I grew up an only child. My parents divorced when I was six and from there my father and I had an on-again, off-again relationship. He remarried when I was around 11-ish, to a woman with a daughter my age. For the first year or so of their relationship, I had two families: the one with my mom and another with my father, along with a step-sister! I was kind of over the moon about the whole thing. But as life goes, my relationship with my father didn’t work out as planned. We had a difficult time connecting and as he moved on with his new family–to new houses with no room for me–it felt easier to be with the parent who had to make time for me because I lived with her.
In the summer of 1996 a few things happened: I turned 16, was in a summer school class and found out my step-mother had a baby.
One day, a classmate who was friends with my step-sister asked, “Have you met the baby?”
I looked at her, confused, “What baby?”
“Baby Barnhill,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“No,” I said, my stomach suddenly in knots.
“Well, when are you going to meet him?”
“I don’t know.”
I didn’t know my step-mother was pregnant let alone delivered a baby. I don’t want this to indict my father but I must speak my truth: he didn’t tell me I was going to be a big sister let alone invite me to meet the baby. My 16-year-old self felt…well, I was pissed. Then as the cloud of anger dissipated, I was left with general feelings of abandonment and overall shittiness.
I saw a picture of him when he was a baby and met him for the first time over our grandmother’s house when he was, I don’t know, about 6-ish. He was talking so do the math. At any rate, I remember him asking me questions like, “Who’s your dad?” or something innocent children ask. The rage I felt was never at him, it was at my father but unfortunately, he got the brunt of it.
When I moved to Los Angeles, my brother hit me up, saying he was living in the area. Hearing from him was like a violent slap–a reminder of my failed relationship with my father and that he has another family that doesn’t involve me. Although I responded to him, I had no interest in connecting. There was a stone wall surrounding my heart. I was in my early 30s which would’ve made him a teenager–a teenager desperately trying to connect with his other sister. I couldn’t see that at the time; all I saw was hurt and abandonment.
My father and I reconnected over the years but our most recent split came on the day I told him my mom had cancer. My head was all over the place; I was more than afraid with no knowledge of the future. I was working a stressful job, using FMLA time to take my mom to and from radiation. I wasn’t processing what was happening at all; I’d work, spend time with her, and smoke weed with a FWB. I met my father for lunch and told him; a little later in the conversation I told him about a new job I landed and somehow it went south. He interrupted me while I was talking, stressing the fact that the new job was a non-profit or something; I can’t remember. I was short with him and after that, he shut down. Was literally pissed that I was snippy. At that moment, he wasn’t able to offer general consideration like: hmm, this girl just told me her mother is having radiation treatments; maybe I should…nope. He said something snarky, and I got up, told him I loved him and walked out.
A few weeks later, he wrote me a letter talking about how he must “meet people where they are” or something–which was probably an attempt at apologizing for being an asshole but I wasn’t interested. I had way too much on my mind and maintaining a relationship with someone who didn’t allow me to have a bad day wasn’t on my agenda. That day was the last time we talked; two years later, I moved to Las Vegas.
At the beginning of quarantine, I began doing intensive self-discovery and inner-growth. I was exploring the idea of love beyond romance, learning how to offer myself love and support. I received a text from my brother who was in California and was reaching out to connect, again. I had a choice: wiggle out of it, or face the fact that he wasn’t my father and there was no reason to keep punishing him for someone else’s behavior.
We started texting; I was open and genuinely concerned about him and what he was up to. I can’t remember much else as it seemed he became a part of my life overnight. Seriously. I haven’t told you his name because after a few text sessions and video calls, he became Baby Brother. That’s his name in my phone. Turns out, this wonderful young man is a creative just like me, with a focus on film…yes, just like me. He’s smart, thoughtful, funny and kind. My big-sister instincts kicked in soon after we began talking. I wanted to know where he was during lockdown; how he was doing; what his plans were. He has a little bohemian spirit so he can pop up anywhere on the map. I find myself working and think: “Hmm, where’s Baby Brother? I haven’t heard from him.” I’ll hit him up and find him either on a horse ranch or in the Midwest or in DC at the BLM protests.
Having him in my life is more than a blessing, it’s a miracle. And he shares a birthday with Harry Potter! What better sign is that?! But in all seriousness, he taught me how to receive love. Baby Brother has always loved me, even when I couldn’t receive love from him. He was patient, never giving up on me. He was the one who told me that my grandmother contracted Covid-19 in the nursing home. He was the one that offered to Facetime me when he went to visit her so that I could see her before she died a few weeks later. Had it not been for him, I would’ve just received a call from my father saying, “Granny’s gone…”
Opening my heart just a little, allowed him in and now I can’t imagine my life without him. When I told this to my Book Club, my dear friend said, “You know, after watching so many movies, you just expect that after connecting with your brother, somehow your relationship with your father would mend and all would be well…” She’s right; we often create unrealistic expectations based on our entertainment consumption or we create them from looking at other people’s lives. The thing is, my father and I are fine right where we are: a few texts here and there. Texts that I initiated once I started talking to Baby Brother. My desire to have an idealistic father-daughter relationship has been released so that I can receive my true gift: my sweet angel of a baby brother. He’s someone who has brought so much love to my life all because I was bold enough to receive it. We never know the ways our hearts are closed until someone comes knocking; I’m grateful Baby Brother knocked and kept knocking until I was ready to open the door.
All my love,
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