The greatest gift my parents ever gave me

I was 11 when my uncle died, unexpectedly, in 1993 at the age of 42 — just a few years older than I am now. I don’t remember much about him, sadly, aside from a couple scattered memories of his zany brilliance.

But I vividly recall the funeral, and how my dad — whom I’d never before seen cry — gripped the lectern as he recounted the countless times that, growing up, his older brother deliberately made him laugh so hard at the dinner table that milk would come out his nose. It was now just another of their many childhood anecdotes that would never again be shared with its co-author.

If I ever appreciated that “Uncle Scott” was my father’s brother, I did so only abstractly; there was no reason to perceive an identity prior to and independent of his primary role in my life. Yet before he was my uncle — and far more importantly — he was my father’s only sibling. And though Dad was already a husband and father of four back in 1993, I imagine the meaning of “family” wasn’t quite the same for him after Scott took off.

I’ve never talked to Dad about his big brother’s passing, and I don’t intend to. That would force me to confront a central anxiety which, thus far, I’ve managed to suppress — even as it simmers beneath the reason I write this column in advance of a holiday you might not be tracking.

Saturday, April 10, is National Siblings Day. The commemoration was conceived in the United States by Claudia Evart to honor the memory of siblings she lost in separate tragic accidents — one of which ripped her 19-year-old big sister, Lisette, from her life when she was 17, and another of which then stole her 36-year-old big brother, Alan, 14 years later, in 1986.

Without warning, Ms. Evart was suddenly rendered an only child, just as my dad would be seven years later. She responded to that crushing heartbreak by dedicating her life to the establishment of a national day to honor siblings.

I empathize with the ferocity of her mission. After all, but for the untimely catastrophes that tear siblings away from people like Ms. Evart and my dad, the bond between brothers and sisters will likely define the longest relationship a person has in his or her lifetime.

So, curious as to the status of her work, last week I fired off a Hail Mary barrage of messages via LinkedIn, Facebook, and email. We finally connected only when Ms. Evart returned the voicemail I left after finding her phone number through the phone book, thereby marking the very last time in human history that anyone will ever again resort to such antiquated lunacy.

And in yet another illustration of how this column practically writes itself, Ms. Evart informed me during our call that she was once a fellow Albanite, having lived right down the road from where you’re reading this column as a student at the State University of New York at Albany. Because of course she was.  (That revelation dropped my jaw, and forthwith justifies Albany’s designation as “Sibling City.”)

In discussing the commemorative day she’d pioneered, Ms. Evart was laser-focused on her unfinished task: securing a Presidential Proclamation from the Biden Administration that would once and for all enshrine formal observation of a National Siblings Day.

It’s the only mountain left to climb. Because since 1995 — and through the auspices of the not-for-profit Siblings Day Foundation she founded to advance her cause — Ms. Evart’s tireless efforts have resulted in the official observance of Siblings Day by 49 of 50 states (California is the lone holdout), as well as celebratory “Presidential Messages” by presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Unofficially, the day is already societally entrenched. From Facebook newsfeeds to the far-flung corners of Oprah Winfrey’s media empire — to say nothing of “Big GreetingCard,” that most notorious of America’s industrial cabals — April 10 boasts exclusive currency as the day our nation honors siblings.

I asked Ms. Evart what Enterprise readers could do to further the objective she’s been advancing for more than a quarter century. She said that, while the most obvious form of support is tax-deductible donations through or SDF’s just-launched GoFundMe initiative, equally helpful are the “it-only-takes-a-minute” public pressure and awareness campaigns that supporters can execute from the comfort of their web browsers and mobile apps.

“Lobby the White House through Twitter,” Ms. Evart instructed, directing me to SDF’s twitter handle and encouraging users to tweet the official “@WhiteHouse” account with pleas for federal recognition of National Siblings Day. “Connect with SDF on Facebook and Instagram, so we can demonstrate this movement’s support.”

She also agreed that asking local, state, and congressional representatives to join her in calling on the Biden Administration to declare April 10 as “National Siblings Day” would significantly enhance the organization’s prospects for success.

“This is a contentious time,” she told me. “Formalizing a day that honors unconditional love [among siblings] and which already exists in practice nationwide would be really meaningful right now. Nearly 80 percent of Americans have at least one sibling — it’s a fundamentally bipartisan issue!”

Ms. Evart’s quest so resonates with me because a federally-recognized day to honor siblings would annually commemorate the most important people in my life. I’m the oldest of four, blessed to have three baby sisters who followed my arrival in rapid succession.

The derivative benefit of my mother’s renowned obsession with babies’ chubby cheekies (four sets in five years) was a brood so close in age that, throughout early adulthood, my sisters and I could roll up to Lark Street’s bars as a motley and self-contained clique.

Years before that, in 2001 — when the four of us were jointly confined for eight hours a day in Voorheesville’s Junior-Senior High School — my weekly responsibilities included flagrantly violating my hall pass to distract Robin and Brenna from the doors of their classrooms, only to then goof off with Caitlin in the percussion section of concert band.

