I’ve spent the last couple of weeks shuttling back and forth between Chicago and St. Louis for family business. I normally take the Amtrak, but this particular trip back home last Sunday was by bus. As we departed from St. Louis Sunday afternoon, while reading a book, I noticed a family sitting a couple of seats in front of me. The mom was asleep by the window. Sitting next to her, I suspected, was the teenage daughter, and in the two seats across the aisle, the little brother and sister. The big sister kept picking at the little brother, messing with his arm rest, kicking at his feet from across the aisle, and being an overall torment.

Sounds like good old fun and games among siblings, right?

When the mom woke up, the big sister lied on her little brother and said he was the troublemaker. After some more banter, the upset mom hit the boy. He cried. Meanwhile the big sister smirked.

I was annoyed at the big sister even before the mom woke up and whacked the boy. I sent a text to some friends, including my sister about what I had witnessed. My big sis – bless her heart, I guess – said maybe the hot weather had gotten to the teen girl and basically dismissed it as sibling rivalry.

Maybe big sisters just stick together.

But I didn’t see it as just sibling rivalry. Try explaining it that way to the little brother after he dried off his tears. It’s not really a rivalry when one dominates the other. Now I don’t know this family, which got off the bus at a stop before we reached Chicago. They may be very loving, and mom may be the greatest mom in the world. The big sis may love her little brother to death six days a week, and Sunday was the day to mess with him. And maybe my big sis was right – this is just the way big brothers and sisters handle their younger siblings. As the little brother among four older siblings, I can relate.

But to me, there’s another side to this coin.

I don’t like seeing the “big guy” messing with the “little guy.” I tend to root for the underdog sports team as long as that underdog isn’t going up against a better Chicago team. And I don’t like bullying, at any level, when done to anybody, no matter if they’re related or not.

Siblings picking at each other, even fighting, verbally or physically, is part of family life. But a bigger sibling is supposed to look out for their younger siblings – not create a scenario where the parent physically punishes the little brother while the big sister takes some pleasure in it. I hope that little brother on the bus doesn’t grow up angry and mean – or worse, hating women. I shot off a sarcastic text to my sis saying that if the little brother did grow up violent, we’ll just do then what we all do now – blame it on the dad.

And don’t tell me I’m exaggerating because we’re experiencing that kind of adult trauma in society right now.

How we’re treated as kids affects us as adults, good or bad.

How many times do we hear grown women talking about the childhood pain of not having a relationship with their own fathers, and how that has negatively impacted their romantic relationships as adults? How many times do we hear grown women talk about how the abuse they suffered as a child outside or even inside the home has screwed them up mentally as adults?

And how much time do we spend talking about how just the absence of fathers in their sons’ lives is contributing greatly to the problems we see plaguing many of those young men today? Now our community is being plagued by some of the most destructive and debilitating violence inflicted on the black community since the Civil Rights days. The perpetrators of that violence are mostly our “sons and little brothers.”

Thankfully not every son. And hopefully not by the little brother on the bus when he grows up.

Maybe I got a little worked up because it was Father’s Day last Sunday, and as a dad, I’m not of the mind to see little kids getting picked on by bigger kids. It’s days like that that I wish my second Mom, Delores McCain, who died two years ago, was still around. She would have been among the first people I would’ve told. She wouldn’t have liked it either. No matter how bad black men acted – and she didn’t tolerate any foolishness from them – she always, always, saw us in a positive light.

And if Dee were on that bus, I know for certain she would have straightened the big sister out, told the mom what really happened, and gave the little brother a kiss on the cheek after wiping away his tears.