Siblings,Parents and Advice on How to Show Love

Written by Kathy Watson

Siblings can help us understand our childhood wounds and help us move forward to create the future we want. Columnist Kathy Watson's tells a riveting story of how her relationship with her brother opened her eyes to the future.

My sibling is a creature who carries half of me around inside him. No one on the planet is made more of me, and I of him, than my brother, Aaron.

Advice on the 5 ways we show love:
 1. Quality Time
 2. Words of Affirmation
 3. Physical Touch
 4. Acts of Service.
5. Gifts Given 
And though we look alike, our arms just a fraction longer than our sleeves, our calves too thin for our long legs, our prominent noses; we radically separate at that point like molecules in a pot of boiling water.

He's a Republican; I'm a Democrat. He's a southerner from the low country of Alabama. I'm a westerner from the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

He's a buttoned-down, cock-sure, All-American church pastor and daddy of four, with a brilliant, beautiful wife and a 21-year marriage.

I'm a two-time divorcee with two daughters in college, a far more liberal faith, a dog and a dirty pair of boots under my desk, and a wonderful husband in the next room who has finally rescued me from myself.

Yet with all our differences, something holds us together. He preaches at the pulpit and I see a handsome balding man. He raises his arms in prayer and I see my father, dead since we were both small children. And yet something is missing.

How can a brother and sister with so much shared history and genetics seem so far apart? As children and adults, we have rarely sought each other out, or called each other first,or at all, to share joys or sorrows.

I wanted to know if my brother thought there was a chance that now, in our 40s, we might find a way toward each other. So I called him the other day at his church office, and we talked.

Kathy Watson: What's your first memory of me?

Aaron Fruh: Oh man, I need to think about these things.

K: Do you remember that December, you were 3 when Dad died? I remember being angry at you for playing with a toy you got at Christmas and telling you, "You can't play with that! Your dad is dead!" Do you remember that?
A: No, no. No. I remember the night it happened, skating across the floor in slippers, and Grandpa put his hand on my shoulder and told me to stop. And Grandma and Mom screaming. I don't remember anything until waking up a year later, and the train ride to Mississippi.

But the first thing I can remember about you, there was a closet, and a vase in the top, and it fell down, and we tried to tell Mom there was an earthquake and that's why it fell.

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Grown Up, Grown Apart
K: When you think back about our childhood years together, what sticks out most in your mind?

A: You chasing me with an axe! I was tormenting you. You picked up the poker and chased me through the house, and I ran outside, and you grabbed an axe, you broke the front door window with it.

K: Why did you torment me?

A: I don't know. Little brother syndrome. I liked picking you off. It was a pretty boring life, and so it was, come home and torment your sister. I think you had a lot of responsibility — clean the house, cook the meals — and maybe I resented your authority. Basically, I was probably a snot-nosed kid.

K: As very young children, I was jealous of you, because after Dad died, Mom just wanted to hold you all the time, and would tell me to go away. I had nightmares about that, did you know that?

A: No, I didn't. I remember us taking you to the school bus on Cottage Drive, and then she would take me back to the house, and hug me and kiss me. But that's very foggy.

K: As we got older, we didn't seek each other out very often. Do you think that's because we were just on a different wavelength? What was going on there?

A: I don't know. Brother and sister ... I don't know if they ever connect on the same wavelength.

K: Why do you suppose we didn't turn to each other more for solace and support?

A: I thought we did a lot. Mom needed a lot of encouragement. Being a single parent, she didn't have a husband to lean on, and you and I became the fence she leaned on. Remember, we were sitting outside her bedroom door, calling her name when she was down, and she wouldn't answer? We were leaning on each other.

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Grown Up, Grown Apart

K: What about our college and high school years? What sticks out most in your mind about our relationship?

A: In high school, I remember walking down the hall, and you would call me a "communist, pinko fag." That's when I was a freshman, and you were a junior. I remember us being in the orchestra together. I remember that concert when you fell off the riser. I was sitting next to Bob Zuckworth, and he said, "Fruh, there goes your sister." I didn't laugh or anything, I was embarrassed for you.

In college, I think we were lots better friends. I sent money for you to come home once. I came to visit you up there, and then I thought you were pretty cool.

K: I know you've said before that you didn't think I should have married Gary or Chuck. Are you disappointed in me, in the way I've lived my life?

A: No. In high school, you were dating that race car driver. He's probably living in a trailer now. I wanted you to get away. I knew what was happening to you. Mom didn't approve of anybody you went out with, and you were living in a cocoon. When you got to college, you were free, no restraints. I think you were looking for affection, and Gary came along, and he was a nice guy, very affectionate, and you needed that. You probably didn't have the discernment to know that you were great friends, but you wouldn't make great marriage mates.

