A Letter To My Brother On His Birthday

James (plucking a magnolia flower for his sister), ca. 2008. Corban College. Salem, Oregon. Photo by JAH.


A Letter To My Brother On His Birthday

Dear James,

I remember the first day that I met you. You were born on March 14, 1986 in Honolulu, Hawaii at the Tripler Army Hospital, I was hoping to be able to hold you, but when I got to the hospital, I learned that you were in an incubator because of jaundice.

The hospital corridors were built years and years before our time, and I remember thinking how the building was quite decrepit.  The walls were old, and there was construction happening all over the place. I remember walking through the double doors and following the nurse who took me to your incubator.  You were laying there on your belly, gauze-like ‘sunglasses’ over your eyes. I asked the nurse, “Why are there cotton balls over his eyes?” She told me, “It’s to protect them from the light.  Your baby brother has jaundice, and we need to treat him.”  I wanted to cry because I thought the light was hurting you, and the nurse must have noticed and asked me, “Would you like to put your hands through the incubator to touch him?  You won’t hurt him.  He’ll love it.”  I placed my hand through the incubator, and felt you breathe.

“Hello, JB.  I’m your older sister.  I promise to take of care you,” I told you.

You barely slept through the night, and there were nights where I would pick you up and put you on my chest and rock back and forth on the floor just so you’d go back to sleep.  There’s a photo of you and I where you were wide awake and my eyes were halfway closed.  Every time I think of that photo, all I remember was trying to get you to go sleep because I had to be at school the next day.

You became my first test at motherhood, and unconditional love.  You never left my side when I was pregnant with Tommy.  You were only three years old, and every night when I read you your favorite books, I was reading them to Tommy also.  I can still picture you with your jet black straight hair, and it was cut in that “bowl shape” haircut of the time.

I remember when you became obsessed with hockey after watching “The Mighty Ducks.”  You were so excited about hockey and wanted to play.  I encouraged you, and cheered as loud as I could whether the ice rink was inside, or outside at below freezing temperatures.  Those years of smelling the hockey gear odor in the back of my car as I dropped you off and picked you up from practices stayed with me for years.  There were two favorite things that I adore about this time: cheering for you, and tying your skates.

The cheering for you never ended on the sidelines as you blocked every hockey puck, and blocked a lot of soccer balls.  My calendar was always filled, not only with Tommy’s activities, but yours.  There was this one time when I picked you up from middle school.  It was after a school dance, and I wondered why it was taking you so long to get outside.  When I went into the school gym to look for you, annoyed that you were making me wait, I found you there with a broom.  You decided to help the teacher clean up the mess, and you were the only one who did it.  You have always been a kind soul.

When you graduated from high school, you were growing out your hair during this time, and I had wished you got a haircut. But, I figured, you looked so happy and that was all that mattered on your graduation day.  You walked in with the procession, and you had your honor chord around your neck.  It was one of the proudest moments in my life to watch you.  When you left for college, I wondered if you would be alright, and my worries became obsolete the day that you walked on the stage to receive your degree.  You were going to be fine.

I realized many things as I watched you grow up.  I watched you evolve in your spiritual journey, and while I challenged you a few times—each time you stayed true to your convictions.  I’ve also seen your devotion to your wife, and the magnificent way you naturally became a loving husband.

I’ve seen you pursue your goals, and observed how you flourish as an elementary school teacher.  You’re shaping young minds so that one day these very minds will take care of the earth and humanity.  You are contributing to the future in your own way.

Most of all, I’m watching you grow into fatherhood with your two beautiful sons. I look at Riot, and think to myself that the universe is an amazing entity—to have made it possible for your son to be similar to you in so many ways.  And, I look at Ender, and I’m in complete wonder at the kindness behind his eyes.  All those worries I’ve had for you going out into this world was because I couldn’t fathom that you have grown up into this phenomenal, caring, and loving man.

While the world sees you as a husband, a father, an uncle, a teacher, a friend, a breakdancer, and a man of God.  To me, you will always be my baby brother—the one who I have infinite love and am grateful for in this life.

Happy 31st Birthday, JB.


Little James, ca. 1987. Aschaffenburg, West Germany. Photo from The DelCastillo Family Archives.

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