Family Man: Second to None
By Gregory Keer

The usual commotion rattles the house in the late afternoon. I hurriedly finish an article as Benjamin barrels through the door, returning from school with my wife. He beelines for my den office and announces, “Daddy, you promised to play ‘knights’ with me.”

n">“In a minute,” I promise as a long-awaited phone call comes in. My wife scoops up 2-year-old Jacob, who’s been sitting at my feet, scribbling on a piece of paper (and into the wood floor’s grain) while I work.

n">As soon as I’m off the phone, Wendy takes over the computer and I go play the evil troll to Benjamin’s brave king until he asks, “Can you get me juice?”

n">In the kitchen, I find Jacob sitting alone in the middle of the floor, eating Goldfish™ crackers he’s shaken out of a baggie. I step over him to open the fridge when I hear him warble “Happy Birthday” (minus most of the consonant sounds). I look down at my toddler, who seems so self-sufficient, and realize I’ve focused on everything and everyone but him since I picked him up from daycare an hour ago.

n">So I sit down next to Jacob on the questionably clean floor. He greets me with a crumb-crusted smile and offers me a cracker.

n">“Dtiiyee,” he says, meaning “Daddy try.”

n">When I take the cracker, he giggles, for no real good reason other than he’s happy I’ve joined him.

n">“Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ again,” I ask. He complies, personalizing it so it goes, “Haa-bby Bahday, dear Dadda.”

Balancing Act

Guilt pangs at my conscience. Do I give him enough?

Jacob turns 2 this month. Looking back on his 24 months, he probably wouldn’t complain about his portion of attention. Then again, a toddler doesn’t exactly “look back.” It’s his parents who evaluate the past two years and mark “Unsatisfactory” on their report cards.

We try to give equally to both sons, but inequities seep in everywhere. Benjamin gets more of what he wants because, at 5 years old, he articulates his needs better than Jacob does. Also, we’ve been so conscious of not cheating Benjamin out of attention, we sometimes shortchange the little guy. Moreover, Benjamin is just busier than Jacob, so we drag Jacob to T-ball games and piano recitals, where his freedom is curtailed and he takes a backseat to the big brother on center stage.

Then there’s the personality factor. Benjamin has always been pretty cooperative, while his little brother is often just the opposite. Jacob’s prone to tantrums, consumes mass quantities of dirt and Snickers™ wrappers from the sidewalk, has destroyed house plants and antique lamps, and chooses sleep cycles with the randomness of a roulette wheel.

Still, despite our worries of imbalance, the tiny menace snatches back his share of attention because he can charm the red off Elmo. With chocolate brown eyes and the “vitamin in his laugh” (identified by his former nanny), he grabs all the parental time he can get with his dimpled little hands.

He has a way of sneaking into our focus, like when he does push-ups with me by hopping on my back, making me laugh and ruining my middle-aged attempts at exercise. Accustomed to seeing me run my fingers through my wife’s hair in rare quiet moments, Jacob climbs up and does the same to each of us.

And he’s quite adept at railing against injustice – recently, he felt left out because Benjamin was the only one who got snuggle time each night with Mommy then Daddy (though he didn’t realize it was because neither parent could fit into his crib). For several nights, he yelped and pointed at Benjamin’s bed until he became a regular member of the cuddle club.

Sibling Revelry

Most important, Jacob has one benefit Benjamin will never have – an older brother. After initial misgivings about the alien creature in our household (and the occasional locked door while Benjamin plays with his superheroes), the big brother has grown deeply attached to his younger sibling. When Jacob’s not around after school, the first thing out of Benjamin’s mouth is, “Where’s Jacob?” He even shepherds his brother from walking into the street or wandering from us in a mall, and spontaneously hugs him while we read books together.

Jacob currently calls Benjamin “Badu,” which is either “brother” or his version of a name that is impossibly long to a 2-year-old. He copies everything Benjamin says and is tickled when he gets to dress in similar clothes. Hopefully, this foundation of brotherly love will serve them well when they start wanting to beat the heck out of each other.

After two years of adjusting to life with two kids, Wendy and I know we still have gaps to fill. We want each child to feel equal, but understand that the balance is not possible all the time. Over the years, Benjamin will need us less in certain situations, allowing Jacob to reap the surplus.

In the meantime, we celebrate how Jacob laughs, talks, and plays with a brightness that is partly natural to his personality and partly due to the attention we give him. All I care about is that, one day, when he reads this column, he’ll know how much we love him.

Happy Birthday, Jacob.

Read more in our Family Man Archive.

Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of two boys. He can be reached at through his Web site,