Friday, July 04, 2008

Of brothers and sisters (and Brothers & Sisters)

For only the second time in my life, I am one sibling short. Bens left for Beijing last June 22 to join the same summer Chinese language program I joined 6 years ago, at Peking University. He'll be back for a week or so in August, but then he'll return to Beijing for the fall semester in September.

Funny but I don't seem to be as affected by his absence as much as I was during Hanks' stint in Beijing. I thought I would be gripped with the same debilitating separation anxiety I experienced back then, but so far I've been amazingly nonchalant about it. Well, ok, I can't deny that I do worry constantly about what's happening to my baby brother over there in a country full of pickpockets and swindlers and people who drink and smoke too much and bathe too little; our own mother says I'm worse than a neurotic parent when it comes to worrying about my siblings. I try not to text him too often to nag him about keeping his belongings safe or drinking lots of water or processing his requirements for school, because I know it would just annoy him, and I know I should trust him because he's much more sensible than I give him credit for. But overprotective atsi-fretting aside, I have to admit I'm having an easier time dealing this time, unlike the complete wreck I was while Hanks was gone. It's not that I don't miss him at all, mind you. But it's different when it's your roommate of 25 years who's away, as opposed to your next-door neighbor who comes over from time to time to torture your stuffed animals. And the bond between 2 sisters naturally tends to be more intimate than that between a sister and a brother.

I know Hanks and I are luckier than Bens in that we have 1 sister and 1 brother each, but he only has 2 sisters and no brother. I know it's been tougher for him growing up without the benefit of a constant companion and confidante. I also know that in many ways, it's a relief for him to be living away from home for the first time, to be free from the constrains and strains of being bunso and unico hijo. So I don't begrudge him that relief, and I don't mind if he doesn't miss us as much as we miss him.

And like I said, I do miss him, even if it doesn't outwardly pain me. It's just easier to pretend that Bens is on one of his out-of-town trips with his barkada, or out with his ultimate frisbee teammates, or playing basketball with his fellow alumni at Xavier, or even downstairs in the den hogging the PC as always.
Besides, he'll be home in less than 2 months, and we'll have him for about 2 weeks before he has to leave again. Until then, I just have to avoid going into his room so as not to be reminded that the only brother I have isn't coming home today... yet.

* * *

Hanks and I are currently on the 2nd season of Brothers & Sisters, and I am enjoying it as much as I did the 1st season. I love how this show is so atypically American in the sense that the dysfunctional family dynamics of the Walkers are remarkably recognizable and relatable to Asians (at least to this Asian it is). The 5 Walker siblings and their parents all reveal human flaws that both strain and strengthen their relationships with one another, and it's refreshing to see such a tight-knit non-sitcom TV family for once. I like how all the petty squabbles, the big ugly fights, the unnecessary drama, the deep-seated grudges, the painful betrayals, and the emotional baggage that come with being a family are portrayed realistically, then offset with equally realistic moments of support, comfort, humor, loyalty, tenderness and love. The show always manages to be one shade shy of sappy, and one step short of stressful.

I also love the wonderful ensemble cast: Sally Field flexes her veteran acting muscles as beleaguered widow and mother Nora Walker; Calista Flockhart makes the most out of her character Kitty, the headstrong, political daughter constantly at odds with her mom; Rachel Griffiths is my favorite as eldest daughter Sarah, pragmatic yet passionate, capably juggling her responsibilities as mother, wife, daughter and president of the family business; Dave Annable is beloved Justin, the youngest of the brood and a troubled Iraq war vet; Balthazar Getty plays eldest son Tommy, often overlooked and underappreciated, yet always looking out for everyone; Matthew Ryhs is a stand-out as smart, sarcastic lawyer Kevin, the gay middle child with commitment issues; and Ron Rifkin brings warmth and generosity to his role as steadfast Saul, Nora's brother and the Walker kids' supportive uncle. That Calista Flockhart doesn't get on my nerves even when she shows traces of Ally McBeal neuroticism is testament to how much I like this series.

I highly recommend Brothers & Sisters to anyone with a big, crazy family (which pretty much covers most Filipinos) who think their clan is more messed up than everyone else's. This show will make them realize that everyone else is as messed up as they are, if not more. Ultimately, no family is not dysfunctional. What matters is that they manage to stay a family in spite of the insanity, that they choose to stay with family through thick and thin, and that they value the meaning of family when nothing else makes sense in the TV or real world.


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