K: What's the best moment you can remember of us ever having together?

A: Remember when we went to see Young Frankenstein? You were home on break, and we were sitting there laughing together, "Abby? Abby Normal!"

K: I remember that night at your first house in Mobile when just you and I stayed up talking until after midnight, and then when I went upstairs to bed, I heard a knock on my door, and I opened it and we said, almost in unison, "Where's your sister now?" [A question a school friend with a developmental disability often asked Aaron after I left for college.] And we laughed so hard.

Some times it seems to me we don't have much in common, and then a night like that happens.

Grown Up, Grown Apart

A: Hey, I read all your stuff. You have to give me the benefit of the doubt here. Your life over the last 20 years has been difficult. I didn't sense that you were happy. You were not in your passion in the years you were married to Gary.

When I came out there to visit you, you weren't excelling. You were like a different person. Something was weird. Then you married Chuck, I came to visit you two times, and it was difficult to connect, and I didn't really know him that well, and I was coming from 2,000 miles away.

You were on a track — forget about the marriage thing — of change and developing yourself, and we were 2,000 miles apart.

Maybe because of our upbringing, I'm a little aloof. We're survivor-type people, we're like beachhead type individuals, we've always got to be conquering the next beachhead. I've been a lousy uncle to your kids; I never send them anything.

K: They don't think that. They love you. What do you think is the biggest difference between us?

A: I'm intelligent, handsome, good-looking, tall. I think there are more similarities than differences, don't you think? We're both creative, thinkers. Politically, of course, and religion, we're different there.

K: What does it matter to you that you have a sister, and that your sister is me? [Aaron laughs long and loud.]

A: That's a deep question. I don't know. I don't really know. I guess we were never really that close. Once we all moved away, we were never really close.

You know, we had a retreat the other day, and the man who led it talked about the five languages of love. You press this button and a person feels like they've been loved. They are: quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service and gifts given.

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A: The button that you push that makes me feel loved is quality time. If you brought me a gift today, I wouldn't respond to that. If you came in and said, I want to help you out, wash your car, that wouldn't make me feel like you love me.

Time. Someone says, "I want to spend some time with you." That's it.

I think the button that pushes you is words of affirmation.

Maybe because my thing is quality time, and we haven't had that, and yours is affirmation, and I'm not the best at that, maybe we feel unloved by each other.

K: What do you think it matters if we try to be close to each other? What difference does that make in our lives?

A: You know, for me, the big question about developing this relationship is, What's in it for me? [We laugh.]

More than just the monthly phone call; chitchat about the weather. I'm not into another phone call. If we lived down the street, we'd probably hang out together all the time. I'd be interested in developing it now because you have a stable husband. I had to love you with the other guys, love you as a couple, and it's not like I could love my big sister and just hang out with you.

I never felt bad about those things, but I never connected. Maybe that sounds kind of selfish. It's hard enough developing a long distance relationship. Stuart: I like him. I love your kids. Your life is much more stable at this moment. You've been bouncing off the walls for 20 years.

But now, I came out there in the spring, you came here in the fall, and I could see us all getting together for fun. I'm loving you with your family.

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K: Sometimes I think that if you died, I would feel great sorrow for Sharon and your kids, our mother, but I am not exactly sure how I would feel myself. I know I would be sad, but I wonder how much of a relationship we have to lose.

Advice on Giving Love:
 1. Quality Time
2. Physical Touch
3. Words of Affirmation
4. Acts of Service
5. Gifts Given 
A: I'd probably feel the same way about you. I'd feel bad seeing you in the coffin [we laugh]. I don't know, maybe it's not because of you and me. Since I was a junior in high school, I've seen you maybe 10 times or less.

Maybe we've spent 10 hours together of quality time, or less. Let's say 20 hours. Twenty hours in the last 26 years. Hello! That's not really somebody that you would miss, just because I'm your flesh and blood.

K: But is the relationship worth working on after all this time?

A: Yeah, I think so.

K: You're a man of few words.

A: Oh, give it try. What have we got to lose? Here is the answer for this whole problem: I'm probably closer to Sharon's sisters than you. If they were to die today, I'd feel really bad. I'm connected to them, to their husbands, their children, there's a central meeting place: Washington Island, Wis. You and me, we don't have a central meeting place. Mom was a single parent. We didn't come home to be with the family. There was no hub to come home to.  We disconnected. If Dad had lived... .

The worst thing I can ever think of is, what's happened to our family?  When my kids leave home, I want to be the hub. I want them to come home, bring the kids. There was nothing except our genetics that brought us together.

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