Today, my older brother, Brian, passed away at the age of 52. Brian and I were family, but we weren’t always brothers. For the past 20 years, I failed to look for Brian’s positive side. We weren’t brothers when we last spoke in 1997. We weren’t brothers when he pursued dreams out West. We weren’t brothers when news of his condition surfaced. But those 20 years are not the entire story and I want to share about the time when we were brothers.
We explored Bellwood together in the 70's, mastered Dungeons and Dragons in the 80's and developed our love of computers in the 90's. Through it all, I know that many decisions I made, and the resulting outcomes, were influenced by him. I even learned German in high school because he did. Little did I know how useful that would turn out to be starting a business with Germans.
I want to share three stories that I believe represent those early years:
First, when we were brothers, I learned that Brian was hyper-competitive.
Growing up, our family tradition was to drive to Canada and go fishing. In about 1982, Brian and I were fishing in a boat with our grandparents. Well wouldn’t you know it that I hooked the biggest northern pike that I had ever seen! I fought the beast for what seemed like hours, but was probably all of seven minutes. As I led this trophy back to my grandfather’s waiting net, I noticed a problem. The net was about half the size of the fish!
I watched as the beast was half in the net, my grandfather lifted strenuously. The fish fought back and in one motion, jumped out of the net, spit the lure and rambled off into the dark waters. I was crushed. My grandparents could see this and consoled me by offering to fish that spot for the rest of the day. I now know that they must have felt terrible, but they did everything possible to save the day!
Well, Brian was quite competitive. He switched to a bigger lure like I used. He casted into the same place I was fishing. And then he hooked a really big pike! This time, my grandfather used a bigger net and landed what I still to this day think was my fish. Every time I see the photo on the left, I know that he’s gloating on the inside.
Second, when we were brothers, I witnessed Brian’s incredible curiosity.
In the mid-80s, we spent a lot of time hanging out at the Radio Shack in Wood Dale. Although they specialized in electronics components, they were one of the first to offer affordable, easy-to-use home computers.
He got a computer, so of course I had to have a computer. I didn’t really know what to do with it, but he figured out that there was this thing called a modem that you could use to connect to online bulletin boards, pre-internet.
Bulletin boards were interesting because they had information, including video games to download for free! We used to download all kinds of games from those sites and save them to tapes. If you remember AOL, you might remember the crackle dance of those early modems connecting online.
Unfortunately, back then your phone call was charged by the minute. So the more you download, the longer you’re connected and the higher the monthly bill. As teenagers, we didn’t really think about the phone bill, especially as we found more interesting bulletin boards that had long distance phone numbers.
As you can imagine, this didn’t last long once the first $800 phone bill arrived and our privileges were cut! Brian figured all of this internet thing out because he had such a curious mind.
And third, when we were brothers, I saw his relentlessness.
Brian’s love of computers continued through the end of the 80's and into college at DeVry. He studied computer science and was a very skilled computer programmer.
So skilled that he built his own game called Kingdoms of England, which is still available for download out there on the internet. I remember being quite impressed with some of the problems that he solved to make the game, including early computer artificial intelligence.
But the most impressive accomplishment was when Brian had already completed the game for one computer language, but had to learn how to port it over to a different computer language. This would be like learning to speak German. By yourself. From a book. And then giving a speech to native speakers. Very impressive.
He, like I, was very competitive, incredibly curious and relentless. Although these stories come from the 80's and 90's, I often wondered about how he was doing. Since 2005, I thought of my brother hundreds of times when I heard the song Talk by Coldplay. The first few lines go like this:
Oh brother I can’t I can’t get through
I’ve been trying hard to reach you, ’cause I don’t know what to do
Oh brother I can’t believe it’s true
I’m so scared about the future and I wanna talk to you
Oh I wanna talk to you
As I write Brian’s final chapter, I have chosen to remember my positive memories of him. To reach this point, I’ve climbed a tall, twisted mountain of memories and feelings.
I’m sure that many of you have lost touch with someone important in your life and have similarly struggled to reconcile the past and the present. My ask of you is to think of that person, remember a positive memory and share it with someone close.
I have so many good memories to share. It could be about the fish that he caught. It could be about that game we played. It could be about that laugh we shared. For me, when we were brothers, it was all of the above.