The tragedy of being an only child is that we grow up being egocentric and secretive, never learning to share our possessions and emotions with the outside world. Unlike people who come into this world as a sibling, for better or for worse, there will always be those you can run to when all hell breaks loose. For an only child, there are two viable options when you are are in trouble – hide inside yourself or run away. These are people who grow up to be extreme characters – shy introverts or confident extroverts who want to control the world and are deeply frustrated if it doesn’t go their way.

The social competencies learned by people growing up with siblings are concepts that the only child has to compensate for with friends or cousins, assuming of course that the parents allow this. Sharing a room, sharing the food on your plate, even sharing a bed with two other people, is something inconceivable for an only child – often the source of sadness and envy, leading up to a loneliness in adulthood that is never healed.

The psychological adjustments of children with siblings are far more advanced at an early age compared to an only child. Happiness and joy, frivolity and playmates are always within reach, and so are squabbles and problem-solving. The only child will learn this only when he or she socialises in school, and later on in work, and it is far more difficult, often times a process that needs to be learned, unlike people with siblings to whom it comes naturally. According to psychologists, people who grew up with only child syndrome, though they tend to mature faster and develop a sense of responsibility earlier than those with siblings (who will shove it on the eldest one), they grow up narcissistic, with a very high need for privacy, are extremely uncomfortable in conflict situations, and resist peer pressure – all of which I can vouch for personally, as can my other friends who are also only children.

The only child will make an excellent leader, dedicated and strong-willed, unafraid to pioneer, but the person who grew up with siblings will be the better team player and negotiator. As partners or spouses, the only child will understand the need for “alone time” better than others but will also crave attention, will be more experimental but difficult to confine, will love fully and unconditionally, but will not be willing to share.

I have been blessed with very good friends over the years who have stood in as my siblings in the absence thereof. The strong women of substance in my life whom I call friends are also my soul sisters, understanding the intricacies of my being, knowing when to comfort and when to push, reaching out without me having to ask, and wiping the tears away when I can no longer hold them back.

ERPL bday
Brother and Protector ©MTHerzog

I’ve always had strong male role models in my life, either as mentors in my artistic endeavours or sports. To this day, I refuse to train martial arts with a female coach or play tennis with another woman, simply because the drive to be stronger and push harder is different with a male coach. My father refused to pamper me, and instead set very high standards, saying that mediocrity is unacceptable and failure is not an option. I still cringe in fear when my mistakes are pointed out, and resent it when someone is more strong-willed and stubborn than I am.

As a child I always wished for an older brother to protect me or simply hold me when I failed to understand the rest of the world at that moment. If there is one man who has taken up this role it is ERPL, who is actually a year younger than me but embodies everything I ever wanted in a brother. Our fathers were co-workers in the 1960s, and both our families have been entwined since then. Back in those days, there were no disposable diapers, only the cloth ones. When ERPL was born, 49 years ago today, I had undergone several reconstructive surgeries for my cleft palate and hare lip, and my traumatised parents, realising that this was just the beginning of the ordeal, had already decided that I was not going to have any siblings. So the little fellow became my god-brother (kinakaptid in Tagalog) when my dad accepted the role of being his godfather. With this new title, ERPL also inherited my diapers and walker, not knowing that this would haunt him for decades to come. He was the more fortunate one between the two of us though, and grew up to be the first-born and big brother to three other siblings that followed.

Over the years, family situations and career choices kept us apart, but always in touch. And when my parents passed away last year, he took me under his wing and drew me into their family clan. The role of big brother even extended to the escorting of the cat at the airport last July! I treasure the years, honour the soldier, and am grateful to have the man in my life as the brother I always wanted. Happy birthday ERPL!