Brothers

I have dozens of brothers. No, not biological brothers–I’m not a part of one of those 20-person families that get reality shows based around them; of biological brothers, I have just two. But men who I care about deeply and who I know care about me? Of those, I have dozens. If only I hadn’t wasted nearly 20 years getting back here…

This is decidedly NOT my family.

I started out alright. Growing up, I was a tomboy. I had two brothers, no sisters, and we lived in the country and were homeschooled when we were young–what else was a girl to do? (For the record: NO, I did not get to do school in my pajamas, and NO, we were not one of those families who dressed in matching denim and never left the house. See caption, above.) But as a result of hanging out with my brothers a lot, for the first many years of my life, most of my close friends were boys. It just wasn’t a big deal; we had a lot of fun together, and that’s all there was to it.

Until I reached 2nd grade, that is. In 2nd grade, my already-logical mind came to an apparently logical conclusion: I was a girl; therefore, my friends should be girls, too. So one Sunday after Sunday school, I marched up to my best friend at the time, Micah, and told him I was going to start hanging out with girls instead of him.

Sooooo, never speak to me again. Mmkay?

Potential psychological scarring to Micah aside, I was pretty happy with my decision for the next couple of years. I became more “girly”–though not much, as my hatred of dresses, pink, and other stereotypical “girl” things proved, together with the “tomboy tests” I put my friends through–and pretty much avoided the boys who had been my best friends before. I learned to live in a world where girls were friends, and boys fell into one of three categories: relatives, cute boys, and my brothers’ friends. (For reasons related to the growing up and ew-gross-my-brothers’-friends-have-cooties process, those two last categories were–usually, though not always–kept pretty separate.)

This lasted for far too long. I kept guys in boxes well into high school; looking back, I can think of one good male friend from high school (another Micah, oddly enough), and just a few male “friends” of any sort. Mostly, the guys I was friends with were my friends’ boyfriends.

And then we would stand around posing for color-coordinated group photos.

College was hardly better. Like many small liberal arts schools, my university suffered from an ever-increasing gender inequality, by which I mean that when I entered school, the women-to-men ratio was roughly 60-40; when I left, it was rounding 70-30. Then there was the fact that I was an English major, further skewing the numbers to the point that, as my floormates and I joked in an on-campus skit competition, I would see more male landscapers on campus than male students.

Add to that the fact that it was a small private Christian school in which a good portion of the women attending (not me) were determined to get a “ring by Spring,” and what you got was not exactly a healthy environment for making male-to-female friendships. Any contact with the opposite gender had the question of a romantic relationship implicitly present; I rarely saw girls and guys hanging out together for any other reason, though I was jealous of those who did. And, as in high school, most of my own male friends were my friends’ boyfriends.

It’s only awkward if you make it awkward!…or if they break up during the photo shoot and you’re left just standing there…

As an upperclassman the dynamic shifted slightly, as I drifted into a few extracurricular activities where there were–gasp!–men involved, but in general, my paradigm for male friendships was very much as it was when I was 7: I was a girl (or “woman,” as I would now be quick to point out), so obviously I hung out almost exclusively with other girls.

As it happened, this was one of the only areas in my life that was not shifted by my time in Taiwan. Our group of ETAs in Fulbright consisted of 12 people, of whom just two were men–and I rarely saw them. Apart from them, my friends and I had a guy friend in Taipei we would visit occasionally, but that was it. My co-workers and roommates were all women, and so were the vast majority of people I got close to there. No brothers to be found.

A small portion of our group. Note the overwhelming female majority...

A small portion of our group. Note the overwhelming female majority…

Then came this year.

I spent the year (after much deliberation) at a ministry school in California, and my one year there taught me more about having brothers than I had learned in my previous 23 years of experience with *actual* brothers.

It’s odd, really: ministry schools are notorious for the same spirit that permeated my university; even the school I was at is jokingly called a “school of marriage” instead of “school of ministry” by some of its attendees.

But that was not my experience. No; instead, for my nine months at school I was surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of some of the most quality men I had ever been in contact with–truly incredible guys, who were confident in who they were, knew how to take responsibility, knew how to respect and love others well, were proactively improving themselves, and were incredibly attractive, to boot–and I wasn’t dating them. Any of them. Ever.

Instead, I was forming some of the deepest and best relationships of my life. I was learning to be a sister, and learning what it was like to have men who valued me deeply for who I was, no strings attached. And I learned how incredible it is to have wonderful relationships with men–to have brothers. If any of them were interested in me, I don’t know, and to a larger extent than ever before in my life, it didn’t matter*: I just loved, and love, these men, regardless, and I knew they loved me.

