I’m thinking about older brothers today. I only have a younger brother, but my husband is an older brother.

The prodigal son had an older brother too.

The parable of the prodigal (which means “wasteful and extravagant,” not “returning with tail tucked between his legs”) son is about salvation. The father is God, the elder son the legalistic Pharisees, and the younger son everyone else. God the Father doles out forgiveness and salvation to everyone, regardless of whether they’ve stayed on the straight and narrow path like the elder son or made some mistakes like the younger, if only they ask for it.

I still have a hard time not sympathizing with the elder son.

Here is someone who does everything his father requires. Requires. And yet who is celebrated? The son who flaunts those requirements. Why is it considered “self righteous,” as it’s written in so many places, for him to feel slighted?

For me, the parable works on the macro level, of looking at all of us as flawed creatures, but not as well on the micro level. Perhaps it is also a cautionary tale to parents about how one’s “good” children might be hurt by differing standards. Who knows?

I have a voicemail in my inbox that pleads with my husband (and me, by proxy) to be a part of family life. I have no idea if the person who sent it knows what feelings asking that stirs up in our household.

I’ll refrain from taking the low road and enumerating each of the things others have done that yet others felt the need to voice their opinions on or disapproval of in our direction, even when we had not done those things. Suffice it to say, those opinions and/or disapproval have tempered once the girls did it.

I don’t speak for my husband, who just refuses to hear it, but because no actual apologies (“I’m sorry you feel that way” doesn’t count) have ever been made or restitution even thought of much less attempted, for me the thought of humoring the caller involves pretending those things weren’t said or done. And that feels like trying to sit still and hold a conversation while someone cuts into a scar and pours salt in the wound.

Is there a middle way for elder sons? For older brothers and their wives? Can one minimize suffering by both opting out of arguing a case that will never be heard and also not attending the celebration? I’m not sure it will lead to the desired result, but we’ve been trying to clear the path.

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