Brothers in Arms

Today, my older brother, James Daniel Fox, turns 40. That’s right: 40. Forty! Which means I’m thirty-nine, and that’s plain crazy. Something has gone dreadfully wrong, I know it.

The Fox family–the one I grew up in, that is–is a very male family: a charismatic, fairly commanding, rather patriarchal father, with seven loud and opinionated sons to reflect that view of things back at him. (Come to think of it, my two sisters are pretty opinionated too.) My mother, a quiet and peaceful woman at heart, survived this brood tolerably well, all things considered, but the first three children–born one right after the other, in 1966, 1967, and 1968–were kind of a boot camp for all that she experienced later; we quite possibly caused her more stress and anguish in a few short years than she’s experienced in all the rest of her 40-plus years of parenting. Not my older sister Samatha, of course; the firstborn Fox, she was a responsible, kind, thoughful, obedient child, always a source of peace around the house. But Daniel and I…er, weren’t. For one thing, we were constantly doing damage to each other and the house we lived in. Falling off barn roofs, falling down basement stairs, smashing door windows, getting punctured by rusty nails, punching holes in the wall, and so forth. Daniel, always a confident and ambitious child, nearly hung himself attempting to use his blanket to escape his crib at age two; me, by contrast a preternaturally morose child, terrified my mother with morbid and detailed speculations about suicide by the time I was in second grade.

We were different, and spent much of our youth codifying and elaborating upon the cosmic significance of our differences. Daniel was strategic, disciplined, focused, practical, athletic, graceful, strong, and bad at school; I was abstract, philosophical, sarcastic, logical, clumsy and uncoordinated, the prototypical 98-pound weakling, and good at school. (Mother was worried about this last particular elaboration, and made one of her rare interventions into Daniel’s and my mutually imagined character development; what I was good at, according to her, was reading, whereas Daniel, she impressed upon us, was good at math. In truth, this was based on nothing more than Mom’s desire that her oldest son not grow up thinking he was stupid, but never underestimate the power of a creative mother; despite IQ tests that put me in the near-genius range, I remained convinced that I was bad at math all the way through college, and consequently found ways to avoid it as much as possible, whereas Daniel was content to allow me to read to him until we were teen-agers, and later went on to major in accounting, which has something to do with numbers and money, I think.) We would plot together, developing plans for the future that made use of both our talents simultaneously, as if we were one person split through some horrible genetic accident into two. We went through Cub Scouts, Weblos, and Boy Scouts picking out the awards and merit badges that we each would be responsible for. (Daniel would do Wilderness Survival; I’d do Astronomy.) Through those childhood years during which we were basically inseparable, we perfected this division; always, no matter kind of fantastic nonsense our fantasy games or camping trips or attempts to build tree houses (we had about six over the years) or pioneering expeditions involved, I’d be the brains of the operation, while Daniel was the muscle. All boys plot and scheme and make contingency plans for the unknown and looming future, of course, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Daniel and I, by the time we hit our teens, had made certain we were prepared for anything. (Including the impending invasion of Spokane, Washington, by Soviet forces. Oh yeah, sure, now you think that was all right-wing 1980s paranoia. But back then, we knew better. Daniel and I were pretty much certain the Red Army was going to come right down from Canada, take out Fairchild Air Force Base, probably paratrooping soldiers down along the mountains east of Spokane in order to cut off 1-90 while they’re at it, thus leaving the civilian population of our hometown trapped. You don’t have to thank us; America lucked out, in the end. Just be grateful that back when it really mattered, Daniel and I–along with Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell, of course–were ready to head to the mountains to take up guerilla warfare with the Russians for the sake of saving all your sorry hippie butts.)

