David Cassidy was the television version of the cool older brother I never had. Hearing that he has dementia feels like some protective cone over my childhood has been wrenched away.
As an only child growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I often felt out of place in working class New Jersey. Most of the families on my street had four or five kids, and at school some kids used to call me a “lonely only” or make snide remarks about my being “spoiled.” I loudly told them to shut up, but part of me felt bad about being different. I sometimes fantasized about having lots of siblings, but mainly my daydreams centered on one thing: Having an older brother who would protect me.
I imagined this perfect big brother beating the shit out of Donald Schmidt when he punched my arm in the coatroom in fourth grade. (Instead, I challenged Donald to a fight outside and got punched in the face.) I imagined this big brother pushing the junior high kids off the bridge when they threw lit cigarettes into my bookbag. (The cigarettes made brown burn holes.) When a gang of nasty seventh-graders ganged up on my friend Judy Chen and called her a “Chink,” I envisioned my big brother grabbing them by their hoodies and hauling them off to the principal’s office like some kind of civil-rights-era Sir Lancelot.
A few years later, I found myself wishing for a cool older brother who would bring his guy friends over to the house so I could get to know them.
Back in elementary school, my go-to role model for an older brother was Keith Patridge, as played by David Cassidy on The Partridge Family. He was relaxed, funny, confident—the de facto father figure in a household run by his widowed mother. Continue Reading