Of the many stereotypes attributed to African Americans, the “lack of a family structure” may be the most common echoed by the general populace. But typically that is veiled code for absent fathers. While the uneducated will claim fatherless homes are endemic to the African American experience, those who know are aware of the damage that crack epidemic did to urban communities across the United States.
But, a weird hiccup in the phenomenon of fatherlessness has created an immediate familial link for a great deal of young Black men: Older brothers.
Large age gaps between siblings are a common symptom of broken or bruised families. Not every young man is lucky enough to have a significantly older brother look out for them, especially if the words ‘half’ or ‘step’ are prefixes in their familial title. Nevertheless, many men are making the effort to speed up generational lag and for lack of a better term, “father” their brothers.
Damon, a 36 year-old, Surgical Technician, from Atlanta, explained some of the difficulties he experienced when trying to cultivate a relationship with his brother who is 13 years his junior.
“When my mom was pregnant, I was excited to have a younger brother initially. But, as soon as he was old enough to say, 'I want to go with Damon,’ I was off to the service. So, we didn’t really connect until he started getting ready for college,” he said.
Many older brothers feel a pull to make a difference in their younger brothers’ lives but often find the start of their own professional careers to clash with their siblings early stages of development. Much of the “makeup” time then shifts to the teen and collegiate years.
Travis, a 25 year-old, Account Executive, with a 16-year old brother, explains it this way: “It’s difficult living far away. It’s hard when he’s b.s.-ing his college applications and I have to put things into perspective. My mother’s a bright woman, but, it’s been really difficult when there’s only one person with that gets it. It’s kind of difficult to explain FAFSA over the phone.”
A ten or twelve year difference isn’t necessarily enough space to claim a true generational gap, but, the ability to keep a foot in with the youth while understanding the modern workforce and educational system is an invaluable resource that these brothers acknowledge.
Marcus, a 28 year-old entrepreneur, from a two-parent home explains how technology factors into his relationship with his 18 year-old brother.
”He doesn’t have the corporate knowledge of Excel or Powerpoint that I have, but I’m building an app right now and I feel its beneficial to consult him because of his knowledge of social media. I have my own network of developers that are older. But, the cool apps come from the younger generation. It might not be Snapchat. It may be something else.”
Finding commonalities through technology is important when reaching out to a generation that has never known life without the Internet, but, to all of these men it serves a conduit to create stronger bond with their siblings.
“Sometimes I feel like a brother-dad, Marcus said. "I check up on my brother way more than my parents. My parents don’t facetime. They have iPhones and still don’t use that.”
It’s tough to bridge a 10 to 15-year age difference, but, with technology and a little effort more young men have taken up the mantle to make a difference with Internet generation. Often, that gap leads to a wisdom that is more palatable to young people.
Damon felt his attitudes toward school as a younger man, helped him guide his brother, "I always felt like I couldn't have fun and get an education. So, by the time he was going to school I tried to make sure he knew he could do both."
These little bits of wisdom may seem mundane, but to many young men a kind word from a fraternal guide can make all the difference.