Zelophehad’s Son

If you’ve read our Welcome page (or Numbers 27), then you know that the real Zelophehad didn’t have a son. This makes my existence, as a guy, a crime against nature, or at least a crime against a good story. But being the only boy in the family of seven kids isn’t too bad a story either.

As a kid, I have to admit that I often felt kind of shafted not having a brother. I’m second-oldest, so I had my hopes of getting a younger brother dashed five times. My sisters played with me, though, at least some of the time. They now tell me that as kids they often sneaked off to avoid playing with me too, though, as I was too violent with my toys and stuffed animals.

I was jealous because my friends mostly had brothers. I remember that I saw them wrestle and fight and play with their brothers in a way that I never experienced, much as I was included in things as a friend. Even now, I look at my two boys and how they interact, and recognize that what they have in each other is something truly foreign to me.

As a teenager, I began to appreciate my sisters more. This came about first when my youngest sister, Amalthea, got old enough to be out of a crib and so moved out of my room. Prior to that, I had always shared a room with whoever was the baby. After that, I was for a long time the only kid in the family to have my own room. More generally, just because I stood out if nothing else, if anyone in the family was spoiled, it was me.

But those aren’t the only reasons I appreciated my sisters. It was as a teenager, particularly with Eve, Lynnette, and Kiskilili, that I discovered what fascinating conversation partners they were. I remember having lots of silly discussions with them, like the time when I argued with Eve that Josef Stalin should have been repeatedly killed and brought back to life once for each person he had killed. But over time, we moved to discussing more serious things too. We often played Trivial Pursuit together, frequently late into the night, and used the questions or random thoughts as jumping-off points for discussion.

Now, as an adult, I feel so blessed to have grown up in a family with many sisters. I may never have learned to wrestle with a brother, but my sisters taught me to talk like I never could have learned from brothers. My wife tells me that she appreciates how I talk (and particularly) listen, and I think that this is directly attributable to my learning rapport talk1 from my sisters. I’ve read (I think in Wifework) that women do the vast majority of the work in keeping up with relatives. This is certainly true with my sisters and me. I so appreciate the work that my sisters have done to keep us all in touch. I’m a typical slacker man when it comes to calling anyone, but I’m fortunate that they are willing to call me.

Several of my sisters and I now live scattered across the United States. But as Melyngoch will shortly be entering the MTC, we are all getting together before she goes. I cannot express how much I am looking forward to seeing all my sisters at once. I plan to skip sleep for four days just to be sure we can get enough talking and game-playing in. 😉

I would be interested to hear how other people feel their experience with siblings has shaped them as adults.

1The phrase “rapport talk” was coined by the linguist Deborah Tannen. Rapport talk is connection-building talk that women more often engage in. She contrasts it with “report talk”, more publicly-oriented talk intended to convey information that men more often engage in. You can read Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand, a wonderful book that clarifies lots of common gender differences in talking style, for a more complete discussion of the terms.


  1. Thanks for writing about this, Ziff. I’ve got five girls and one boy (he’s 4th in line). We joke that our son will either be a confirmed bachelor or a great husband. The primary chorister told us a while back that when Gavin was asked to choose something for “Fun To Do,” he chose “playing with girls.”

    However, that sentiment doesn’t seem to play out in practice. He generally does his thing (which preferably includes weapons) by himself, or begs for the neighbor boys to play. In fact, he’ll be a first-grader this fall and even though I’ve homeschooled all my kids so far, Gavin has asked to go to regular public school and I’m gonna let him. He needs something that I just can’t give him at home.

  2. I have only one brother but three sisters, and I think this sounded a lot like what I assume my brother would say. I know he always wished he had a brother, and when we got a pet dog, it was a boy because Scott didn’t want yet another girl around. I think he is much more sensitive and aware of feelings than he would be otherwise. And now he has some brothers-in-law to wrestle and fight and be a boy with. I think one positive side of only having one brother is that, since he didn’t get to wrestle and fight with any brothers, it wasn’t really in him to pick on me. I don’t think he thought of physically roughing around with his siblings, and since he was more sensitive, he always protected me (I am three years younger than he is). I had a lot of friends whose brothers would beat them up and were really mean. Scott and I would get in little arguments here and there (and he would trick me into doing his chores) but I always looked up to him and he was always kind to me. I guess it could have been the same if he had brothers, but I always felt it was because we girls made him more sensitive and caring. How’s that for a gender stereotype?
    An interesting note on communication: my family tolerates hardly any sarcasm– we are all very aware of hurt feelings, and all a touch over-sensitive. My husband’s family is 6 boys and 1 girl and they are incredibly sarcastic. They can joke and tease and even be what I consider to be mean, but they don’t care. They never have to worry about hurting someone’s feelings. I don’t know which one is worse– just very different.

  3. I hope that my two brothers (2 out of 10 of us) will be excellent husbands. They are quite sensitive and, like the rest of the family, verbal rather than physical. They were definitely spoiled. They also would rather watch a movie than a sports game on TV, so I hope my future sister-in-laws enjoy that.