Things changed when we hit our teen-age years and high school, but not as much as you might think. That is, the differences became even more pronounced, yet our allegiance to each other remained. As the other brothers entered the picture, our opportunities for fights and arguments and alliances multiplied; yet we were far more likely to turn on them (which we did with unfortunate frequency) than on each other. Just why that is the case is a bit of a mystery. I mean, Daniel went through puberty early; I went through it late. Daniel, who never really liked team sports despite his skill at them, gave up on football and wrestling, and discovered dance, at which he excelled: jazz, tap, ballet, but especially folk (he loved to clog). I, meanwhile, did debate and speech. Daniel had girlfriends, whereas I would sneak away from stake dances so I could get home to watch the McLaughlin Group (back when it was still good, when Jack Germond and Fred Barnes were panelists). Daniel threw himself into business and dealmaking and hard work; I began my long, meandering journey towards becoming our official family parasite intellectual. Why on earth did we stay close? My father thinks it may have been all those long hours spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, which we played religiously from about age 10 until we both left home (and are busily passing on to the next generation today). True, the other brothers played D&D too, but usually only when Daniel and I would let them, and often we wouldn’t; mostly, it was a two-brother show (me the Dungeon Master, Daniel playing upwards seven different characters at a time). That could be it; or, relatedly, it could be the simple fact that despite our enormous physical and psychological differences, we were both lound-mouthed geeks, complete outsiders from typical American teen-ager social life, and we knew it. And revelled in it, as well. In fact, I bet Daniel and I could probably still identify, describe the plot of, and quote dialogue from any Original Season Star Trek episode after just viewing the first twenty seconds or so; that’s how well we had the show memorized (the key is which remembering in which direction the Enterprise is orbiting the planet in the opening scenes when you hear Kirk reciting his Captain’s Log, as well as the color of the planet itself).

But shared geekhood only takes you so far. Now, when I think about it, and I think about how well all of us brothers get along, I wonder if it even makes sense to ask why we’re all friends. I mean, we are friends, in a simple sense of the word. But not best friends, not really; there is too much we don’t share. Indeed, there is far more that we share with our wives and colleagues and other close friends than we do with each other. Yet the content of what we share almost doesn’t matter; far more important is the context, a context that we really can’t communicate to spouses or compariots of any sort, no matter how hard we try. Growing up and growing old(er) together, moving to new homes and new schools, sharing discoveries and revelations and embarrassments and fights over toys and television programs; however suburban and bourgeois it may be (and despite all my talk of milking cows and bailing hay, Daniel and I ultimately had as ordinary a youth as any couple of white middle-class Mormon boys), that context runs about as deep as anything. You’re family; you are each others’ first place of refuge and last line of defense. Not always, of course; that loyalty and love is often ignored in the real world, and in any case is ideally superceded by a later, more intimate connection. Except superceded isn’t the right word; surpassed, maybe, but not superceded, at least not necessarily, and hopefully never entirely. The poor souls that are so abused, so hurt, so angry, that they want to forget their past and their family, and become entirely new person…well, perhaps that’s the only way they can heal themselves. But what a tragedy to have to conclude that the only route to healing is one that involves a sundering of the self. And that is my self back there, as much as I’ve changed and as distant from Daniel, both literally and symbolically, as I’ve become; more than any of my other siblings, maybe even more than my parents, Daniel was the constant presence as I went through the never entirely pleasant process of becoming a person. I hope I managed–unintentionally, even unknowingly–to provide even just half as much to him as he did to me.

For a while, I didn’t. Things really changed when we left for college, and for missions. Daniel, unsurprisingly given his optimism, his earnestness, his passion for hard work, his clear and simple testimony, had–well, if not a spectacular mission (what does that mean, anyway?), then at least a rewarding and basically happy one; I–doubter, sinner, rulebreaker, murmurer–came home confused and somewhat bitter and filled with not a little self-loathing. Daniel reached out to me in all sorts of ways during the years we at BYU together, and I treated him like crap. (But, I was treating everyone like crap back then.) And when Daniel got enagaged to a woman who turned out, in the end, to be ill, delusional, self-abusive, and borderline psychopathic…I laughed at him (not to his face though, of course; I have some decency). I made things worse. I wasn’t alone in acting that way, but that’s no excuse. He hung on, trying to preserve his marriage and his relationship with his brother at the same time, but I certainly didn’t make it easy for him. In the end, when the former collapsed all around him, he called me, asking me to help pick up the pieces. That call shamed me, as few I have ever received have: this was my older brother, for heaven’s sake, to whom I was bound by years and years of memories, to whom I owed a duty, to whom I had behaved cheaply and self-centeredly, and now he was calling me, asking me if I could maybe take some time out of my life to help someone of my own flesh and blood? I repented, and got in my car as quick as I could.

Daniel bounced back–not immediately, but eventually. He stayed with us on weekends for a while (Melissa and I were married by then), and while I can’t say my post-mission miseries were all healed and gone, it was, I think, nonetheless a good time for him; certainly it was good for me to deal with my brother as an adult, as someone capable of seeing just how far those early experiences and memories reached into the present-day context, giving us something to go on and go from. He married again, to a woman who’s as sharp as a tack and not at all willing to let Daniel’s and my old-boys-network control the future (which, for a while, when Daniel was most at a loss, it seemed like it might). And I moved far away and went through my own trials and suffered my own catastrophes, and Daniel has always been there, with a phone call, and idea, an offer. In most of the ways that actually count, he’s proved himself to be a better man than me, many times over.

