Friday, November 8, 2013

Brothers of A Different Mother

During the last seventeen years that we have called this little postage stage stamp on the planet Earth home we have had the blessing of many children living under our roof. Three of them are our own but for various reasons we also had others come to stay with us because they needed a place to be. Most of them are boys. When I came home for good from working and traveling I spent a lot of time with them. Some of them played lacrosse with my oldest son, Ben.  When I was still away, my daughter, Meredith, as a little girl, could not say lacrosse right, so she called them the “Lost Boys.” These boys are not lost though.  They all grew into fine young men, who went off to college and who I couldn’t be prouder of.  Some are film makers, artists and writers; some are geologists; some work hard at jobs as they figure out what they are going to do next.  Some just want to figure out how the brain works. The girl they left behind when they went out in the world, their sister, sings and wants to make cupcakes.  I am cool with all of this.  When I look at all of my children I just beam.

Today, the daughter, now sixteen, is going to St.Paul and Minneapolis to sing and I am sad. I like our weekend time together. It is the time where she and I get to be together, for awhile at least, even if it is just in a car.  We have some of our best conversations when we are driving. I love it when she talks to me, sings along to the radio, and says, “Yeah, I know. Really?”  We laugh long and hard.  A couple of nights ago, after dinner, she said, “Tom, I really think you need to get haircut and shave.  Otherwise, people will think…hmmm, I wonder where that hobo got such a nice sweater vest.”  I laughed again and took care of it yesterday.  When she saw me, she said “Better…We still have some more work to do, but it’s an improvement.” I love most when she is going to bed, so tired, and she lets down her high school guard. She says, “I love you, Dad.”  I’m really going to miss her. While I am so proud of her going to sing “Songs of Love” for people that will really appreciate it; I will also be at a loss.

The upside of this weekend is that a good portion of my sons, both factual and fictive, will be coming home for a visit.  I probably need to rest up. They are in their early twenties and have a penchant for keeping me awake all hours of the night. I imagine there will be beer, music and conversation.  At some point I will look at my watch and go, “Holy crap. This old man needs to go to bed.”

I am cleaning the house and the studio today in anticipation of having guests. While I was working this morning I looked on Facebook and saw a picture of Ralph. He threw out a Thursday Throwback of his senior picture.  Here it is:

I started thinking about he and me.  We have a beautiful friendship. It began when we met freshman year in a biology class.   Ralph’s stepfather’s name was Sharpe and that was how he was registered at school although his real last name was Liggins.  The teacher that morning did not look up from his attendance sheet as he was calling out names. He said, “Ralph Sharpe?” Ralph raised his hand.  “Thomas Sharpe?”  I raised my hand. The teacher finally looked up and said, “Do we have twins here?”  I didn’t know what to do.  Ralph, calmly said, “No, cousins.”  It was that day we became brothers of different mothers.

Throughout the years that followed Ralph and I were pretty thick.  We took classes together, were in plays together, and he was always at my house, to a point where my mother started referring to him as her son.  I remember one time he came over after my father built me my own room by dividing our lower level family room. He was very tired. My sister, Stacia, and I had recently rescued a rabbit that some recalcitrant neighbors had tossed out of a window because they did not want it anymore. It lived in a cage outside of my room in the space where my dad started keeping his home office. When Ralph saw it he said, “That is damned fine rabbit.”  That afternoon I wrote at my desk while Ralph slept in my bed with a white rabbit curled up next to him.

Ralph and I were always somewhat irreverent and a bit radical.  Our junior year we were doing the play Harvey and our drama teacher allowed us to have an improvisational rehearsal where we had to do our lines but could also go off script to explore our characters.  One girl who was playing the cute ingĂ©nue stuffed her bra because she thought the character was facile.  Another guy, who would eventually become my college roommate, wore a lab coat with no pants.  I was playing an older, stern doctor.  Ralph was playing an orderly.  He took off his shirt, put a pith helmet on my head, and said, “Get on my back.” I said “Why?”  He gave me that wicked grin of his and said, “We have a point to make. Just go with it.”  I rode Ralph out onto the stage and did my lines, keeping character, and riffing on being an old world colonialist.  He was silent.  When it was over Ralph and I took hands and bowed. Our director just shook her head and said, “If it wasn’t you guys, I should probably call someone, but I’m not. “ She laughed.  “Oh, my…What am I going to do with you two?” Ralph, again calmly, asked, “Love us?” She just rolled her eyes.

Ralph is now an advocate for children in the city.  He has I think a hundred lucky kids who call him Dad and that I know he loves dearly. There is a tradition that Ralph and I both keep to every year.  Although we poke and send messages to each other when we can, on St. Patrick’s Day we always try to connect and say a toast to our friendship. It started our senior year when I was student council president and I snuck in a thermos of some of my father’s whiskey into the office I had access to. That was our first of over thirty St. Pat’s Day toasts.

A couple of years ago our class of 1981 had a reunion.  Ralph was the emcee and he did a great job.  He called me up and had me read off the names of the raffle winners.  He introduced as his brother from a different mother and it made my day. Ralph and I were both staying in the same small hotel across the street from the sports bar where the party was held.  The next morning I was having a rough time, limping and so was using my cane.  I went to the lobby to get some coffee and Ralph was there with the friends he was staying with.  When he saw me struggling, he ran to me.  He took my cane away, put it on a chair and said, “I’ll just hold you and help.”  That pretty much sizes up Ralph and me.  Even after all these years that have gone by, we always hold each other up.   

Although I will miss my daughter this weekend, I am very much looking forward to seeing my boys.  I know each and every one of them would take a bullet for one of their friends that are more like their brothers.  Of all of the things I have done right in my life, this is one of the most important.  It is communicating the value of friendship, and showing them that while you may all take different paths; your brother from a different mother is never that far away and will always be there for you. You should be there for him too.  I know they will be... just like me and Ralph are.