The men in this picture are the family among whom I grew up. Our parents died nearly thirty years ago, and we have related to each other differently since then. We have been much closer since then. I think there was a fairly general “it’s up to us now” sort of feeling.
This collection of people makes up a huge chunk of my best friends in the world. Only my children, including some of my stepchildren, belong in this group of intimate friends and colleagues. It is a truism—trite, of course, but valuable—that you can’t make new old friends. That means you will have to make do with the old friends you have now. The same is true for family. These guys, in whose company I spilled milk and Cheerios on the tablecloth, are the family with which I must now “make do.” I am extraordinarily fortunate.
I didn’t grow up with these wonderful women, of course, at least not in the same sense I grew up with my brothers. On the other hand, I was still in my teens when Karl (just to my left in the picture) brought Betty home to meet our folks. I was in my twenties when Mark (immediately to my right in the picture) brought Carol home. I was in my forties when John (to Mark’s right) introduced us to Gina. Anyone who knows who I am now, in my 70s, would have to admit that I have grown up quite a bit in the last thirty years. It’s never too late, I guess.
Brother has a strict genealogical meaning, of course, but it has a lot of extended meanings as well, as “fraternity brother” attests. As a rule, relationship names don’t change all that much over time. The Indo-European root bhrātar produces both the Gothic brother—and the German bruder, which is the linguistic background of our family—and the Greek phratēr. So “brotherhood” and “fraternity” are just forms of the word from the two prominent language traditions underlying English. Of the four of us, all of whom enjoy words, I am the one most attracted by what words used to mean and what they mean now.
Since the “blood brother” meaning of the word is so powerful, you would expect people to develop related expressions that extend it and indeed, the seventh meaning given by the dictionary I am using gives the meanings as “a male fellow member of the same race, church, profession, organization, and so on (including both fraternity brother and soul brother).” We are of the same race, of course, but we are of different “churches,” different professions, different organizations. We are of different temperaments, different ways of seeing the world, different priorities among values that we “share” when they are defined very generally. Our unique histories have given us odd quirks, foibles, hot buttons, tolerances, and strengths. You never know what is going to set one or the other of us off.
But in all that diversity, the tie of being a part of the triumphs and tragedies of each other’s lives for so long has made us family in a very strong way. It is rich, but as you could guess from the reference to tragedies, it is expensive. We have held each other, both metaphorically and physically, as marriages have come unstuck, as children have received frightening diagnoses, as parents have died, as wives have died, and as we have all begun to be just a little less sharp than our memories tell us we were when we were younger.
Being a part of all that hurts. There is no honest way to say that it doesn’t. On the other hand, it is the basis for intimacy and trust. That’s what you buy when you pay those costs generously and with an open heart.
We are all academics and all healers. The brothers on either side of me are medical doctors. They are academics because you have to be academically accomplished if anyone is going to let you practice medicine. They are also academics because they know they need to teach their patients if any long term good is to come out of their practice of medicine. I know stories from the examination rooms of both of my doctor brothers and I know both are teachers as well as doctors.
The other two of us spent the better part of our lives in colleges and universities teaching students about the several kinds of politics (my field) and of biology (John’s field). You can teach in any of several styles, just as you can practice medicine in any of several styles, but I think it is fair to say that John and I practiced as healers. We taught about the healing of natural and social systems and we practiced our craft by working toward the healing of those of our students who came to us to ask for it.
The four of us and the women who continue to share their lives with us will continue to meet as long as there are eight of us to do it. Then, when there are seven. Then six. The last two of us will embrace at our last meeting and if we can still speak, we will say, “Brother.”
 All the wives are standing in from of their husbands. The ages of the husbands are in serial order, of course, but the ages of the wives are not.
 I was in my sixties when I met Bette, the redhead who is standing in front of me, and I’m not entirely sure I have grown up any at all since meeting her. Things might have started going the other direction, in fact. You’d have to ask her.
 Both have retired, but that has not stopped them from being doctors.
 That means both of us have spent a good deal of time studying what snakes do, so if there are behavioral herpetologists, two of them are us.