Anyone who grew up with a brother or brothers close in age knows that by the time you turn 6 or 7 you and your brother(s) know exactly who is better than whom at every single activity known to civilized man. This is true of a broad kind of activity – like basketball – but also the multiple activities comprised by the larger activity – like dribbling, rebounding, passing, shooting, posting up, stealing, blocking, and so on. While this rule obviously applies to sports and video games and other activities in which you’re overtly competing against one another, it’s also true of activities that most people wouldn’t see as inherently competitive, like talking to adults or weeding the strawberries. Ryan, Chris, and I could rank ourselves one through three at every single thing any of us had ever done. That’s just part of having brothers.
I would share, but we’re embarking on a life of head-to-head competition, and I see no reason why I should impart any sustenance to you.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait, aren’t older brothers better than younger brothers at pretty much everything?” Not necessarily. Yes, it’s true that older brothers – particularly early in life, when an extra two or three years means you’ve lived 20% – 30% longer – have a pretty significant advantage in most endeavors. And believe me, if I had a dime for every time Kook (our nickname for Christian) pointed out the unfair advantages conferred by age I’d be writing this from the comfort of my hot air balloon made from cashmere with a picture of Magnum P.I. silk screened onto the side. Indeed, Kook developed a fairly sophisticated algorithm for calculating age-adjusted results, along the lines of, “Well, it took you 67 seconds to run to the mailbox and back, and it took me 75 seconds, so when you take into account our respective ages, that means I beat you by 6 minutes.” It’s weird he placed so much faith in these calculations, since even when adjusting for age Kook never came out on top of the “who is better at math” competition.
Best wingman? This guy.
Even looking at results on an absolute rather than age-adjusted basis, older brothers don’t always prevail, which is something of a miracle given that in addition to the physical and mental benefits conferred by age, older brothers enjoy tremendous psychological advantages. For example, Ryan and I were very good friends with a set of brothers in our neighborhood; I’ll call the younger one John and the older one Steve. Although both were very gifted athletically, John was larger and stronger than Steve. However, in the heat of battle, Steve, the older brother, was able to shrink himself, walk right through John’s ear, and plop himself down into a recliner inside of John’s head, where he was able to effortlessly break John’s focus, provoke him to anger, and even occasionally reduce him to tears. But Steve had an even greater advantage than his ability to mess with John’s head: both Steve and John took for granted that Steve was going to beat John, regardless of who was objectively better at the task at hand. That is the essence of the older brother’s advantage, and most of them exploit it mercilessly.
We all knew and acknowledged it: Kook was the better napper.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the tremendous advantages enjoyed by older brothers, it isn’t unheard of for a younger brother to be better than his older brother at a few things. And by the time you reach adolescence, the lines demarcating each brother’s areas of dominance are pretty clearly drawn. So it was with me and Kook when it came to speed. Although I could best Kook at most things athletically, he was faster than me, and had been from the time we were young. This was a source of tremendous shame to me. While some younger brothers could beat their older brothers at bingo or the read-a-thon at school, speed was an area that really mattered. Being fast as a kid is like making a lot of money when you’re an adult. You can pretend you don’t envy the fast kid/rich guy, and maybe most of you doesn’t, but there’s a part of you that does.
Well, let’s see: Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and The Greatest American Hero. I don’t have to tell you who was the best at Halloween.
Anyway, Kook was faster than me from the time we were little. I knew it, he knew it, and thanks to him everybody else knew it. Kook as a child was many things, but gracious in victory wasn’t one of them (or in defeat, or in basically any other state). I was always embarrassed that he was faster than me, and I spent a lot of my younger years going out of my way to avoid any activity that would highlight my shame.
Time passed, we got older, and I left home for BYU. Right before I left for my mission my family went on a trip covering a bunch of places on the East Coast, including Cape Cod, where we found ourselves one July afternoon. I honestly don’t remember how it came up; maybe someone suggested it out of boredom because the water was too cold to spend more than 30 seconds in. In any event, someone floated the idea of Kook and me running a foot race along the beach. The mere mention of a foot race triggered an anxious response in me. Why would I subject myself to a direct competition where Kook’s superior speed would be put on such stark and undeniable display? This reaction was tempered, however, by the fact that I no longer felt myself to be in competition with my brothers. I realized that Kook beating me in a foot race would be just that – Kook beating me in a foot race, and nothing more. Plus, I had nothing to lose since no one expected me to win. So I agreed.
It was on this very trip. . .
My Dad walked 40 or 50 yards down the beach and spread out his arms for each of us to touch as a finishing line of sorts. He yelled “Go!”, and we were off. I ran as fast as my frozen legs would take me, entirely unaware of where Kook was relative to me. As I neared my Dad it occurred to me that I didn’t see Kook in front of me. Afraid to look back, I pumped my legs against the sand and smacked my Dad’s hand, turning to see Kook a pace or two behind me.
My parents have always presented a face of absolutely objectivity and neutrality when it comes to their children; they never played favorites, and never rooted for one of us to beat another. On that day, though, my Dad was unable to mask his surprised amusement as the myth of Kook’s vaunted speed was smashed into a thousand little pieces on the sands of Cape Cod. I don’t remember exactly what happened after the race. I know I laughed in surprise, and I know Kook was a never-ending fount of excuses and demands for a rematch, which I gave him a few days later in the parking lot of the Hill Cumorah pageant. Where I beat him again.
(PS: I’m not going to even get into who was better at looking cool. Pretty obvious.)