He’s My Brother

This is the story of how I got a new baby brother, 50 years late.

Ever meet someone and immediately you know you’ve made a connection?  There’s chemistry, some say.  Others claim it’s finding something in common that binds you. I don’t claim to understand. All I know for sure is that as I sat there talking to this bright young man, I wanted to know him better.

His name was Gary and we sat together in the tenor section at Ogontz music camp last year. This was before I was outed as a closet soprano, which I wrote about in “My Tenor Story, Part I” and “My Tenor Story, Part II.”

As a married woman, these particular experiences can prove a bit daunting. Fortunately, the fact that Gary is gay – and happily married to Carlos–eliminated that awkward sexual tension that can really mess up a budding friendship, never mind a marriage.


The happy couple, somewhere cool.


There was this line, from Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas In Wales, that I had sung in a few concerts, which kept running through my mind.

It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down
and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.

That is the kind of relationship I sought, without realizing it. And Gary fit right in.


Me with my younger brother; I get to boss him around.

Too often, I think, we miss out on potentially valuable relationships because they don’t conform to accepted standards of “what’s appropriate.”

Yes, this is a post about negotiating those artificial barriers that too often limit our friendships. What might those barriers be?  I came up with seven:

marital status
sexual orientation

Feel free to add others you’ve experienced in the Comment section below.

  • Have you ever had a friendship with someone whose education or income level is vastly different from yours?
  • Ever wish you could befriend that young college student you met the other day, but held back?
  • Ever sought out someone with a different sexual orientation than yours and engaged them in conversation?

As I write these out, I realize some of my favorite movies are based on these themes of crossing expected barriers.

You’ve undoubtedly heard  “birds of a feather flock together.” It’s a simple metaphor that emphasizes how we are drawn to those most like us. Familiar often means safe. Comfortable.

But by limiting ourselves to the familiar, the comfortable, life becomes insular, leading often to the inevitable “us” vs “them” mindset which permeates our country today. I hope you’ll give this some thought.


But let’s get back to Gary.  His innate kindness shown through that entire week as I watched him interact with other “campers.” His musicality was truly impressive. But it was his laughter, I think, that clinched it. I loved his exuberance. He was fun. I laughed when we got together and if you’ve read my memoir, you know I love to laugh.

James Boswell, is quoted as saying,

“I, who have no sisters or brothers, look with some degree
of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born friends.”

Gary, simply, would have to be my brother. My adopted brother. It was the start of something new; it was exciting. And, best of all, Gary agreed.

He calls me his “sister from another mister,” while I say “brother from another mother.” Together, we share absolutely no genetics at all.

Gary was at Ogontz this summer and took an evening off to come over to the house since I wasn’t going back this year. (Can you blame me?)

We had lobster.

Gathered around the diner table, from left, Woody, Gary, and my mom. Err, our “mom.”

My mother, who also came for lobster, has decided that Gary might very well be her “son from that night of fun.”

It’s all fun.


Here’s Gary with the aftereffects of those lobsters.

It’s especially fun to think of myself as an older sister. What kind of older sister I will be, though, only time will tell. 

How about you? What constraints does your culture place on friendship? Do you see any metaphorical brothers on your horizon? 

For more on my take on FRIENDSHIP, I offer this link to an earlier blog post series.

33 Responses

  1. Sharon Lippincott
    | Reply

    Janet we are definitely tribe mates. I found my first trans friend yesterday.

    Right now I’m hoping to go home from Austin’s Heart Hospital after a few days of miserable pericarditis (look it up and pray you never get it!).

    Chatting with staff has been a welcome diversion — a virtual world tour. One aide is an adorable mature woman from Panama, a tiny person of indigenous descent. The cleaning woman is from Croatia, complete with rich Slavic accent, masses of curly black hair and passionate engagement with life. A night aide is a quiet Mongolian who looks like a princess. Then there’s the gay Filipino nurse who leaves tomorrow for a trip home to see his mother and brother (the later works in Dubai). The woman from Food Service is African American. I’ve seen many other people from other shores walk by in the hall. I’ve seen an Indian doctor and a Russian one here. (My own doctors are Chinese and Indian. My dentist from Syria.) The staff even has a few token Texans for balance.

