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Siblings and Sacrifice: Do Your Kids Have Each Other’s Back?

Would you risk your life so your sibling could reach a goal? As much as I love my only sibling, my brother, the thought makes me pause. Not so for another pair of siblings I recently heard about. Celebrated tennis legend Arthur Ashe was able to break records and smash racial barriers because of the sacrifice that his younger brother, Johnnie, quietly made for him. Johnnie was an active-duty marine in Vietnam at the same time Arthur was a lieutenant at West Point. And Johnnie’s active status kept Arthur from being drafted for a tour of duty. A law prohibited brothers from serving at the same time and could have sent Arthur—an extremely talented tennis star—into the belly of the beast had his brother returned home. So Johnnie made a decision to reenlist when his tour was up and spare Arthur the terror of war. Johnnie told only his father. He made a silent sacrifice because “it was the right thing to do and what our family always did for each other.” Johnnie remembers how his whole family would chip in to assist their father (who had a third-grade education) labor at whatever odd jobs or duties he performed to provide for their family. ESPN used their widely acclaimed 30 for 30 series to tell this dignified tale of brotherly love, admiration and courage. It offered a voice to two brothers who served our country (and tennis balls) while shaping attitudes, breaking barriers and advancing civil rights in the world. This made me reflect on the examples set by my own parents for me and my brother. They pale in comparison, as they were not life-or-death situations. But they were sacrifices nonetheless. For example, as children, we didn’t go on elaborate summer vacations, and the money saved went toward sports or academic camps. Also, my parents’ sacrifices were not silent. We were reminded (especially when admonished) about how hard our parents worked for us and how high their expectations for us were as a result. Lessons taught, learned and appreciated. As a parent of four lovely daughters, it’s hard for me to fathom one of them offering to give of herself for her siblings the way that Johnnie did. My hope is that they notice what’s needed and step in with support, guidance and the ability to help in other ways. Arthur and Johnnie’s story was a reminder that children are always watching their parents. Their tale of selfless, silent sacrifice began at home with their mom and dad and was thankfully passed down the line.

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