Just prior to quarantine days, my truck driving friend Jorge and I mulled over what it feels like being the first child of the litter. Jorge had two sisters and a brother; I grew up with one of each. My friend remembers times when he was expected to act like a surrogate parent for his siblings. This was the case for me as well.
Jorge grew up in a single parent household. His mother had her hands full by working two jobs in order to provide a home for her four children. Since Jorge was three years older than the next oldest sibling, he was expected to take up the parental slack while his mother worked. He was expected to supervise his siblings but was prohibited from meting out any punishment beyond a verbal reprimand.
Both of my parents reinforced my role by frequently telling me that I am my brother’s keeper. They referred to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. They meant it in the context that I was partially responsible for the protection and well-being of my sister and brother. At those times when one or the other siblings and I quarreled, dad or mom usually reminded me that I am my brother’s or sister’s keeper.
While dad was at work, mom was frequently incapacitated by feelings of illness or severe headaches. At those times, I was expected to closely supervise my siblings, this included preparing simple meals for us. So growing up was like pulling double duty. I was still a growing boy with plenty of normal childhood issues and I had to help nurture my sister and brother. Eventually, this type of family environment made me yearn for independence.
Jorge agreed that having to help parent his sisters and brother made him hunger for a certain degree of independence. This manifested in many ways. This included how he spoke his mind as a teen and advocated for unpopular causes as an adult. Because he always had to be the strong child in the family Jorge often publicly expressed his controversial ideas. He has never been a conformist yet doesn’t come off as some sort of crackpot eccentric either. He was attracted to truck driving as a career largely because he can be his own boss even though he works for a company. My friend interjected that the company is an independent trucking firm.
All the while that Jorge helped parent his siblings, he had to deal with the struggle of being a gay Hispanic boy living in a mostly white neighborhood and attending a mostly straight, white school. Thankfully, Jorge’s self-confidence and lack of a need to fit in with his peers kept him from being bullied. He presented himself as who he was and not as the color or orientation his mother happened to be. Jorge says he has always been able to live life the way he wishes with the people he loves.
Jorge and I agree that independence is a virtue we both treasure. When a person is financially and emotionally independent, we can live life on our own terms. He was taught this by his mother. I learned it by osmosis. The ability to be independent is one of the most useful skills we ever cultivated. Regardless of where we’ve gone in life and who we love or marry, there must be a healthy measure of independence.
I agree with Jorge that courage, intelligence, integrity, and independence are important virtues for anyone who wishes to live a good life. It would be great if society once again honored people of intellectual honesty, integrity, and independent thinking. I believe our way of life is enhanced when we also remember that we are social beings. All life on Earth is interdependent. The good life is a blend of interdependence and independence.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes entertainer and singer, Eiza Gonzalez. “I love being Latina. I love our values, the way we’re so in touch with others, our dark humor, how fun we are, how relaxed we are. I love how hard working, independent, and ambitious we are.”