The “Brothers” McCarthy
They met about 10 years ago, during McCarthy’s junior year at the College. And though they are family now, their relationship didn’t start off on the best foot. Arriving at the Joseph E. Maynard School in Cambridge as part of the Phillips Brooks House (PBHA) Head Start program, McCarthy got his first assignment watching a four-year-old boy being punished for acting rambunctiously during the day. The boy was Malcolm Green, and he was not happy to see McCarthy.
A few days later and a little disheartened by his first Head Start experience, McCarthy returned to the school and was startled when Green, all smiles, jumped on his back. The two clicked immediately. When Green’s mother came to pick him up, she told McCarthy that Green had been talking about him all week. She said Green, whose father wasn’t around very much, needed a male figure in his life—and thought McCarthy should be that man. McCarthy agreed, and from that moment on two were “brothers.” McCarthy, now a lecturer in history and literature, is Green’s legal guardian.
The two have similar senses of humor and are constantly poking fun at each other. McCarthy needles Green for forgetting an appointment, and Green jokes about McCarthy getting old. “I’ll be taking care of you by the time I get out of college,” says the Cambridge Rindge and Latin junior.
The two spend a lot of time playing basketball and watching movies. They pride themselves on being the only two people who hated Lord of the Rings and insist that “now that Siskel’s dead” they should become the nation’s preeminent movie-reviewing duo.
McCarthy has even gotten Green involved in some of his public service at Harvard. Every year, Green accompanies McCarthy on Alternative Spring Break trips to rebuild black Southern churches that have been burned down by white supremacists. Green isn’t quite as politically active as his radical older brother. He laughingly reminds McCarthy of the year he spent proclaiming he was a Republican. “We fixed that,” McCarthy says emphatically.
Not all is fun and games for the brothers. Ever since McCarthy returned to Boston from graduate school at Columbia University, he has taken on a more serious role in Green’s life. Though Green still lives with his mother and sister, McCarthy and Green’s mother Dian confer on most parenting decisions. McCarthy not only signs permission slips and goes to parent-teacher conferences, but he also occasionally punishes Green. McCarthy says he gets frustrated with Green for not living up to his academic potential. Green complains that McCarthy is sometimes too hard on him but says it’s easier to have an authority figure who is also his friend.
Even when they are in separate rooms, McCarthy and Green answer the same questions in almost the exact same words. And when they are together, each tries to tell the same story louder than the other.
And perhaps the younger brother will follow in his friend’s footsteps. McCarthy was adopted at birth and says that this aspect of his identity made his relationship with Green a priority in his life. Green says he now hopes to serve as a mentor and “McCarthy figure” for his year-and-a-half old godson.
Though both joke about their “family resemblance,” they are keenly aware of the questions that their racial differences raise for others. Both say outsiders don’t often understand how they can be so close and see each other as family because of the difference in their skin color. While Green insists race is not an issue for him in his relationship with his brother, McCarthy goes further, saying he sees the world differently because he has seen it through Green’s eyes. “He saved me from being a white person in America,” McCarthy says.
Both look forward to the time when they can be friends without the strain that McCarthy’s disciplinarian role can put on the relationship. For the moment, though, they try not to take things too seriously, to ensure Green aces his AP Literature homework and to plan for their next Quincy House intramural basketball victory.