ron asked.
“None at the moment,” I responded, hoping to preclude an
“God, I feel so … so guilty about leaving, but I’ve got to get
home,” Ron confessed in an undertone. “I understand,” I
reassured him. My brother Ron feels bad. He’s got it tougher
than I do. I can see Dad anytime I wish and do. I visit with him
three days a week, and I think he’d agree this has been the best
time we’ve ever spent together. Ron, however, lives in St.
Louis. Not far away, to be sure, a one hour flight. Still, it
“What if,” my brother’ voice quivered … “what if this is the
“No, no. Not going to happen. Not now,” I insisted, my tone
rising as if in denial of that realistic possibility. “Dad is a
pugilist, Ron, remember? He’s a boxer, a fighter, you know.”
(As a matter of fact, my father had been a “golden gloves”
boxer in his youth).
Though Ron is only eighteen months older than I am, that
difference has always defined our relationship. It was an odd,
yet defining moment. I sensed a shift between us. For the very
first time, I was “taking care” of Ron-who had forever been
my big brother and a darn good one too.
“Hey listen, call me if you want to get together tonight,” I
clumsily changed the topic.
“I’d like to but I’d better not.”
“Listen, we’ll talk,” I reassured him.
I picked up my computer bag. “Dad, we’ll talk later.”
That’s how it ended that day. Actually there wasn’t an ending,
just a “to be continued”. Our father was sick. We knew where
it would take him and … us. For the moment, he had taken
some steps forward. We were doing our best to honor him.
Somehow it made sense and I think we felt pretty good about that.