My big brother


Being the eldest sibling comes with more expectations than any later sibling can ever imagine. I am not the eldest. That role belongs to my brother, Angelo, who is approximately seven years older. Just imagine, for seven years, you are the sole consumer of your parent’s love and attention, plus the unconditional love of your grandparents. (And then I come along. What hope did he have?)

You can, and you probably would say how much easier younger brothers and sisters had it. How your parents became either more liberal (their story), or more exhausted (your story) with the onboarding and upbringing of each child.

The fact is that parents treat the eldest differently. There is more reverence and expectation of those “make me proud” moments. If you’re the third or fourth, as long as your table manners hold up, and you don’t embarrass your parents or yourself, you’re a success. Well done, Champ. Have a gold star.

The eldest, however, is the parents’ proxy.

I thought: this is bullshit. I thought my parents treated me and my brother the same. There were only the two of us, and if I was honest with myself, I could almost admit that I was the favoured son. Slightly ahead. 

If my parents had ever been faced with a “Sophie’s Choice” I would have been the chosen one. I would have put money on it.

As each of our parents passed away, within nine months of each other, I learnt there were details only my brother knew. And this hidden detail existed about almost everything during our childhood.

My mother, in particular, had confided in him mostly. Was I jealous? Heck no! If I think about it now, I have the same relationship with my eldest daughter. 

The eldest has this constant cloud of responsibility over them. I do see it in my daughter. I now realise it in Angelo. I didn’t at the time.

“Are you ready, Joe?”

“Nearly; just waiting for mum to get everything packed up.”

I am a young boy, approx. 12, my brother must have been 19. It is early on a Saturday morning. There is a grand final at the MCG and Angelo and I are attending. He bought me a ticket with his own money. As he had done for years.

At first I thought he had no friends. It’s not like we were that close. I think he would agree, we were just brothers, the luck of some random sperm event coupling with an egg.

My mother walks into the room “Okay, I have your lunch ready.” There are a few bags of food in her hands, and the smell is delicious. She itemises each as she places them into the soft bag we’ll take along. 

While you read the next section I want you to remember there is only Angelo and I going. Yes, the feast is just for us.

“There’s mortadella and provolone sandwiches, plus I made a couple extra with pork, fennel, and eggplant. I also roasted some chicken drumsticks.” She places them tidily into the soft bag. “Oh, yes, I nearly forgot. There’s a couple of ricotta tarts for  dessert.”

“Of course,” interrupts Angelo “the favourite of the favourite son.” 

“Oh please, you poor boy” she says, tapping my brother on the head consolingly, “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my eldest son. I added a bag of those biscuits you like so much.”

“Thank you” says Angelo quietly to himself, embarrassed.

Oh, my mother hadn’t finished yet. “There’s also oranges, apples, and a lemon …”

“What’s the lemon for?” I ask.

“Ah, “ my mother starts with a smile, “ the winner of today’s match can suck on it so it wipe the self-congratulating smile off their face.”

Collingwood, my team, was playing Essendon, my brother’s team.

For a few years, Angelo would take me to the football finals. We would arrive early in the morning, about 9.00am, and find a place in the standing area with a good view. We’d watch the under 19s grand final, then have our lunch. Following this feast, one would look forward to an afternoon nap, but for us it was the reserves grand final, and then the big one: the Seniors grand final.

There were two things that stood out every time.

First, as I have said, we arrived early when the crowd was still sparse and only a few bodies were speckled across the ground’s massive stands. During the morning, you watched the growing crowd slowly fill each and every seat. All 100,000 of them. It was like watching a jigsaw puzzle come together; each person a piece, each taking their position in the tableau, and each ready to add to the growing noise.

The second would happen once the two teams entered the arena, broke through massive banners, and ran around trying to expend nervous energy. The teams then formed two lines facing each other, ready for the national anthem to play.

And then it happened.

One hundred thousand people, each piece in the puzzle, stood and went quiet. I remember it became church-mouse quiet; even the seagulls swirling around the stands, quickly floated down to perch reverentially on the stand’s roof.

The national anthem played, and as it came to an end, there was a visceral, earthy rumble that started and spread amongst the crowd. It quickly caught fire and exploded into a roar that you could feel deep inside your very being.

This happened for a few years. I can’t remember any conversations we may have had. I was 12, Angelo was 19. What was there to talk about? I can’t remember how we got to the ground or how we got home.

What I do know is that I always felt comfortable, cared for, safe, included. That was my big brother, Angelo.

I have no idea what those Grand Final days with his little brother meant to him, or what he remembers. He was the eldest son, he was fulfilling his role, accepting his responsibility. He never made an issue of it or used those days to gain favours later. I never felt they were a debt I owed him. 


He was being my big brother. The family’s eldest sibling.