We still disagree about the content, now maybe more than ever. He’s a money-maker and a smooth operator; I kind of suspect that the profit-motive is incompatible with Christianity (but I don’t push it). He’s for Mitt, all the way; I’m a Nader-voter. (In fact, I’m practically certain we’ve never voted for the same person for president. Governor, maybe; but definitely not president.) He likes vacations in Las Vegas and Acapulco; I like bed-and-breakfasts (they’re cheaper, after all). I don’t dance; he still does. If it was a question of just being a friend to Daniel, that’d be one, perhaps difficult, thing; but being a brother is both much easier and much harder. Easier because you don’t choose your family; they just happen to you. Harder because the blood tie, the family tie, the sibling connection, the shared context and history and memory, is a powerful thing. It pulls on you, pushes you, weighs you down; puts on you expectations and responsibilities and presumptions that you could just walk away from in the case of mere friends (though of course there are issues of loyalty and love there too), but which, to contemplate doing so in the case of a brother, seems much more onerous. The weight of brotherhood is great, giving force to the decisions one makes (both the good ones, and the ones you need to repent of). As Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee…for we be brethren.” All differences, all interests, all content aside, the brotherly tie appears to be enough to force the issue either way. After all, how many brothers do you have?

Well, I have six others, besides Daniel. But he was the first, and he’s the one turning 40 today, so he’s the one being celebrated here. And besides, despite all my ponderous talk, it’s not like he weighs me down. He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.
(Daniel and me on his wedding day, December 15, 1995)

35 comments for “Brothers in Arms

  1. Beautiful, Russell. If there is one thing in life I wish were different, it’s the age gap between me and my two brothers. They are SO close, but I was gone by the time they were teenagers.

    There truly is power in brotherhood – no matter the differences.

  2. Russell, Excellent Tribute to Daniel and to all “Brothers in Arms”. I’m calling Dan…right now. Have a Great Thanksgiving!!

  3. RAF–I loved reading this, both contrasting and comparing. Your Mom and I are contemporaries. We have 5 sons and our first 13 grandchildren are boys. Until recently virtually all these boys lived in close physical and psychological proximity to each other. The alliances and interactions (even when they may seem as unlikely as RAF and Daniel) are constantly unfolding. I have loved watching not only the interaction of brothers (and the few scattered sisters) but also cousins, who in some cases are virtual brothers. Tonight, one of our sons, who has moved out of state ,is coming back with his family. As far as I can tell everyone is so excited. In talking to my DIL yesterday she said it is almost embarrassing when they come. She said it is like we have killed the fatted calf. Well, we have, but it is only a measure of how much we love and MISS them. We now have two 18 year old grandsons, and within the year that generation will mostly likely begin scattering to the four winds. It is most unlikely that that generation will stay in as close proximity as this one has. This is a bittersweet time of togetherness.

  4. We were mostly a girl family. My brothers and I were too far apart in age to be close when we were young, but we’re growing a lot closer now and it is sweet.

  5. Nice post. I remember both of you together at BYU and had occasionally wondered whatever happened to the “older” Fox. Thanks for sharing, and Happy Birthday Daniel.

  6. Russell,
    I love reading your thoughts on your family. Having spent years of my youth in your home with your younger brother I appreciate learning about you older boys. The Fox family is indeed one of the great families.

    Happy Birthday Daniel.

  7. Any posting that combines family and “Red Dawn” is simply amazing in my book. This is really awesome. I’m thinking about my two older brothers (I’m the baby at 26), one of whom is in Salt Lake now (I’m in So. Cal.), and I think about the closeness that all three of us shared growing up. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

  8. Adam, Ardis, Edje, Ray: thanks very much for the kind words.

    Kristine, I’m sorry, I’d love to but adoption is out of the question; Melissa has drawn the line at four kids. Your request is just a little too late. I know, it’s a bummer, but what can you do?

    Marjorie, it’s always good to hear from you. What you say about physical and psychological proximity feeding off each other rings true; while I am blessed to have somehow maintained an almost bizarrely close relationship with Daniel despite my long move away, I can see many things–both subtle and explicit–that Daniel and other brothers that have congregated in Utah or Oregon or Washington over the years share which are a mystery to me. Oh, and inicidentally, my parents now have close to 40 grandchildren, and over thirty of them are granddaughters. Clearly, the gene Gods are taken their revenge on my father.

