The Smothers Brothers

When I was in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, in the early 1970’s, we periodically had guest performances from well known entertainers across the country. Since I was a commuter student, I sometimes didn’t know what was going on – I guess that I led something of a sheltered university life with my head in the sand. Quite honestly, I wasn’t really engaged in school. Oh, I was a good student, and eventually graduated in less than 4 years, but I was angry about not being able to afford to go to Northwestern University, where I had been accepted into the inaugural program that would have resulted in an both an undergraduate degree and medical degree in a total of 6 years.

I had been really jazzed about that, but it was not to be. Interestingly, Doug, my middle brother, 21 months younger than I am, finally did get through medical school. And he has become a fine doctor – it just wasn’t in the cards for me, although I still think about it from time to time.

Anyway, one day, there was a large crowd entering one of the lecture halls on campus. It was packed and I stopped by to see what was going on. Some guy was pushing from behind me and kept asking, “What’s the big deal – somebody important must be here…” I turned around and there was Tommy Smothers, smiling from ear to ear, as if he had just pulled the best prank in the world. Then, in a flash, he was gone and reappeared on stage several minutes later to do one of his famous monologues. For those of you who don’t know the Smothers Brothers, they were two men, Tom and Dick, who were really brothers and specialized in stand up comedy. Dick played the bass fiddle and Tom played the guitar. They sang a little, pushed the bounds of good taste with their humor and had a prime time television show for a while; until they became too controversial and were cancelled.

They were outspoken opponents of the war in Vietnam and were very popular with the younger generation, including liberals on college campuses. Although I didn’t fit into that mold, I did identify with Tommy on one point. Part of their act was for Tommy to tell stories of how their mother liked Dick best – and I can identify with that. The crowd would roar with laughter at some of the stories that Tom and Dick would tell. It became the trademark of their comedy routines. But in my case, there was some truth to it – Mom did like Doug best.

But this is a different take than I have had for many years. Because until last week, I really believed that Mom LOVED Doug best. And I meant it. But last week, Doug called me; because he had read a post I wrote where I shared my feelings about Mom’s relative love for each of us. We had a really long, somewhat disturbing talk about our childhood together. He didn’t do anything wrong – in fact, he readily acknowledged that Mom did favor him over me, just like Dad favored me over Doug. He spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince me that while Mom may have liked him best, he believed with all his heart that she loved all three brothers the same. We have never discussed this topic before.

Now I know that Janet and I love all three of our children the same. To be sure, there are times when we like one more than the others – but we do love them all the same. And believe me, in this family, all of us, except Janet, are pretty direct in our communications. It is easy to get sideways, at least for a while, with any of us. We are a passionate bunch, to be sure. Not so different from the way that I grew up, but vastly different from the way Janet was raised.

In fact, early in our marriage, I think I was jealous of the relationship that Janet had with her sisters and her parents. To this day, she is close to all of them, and that just hasn’t been the same in my family. So when Doug kept harping on the topic of parental love, I know I got a little terse. It’s a touchy subject for me to discuss. One that I don’t like to dredge up from the place in my mind where I have buried it – I think it just hurts too much to think about it. But Doug just wouldn’t let it go – he kept pushing me, like he always does – and sometimes I just hate that…..

But as I have had the week to process it, and really think about the difference between “like” and “love”, I find myself wanting to believe that Mom loved all of us the same. I think every kid wants to know that about his parents. And although in the deepest recesses of my mind, I wish that my mother had done a better job showing her affection to me, I do think that she tried to do the best job she could. And for that, I do love her. But it wasn’t enough… I needed more than she was capable of showing. Maybe that’s the “like” part Doug kept talking about.

I haven’t resolved it yet in my own mind. In fact, I thought about not writing this post because I haven’t landed on a final decision about the “love” question. On the other hand, I have vowed to be authentic and I guess I think it is consistent with my promise to raise the tough questions – of you and of me. So no answer yet – truly a work in progress. But I am trying to see things from Doug’s point of view and acknowledge that perhaps I have looked at this from a wrong perspective. We’ll see.

My encouragement tonight is to let you know that God loves each of us more than we can imagine. So even if we came from homes where we question the love of our earthly parents, God repeatedly affirms His love for us – most notably by the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross to atone for our sins – that we may spend eternity with God in heaven. My prayer is that you will know the love of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, as you progress through your life as a parent, remember that Christ is very clear in His mandate that we are to “love each other as I have loved you.” Grace and Peace,

 
 
 
 

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