Brotherly Bonding: How My College Sons Grew Close Again 

The pictures on my phone of salt and pepper gnocchi and parmesan risotto brought me to tears. “We went to dinner tonight at an Italian restaurant near my campus,” my college freshman texted with the photos.

The “we” in the equation was my two sons, a year apart in school and studying at different universities in the same city. You might think it doesn’t sound unusual for two brothers to grab dinner together, but I’ve been praying for this moment.

Born less than two years apart, my sons were happy playmates as toddlers. They spent hours designing water parks on sketch pads, playing with Legos, and doing science projects together. They shared a room and talked so much we had to separate them so they’d sleep. 

My sons are once again becoming close now that they are in college together. (Shutterstock PIXbank CZ)

My sons drifted apart as teens

And then the teenage years hit, and they drifted apart. My younger son was trying to find his way, and it did not include following his brother. Sometimes it seems the space between brothers just grows. 

I did everything I could during those years to keep our family close and force the boys to interact. We rolled sushi, made homemade pasta, and did dishes together. When we were stuck at home for months in a small apartment in China, I pressed the boys into kitchen duty. I hoped that cooking and eating together would be the ingredient that bonded our family (more importantly, my boys) together. 

“We don’t really have anything in common,” my youngest explained when I asked him in high school why he didn’t want to hang out with his brother. Nothing in common? You came out of the same womb, shared pacifiers as babies (only when I dropped one), learned to ski, scuba dive and sky dive together. Doesn’t a decade and a half of shared history and thousands of family diners eaten together count for something?

When I sent them off to college I thought they would become friends

Don’t worry, my friends told me; they’ll become friends when they’re in college. I just couldn’t see it happening. They left a year apart, going to the same city. We celebrated them with sendoff dinners of Japanese tapas and lobster linguini as we explored the restaurants in their new town. 

That second year, I left them both behind in their new city, hoping they would seek each other out for comfort and company, like a good cup of coffee on a rainy day. Then I did what any mother hoping her sons would reconnect would do: I bribed them, sending gift cards to one of their favorite cafés, secretly hoping they would go together. 

Food has played an important role in the memories we cherish as a family, from making pizza with homemade mozzarella to helping with the lemon Bundt birthday cakes. Celebrations were met with fancy restaurant meals, and all kinds of ailments were cured with chocolate chip cookies. But would it be a powerful enough ingredient to bring my sons together again?

If they don’t become friends as adults, who will carry on the legacy from our kitchen? I hoped that one day they would be making their dad’s Christmas quiche for their own families when they gathered. Eating together is part of what defined us as a family. 

I saw them becoming friends again through shared meals

Halfway through my younger one’s freshman year, I felt a thaw in my sons’ relationship. They’d grab food at Chick-fil-A when they were home over Christmas break, and I think maybe they might have used those gifts cards I sent, together. But, defrosting takes time. 

In our weekly phone calls with our sons, my husband and I would get little hints of shared meals. Texts came describing dinners of steak tartar, crispy pork belly, and burrata with grilled focaccia. I knew they went together – I could tell who was at the table just by what they ordered. 

My greatest desire was to see my boys have a close bond

My heart swelled, like a rising loaf of sourdough. I kept my happiness to myself, because I didn’t think my sons would understand that one my life’s greatest desires was to see them bonded like brothers should be. 

The boys have different schedules, so their spring breaks didn’t align. But they both came home at different times and spent time in the kitchen, feeling the comfort of home.  

“Hey, I’m making some pigs in a blanket. There might be some extra ingredients in the fridge if you want to make some next week when you get home,” my first born offered his older brother.

And then he said, “Maybe we can grab some food when I get back to school.”

Nothing in common? Or everything in common? 

Years of seasoning our family with love, homemade meals and exploring new restaurants and recipes together seemed to be paying off. I guess it’s like a good stew, it takes a while to simmer and develop flavor. 

So that’s why I wept when I saw the photos my son had texted of gnocchi and risotto. They were breaking bread together. 

More Great Reading:

I’m Slowly Discovering That the Greatest Gift I Gave My Children Was Each Other

About Kirsten Harrington

Kirsten Harrington is an Orlando-based freelance writer who loves to write about food and travel. She lived in China from 2019-2021 and still has many stories to tell. When she's not writing or planning out her next adventure with her husband, you might find her in the kitchen with her two sons.

Read more posts by Kirsten

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