    Rob, you met Daniel? Wow, when? I thought the Student Review/psuedo-intellectual/poser part of my life back then rarely if ever crossed with my actual history. Though I have to give Daniel even more credit; he’s reached out to my interests and involvements far more often than I ever have to his. He even attended Sunstone once to hear me talk, which makes about as much sense as Elder Boyd K. Packer attending an ecstasy rave.

    Abraham, you’re using the INTERNET!! Fantastic! Now go teach Daniel; I think he has something like 8000 e-mails to go through.

    Rusty, thank you; that’s high praise, and I (and I’m sure all the Foxes) appreciate it very much. But that doesn’t change the fact that your dad remains the best Time Pilot player I’ve ever had the pleasure of home teaching with.

  9. Did “Red Dawn” change your life too, Jacob? Man, it sure did Daniel and me. I still think Jennifer Grey’s death scene was her greatest cinematic moment, surpassing anything she did in “Dirty Dancing” (which, frankly, was dreck, except for the bits with Jerry Orbach, who totally killed as the cranky old Jewish dad).

  10. That was one of the war games my brothers and I used to play, only I always ended up dying. (Damn Soviets!)

    PS – my (girl) cousin loved Dirty Dancing. I pretty much despised it, but maybe that was because she would watch the movie, rewind it, then play it again.

  11. Great post. Lovely tribute to your brother. Too bad forty doesn’t seem so old anymore…I’m the only girl in a family of brothers. It’s a different dynamic but one I’m grateful for and increasingly appreciate the older I get.
    And, Red Dawn…doesn’t get much better than that. Wolverines!!

  12. Bless you, Tatiana, for calling someone young who at least is in the general vicinity of my own age.

  13. Nice post, brother. I guess 40 isn\’t so old now that two of the nine have hit the number. But I will keep my tender 36 years of age, if you don\’t mind. Time stops for no man, it seems…

  14. Russ, great post. I hope and pray that my boys will end up staying good friends like all of us have. I only wish I had a geeky intellectual brother closer in age to me, so he could write great stuff like this about our relationship. Abe, maybe it\’s time you step up to the plate and write something great about the \”Three Musketeers\”.

  15. Phil, ….you missed the latest performance of the “The Three Foxketeers….in the Room Without Windows” (a one man play, more of a dramatization) on a stage in Pocatello…ask my kids IT was Awesome!

    Mom, says HI to everybody…..

  16. Well in honor of the wonderful and awesome post of my beloved brother Russell, this is my very first post ON THE INTERNET!!!!!!!!! I wanted to thank all of my brothers and sisters for the wonderful life that I have had so far. Each of you have brought such wonderful things to my life. But, of course, there will always be a special place for my forever Dungeon Master!! It is true, no two brothers could be more different, but yet no two brothers could be closer. I just got off the phone with him and expressed my deep love for him and incredible high praise for his post. Of course, my wife encouraged me to write this (she being this incrediblly beautiful and smart as a tack women) me still thinking the main way of communication is something as ancient as something called \”the phone\”. I just wanted to say thanks again to the 2nd Eldest Brother!!!!

  17. Great post Russell, probably one of the two or three best blog posts I’ve read this year. Your specific personal experiences and pop culture references provide narrative structure and context, but it is the complex emotional truths you successfully extract that make this essay so winning. I’d like to see more of your kind of introspection around the ‘nacle: honest and self-critical, but celebratory (without being saccharine).

    It is always interesting, comforting, and even a little disconcerting to read of other people’s personal experience when it so closely mirror one’s own experience. Like you, I was born in ’68, BYU in ’87-88 and ’90-’94, with a mission squeezed inbetween. But those are only superficial similarities — it is your close/distant relationship to your brother and the things you share and don’t share — interests, temperment, context, etc. — that really strikes the preternatural chord of recognition for me as I contemplate my own fraternal relationship with a close-in-age brother.

  18. Russell,

    What a wonderful post, it gives me such great insight to both you and Daniel, but also your father and mother, my sister, Kathleen. I for some time has wished I had been in Washington or you guys in Vernal to be there when you and your brothers were growing up, but such was not to be the case. I truly missed your family the most while you were growing up. But, I was so lucky to have my little brother, William to look after me, family is truly wonderful.

