My husband knocks on the car window and our son turns as he’s walking toward the school. My husband waves, my son waves back, then turns toward the school again. He takes a couple steps and my husband knocks on the car window again. Our son stops, turns to look at his dad waving again and shakes his head. Then a smile spreads across his face and he wriggles his fingers at him and turns back toward the school.
“What was that for?” I ask. If our son was six, and on his way into elementary school, it would have been cute, but he’s fourteen and in middle school.
“I’m building up his immunity,” he says.
“To what?” My brows pinch together in puzzlement.
“Being embarrassed so easily. If I embarrass him enough then he won’t take it so seriously when other embarrassing things happen in his life,” he reasoned.
I’m not sure how sound his theory is, but I do know that I love him for it. I love how he knows when to be dad to our son — an only child — and when to be big brother, and that he does it so well. He’s an amazing dad in so many ways, but I think his ability to play both roles and understand the importance of both in our son’s life is really ingenious. I also think it’s remarkable that our son learned so quickly to tell the difference between the two roles and responds appropriately.
Those of us who have had older brothers or sisters remember well the lessons we learned from them. They toughened us up, taught us to not cry so easily, showed us how stupid we look when we threw tantrums, modeled how to talk trash and banter in way that is funny, but not cruel. They often pushed us farther than we wanted them too, but they always seemed to know when to stop. As much as we may have disliked older siblings as a child, they played an important role that many of us would not appreciate until we are older.
My husband uses his role as father for all the traditional reasons: to teach our son about life, to protect him, to mentor him, and to raise him to become a good man. His role as big brother has proved just as important and he uses it for a different set of lessons: to teach our son how to interact with friends, how to be competitive without being a sore loser, how to banter with the guys without being a jerk, and how to be a good man who shows compassion as well as strength.
When my husband is big brother, our son can talk trash with him, try to best him in games and pranks, poke fun at him and wrestle with him. When he’s dad, our son knows that he has to be respectful, listen to the advice he is being given, and follow his instructions. There is a shift in both of them as they move between the roles of father/son and big brother/little brother. The shift is subtle, but both of them are so tuned into it now and rarely misread the other.
I love watching this dynamic, and smile to myself as husband taps on the car window again to get our son to turn around. I know he’s trying to annoy him, just like a big brother would, and our son knows it too. That’s why he rolls his eyes at him as he turns away, a reaction that would get him a reprimand in other situations, but is completely appropriate in this one. My husband smirks back at our son as he walks away and I marvel that a man who spent the majority of his childhood without a father and mostly raised himself knows so well how to be a great dad, and the importance of being a big brother, too.
Originally published at https://www.loistemplin.com