Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Keeping up with my brother

This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald in September 2007.

When I was kid, my older brother, Bill, knew how to do everything.

He knew the right way to throw a football, how to throw a baseball, and, in his teens, how to pole-vault.

He did his best to teach me what he could do, but at four years younger I was never able to do what he did quite as well.

I suspect many readers have older brothers or sisters just like this.

Over the years, it seemed my brother could always run faster, golf better, and dive better. And while he went on to pole-vault in college and gained a scholarship, I could barely get that pole to lift me even a few feet off the ground.

The story is similar when it comes to our careers. Although I’m proud to serve as the president of a respected regional financial institution, Bill has headed up huge divisions for Bank of America, both in the United States and Hong Kong. He was on the managing committee for BankBoston and ran their consumer lending division. He’s been second in charge of the fifth largest national bank in Australia, and he served as the interim president of Atlanta’s Federal Home Loan Bank. Currently he is president PEAC Ventures, a management consulting firm, and serves as a director of E*TRADE Bank.

I remember when it really hit home that my brother was somebody in the banking world. Many years ago, after he moved to Atlanta, but was working in Foster City for Visa USA, he was telling me he’d attended a company event and got to meet Annette Benning, Rupert Murdock, and the comedian Garry Shandling.

“Really!” I said, impressed.

“Yeah,” he replied. “In fact, here’s the program from that night.”
I looked and saw that my brother’s name was actually on the program and that he’d been introduced by Garry Shandling. Then I looked at my brother’s title.

“You’re the chief operating officer? The number two guy for Visa?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“You didn’t know that?” he said.
It is a bit odd I didn’t know this, especially since my brother and I have stayed in close touch over the years. In fact, we were so close as kids that I recall a vivid childhood dream where I was playing in our front yard, and my brother could see from the screened porch of our home an older woman—with her skeleton showing through her translucent skin—walking along up next to the houses, coming my way, her head staying level as her legs lifted over steps and bushes, me oblivious to her approach. In the dream the gray-haired woman was certain to get me, and my brother tried several times to call out a warning, but no sound came out of his mouth.

What’s odd about this isn’t so much the dream, which portrays the fear of failure in protecting a younger sibling, but that I don’t know if I had the dream or if my brother did. It seems like he would have had it, but because I remember it so clearly it feels like I had it.

Of course, who had the dream doesn’t matter any more than what our titles are, who’s the highest jumper, or who can throw a perfect spiral. What matters between me and my brother is what matters to everyone who has an older brother or sister, that every once in a while we get to speak by phone or read an email or birthday card, or see in person a smile that no matter how old we get we’ll immediately recognize as one we’ve known forever.

1 comment:

she said...

yeah, yeah, yeah...

but can he write poetry?