Photo: My sister Nicole and I, present day
When my father remarried in 2008, I was the no-brainer selection for Best Man. In fact, I wasn't even asked. It was more like, "So, obviously, I'll need you to play that part." Dad and I had always maintained a relationship chock-full of good-natured teasing. He started around the time of my birth, and I started catching up when I hit my teens. So, I salivated at the thought of making a speech and not only honoring him and his new wife, but to have a laugh at his expense...in front of everyone he cared about.
I started out cordial when I found myself in front of the microphone. "I'm so happy that Dad found Kathy, etc." Then, I went for it. "I'm especially happy about this union, because it means I'll finally get that baby brother I always wanted." Dad was 58 at the time. His bride was 57. The room erupted. It was a defining moment for me in the ribbing department. Dad has yet to top it.
While clearly a joke, there was some definite truth to it. I had neighborhood friends as a kid, but there were certainly moments of loneliness, when having someone to play Hulk Hogan to my Andre the Giant would've been nice. But overall, looking back, having an older sister as opposed to an older brother taught me valuable lessons I might not have learned otherwise.
I've done several interviews for HuffPost Live, discussing my stance on gender neutrality and how my wife and I teach our children to be open-minded regarding "boys toys" and "girls toys." I truly believe that my experience growing up with a sister who I often shared toys with paved the way for this mentality. When it was 8:00 at night and my male friends were in their own homes, I played with Barbie dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids, as my sister led the way. I'd even bring my "Rowdy" Roddy Piper wrestling action figure. Although, I must say, his kind was rarely welcome in the Barbie house when Ken was around.
And it wasn't just toys. Every aspect of how my sister entertained herself ultimately impacted me. We'd play the girl-centric board game Mall Madness, watch every episode of Strawberry Shortcake, then later, The Golden Girls. As she grew old enough to become legitimately interested in collecting music, I learned about Tori Amos, Bjork and Depeche Mode, without the filter of "this is for girls." In short, I developed an appreciation for art that was labeled "feminine" within the confines of four walls... four walls that kept us away from the poisoning voice of an unrelenting, conforming greater society that insisted I stick to Star Wars and Nirvana.
I also learned at an early age that settling an argument with your fists was not a viable, mature solution to a problem. My sister being a girl meant that I essentially couldn't lay a hand on her. So, I was forced to communicate with my words. Sure, there was plenty of pouting, and I'm positive there were "growing pains" as I tried to remember the "no hit" rule. But by having a sister, I developed an early respect for the opposite sex I may not have if I had been an only child or one of three bruising brothers.
Speaking of brothers, by not having any, I avoided the inherent athletic competition that comes along with it. While I would've liked a brother to play ball with me in the backyard, I'm sure if I did have one, I would have felt an obligation to at least attempt the same sports he did. By having a sister who was anything but an athlete (although she was above average kickball player), I was able to create my own path, choosing to participate in (and be mediocre at) whichever activities my heart desired.
To be clear, I'm not saying that same-sex siblings yields nothing but close-mindedness and bloody knuckles (or that sisters aren't capable of being athletes). But growing up with a built-in understanding of how the opposite sex operates, what drives, motivates, annoys or inspires them, provides an invaluable primer for not only connecting with the opposite sex, but adopting habits outside of the typical male spectrum. Because of this, I pass that open-mindedness -- the one trait I hope they get from me -- down to my own children.
With two sons ages 5 and 3 and a daughter on the way, I hope much like my sister and I, that my children are brought together by their different interests, not separated by them.