I didn’t know about my half-brother until the day my dad died.
Before that day, only hints. My clueless old uncle asked about him once at Christmas when I was about sixteen. I overheard. My dad — with the help of my mom — anxiously hushed him up. I wasn’t supposed to know about “Lloydie.”
But a few years later — on the day my dad didn’t come home from the hospital — the truth came out. Mom told me what she knew about Lloyd LaBrie Junior.
He was born in 1955 — the product of my dad’s second marriage. My dad and Barbara didn’t get along too well. There are pictures of them together with Lloydie as a “family” in various stylishly-appointed rooms in the New York and New Jersey of the 1950s, both my dad and Barbara looking like they’d rather be somewhere else, and most definitely apart.
Their marriage produced Lloyd Junior: My dad’s first attempt at child-rearing. It didn’t go too well. Dad was a successful talent agent and record producer in those days. He spent a lot of time on the road tending to business, but his real dream of getting his own musical produced on Broadway remained. Family came second or third to the twin terrors of money and art.
At some point my dad found himself back in his hometown of Minneapolis. He put an ad in the newspaper calling out to attractive girls who could sing and wanted to play the lead in an original Broadway musical. An attractive girl who could sing answered it. The audition went well. So well, in fact, that Dad was persuaded (or persuaded himself) to let go of Barbara and little Lloydie back in Jersey. My dad was forty-eight then. My mom was barely twenty.
I saw Lloyd Jr. once, and only once. I was only nine years old. At the time, my family lived in a cheap motel in Searchlight, Nevada. Yes, Searchlight: a virtual ghost-town. Lloyd Junior had dropped by to settle some emotional score. He had brought along a male friend of about his same age. My mom distracted me as they entered. I was curious about the visitors. I broke away from my mom and followed Dad as he trudged to the second of the two rooms we were renting. He opened the door, suddenly realized I was behind him, then sent me away with some stern words. But before I turned I caught a glimpse of a distraught-looking young man with a beard and glasses — with facial features similar to my father’s. Our eyes met for only a moment. He looked away. The door shut behind my dad, who was as dour and stressed as I had ever seen him.
So finally, with my mom’s admission on the day of my father’s death, my suspicions were confirmed. My dad led me to believe that he’d been celibate for the first fifty-three years of his life — until the event that brought me into the world. As I grew up, I accepted that notion less and less. But I didn’t really know until after he died. Denial is very strong — especially when the act of questioning in itself brings only shame.
My father abandoned his first son, my half-brother. What deepened the abandonment was the death of Barbara, his mother, shortly after the divorce. The more I learned about Lloyd Junior, the more I felt an odd sort of survivor guilt. I’ve never been able to look at my own childhood and consider it ideal. But I thought in comparison to Lloyd Junior’s, I made out a bit better.
Lloyd Jr. appeared to have not let tragedy hold him back. He graduated from college, worked as a geologist for Texaco, served as an expert witness in a few environmental court cases, and later became a successful real estate agent. He even won a New Jersey state judo championship. He was married twice and had two sets of children. The Internet — the blessed Internet — helped me learn his life hadn’t been a disaster, and I was happy for him.
But still, I assumed there just had to be some ill-will towards our father — or even towards me. I hesitated to reach out to Lloyd Junior. But equal was the fear that I might miss the opportunity to talk to him at all. Life is short. I felt driven to know him directly in some way. So, sometime in about 2008, I steeled my nerve and emailed him.
He responded quickly. He wasn’t bitter at all. He was happy I had found him and contacted him. He had come to some acceptance of his origins, and of our father’s choices. He had found some peace.
And although it seems it would have been obligatory for me to continue the conversation or even set up a face-to-face visit, I was going through my own struggle at the time with my own second wife, and trying my best not to abandon the son I’d brought into the world. So I just left it at that with my half-brother. I would need to be satisfied that Lloyd Junior found peace and bore me no malice. I put him out of my mind and dug in, determined not to do what our father had done.
Last night, I found out that Lloyd LaBrie Junior died shortly after our email exchange in 2008. He was only fifty-three.
Rest in peace, my half-brother. And although I barely knew you, I think you somehow showed me the way.