For a while now I have been thinking of writing a column about brothers. Last month was my late brother Martin’s birthday. Around that time, I had lunch with a small group of friends– Jerry, an attorney, Mel, also an attorney, and Peter, a Wall Street banker. As it happens, each of them, like me, have older brothers. We spoke at length about our siblings, both living and passed, and their impact on our lives. It was a compelling discussion, and my conversation has continued with each of these friends over the last several weeks. My brother died tragically some 25 years ago, but his influence, especially throughout my young adulthood, shaped me profoundly.
Brothers play an important part in growing up and into manhood, especially an older brother, as he is someone to look up to. If he is a success, he can be a role model. On the other hand, depending on the relationship, that same success can be a detriment to the younger one. Attempting and failing to match or surpass the accomplishments of an older sibling can be heartbreaking and humiliating. My own brother was more of a father figure. Some seven years older than me, we spent more time together as adults than as childhood companions. He was off to college even before finishing his senior year of high school to avoid the Korean War draft. We reconnected some ten years later when we worked briefly together as lawyers in New York. After that we were both off to our own destinies –he to London with a new wife and child and I to East Hampton to begin my own career with a young family in tow.
Recently I googled my brother’s name to see what the internet might have on Martin Ackerman. The search results were copious, from accounts in the New York Times, to Time Magazine and the front page, right-hand column of the Wall Street Journal. Marty was the president of Curtis Publishing Company, which owned the Saturday Evening Post and other noteworthy publications of the era. The closing of the Saturday Evening Post stirred the pot among the Curtis family members, and they attacked my brother viciously. He was accused of unlawful business practices and faced early retirement at age 37. It would be another ten years before Marty and I reconnected, upon his return from his London retirement.
My friends all reflect on their older brothers with varying views though most had close relationships with them from childhood, and each lived up to or surpassed his brother’s career achievements. Though Marty was largely absent during our early years, he was there when I most needed him. He wrote a letter to Rutgers advocating for my admission to undergraduate school and later when I was accepted, drove me to New Brunswick, New Jersey to enroll me in college. He went with me to open my first checking account and took me shopping for grey flannel slacks and a blue sport coat (which I never wore in college). He supported my decision to move 100 miles from New York City to start a career in East Hampton. The only advice I didn’t take from him was when I announced I was marrying my high school sweetheart at age 22. He said I was too young. He was wrong. I was happily married for 55 years. Sometimes I refer to my long-gone older brother as my “Big” brother because he was “Mr. Big” to me growing up. Now in hindsight I see him as a best friend. I miss our early Sunday morning catch up calls.