My younger brother Jack just turned 45. I'm concerned that he won't make it to 60, or even 50, but I don't know how to talk to him about it, or whether I can even bring it up with him. He's a great guy, and he's worked really hard his whole life. He's married and has an 8-year-old son who adores him.
Part of the problem is that he's heavier than he should be. But if that were the only problem, I wouldn't worry so much. He also smokes. And he drinks (beer, mostly). And he eats a very high-fat diet. Culver's is his favorite place to go for dinner. When we go there, I get a grilled chicken salad. He gets a butter burger and fries.
Hey, I love the fries, but I know what they do to me. I'm a pretty healthy guy: I watch what I eat, and I've exercised my whole life. In fact, Jack once made a remark about my extraordinary degree of self-control, and I don't really know what he meant by that. Was it 'You're a freak' or 'I've tried, but I just can't live up to your standard' or something else? The thing is, I don't think I'm lording it over him. But being the fit one, I worry that he'll think I'm copping an air of moral superiority if I say anything.
All I really want is for him to be around, in my life and in his son's life, for a long time. I've been thinking about it more lately because a 42-year-old friend of mine who was a cross-country cyclist died last summer of heart disease from eating too many fries and not paying attention to the warning signs. He looked fit as a fiddle and could bike a long distance ' fast, too ' but it didn't matter. And I just read an article about Bill Clinton that mentioned his quadruple bypass and how he can't eat fries anymore.
My brother doesn't exercise. It's just not his style. Then again, with the stresses of his work and home life, I can see how he'd have trouble finding the time. His job is demanding, and he's a great parent, so he spends a lot of time on those activities, which doesn't leave much time for taking care of himself. He often seems pretty exhausted.
Over the years, Jack and I have both been on the receiving end of heaps of criticism, both overt and implied, from our parents, who never learned to communicate well with each other or their kids. And I feel like this complicates things for me. I don't care what shape or size my brother is, I love him just the same. But anything I say is going to sound like criticism, right? I'm especially mindful of this because our dad died of a stroke this year ' clogged arteries to the brain, mostly from smoking. And I don't want to seem like I'm stepping in to fill a parental void.
But I'm afraid he's a ticking time bomb, and I would really hate to see him robbed of the chance to be a grandfather to his son's kids. Plus, I'd miss him. If I say nothing and he dies of a massive heart attack, I'll feel horrible. On the other hand, if I say something and he gets offended, I'd feel horrible. So, what should I do?
Brother's Keeper: I would never ordinarily say this, but is there any way you can get to a pound cake? What a minute, that's Stuart Smalley's line, and it doesn't exactly apply here. So maybe I should just turn this over to my dear, dear readers, who are probably stuffing their faces as I write this. What do you think, gang, is Brother's Keeper his Brother's Keeper?
If you want fries with that, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING St., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206. EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.