Brothers (& Me) A Memoir of Loving and Giving: A Review
The Servant's Dilemma
Brothers (& Me), a Memoir of Loving and Giving is Washington Post columnist Donna Britt’s attempt at figuring out why women give so much of themselves in relationships. Though she is an award-winning journalist, Britt sees her life like most women whom she knows, overwhelmed by the demands of career and family and under appreciated by those she serves.
The Defining Moments
Britt grew up in a house full of men. The only girl of her parents’ four children, she found giving to the men she loved to be as natural as breathing. To cement this habit, while in junior high, a group of girls whom she thought to be her friends devised a “Be mean to Donna Day,” which pushed her back to the fold of men, since loving and giving to her brothers had created a comfort zone in which she knew how to maneuver.
Britt was extremely close to two of her brothers, the oldest and the youngest. But Darrell, her oldest brother was her heart. In her eyes, Darrell could do no wrong, despite his penchant for experimenting with drugs and breaking the hearts of the girls he dated. They seemed each other’s best friend and confidante until Darrell dropped out of college and moved to California. Once he returned to Gary, Indiana, their relationship drifted, though the love stayed the same. Thus, when Darrell is "murdered" by the Gary police for what they described as bizarre and menacing behavior, Britt blames herself for not re-forging their bond. This guilt sends her into a frenzy of needing to take care of the men in her life. She eventually has three sons of her own for whom she goes far beyond her duties as mother to assure that they are “safe.” In order to cope, she pushes her dead brother’s memory into the recesses of her mind but unconsciously lives her life trying to protect him and any other Black male from his fate.
In therapy after her second husband admits to carrying on a two-year affair, Britt comes face to face with her issues of giving. She tries to curtail the impulse, only to discover that she loves giving to others. The problem for her is that just as often as she gives freely and willingly, she also expects those to whom she gives to show gratitude and to reciprocate. This trait puts her in conflict with herself until her son reminds her that giving is her “gift,” and that no matter how much her sons and husband give to her, that is not their gift, and therefore, they will always fall short. Though she gets his point, the need to feel appreciated does not dissipate for very long.
It is not until Britt comes to terms with her brother’s life and death that she is able to harness her giving-- asking for, and receiving help from her husband, with whom she reconciled, and her sons-- setting personal boundaries that keep her from feeling so overwhelmed.
I’m not sure if Britt answers the question of why women give too much of themselves in relationships. She does explain her own behavior, but readers may be left wondering if her answer can be generalized to other women. Should we look for some defining moment in our lives that pushes us into that mode of if I don’t do it, it won’t get done right? Or, I’m the woman; it is my duty to take care of my man. If we don’t find that defining moment, how will we proceed? Regardless, Brothers (& Me) is a very interesting memoir—well written and compelling. I would recommend it if for no other reason than the pleasure of taking Ms. Britt’s journey with her.