    To confirm I’m not the only one fascinated with this colorful parade, last evening I heard a flurry of excitement as a young man in white scrubs (doctor garb) walked past my door. A cluster of shift change nurses flagged him down.

    “You’re new!” My first day. “Where you from?” Korea. “How do you like Texas?” I look forward to having a great time here.

    I’ll miss this place, but not enough to stay as a patient. Maybe I’ll come back as a volunteer.
    Sharon Lippincott recently posted…Three Cheers for Word’s Grammar CheckMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Three cheers for Austin’s Heart Hospital (and making you well). It sounds like a veritable UN, which must have made your stay at least more interesting. I imagine you’d have a blast there as a volunteer and hospitals, of course, need all the help they can get. Thanks for starting us off this morning. I loved meeting your various support personnel.
      Janet Givens recently posted…He’s My BrotherMy Profile

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Janet, how lovely that you’ve found the brother you’ve always wanted (even if you didn’t know it)!

    I suppose cultural constraints can change over time.
    I have a dear friend–we say we’re twins. I’m not even sure how that started. 🙂 She’s African-American, but it’s not really something I think about it, except that she’s had to deal with it and have “the talk” with her sons. We’ve known each other since college. Her husband and my husband were college roommates. My friend’s husband is white, and his parents would not accept her for many years. There were some of my husband’s relatives who were not happy that he was marrying a Jew.

    I think it was much more difficult for my sister to come out as gay than it was for my daughter–in terms of cultural acceptance.

    Most of my “gym buddies” have interests and educational levels that are different from mine, but we still laugh–and sometimes dance–together. 🙂
    Merril Smith recently posted…Ghosts From Whistling SpaceMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merril. Yes, you make such an important point: these cultural constraints do change over time. I think the research is most clear in the increase in interfaith marriages over the past forty years. I also think geographic location plays a big roll, urban vs. rural anyway. Though even here, where the population is small, we can find diversity. Lots of Libertarians among us. We also, I should add, have the largest per capita population of Buddhists in the country (per capita being the operative adjective).

      Thanks for weighing in. I’d love to join you and your gym buddies one of these days (vicariously would be best).

  3. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    Brothers (and sisters) can be found anywhere, at any time. So pleased you found the perfect brother!.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      How very true, Darlene. You remind me of the Chief Joseph quote, “All men were made by the Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers.” And sisters.

  4. Carolyn
    | Reply

    Same but different. I have been “adopted” by a Portuguese family since I bought a second home in the Algarve some 9 years ago. It started by just being friendly and enjoying the food in their restaurant. Then we progressed to being invited to the “matassa” or pig-killing party where I was introduced to all the village and ended up helping in the kitchen. From there, I have graduated to working in the restaurant kitchen every time I go and am about to become Tia/auntie to the chef’s baby due in October. It is a wonderful way to be absorbed into a totally different community where the policeman kisses me on the cheek if he sees me walking down the street.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Carolyn, for this great “view from the other side.” I’d love to have been kissed by the local policeman the other day, instead of getting that $144 speeding ticket! Congratulations on the new niece or nephew come October.

  5. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I enjoyed reading this post, especially your mom’s enthusiasm to jump right in and proclaim—along with the rest of the shenanigans—that Gary is her “son from that night of fun.”
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Casting ShadowsMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, we all had a good time coming up with that one. Woody, however, feels a bit left out. We couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “brother-in-law.”

  6. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    My son and son-in- law claim that they are brothers from another mother. Very enlightening post and comments, Janet.
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Revealing the Quacks in our NeighborhoodMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Marian. And particularly thanks for tuning in while on vacation. Always good to have you.

  7. Terry Bryan
    | Reply

    I have a sister…met her in college…still great friends. In our younger days we looked enough alike to be real sisters, then she began to look older. Once someone asked if we were mother/daughter…I laughed, she didn’t. These days we’re back to sisters again. We just spent almost two weeks together…bliss.
    Oh…she grew up quite poor, I didn’t. No, it doesn’t matter.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Terry. And you recognize how fortunate you are to have such a friend. Isn’t that just the best!

