My highschool sweetheart loved to belt out one-liners from classic hits of our day. Elton John’s “Daniel” was a favorite–maybe because it was his best buddy’s name. “Daniel’s my brother,” become a favorite of mine too after my mother gave birth to my seventh sibling, naming him Daniel.
I remember driving to the hospital the day this illustrious brother was born. I needed proof! Coincidentally, I arrived on the maternity ward just as a nurse was wheeling him across the hall in a baby mobile. Amused by my disbelief, the friendly woman unfastened Danny’s diaper to more fully introduce this little fellow to the oldest of his seven sisters.
A boy. It really was…a boy. After all the years my parents attempted to produce male offspring, it didn’t seem possible–and it definitely didn’t seem practical. What would a family of girls do with a boy? How do we even change his diaper?
Large families like mine grow to love new babies and participate fully in their care as young parents-in-training. As a family of women however, we had to check the temptation to continually marvel at Danny’s gender. After all, baby girls are no less wonderful than baby boys–no matter how many generations of fathers have yearned for sons.
Up until Danny, though, none of us believed in those gender differences people proclaim about their little children. That is until we were introduced to them first hand–from obsessions with moving vehicles, to noise making of all kinds, to perpetual motion.
As a growing boy, Danny was imaginative too–spending hours setting up scenes with his hero figures and cars–and repositioning himself at every angle to assess the action. We watched his development with delight and curiosity, as if at any moment something completely out of the ordinary could happen.
Danny was quite old before he truly realized just how many sisters surrounded him–partly because there were so many of us, and partly because the older he got, the older we got–leaving the home we shared for lives of our own.
I’ll never forget what Danny said to my husband the day they went to collect their tuxedos for our wedding. At the cusp of 7 (we celebrated Danny’s birthday at our rehearsal dinner), Danny was to be our junior groomsmen, and my husband took this moment to point out to him that after the wedding, they would be “brothers.”
“That’s funny,” Danny said, shaking his head, “Kelly always says that she’s my sister.” As if we were all engaged in the same game of make believe.
As Danny grew to be a young man, the affection my sisters and I held for him grew as well; and to my surprise, he never seemed at odds with it. For years, I feared that there would come a day when he would refuse our affections, but that day never arrived. From eight to eighteen, I’d always ask before proceeding, “Do you still hug?” to which he’d always answer, “Yes,” embracing me with the same warmth as an early teenager that he had as a little guy.
I’m now 43 and Danny is 23. We live hundreds of miles apart and only see each other a couple of times a year. He’s had a serious girlfriend for awhile; and I’ve found myself having peculiar feelings toward her–as if she’s in the wrong place, as if she doesn’t belong.
I’ve never had this kind of response toward the men in my sisters’ lives. I guess that there must be something unique about the sister/brother relationship… Another new something for me to learn about having a brother–even this far out.
A few years back, we lost our mother to cancer; and as the oldest female in the family now, I feel protective of something I don’t quite understand when it comes to Danny–and then it occurs to me:
I’m not sure how to keep him in the fold.
My sisters and I talk or email or get together often enough, but connecting with Danny isn’t as simple. Womens journeys hold so many similarities, particularly as the youngest of us comes into adulthood, but Danny has his own journey to unfold. He’s finding his way and I don’t have a lot of advice to offer–and he doesn’t ask.
My mother and Danny were exceptionally close. They shared a softer and more matter-of-fact way of looking at the world. I can’t imagine how Dan’s life has been shaped by this loss, especially at the tender age of 18. My mother wasn’t there to see him graduate from highschool–wasn’t there to see him stand up as class president and bring the room to laughter.
But we were.
All seven of us showed up–from near and far–and championed an entire row of seats to honor our brother.
I’m not sure how we’ll continue “showing up” in Danny’s life, but I am certain that he will feel our love. Just recently I’ve gotten word on the sister grapevine that Dan is trying stand up at on open-mike in a bar outside Philadelphia.
The seven of us are ecstatic for him and have to restrain ourselves from crashing his next “performance” en masse. I can only imagine what material comes from his life with seven sisters–as Danny “Boy” becomes…his own man.
(Author’s note: This piece was written in ’07. In the spring of 2010, I visited my brother in Philly and had the opportunity to watch him make people laugh. I got lots of hugs too from “Dan” (who’s grown out of “Danny.”)