I thought I could invite my brother to this gathering but, as time goes by, I realize I’m terrified of the idea and don’t think I can go through with it—I don’t want to be mistreated in front of the rest of the family. What can I do?
I can imagine how unpleasant it is to be around your brother and how stressful the idea of including him in Thanksgiving must be. Holidays, especially, are occasions we want to enjoy and remember fondly. But I don’t think that your only options here are to exclude him and have a nice time, or include him and have an awful time. Instead, I think you might benefit from extending a different invitation—for coffee.
Let me explain. You’ve expressed two feelings toward your brother in your letter: fear and compassion. Like many siblings, you grew up in the same household but had a different response to your shared environment. This might be due to factors like your innate temperament, birth order, or even gender (a father-son dynamic can be more intense than a father-daughter dynamic). When you were younger and didn’t struggle to get along, he probably didn’t seem like your father, and this inspires your compassion. But as he aged, he resembled your father more and more not just behaviorally, but also physically, and this likely compounded your fear. And I’ll bet that he can sense that fear.
I bring your conflicting feelings up because although your brother seems like the cause of the difficulty between you—and I’m in no way minimizing how difficult he can be—you also, without intending to, might be contributing to the tension. Note that I say contributing to it, and not causing it. People often give up on family or friends without thinking about what they themselves can do to help generate change. Nobody operates in a vacuum; our behavior influences other people’s behavior. In ways you might not realize—through body language, glances at your husband, a lack of warmth in your demeanor—you may be sending your brother the message that you don’t like him very much and barely tolerate him. Your cousins and nieces and nephews, on the other hand, may make him feel valued and accepted, all of which would engender a more positive response than the one he gives you—abrasive, sarcastic, threatening.
I don’t know how much you and your brother have talked about your underlying conflict over the past couple of decades or if you’ve simply fought, felt injured by the other, left things unresolved, and then avoided each other (you say he doesn’t invite you to family gatherings, either). I’m guessing that you haven’t expressed much of anything positive toward each other, which has created a toxic negative-feedback loop. You feel that he’s a ticking time bomb, and that takes you right back to, Uh-oh, it’s Dad all over again; he feels that you’re critical of him (whether that’s communicated verbally or nonverbally), and that takes him right back to, Uh-oh, it’s Dad all over again. In other words, you both remind each other of your father. And round and round it goes.