  8. Susan Taylor
    | Reply

    Well, if I needed another brother, Gary would certainly be in the running. He is a dear person, funny, smart and neat. I like neat. The kind where your clothes are clean and your hair is combed. I like the other kind of neat as well… the cool neat… Gary is both. Missed you at camp and loved the news that Gary had paid you a visit.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for weighing in, Susan. Didn’t “neat-o” cover that second meaning?

      • Susan Taylor
        | Reply

        Yes! How could I have forgotten?

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Perhaps the intervening 50 years since either of us said it? (Actually, I don’t believe I ever said the word “neato.”)

  9. Nurken Aubakir
    | Reply

    Quite a story! Keep us updated on being an older sister!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Nurken. Perhaps you’ll meet at next year’s 70th?

      • Nurken Aubakir
        | Reply

        I just have to make sure to bring my copy of “At home on the Kazakh steppe” to get an autograph from the author!

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Indeed you will, Nurken.
          Just looked it up and my birthday next year falls on a Saturday. So, big party day up here in the north woods.

  10. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Great story, Janet. Sounds like you’re both lucky to have found each other. Funny, but I was just thinking of some of these themes last week, after my daughter broke her arm in gymnastics and we found ourselves in the emergency room waiting room. I had struck up a small conversation with another man who was also waiting. More accurately, he struck up a small conversation with me. This guy looked pretty rough around the edges, and I realized afterward that a part of me had judged him in some ways. I was even a bit tentative when he first started speaking to me. But he turned out to be a really nice guy, and I got something from our conversation. It made me really think about the ways in which we sometimes tend to judge others based on appearances, and filter our engagements based on assumptions, expectations, and biases. I’ve always preferred to think of myself as above this type of thinking, and yet, there it was, plain as day. Consciously or not, I’ve been guilty of sliding into the perceived safety of my own bubbles in certain ways over the years, and I realized then that this is something I need to work on.
    Tim Fearnside recently posted…70 from the ’70’sMy Profile

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Hi Tim. First, my very best wishes for a speedy recovery to your daughter. May she at least have the kind of cast her friends can autograph.

      Your story makes the perfect example of what I’m talking about here. So thank you for adding that. How very nice you were able to have that diversion while waiting. But what! No lobster dinner to follow? 🙂

  11. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Alas, no. ‘Not even a little hospital jello. (I told you I have some work to do) ;).
    Tim Fearnside recently posted…70 from the ’70’sMy Profile

  12. Cathy M. Monaghan
    | Reply

    Once again, Janet, you made me laugh-out-loud. I especially got a kick out of your mom saying that Gary might very well be her “son from that night of fun.” LOL! I’ll have to remember that one!
    Is it just me, or do you and Gary even resemble each other? Looks like you both have the same smile in your photo. So happy you found a kindred spirit, they are fun to have around.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That would be fun, Cathy, to find out we actually are related. Some day we’ll have to compare genealogies. I don’t even know (yet) if Gary has worked on his. Thanks for adding your voice here.

  13. Thelma Alberts
    | Reply

    It is nice that you have found a new brother from “another mother”. I supposed you have found a friend soul mate. A friend is a family we choose for ourselves.

  14. Carol Taylor
    | Reply

    It is lovely that you have found a brother, Janet… I think I have found more sisters and brothers since we emigrated maybe it frees us from our constraints .. self-made or inbuilt. I have also noticed the difference in that respect with other members of my family who live here they seem more open and receptive…:)

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you Carol. It is pretty neat. I was glad to read how being enmeshed in your new culture there in Thailand has impacted members of your own family. I’m always impressed by the powerful tug that culture has on us, often without our being aware. And congrats on your expanded family. I’ll have to work at finding me a sister next.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Taking a vague, obscure glance at ambiguityMy Profile

  15. […] HE’S MY BROTHER shared by Janet […]

  16. […] College in Briarcliff Manor, New York. And, for my brother Gary, whom you met last summer in He’s My Brother, it was the 30th. Same college. Different […]

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