To Jake, On His Graduation Day
I have had the honor of being your brother for the last eighteen years and, if I can have a moment of selfishness, I would like to believe that I’ve left a somewhat indelible footprint on you. You’re soft as toilet paper, have a keen interest in the arts, and a self-deprecating sense of humor that one can only develop if they felt undesirable at some point in their lives.
In fact, there are many parts of our trajectories that feel, in totality, the exact same. Almost strangely so. And with you the youngest in the clan and me as the eldest, that feels particularly interesting to speak about.
Let’s start at the beginning (yours, not mine).
In almost every sense of the word, you might as well have been the oldest again. You are fifteen years my junior, after all, and I was already exploring adulthood before you ever came into existence. The hormones were rampant and I already knew (or at least thought I knew) everything about myself, concretely, before you even had a single breath of fresh air.
You, just like me, grew attached at the hip to our mother (and much to her detriment, by the way, because nobody would ever stop complaining about her helicoptering you). This includes me, by the way, as I was utterly relentless about it probably most of all.
I wanted you to have a thicker skin than I had and I viewed our mom’s repetition of protection as a personal affront. When a person is young (even younger than you are now, as the person writing this to you), I guess one just tends to place any personal self-esteem issues on some kind of upbringing issue. It can’t be your fault and it always has to be somebody else’s.
To your credit, you’ve never really done that. I’m proud of you for being more self-aware than I ever was at your age.
Still, your early years reminded me of my own.
I wanted you to have the one thing that I wished I had and didn’t: an older brother. In my mind, you had struck the proverbial lottery in that sense because you not only had me, but you had three others, too. And two sisters! There would never be a shortage of people looking out for you (something that probably gets on your damn nerves from time to time). You weren’t only mom’s darling little baby, you were somehow everybody’s favorite little creature at the same time.
We were close from the get-go. You had a creative energy that inspired me even when you were a toddler and we spent countless hours together making videos, taking photos, and just hanging out to talk about anything at all. You always had an openness in your voice, in your heart, and there were many instances that you taught me things in moments that I felt I should have been teaching you.
For instance, there was one night that I babysat you for a few hours and we made a video that ultimately became a video called, “MORE OF A SIDEKICK.” In it, you said this:
“Can you make people different, kind of? How about you make a shrinking machine and then we shrink and then we’re in the Lego world?”
And I remember thinking, Jesus Christ. This kid is dumb as hell.
Just kidding. But we did have an interaction that has always struck a cord in me and continues to even to this day when I watch it back as a retrospective.
“Let’s skip the Lego idea, bud.” I told you. And then you created the idea we would eventually shoot.
“Maybe I could pretend I’m a scientist and I built a shrinking machine and I shrinked myself…” You said. But the conversation ended on you pretending to sleep and waiting for mom and dad to get home (which I assume is what you were already doing while we were making the thing).
To this day, I think it’s the purest thing I have ever made in my life.
Puberty hit you the same way that it did to me, too. We didn’t grow up at first as much as we did out. It has to be some genetic thing in our blood that makes that happen sometimes (thanks, mom), because you went from a little cherubic baby to an overweight preteen almost overnight. Again, to your credit, you handled the reality with such aplomb. So much so, in fact, that nobody ever considered that you had a hard time dealing with it.
In the time since, you have expressed that you used comedy as a shield. Back then, though, everybody thought you outwardly accepted your appearance and embraced it. I still look back at some of the jokes we all cracked at your expense with a great deal of regret considering how you’ve expressed it in the time since.
I, too, had this happen to me. Another parallel that I handled far worse than you did. When my weight ballooned back in 2005–2006, when you were just a baby, I decided to hate the entire world. I can sum up our experience in two photos.
Me when this happened:
You when this happened:
As you started to fill out, you grew up exponentially. You would finally grow to the point that you were not only the tallest in the family but you were arguably the most conventionally good-looking, too. The lottery struck you twice.
“I fucking hate this kid.” I thought. Nah, I didn’t think that.
I mostly wanted to write this as a congratulations for graduating high-school and becoming one of the best men I have ever known. You’re still soft as toilet paper, and I want to give you a fair warning that you’ll never shed that no matter how much you try to (and you will, I assure you).
Here’s the point.
Your existence has made mine richer. I know that our family dynamic dictates that we all insult one another almost constantly, but I am beyond proud of you for the dude you’ve become. I have no fears about your existence beyond this point. You are, sincerely speaking here, the best of all of us without any of our faults.
Earlier today, while we were shooting these photos, I asked what your plans were and they all sounded very good to me. I was still jealous that I didn’t have an older brother to ask me what mine were, obviously, but I was proud of your response and I think it’s a good route. Pursue that, dude.
I already told you that, but I want it to be reiterated.
I love you, you fuckin’ dumb, ugly piece of shit.
Welcome to adulthood.