Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I’m not sure if you able to help me, my problem doesn’t come close to the sadness I read about in your column but I have drawn strength, on a number of occasions, from the advice you gave others and am hopeful you can help me.
I am a 23-year-old guy with an identical twin brother. As far back as I can remember he has been the apple of everyone’s eyes. He is more cheerful, outgoing, social, and sports-oriented than I, and got the best job interviews in college.
I, on the other hand – well let’s just say I’m different.
It wasn’t like that when we were born. We looked so much alike the doctors put a dot on my foot to tell us apart. As we grew, he was the happy, cooing baby while I cried almost constantly. He loved being held and played with, I wanted to be by myself. He walked and talked first and I followed somewhat later. I think you get the picture. I was labeled the slower, crankier and more introverted one.
In school, my brother was one of the best students, had tons of friends and was great at sports, I, on the other hand, was a loner who often paid little attention in class; I was bored and tired of being constantly compared to my brother. “Why can’t you be like…?” was what I heard my whole life.
In high school that I simply gave up trying and spent hours reading books on science and medicine, which fascinated me and greatly assuaged my hunger for knowledge, much more than the silly classes taught by sub-par teachers. In fact, our family pediatrician told my mother what a wonderful doctor I would make and that I knew enough to enter medical school when I was twelve.
Did that satisfy mom? No way! All she said was, “He has no friends, does poorly in school and doesn’t care about all the ‘normal things’ boys his age should care about. He’s nothing like his brother! Thank goodness I have the other one that brings us nachas!” I heard versions of this over and over again.
Summer camp was a total misery for me. I couldn’t hit a ball, nor did I care to, didn’t join any art or theater groups, although in private I sketched. In fact, I showed my sketchbooks to the three therapists my parents took me to in the hope of healing me, and they were in awe of the quality of work they saw. These were the momentary validations. As you may suspect, my parents were not impressed; I was an afterthought next to “the better one.”
When it came time to apply for college, I tried for the best ones, using my own money for application fees. My parents were convinced that no Ivy League school would take me. What they didn’t know was that I had gotten top scores on my SATS, and then went farther and scored top grades on the M-CATS. Needless to say, my family was when the letters of acceptance arrived and my father wondered how I was able to cheat and get away with it?
I packed a bag, said goodbye to my parents and went to medical school out of state. I spent every spare moment in the local hospital to get a feel of what I wanted to do. The Dean of the medical school was also on the board of the hospital and watched my progress with a keen eye. I graduated early and went to intern under his watchful supervision. On more than one occasion he has made it clear he sees great things in my future and honestly, he is more of a father to me than my biological father ever was.
And yet, I am not happy. There is a dull ache that seems never to leave. I’m hurt. I don’t hate my brother for always being the center of attention and getting all the recognition and adulation. Even now, when I come home for Yomim Tovim or family simchas, everyone still circles around him and just gives me a passing over the shoulder acknowledgement. I am pained that my parents still don’t believe I will “amount to anything” and place all their hopes on him. I don’t know how to extricate myself from this lost and empty feeling.
So, if you have some encouraging words tailor-made just for me, I’m listening.
I read and re-read your letter, and with each reading, I became further upset. You see, your plight is one that is not strictly about twins, it is a malady that is suffered by any sibling who has been shoved to the background by a brother or sister who showed more promise, was easier to raise or simply more pleasant to deal with. I have gotten quite a number of letters from youngsters who have suffered this hurt, but this is not what you want to hear. You, who have been living under this cloud for so many years that it has become second nature, are about to get the validation that you absolutely deserve, not just from me but from yourself.
You are now a doctor of note, so please forgive a short overview to the general readership about the problems faced by identical twins. (Feel free to correct me in a follow-up letter if I’m wrong.)
There are two kinds of multiple births: one in which two or more individual ova or eggs mature to produce two or more individual children with individual characteristics and identities and personalities – these are called fraternal. Then, there are the twins which result from one ova or egg that has split to form two human beings – identical twins.
With identical twins there is a possibility of mirror twins; exact opposites of one another. With this split, an uneven balance may occur; with one twin getting the sunny personality and the other the more introverted one. In your case, it would seem that your brother got the sunny, good stuff and you – well, you got stuck holding the bag.
That’s only the smallest part of the problem. The biggest part is the sad and unexplainable adult reaction from your parents, who actually stunted your growth and self-esteem, your teachers who, by comparing you to your brother, further belittled the self-image you developed of yourself. And all the while you had only your books to turn to.
Yet, look how much you have achieved. You have shaped yourself into a successful human being with a wonderful career. You may have been emotionally abandoned by those on whom you relied for support, encouragement and approval, but Hakadosh Baruch Hu has been, and continues to be by your side, guiding you on this marvelous path that will take you higher and higher.
Look around you. There is no shadow looming over you because you stand head and shoulders above the rest! Your journey has nothing to do with your brother’s. Be proud of the man you have become, against all odds. Look forward to a bright and ever exciting future, find your zivug, the woman who will fill your empty spaces with love and respect. Build a family and fill it with all the love you didn’t receive at home. I wish you many years of peace, comfort and security.
And to every parent who sees him or herself in this letter, it’s never too late to hug and love your children and to tell them how proud you are of their achievements. Adult children still need to feel your heart and demonstrating your love is great at any age.