And they just kept adding to the ranks. There were the guys from my “brother” house, an obvious addition. Then the guys from the newspaper crew we formed. And the guys from our core group of 70. And friends of friends. And friends of roommates. For the first time in my post-7-year-old life, the men in my close group of friends may actually outnumber the women.

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A few of the amazing men (and women) in my life…

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A few more of my awesome friends…

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…and a few more!

And that’s just a small sampling of the many, many incredible men in my life. Men with whom I can hang out, and with whom I can share life, and whom I love and know love me, no matter what. And having those friendships, those brothers, is one of the best things I’ve ever discovered.

So, to my brothers: thank you! Thank you for being you; for being my friend; for teaching me so much about what real men look like, and what it looks like to have healthy relationships with them.

And, to my seven-year-old self: What were you thinking?!?!

*A post for another time: why the “friend zone” doesn’t, or shouldn’t, exist.

Rooted

Yesterday, my dad asked me if I could help him drive the tractor on the back part of our property. He probably told me the details then, but I certainly don’t remember hearing them; I thought it had something to do with mowing.

Not quite. When I walked out to join my dad and brother this afternoon, I found a full-on log-hauling operation going on: there was a tree down on the property we’re going to build on, and we were to pull the massive chopped-up pieces from where they were to a couple hundred yards away, where we left them in a big pile.

Pretty simple work, with a tractor, that is. With rudimentary training–forward, back,speed, torque, bucket up, bucket down–I was stationed at the helm, and got to work attaching logs to steel cables on the front part of the tractor and then dragging them backwards through blackberry vines and thick brush, while avoiding rocks and stumps, to where they needed to be.

To help the mental imagery, this looks just like our tractor. It isn’t, though. (Thanks, Internet!)

For all the italics and bold, though, it was pretty simply once I got the hang of it: drive to downed tree, hook cable around branch(es), pull branch(es) clear of the other downed tree, two random stumps, and various building site posts around the property; re-maneuver tractor into beaten path through the blackberries and tree trunks, drag branch(es) out of the woods; make it up the hill, position branches by the pile, unhook, and repeat.

OK, so that description doesn’t make it sound particularly simple. But it did get quite repetitive, and I was pretty isolated by the roar of the engine muffled through my earplugs, leaving me time as I drove beneath the translucent green leaves to think about what, exactly, I was doing. And what I was doing was remembering my roots.

My family is pretty new to the area in the grand scheme of things; my dad’s dad moved here when he was pretty young, and my mom’s dad moved when he was an adult. And, when my dad’s dad got old enough, he bought property, 20 acres of it, which he farmed and kept sheep on and did various other things with over the years. My grandpa loves being out on the land.

Next phase of the story: when my dad (the oldest) grew up, he decided to move back from across town to “the homestead.” So, when I was about 5, my dad bought 7 acres from his dad and moved in next door. Growing up, my brothers and I had free reign of the full 20 acres; most of my childhood memories take place there. Since then, my grandpa has moved into town, and my dad has taken over a lot of the maintenance. Incidentally, today found us working entirely on his land.

On the other side of the family, my mom’s dad and my mom’s mom come from logging families in southern Oregon. My mom’s mom’s family has compiled a pretty great family history, and reading it awakened me to the horrible conditions of loggers in the not-so-distant past. And, more to the point, in my family’s not-so-distant past.

So as I pulled chopped-up logs a couple hundred yards from one piece of my grandpa’s land to another, plowing through memories from my  childhood without a backward glance (well, I mean, I was going backwards, but…), I found myself thinking, too, of my mom’s parents’, and their families, making a living by doing what I was doing, but without all the fancy machinery. I pondered on what it would be like to hitch a horse or mule to the load instead of a tractor, and considered the fact that, logistically, at least, many of the problems would be the same: rope tension, angles, obstacles, power. I can’t say that I’d ever spent any significant time before thinking about the ins and outs of my great-grandparents’ livelihoods, but today it grabbed a good portion of my thought processes. This is, after all, where I (at some point) came from.

Today,  a friend who has also recently returned from abroad mentioned how unrooted he had been feeling before he came back and spent time with his friends and family here. It made me stop and think a minute about my roots–about how often I take them for granted, and about how much they actually do for me. See, today marks exactly one month since I’ve been home. And as I imitated one set of great-grandparents on another set of grandparents’ land, I felt just how deep my roots run–and was reminded that, without having such solid roots, I would never have had the courage to pick up and move across the globe, even for a little while.

It’s counter-intuitive, but there it is: in order to be mobile, I must have roots. And I’m so thankful that I do–even if it takes pulling out some physical ones to remember it.