Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:37 PM on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Older sisters have proven to be the best allies in life

Off the beat news


Michael Armstrong

A few years ago I became reacquainted with my Uncle Douglas, one of my father's brothers. I hadn't known Douglas well growing up and had lost track of him over the years. The first time I met him he was in his mid 20s and I was 8. Douglas said he remembered coming to our house and seeing me, the youngest child and the only boy in our family, being mercilessly teased by my three older sisters.

"You poor kid," Douglas told me he remembered thinking.

I had the same thought when I saw the photo of 2012's first baby of the year, Nicholas Paul Sherwood, surrounded by his four older sisters.

"You poor kid," I thought. "You poor, poor kid."

But then I remembered my life being surrounded by strong, smart and loving women, and I had another thought.

Kid, you're a lucky man.

Being the only and youngest boy had its challenges, true. One time at about age 7, my parents had gone out for the night, leaving me in the care of my sisters, Marcia, Janet and Helen. Marcia, the oldest, told me to do something I didn't think I had to do, and in a fit of anger, I threw my red tennis shoe at her. She ducked and the shoe hit and broke a window in a multi-pane sliding door.

When Mom and Dad came home and I had to face the music, I yelled in frustration, "I'm surrounded by enemies!" I don't recall getting a particularly severe punishment.

I also endured harsh criticism of things like my eclectic fashion sense. Many times when we dressed to go out to dinner or church, I would come out wearing, oh, I don't know, a clip-on bow tie with a plaid shirt, and my sisters would say, "You're not going to wear that, are you?"

My sisters teased me constantly, but all in good fun. It's never easy being the youngest and certainly not being the only boy. They didn't cut me any slack, either. If Mom thought I should get special favors as the only boy, my sisters put a stop to that.

In our household, the girls all had special jobs in the kitchen, rotating chores week to week. Someone set the table, someone cleared the table and someone did the dishes. When I got old enough to be put in the rotation — it wasn't lost on my sisters that this meant once a month someone had a week off — I wasn't expected to work in the kitchen because, after all, I was a boy.

Uh-uh, my feminist sisters said. I had two hands. I was tall enough to reach the kitchen sink if I stood on a stool. Into the rotation I went. It worked the other way for stereotypical guy jobs. My sisters also did lawn mowing and gardening duty.

From my sisters, I learned some valuable lessons about women. Women like to be listened to. Women like to be understood. Women like to be treated with respect. Women like to be treated as equals. By the 1970s when the feminist revolution bloomed, I had already learned the basic points.

Guys, it's simple stuff, really. Women can do pretty much anything men can do, and should be given the opportunity. I didn't need convincing. I had already seen the truth of this in my sisters.

Best of all, I learned what to look for in women as life partners. Not that I dated women just like my sisters. Sometimes, I went out with women totally unlike my sisters, partly to explore the many flavors of the opposite sex. Well, OK, sometimes just to be contrary — a little brother has to rebel a bit.

All my sisters are beautiful, but I learned from my sisters the varieties of beauty. Intelligence, creativity, sensitivity and humor all matter more than physical superficialities, I learned. Finding all these qualities in my wife made me realize how lucky I was to fall in love with her and her with me.

Sure, it would have been nice to have a brother. It would have been cool to have another guy in my life other than my father. All in all, though, I am so lucky to have been raised by a tribe of women. Women civilize men, they keep us out of trouble and they guide us to be good husbands and fathers.

I love my sisters dearly. It turns out I wasn't surrounded by enemies after all, but allies, companions in life who helped make me something they themselves could never be.

A good man.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.