Happy Birthday Big Brother

I don’t think much about personal identity. Most of what makes me who I am, I take for granted. I’m a husband and father, a journalist and commentator, a sports fan, an avid reader and, sometimes, a fitness buff. Both of my parents are gone now, but I will always think of myself as their son.

Another thing I’ve always been—and will always be—is a kid brother to Nick, and I’ve been thinking about that lately because it is his birthday today.

Does everybody with an older brother feel shaped by it? In my case, the very first piece of my personality came from him… my name. For anyone who doesn’t know the story, when I was born my brother decided he wanted me to be a cowboy, like Hop-a-Long Cassidy. And I’ve been Hoppy ever since.

My early years were defined in large part by being a “little brother.” That meant hand-me-down clothes and taking my share of sibling physical and verbal abuse. We grew up on a farm and once, purely by accident, he ran over me with a tractor. I had a long recovery but in hindsight, I think he suffered more than I did.

Our relationship matured through our teens. He blazed a trail for me, confronting head on the challenges that come with the difficult years of adolescence. I learned to navigate those situations by watching his life experiences.

We were very different. He was smarter, stronger and had more luck with the girls, and it was often hard to measure up to the older brother I admired. But he was also stubborn and volatile. He frequently clashed with my parents, while I was glad to have been the one who did not cause household conflict.

Adulthood brought new challenges and our connection deepened. We chose different career paths—he is a successful farmer—but we shared the same work ethic and values. I take pride in his accomplishments—as a farmer, a businessman, a father and a husband.

It’s funny, I’m 68 and Nick turns 72 today. We have not been children for a long time, but part of my identity is still of being a “little brother.” And hopefully that will never change.

I’m lucky to have an older brother who I not only love and admire, but genuinely like. Even when we’re apart, he’s a constant presence reminding me that there’s nothing in life that I have to go through alone. He is that 3 a.m. phone call I can make. There’s great comfort in knowing he’s always there.

Happy birthday, big brother!


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