    In my house, you had to hold your own verbally and that means we tend to have good vocabularies. Because of our number (I think), we all eat pretty fast, talk loudly, and, I hope, consider more than just ourselves when making a decision.

  4. We’re another all-girl family. I have 7 girls and 1 boy (the “little prince”). One FHE DH was teaching a lesson on “how girls should be treated.” The girls were all telling their brother how he should open doors for girls and compliment them on how nice they look, etc. My feminist sensibilites were jangling a bit, so I asked my son to tell the girls how he thought boys should be treated. He said, “We just want to be left alone!”

  5. Well, shoot, I have two brothers and two sisters. I guess that makes me the only one around here who is well rounded and anywhere near normal.

    p.s. that’s a joke.

  6. I have one sister. She is four years younger than me, and we’ve had an interesting relationship since the day she was born. I instantly took to her as a second mother, and it has been that way ever since.

    I’ve been really protective of her, which can be attributed to many things. She was always a sick baby, which led to some problems that she still deals with today. Her speech was delayed to the point where she had her own dialect for several years that only I could understand. Even when I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I was her translator and link to everyone else, including our parents. I spent the most time with her out of anyone in her life because both of our mom worked, and our dad was pretty hands-off. And as home life began to go downhill, we went through our parent’s divorce and the aftermath together. I’ve always been the protective, perhaps even overbearing older sibling. I’m sure it only got worse after everything we went through with our father, because he’s an abusive alcoholic. But we’re stronger people because of everything we’ve seen, and I have a relationship with my sister that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

    My life with my sister has seriously impacted my future because my experience with her is what inspired me to become a speech pathologist. Next fall, I plan to attend BYU in their audiology program in order to help children Baby Sarah. All children deserve someone to listen to them, and to give them their second chance at life. That lesson is something I learned from Sarah in all the time that I’ve lived with her, and I thank God for the blessing she has been to me… even though she breaks my stuff and hogs the TV. I wouldn’t have it any other way:)

  7. Ziff, it’s very interesting to me to read your perspective on growing up with six sisters. I’m glad you survived years of babies tromping through the elaborate army-men arrangements on your bedroom floor and that your baseball cards (as far as I know) were never used as teething rings. Although gender wasn’t a factor for me in the same way, I had a somewhat parallel experience in that I did not at all enjoy being the oldest of a large family until a lot of the family had grown up significantly. I enjoy my siblings much, much more now than I did when I had to babysit them.

    Ziff and I got married within a few months of each other, and one thing I’ve often thought is that Ziff must have been much better prepared for marriage than I was. I grew up in a largely female world, and although I had a tomboy phase which involved tagging along with a very tolerant Ziff and his friends in elementary school, throughout my life most of my friends have been girls. I was really quite surprised to find just how different men are from women when I did marry. But I think I’ve adjusted reasonably well to tolerate heavy metal, fascination with motorcycles, and a preference for information exchange to rapport building in most contexts. (On the other hand, my husband has four sisters and he knows how to talk about feelings, both from his personal experience and his training as a psychologist. If he didn’t, I don’t think I would have married him.)

    I’m really looking forward to seeing all of you too. Our family gatherings just aren’t frequent enough, and we all live too far apart from each other. I’m not sure how we’re going to remedy this….

  8. My one sister has six brothers. She must be the Nega-Ziff.

    (I’m #2 in my family — which of your sisters is the Nega-Geoff?)

  9. Geoff, I guess I’m the nega-you, since I’m #2 too.

    Jacob and Mark, I’m glad that someone around here can be normal, because most of us (Lynnette in particular 😛 ) are as loony as can be.

    Paradox, thanks for your fascinating description of how your relationship with your sister has shaped you.

    Idahospud, cmac, a spectator, and Bored in Vernal, thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. It’s fun to hear your descriptions of how your lone our outnumbered brothers or sons respond to being around lots of girls.


    I enjoy my siblings much, much more now than I did when I had to babysit them.

    Oh good, I’m glad you like us more now 😉 . I’m sure we were pretty annoying at times (by which I mean “all the time”), particularly when Kiskilili and I would repeat the same silly comment over and over and over until you were ready to choke us.

  10. My wife and I have 3 girls and just found out we are having a boy. Honestly, we are not prepared for this, and are still in a little bit of shock. For us, it is like starting all over. My wife comes from a family of all girls (5) and after haing 3 in a row, we were ready to have a family of all girls. Our oldest is 8 and this feels a lot like when we were preparing for her to come.

    These discussions are very interesting to me to try and understand how it might be for our son growing up with 3 older sisters. Any suggestions?

  11. this conversation is funny to me b/c I am expecting my third boy. I was honestly hoping for a girl, though we will love and adore him all the same. I tend to hear that families with girls are happy to stay that way, but families with all boys want a girl. Is there any explanation for this?
    Also, sections 5 and 6 in this article claim to explain why families have boys and girls from a Dariwinian perspective (I’m not saying I believe it, just that I found it interesting)

  12. I tend to hear that families with girls are happy to stay that way, but families with all boys want a girl. Is there any explanation for this?

    That they are lying?


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