The whole clan had just finished Mom’s delectable smorgasbord of food. My sisters, Leslie and Dana, washed dishes while our umpteen offspring played outside. All was right with the world. Almost.
Mom, Dad, and I drank steaming coffee and started one of our famous conversations around the kitchen table. Being the eldest of their children, I felt like I needed to help them guide the younger ones. Tonight was no different. Our chat inevitably turned to our beloved absentee, Joey. Joey still acted like and was treated as the baby although he was 19 years old. Mom and Dad usually didn’t see eye to eye with me regarding how to deal with Joey. They patiently listened to all I had to say, but when it came to their baby, they had a soft spot.
“So what’s his excuse this time?” I just had to know Joey’s reason for not showing up for our family gathering, or at least Mom’s version.
“His girlfriend wanted him to go rock climbing while the weather is still nice. It’s understandable,” Mom explained with a wan smile.
“He didn’t ask you for money, did he?” I looked at both Mom and Dad, not really wanting to know the answer.
“No, of course not.” Mom fiddled with the tablecloth and brushed the crumbs off.
“You know, he’s old enough to take care of himself. It’s great that he doesn’t live with you anymore, but I can’t believe he makes enough money at his sorry job, if he still has it, to stay in even that rat hole of an apartment with what’s-her-name.”
“Matthew, don’t talk about your brother that way.” Dad joined in. He was a man of few words and made all of them count.
I was on a roll now. “Why not? Leslie, Dana and I work hard, go to church, and have good families. We don’t ask anything from you, yet Joey jumps from job to job, girl to girl, and you treat him like royalty. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was your favorite, and that’s just not right.” I had over-stepped the line of politeness and respect, yet Dad appeared calm.
“Son, you’re close to your sisters. Do you call and get together with them a lot?”
“Well, sure, as much as I can. Why?”
“How many times have you tried to call Joey? Have you asked him if you can help him in any way? Does he know that you care and that you haven’t written him off?” Dad’s expression was firm as he stared at me.
“Mom and I love all of you. You, Leslie, and Dana don’t need extra support. We’re thrilled that you all live your lives for the Lord. But Joey hasn’t found his way yet. He’s kind of like the prodigal son. He needs extra love and encouragement, not judgment. I suggest you act like the big brother you should be and treat him like one of the family, not like a bum off the street.”
Stunned from the verbal lashing, I quickly recovered and replied, “Maybe you’re right, Dad. I’ll think about it.” I sipped again from my coffee, which suddenly seemed cold.
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