    I try to read all your posts you have a wonderful way with words which I love.

    With all my love,

    Uncle Stephen

  19. Russell,
    I hope that you are keeping track of all of the Fox family (Jim and Kathleen) posts that you write. I think that mom should at least print them off and keep a binder full of them because I know that all of us would love to read back over them.
    Russell, I don\’t know if you are still planning on writing a book about our family but remember how you were going to name the book after what I called the boys-\”Da boyz\”. No, you don\’t have to but I just smile when I think of it.

    Thank you for the awesome post and for letting all of us get to know you and Daniel a little bit better.
    Love, Marjorie (the younger sister)

  20. I thought I would finish this blog with my first comment to Times and Seasons. As you know, I would raise all nine of you over again if I could, not changing a moment, because of the joy each of you gave me. Thank you again for using your talents in such a beautiful tribute to life.
    With all my love,

  21. Ok, let’s see: we’ve now got Mom, Daniel, me, Stuart, Abraham, Philip, and Marjorie all commenting on a single post. We’re over halfway there! Dad, Samatha, Jesse, Baden: step up the plate, people! Once we’ve all commented, our first step towards total Bloggernacle domination will be complete.

    (Thanks very much, Mom. Glad you liked it. Did I correct all the mistakes you pointed out?)

  22. Phil, I am not a geeky intellectual brother? I have total command of the english language, don’t you know that. Was I suppose to use a period or a question mark at the end of that last sentence? Anyway, Russ, Mom told me that I had to say something so we could complete your Bloggernacle. I keep up with most your posts through Rusty. This was a great one! Thanks for being you, every family should have a Russell Fox. By the way, according to mom an dad, Abe was the smart one, but “I’m a great people person”.

  23. Russell– Life during those early years were generally a blur to me, as you already know. My work at the Feed Mill and church assignments, except for early morning scripture study, and when instructed or directed by mother to interact with my children, allowed not enough time with each of you. Remember last conference the comment was made that seldom has a father on his death bed said “I spent too little time at my job”. I am sure that I missed so much of the interaction that went on in our family, but your mother managed so well. I only know that those years when we had you and your siblings at home the memories are sweet and endearing. I would not change those years in any way, not that we were perfect parents, but we so dearly loved each of you and you must have felt that love, because you seemed to accept our shortcomings and returned our love. One thing, however, how did you ever become our family’s liberal. I truly brainwashed you every chance I had towards a right wing, out and out capitalist, oh how I failed as your father. Our other mistake was that we encouraged each child to THINK for themselves, awe a miscalculation, even though the brainwashing did take with your siblings, I think. However all this said we would not change you for the world as you keep family gatherings from becoming boring. Mom and I would do it all again. We truly do love Daniel and his great love for you. He did help you to survive. You would have been a happy home schooler. Dad

  24. Russ, you actually have five brothers besides Dan. But I guess you were never good at math so that\’s ok. I really enjoyed reading your post. Dan\’s cool. He used to come to my flag football games and scream Beeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!. Then following the game he would proceed to give me a big fat juicey slobbery kiss on my lips with his wet lips. It was really gross. Anyways. He doesn\’t do that anymore. Like I said before, Dan is cool.

    Happy Birthday Dan!


  25. Dear Russell and those that blog,

    I do not blog, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading Daniel\’s tribute. How fun! What talent you have in expressing your thoughts! For those interested, I am the oldest Fox. I do not remember half of what Russell described in his tribute. Not sure where I was…..I guess I just wasn\’t playing D&D! I do love my family and can never fully express the gratitude I feel for all of them!!!
    Sam (the boss-remember)

  26. Holy cow! With Sam…that’s all of eleven of us! We win! I’m not sure what we win exactly, but surely there’s some sort of prize for the largest intact family to participate collectively in the Bloggernacle. Maybe everybody chips in for pizza and ice cream.

    Thanks all–especially Dad, Mom, Samatha, Daniel, Stuart, Jesse, Phil, and Baden, none of whom have ever dared to enter the Bloggernacle before now. (Abe and Majorie have commented here before, I think.) Merry Christmas, y’all!

  27. I have been searching religiously to find our friends Samatha and Michael Call. My name is Julie Tibbets Greenman and am married to David Greenman whom you knew in your youth. It seems that Samatha fell off the face of the earth and we would love to get into contact with them again. Please let them know we are looking for them. We are at the same address!
    Julie greenman

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