Nathan Brooks was born to be a middle child.
Even as a baby, he was never The Baby, long before Jon came along and assumed that still-standing title. Almost from the beginning, Nathan has been a peacemaker, a mediator, a negotiator, a giver.
This, incidentally, makes him more of a Brooks than a Hall. Granted, my knowledge of the Brooks family is pretty much limited to Troy, while my Hall history has a whole host from which to choose, but even among that sample, I’m confident in my statement.
A few months ago, as we prepared to celebrate Nathan’s 18th birthday, I asked him what he was going to request for his special menu. His response wasn’t surprising: “I don’t know. What would you like?”
While some of that can no doubt be chalked up to the fact he’s a) a giant; b) a teenager; and c) has a metabolism most of us can’t comprehend, thus eating almost any food item that happens to cross his path, it also reflects his overall demeanor. Trying to please others is Nathan in summation.
Through an out-sized personality surpassed only by a gentle consideration for others, Nathan has spent a life drawing people close to him. He has a long line of friends, many of whom are closer to being brothers, all of whom would have his back in a heartbeat.
They would, of course, have to get behind the rest of us, with his actual
brothers, Matt and Jon, leading the way.
This is not to say it will always easy. Before I speak directly to Nathan, I want to say something to these other boys. I will, of course, be quoting Bruce Springsteen (and spoiler alert: this won’t be the last time).
While inducting the E Street Band into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, Springsteen said this about his band, and it speaks for any collection of like-minded people:
“Real bands are made primarily from the neighborhood. From a real time and real place that exists for a little while, then changes and is gone forever. They’re made from the same needs, the same hungers, culture. They’re fogged in the search of something more promising than what you were born into.
“We struggled together, and sometimes, we struggled with one another. We bathed in the glory, and often, the heartbreaking confusion of our rewards together. We’ve enjoyed health, and we’ve suffered illnesses and aging and death together. We took care of one another when trouble knocked, and we hurt one another in big and small ways.
“But in the end, we kept faith in each other.”
I wish that for each of you.
And for you, Nathan, I want you to know this: in our band, if I consider myself to be Bruce, you are my Clarence, my Big Man.
In whatever way you participate, you find a way to somehow make it just a little better. You bring your own touch, your own music, and manage to bring everyone else into it while elevating them to higher levels.
This gift will carry you far, as you leave here for Bowling Green and beyond. I want you to remember the words from “Badlands,” carry them with you always (and Granny, I apologize for the swear, but I didn’t write it; I’m merely quoting Springsteen):
“I don’t give a damn for the same old played out scenes
I don’t give a damn for just the in-betweens
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now”
Never settle. Push yourself beyond what you think you’re even capable of, even if you fail. Maybe even especially if you fail. And when you do, I have absolutely no doubt that you will pick yourself back up, look at it from a different perspective, then find a way past it.
Maybe you can call on your friends, these brothers, to help you through it.
“I believe in the love that you gave me.
I believe in the faith that could save me
I believe in the hope and I pray that same day
It may raise me above these Badlands.”
If you can remember these things, you will be fine. More than fine, really. You’ll just keep being the Nathan we know and love.
Don’t lose your sense of joy. Don’t lose your ability to see the good in people. Don’t lose your desire to help others.
Maybe, though, don’t always sacrifice your own needs for someone else’s wants. Find that line between selfishness and selflessness so that no one ever takes advantage of your inherent goodness. Remember, as The Boss sings, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”
So, Nathan, while you’ll always be my Big Man, it’s time for you to go be your own Springsteen.