Sibling revelry

A funny thing happened on the way to 2020. The Brothers McMullen learned how to get along on the golf course.

At the height of our athletic powers, we never came close to realizing our potential when faced with a genetic mirror on the tee box. Whether it was together as a four-man team, or young boys matched against old on St. Patrick’s Day, honoring our father’s memory in his preferred environment, we usually modeled mediocrity.

Something clicked last summer, however. Perhaps it was causes that reminded us that we’re part of something bigger.

The first tournament honored the late Mike Baker, a wonderful educator and family friend who was the first Jewish person encountered by some of us cloistered Catholics in Brooklyn Park. The other was a muscular dystrophy fundraiser named for Julian Lewis, a sophomore at Mount St. Joseph High School.

All of a sudden, two guys in their mid-60s and two in their early-70s were hitting approach shots to tap-in range and sinking 30-foot putts. When age was on our side, we struggled in a scramble format, but now we were well under par. Instead of trying to outdo one another, we complemented the group and fed on the resulting fellowship.

It was a long time coming, and it was good.

I thought back to those outings Nov. 30, when Mary and I were driving home from extended McMullen Thanksgiving in Fairfield, Pa., and an email flashed on my cell about Father Michael Carrion succumbing to a fatal heart attack.

The day had been spent with four of my six siblings and the next two generations, and thoughts naturally turned to one of his brothers, Father Patrick Carrion. Like some of my kin, he is a calming influence. Contemplating his loss hurt.

We haven’t heard the other’s confession, but my four older brothers and I have counseled one another, coached one another, officiated together, performed on a bandstand together, and occasionally taken a swing at one another.

What also made 2019 memorable on the sibling front is that it went beyond the customary patriarchy.

A clan as large as mine usually means group gatherings, and it can be hard to make time for just two. New experiences are hard to come by at this stage of life, but Jan. 31 brought one, lunch with my younger sister, just the two of us. Gratefully, it wasn’t a one-time occurrence.

Speaking of sisters, if you want to expand your children’s cultural and global horizons, it helps to have an aunt/godmother, like mine do, who resides in Germany.

My siblings understand my need to walk an extra 200 yards on the beach to find a bit of solitude – and raised the kinds of kids who would walk those extra yards, thinking I needed company. Now adults, they are the ones mine want to hang out with.

This will be my first Christmas away from Baltimore, as we’ll be with a daughter, son-in-law and our youngest grandchild on the West Coast. When my siblings gather the weekend after Christmas, I’ll visit on FaceTime, rather than in person, with some of the greatest gifts shared by my parents.

After Father Frank Wills informing us in 1966 that we wouldn’t have to learn Latin, because of something called Vatican II, one of my strongest memories of being an altar server involve a particularly aggressive critique one Sunday morning, from multiple voices, concerning my posture on the altar.

The ones doing the correcting were not my parents, but some of my siblings. A few decades later, they passed on to my wife the task of asking the eternal question: Is that really the right thing to do?

It’s a big job. Thank God, way back then, there were six of them around to do it.

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen has served as the managing editor of the Catholic Review since 2008.

The author of two books, Paul has been involved in local media since age 12, when he began delivering The News American to 80 homes in his neighborhood. He began his journalism career with the Capital-Gazette Newspapers in Anne Arundel County, and spent more than 25 years as a sports writer for The Sun in Baltimore. His favorite writing assignments have included the Summer Olympics in Australia and Greece, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and “Feet for Francis,” a 2015 walking pilgrimage from the Baltimore Basilica to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis.