Of the many things that I respect my parents for, raising three healthy boys is top of the list. I have massive respect for them. The more I've grown up, the more I've realised what a headache we were to raise.
It's true you don't appreciate how much work your parents did for you until you have children of your own. I don't have any children yet (at least none that I know of), but these words hold true, especially since I have been babysitting on and off.
My brothers and I got into a lot of trouble as children. My mum tells us now some of these stories and I wondered how she still kept on parenting us and whether or not she didn't feel tempted to just take a long walk to the shops and never look back. I wondered how my dad kept his sanity too. His gray hairs may certainly have been an obvious sign of the toll that parenting had taken on him.
After all of the adventures, after making sure that we were okay and/or getting us to hospital, we would get a generous ass-whooping. I would get the more generous portion as the firstborn. I never quite got it and thought it was unfair but the message stuck—I was the firstborn and my brothers were my responsibility.
Being the firstborn son, however, doesn't end when you're children though and it isn't limited to your family. When my father passed away, it was made clear that I was to ensure that my mother and family were taken care of.
That's been a way of life not only for me but for many men around me who feel that they became deputy parents really early especially if their parents were busy or rarely present. You become the one to figure out where school fees for your siblings would come from, how bills will be paid and you still educated your cousins and nieces. It became an expectation. This is a burden very many men are suffering under especially given the tough economic times. The burden never goes away.
I see layoffs being announced, from banks to supermarkets, and I feel some sort of panic. Each time I hear these announcements, I think of an elder brother somewhere who now has a few more extra mouths to worry about because family is his first priority. I think of a firstborn right now going to take a drink because he's worried about the future of his family in which he can't see a solution so he decides alcohol will take away his worries at least for the night because tomorrow's problems await him anyway.
When I asked some men why they decided they weren't ready for children one insightful comment came from writer Ramah Nyang who talked about Black Tax. The fact that it's your responsibility and a part of your budget to help struggling family members (who can be a much-extended list), keep many men away from starting families.
There are many men out there going through the motions knowing that not only is his immediate family his responsibility but also everyone else who is vaguely their family, literally including the children of their domestic help and that of their employees. You're the older brother and head of the family so you take it in your stride because even when you vent about it, you're told that it comes with the territory. So give an older brother a hug if you're next to one because he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and he's going to do that for life.