Mothers want their kids to get along. Play nice.… Tell him you’re sorry. … These are sentences heard around the world, right?
For most of my adult life, my mother urged me to have a close relationship with my brother. For much of it, I failed. Or we both did. There were differences. And distance. Too much distance. We actually started our working lives in the same place, New York City — me in music, him in acting and dancing — but while we lived subway stops apart, we were clearly heading in different directions.
His passions drew him to London, then Spain, then Amsterdam and Montreal, where he became an accomplished choreographer and director. Mine brought me all around America and eventually here to Detroit, as a journalist. Over the years, in conversations with my mother, I would hear her say, “Have you talked to Peter?” … “You should call Peter.”
It rarely happened. We saw each other at holidays. Funerals. Weddings. When I got married, Peter and my sister, Cara, performed an hysterical musical tribute to our childhood together. It reminded me of how the three of us used to sing for our family, a little trio of high voices set against a guitar I was learning to play.
But we stopped that a long time ago.
Last year, in the middle of the night, my mother passed away at age 84. Peter and I were the last two kids to see her.
Typically, it was not at the same time.
Brothers brought together
A few months back, I began creating a show, a musical comedy about hockey. I was hoping for some laughs in my life, after the tough emotions of last year. Typically, when I create such things, I shoot an e-mail to my brother and offhandedly mention that, should he be interested, you know, Mom always wanted us to work together, etc. Typically, there is a short “can’t do it” response.
This time, just when I was about to hire a director, I got an unexpected e-mail.
“I hope you’re sitting down …” Peter began. “Because I’m saying yes.”
He flew in from overseas, got set up in downtown Detroit and, for the last five weeks, we have been going to work together, at rehearsal spaces and now the City Theatre, him as director, me as the writer and composer, of “Hockey — The Musical!”
It is probably the furthest thing we ever imagined (he was not much of a sports fan growing up). But it may be the nicest chance fate has provided us.
After years of intermittent communication — a birthday wish, the occasional phone call — we now speak every day. We lean against theater chairs and laugh, we bounce ideas that don’t require us to finish the sentences, we invoke imitations of voices from our old neighborhood.
We don’t have to “catch up” with months of absent memories.
We are making new ones.
Making Mom proud
What is it about siblings working together? Some do it effortlessly. Some never mesh. Some want to kill one another.
I imagine there’s a tinderbox of emotions involved — resentment, childhood jealousies, the like. And in your younger years, these things can seem more important than togetherness.
But as time browns an apple, it also softens the shades of difference between loved ones.
If you’re lucky.
I have been. For the first time in my adult life, I can tell those I work with, “This is my brother.” I can listen to him at work and say, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” I can chuckle with him as we watch flying octopi and songs about penalty boxes and marvel at how he directs dancers to move as if they’re skating down a lake.
And something else. I look like my father. Peter looks like my mother. Sometimes when I watch him, with his glasses down on his nose, studying something, nodding quickly and saying “mmm-hmmm, mmm-hmmm,” it’s like I am watching her all over again.
Maybe that’s why siblings soften over the years. The more family they lose, the more they search for it in the family they have left.
Today, on Mother’s Day, I will meet my brother at the City Theatre, and we will do as Mom always wanted, be alongside one another, as we prepare for an opening next week. I only wish she could see it.
Not the show. The relationship.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.