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  • Writer's picturePatrick Mullane

The half-brother I never knew...

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

Note: I wrote this blog about six weeks ago. I never published it because I worried it would be a spoiler for those who hadn't read my book. I forgot about the essay once that decision was made. But in the weeks after I wrote this, the half-brother I reference contacted my mother. My family and his are in the joyous process of getting to know each other. Given what has happened since I wrote this, I thought the words are somehow more meaningful than if his identity was still a mystery.


In my memoir, The Father's, Son, and Holy Shuttle: Growing Up an Astronaut's Kid in the Glorious 80s, I tell the story of a conversation my mother and I had in the weeks before I was shipping off to college. We had been out running some errands and had taken a break for lunch in a Houston restauraunt. She was nervous and distracted as she took her seat at a table with me. I could tell something was up. And the reason for her nerves was soon obvious: she informed me that she had had a son before she met my father and had given him up for adoption.

The news was numbing at first. It's not the sort of thing most children expect to hear from a parent. As I gathered my thoughts, I was slowly able to engage with Mom and we had a meaningful and emotional conversation about the pain of that period in her life. For somebody born into a very conservative Catholic, Italian family, becoming pregnant out of wedlock was, needless to say, a scandal of epic proportions. She was secretly sent away to a home for unwed mothers while the extended family was told she was away at college. She had to work for her room and board in a home for the elderly and was, along with the other pregnant teens, castigated incessantly by nuns who said all of them were going to hell for their transgressions. It was a painful experience made more painful by the realization that the ticket out of that place was the delivery of a baby she'd have to give up. She held her son only once after his birth and then gave him away, never to see him again.

Mom, when I was but a twinkle in her eye but her first son was already with another family.

As I get older, I think more about the half-brother I never knew. As the only son in our family (I have a twin sister and a younger sister) I have never really known the potential of a more-than-superficial relationship with another man, outside of that with my father. Part of that has to do with my nomadic, military brat life. I moved a lot as a kid. And when I left home for college, I never again lived near my parents or sisters as an adult, save a short stint in Washington D.C. when my younger sister and I lived close to each other. I've missed the connections that can only come with those you know for years or who are blood related.

My professional life also presented problems when it came to connecting with other men. After several years as an Air Force officer, I went to business school at Harvard. Since leaving the MBA program, I, for the most part, have been a general manager leading an organization. Being the boss made it harder to become close to those I worked with. It's not prudent to be best friends with somebody you might one day have to fire.

As I've aged, my musings about my brother seem to have become more amplified. I suspect part of that is the introspection that comes with age. We like to see loose ends tied up the closer to the end we get. While I hope I have many more years left, I'm definitely on the "back 9" as they say, and the half brother I never knew is a very loose end.

When my mind does wander to him, I contemplate so many things. Is he still alive? He'd be about 56-years-old. Young, by most measures. But still ... who knows? I wonder if he would have the same interest I do in the world, how it works, the people in it? Does he even know he was adopted from a Catholic home for unwed mothers? Does he look like me? Where does he live? Does he have children? Would we be able to sit with a drink and talk in exchanged sentences that flowed and merged like two slow-moving rivers coming together? Has he contemplated finding my mother - his birth mother too?

All unanswerable questions unless we do one day meet. And if we don't, that's okay too. Mom did about the only thing she could do at the time. I hope he understands that. Something tells me he does. And while I may never meet him, I'll raise a glass to him wherever he is and toast a guy lucky to have the same mom as me.


Epilogue: if you're wondering if I look like him ... I think I do. Here's my brother on his 56th birthday which fell on a day shortly after we heard from him. Oh ... and he does understand why Mom did what she did. I'm looking forward to getting to know him as a man should know his brother.

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