Granted, I spent most of my teen years completely ignoring my siblings, because they were annoying and stupid and dumb and annoying. So adolescence didn’t afford me much perspective to appreciate the development of their identities in live-time. But, in retrospect, I was right there alongside them as they grew into the wonderful women I know today.

From the same parents, we each became our own independent people, while sharing so many threads and eccentricities in common. Even now, our every conversation advances the ongoing inside joke that, in the whole universe, only the four of us know.

While I can’t lay claim to ever making milk involuntarily burst from my siblings’ noses, I’m sure Uncle Scott would’ve nonetheless been proud to watch the nightly sabotage of my parents’ attempts at a civil dinner as I perfected the performance art of making my sisters laugh.

Though the military granted me a title, the honorific of which I’m most proud is “brother.” And in that role, it’s been endlessly rewarding to watch my fellow parental progeny forge their own paths from infant to individual.

Over the last half-decade, I’ve even been promoted to the rank of “Uncle Jiss,” solemnly serving as the same mischievous influence my sisters recall from childhood to my adoring nephews and nieces, whom I’ll forever regard as just free-floating pieces of the siblings I so cherish.

I wonder: How did Ms. Evart convert her pain into inspiration? How did Dad so bravely embrace the unexpected burden of keeping alive the boyhood memories his brother once helped him shoulder? And how will I know true happiness or weather life’s losses without having all my siblings there beside me?

Am I allowed to ask God — softly, subserviently, without making any sudden movements — that my sisters and I be permitted to experience together the many joys and tragedies yet lying in wait?

A tangible example: Long after we’ve said our final goodbyes to our parents, the best of them will still be reflected in my siblings, who radiate my mother’s compassion and my father’s wit. And since it’s in retelling the legends of mum and dad over whiskey that my parents will live on, can I respectfully request that God not take my sisters from me until the bitter end?

The answer, I know, is no. Ms. Evart and my father are testament to life’s sole lesson: Nothing is promised, except that it’ll all be taken away someday.

For Ms. Evart, a National Siblings Day will only ever serve as a memorial — a realization driven home when, at the end of our call, she said: “Be sure to give your sisters a big hug the next time you see them.”

How’s that for sobering? Yes, I have the enviable luxury of hugging my sisters.

So, rather than fear their hypothetical loss, I suppose I should instead count the blessing that, this coming Saturday, I’ll be wishing them “happy Siblings Day” in the group text thread that crackles with life all day every day, while taking a moment to thank God for having already given me so much time with the coolest humans on Earth.

I hereby dedicate this column to the siblings in our midst who’ve lost their own brothers and sisters, be it to death, addiction, mental illness, irreconcilable disagreement, or whatever else obscures that most sacred of bonds.

I honor the self-reliant bravery of those who never had siblings, and who thus met the world each day without the affirming (and often humbling) influence of a person who always had your back while simultaneously pronouncing that tormenting you was their exclusive purview.

I commend my dad for reassembling the shattered pieces of his heart, though one has been missing for nearly 30 years. And I thank my sisters for this anecdote:

I was once at a bar in North Carolina, my confidence flowing as freely as the bourbon which fueled it. I don’t remember exactly what I said through my Casanova haze to the enchanting woman I’d just approached, but the pronounced roll of her eyes suggests it was inordinately witty and brilliant.

“You must have sisters,” she said after a pause, smiling.

“I do have sisters,” I replied, bemused by the non-sequitur. “How’d you know that?”

“Because all boys who hit on women in bars are insufferable,” she said, placing a charitably condescending hand on my cheek. “But at least the ones with sisters know how to do it respectfully.”

It remains, to this day, the nicest compliment I’ve ever received. Although the enchanting woman evidently lacked an appreciation for witty and brilliant overtures, our encounter nonetheless left me beaming. Because even when sauced, somehow I still proudly exuded my sisters’ influence.

And maybe that’s the answer.  Maybe that’s how Claudia Evart persevered, how my Dad managed to navigate his anguish, how I might survive if one of my sisters didn’t. Maybe siblings remain indivisible parts of us, no matter what coast they’re on, whether on the phone or in our dreams, with us in this life or the next.

Maybe that’s how Ms. Evart found the strength to bring her noble advocacy to the doorsteps of yet another presidential administration, or how Dad figured out how to laugh even when the other party to his life’s most hallowed inside jokes was laid to rest in a synagogue cemetery.

Maybe a sibling’s resilience comes from having endured so many squabbles, practical jokes, and efforts to defraud them of their trick-or-treat hauls. Maybe siblings live on so as to ensure that a piece of their departed brothers and sisters do as well.

Whatever the answer, I’m just relieved that I haven’t had to figure it out yet — that, for me, National Siblings Day is a celebration of those still here. I’m sorry the same can’t be said for my dad, to whom I’m just so grateful for his role in creating my sisters.

They’re the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.

Captain Jesse Sommer is an active duty Army paratrooper and lifelong resident of Albany County. He welcomes your thoughts at