Monday, July 29, 2013

With Friends Like These

"No man is poor who has friends," - from It's a Wonderful Life

This weekend My Director and I attended my 20th high school reunion. Amazing that two decades have passed since high school. We were driving to the reunion and she noticed I was quiet. "Are you nervous?" She asked. "No. I'm just...I find this...surreal. I can't believe we're driving to my 20th reunion. Isn't that crazy?" She agreed. Aging is a wonderful, mysterious, inevitable, frightening thing. I also felt excited. To see all the guys again. There are maybe two times a year where we're all together. I don't care what were doing as long as we're all there. It's always a good time. Always brings back happy memories, and always creates new ones.

On our way home, My Director said how great it was that all of my friends had made it. And that we took this great picture together:

We're very handsome. And very plaid.
I am who I am today thanks to a lot of people - my parents, My Director, Peanut - but these guys have been just as instrumental in making me me. (So they have themselves to blame.) And to quote my mother-in-law, of all people, "You can tell a lot about a person by who their friends are." Well, then I must be one hell of an amazing guy. Not because I have friends, but because of who they are. I'm so proud of my friends. For their successes in life and love. But more, for their success in friendship. 


I was 8 years old, entering third grade and starting at a new school. I knew no one. I try to imagine Peanut in that situation. How scared I would be for her. How sorry I would feel for doing it to her. As a child, I was on the shy side, believe it or not. I was not the kid who struck up a conversation on the playground if I didn't know someone. So this was not an optimal scenario. Peanut isn't as shy as I was, but when it comes to new things she's certainly standoffish at first. I often look back at my childhood experiences through the Peanut prism and try to predict how she would have reacted. Or how I as a parent would have handled it. It makes me realize we're not so different, Peanut and I.

I stood there on the blacktop playground of my new school. No friends. Alone. That quickly changed. Another boy struck up a conversation with me, easier than I ever would have up to that point in my life. It all started with a lunchbox. My lunchbox, which I had lined up on the ground with the others belonging to the boys in my class. It was a red soft-case lunchbox with a race car on it. (Sadly no picture exists.) Instead of getting me Star Wars or He-Man or even The Muppets of the old tin-can variety, my mom had to think outside the box - pun intended - and buy me this stupid thing. I cried. I protested. I lost. Not many kids want to be different, especially at that age. Especially when it comes to a character-defining status symbol such a this. But there I was, with this ridiculous race car monstrosity, no friends, the first day at a new school. Oh, and my clip-on Catholic school uniform tie was crooked. Batting a thousand.

Yet my fears were all washed away by that friendly boy who thought my lunchbox was interesting. "I'm John," he introduced himself. "Where did you get that lunchbox?" Another boy joined in. Hugh was his name. We called him "Hughie." In a matter of 90 seconds I had made two friends and my embarrassing lunchbox, picked out by my mom who existed only to make my life miserable, was the conversation starter. We realized we were in the same class, with a teacher who was new to the school. Nobody, especially me, knew anything about her. So we all started third grade with a little bit of uncertainty. Our first thing in common. Soon, we'd learn we shared other common interests. A love of sports and certain video games, for instance. To this day, I am friends with those two guys. And it all started with something about myself that I was unsure of.

Recalling this moment in my life makes me realize the enormous amount of insecurities that fill childhood. Many of which our parents are perhaps never aware of. As vocal as I was about my geeky new lunchbox, in hindsight I was just freaking out about a new school, having to make new friends, and having my turkey and cheese sandwich packed inside this ridiculous invention which only existed to ruin my life. I can tell when Peanut is worried or unsure about something. Like me, she gets quiet. And defensive. She doesn't share her feelings often. She needs to work them out internally first. A simple reassurance is sometimes all she requires from us, even if she doesn't ask. It's up to us to recognize when she needs it. Like me she is hesitant in new situations. She's unlucky to be just like me, but lucky I actually may know how to guide her. I have a plan at least.

Peanut has had no problems making friends. I never thought she would. Few things make me happier than hearing her and a friend giggling at each other in some far-off room in the house. She is blessed with three different "BFFs" as she calls them, each of them different and wonderful in their own way. I too am blessed with an amazing group of friends. Those two guys on the blacktop in the beginning of third grade soon brought me into their bigger circle of friends. Together, the group of us remain close to this day. We don't see each other as much as we may like. But any time I get a phone call, text, or email from one of them, it immediately transports me to a not-so-long-ago and not-so-forgotten time when we were the ones giggling - although guys don't really giggle - er, chortling in one of our basements or backyards. To one of our thousands of pickup hockey games in the parking lot of St. Justin's church. To the pool parties, beach days, bike rides to the mall. The jokes, the movie quotes, the inside references to stories that are just ours... they're endless and timeless. They're still funny after 30+ years of friendship, if to no one else except us. (Just ask our wives.)

I could only wish Peanut finds friends as great as mine, and friendships as long-lasting. People who know your families and their names, the dramas and the comedies, never judge but always inquire because they care and know you do to. Guys who lined up, broken-hearted, to comfort me after my dad died. Guys who, if I had to be stuck in a foxhole with anyone except My Director, I would want one of them. Any of them. Because I know they'd do anything for me and I for them. Guys who are good dads and husbands. Not because they have to be. Because they want to be. Because that's what you do when you find yourself living the life you've always dreamed of. The life of soccer coaches and cheerleaders and comforters. They, like me, are their wives' biggest fans. We work hard for our families. Because our dads showed us how.

When My Director made that remark about that picture, and everybody being there, I said. "I know. That was awesome. I love my friends so much." (I get very lovey when I drink.) And then I said the one thing that sums up my feelings for them perfectly: "They never disappoint me."

When I texted them the day after the reunion to tell them I had written this post, and that it might make them cry, especially the most hardened soul among us, that hardened soul quickly shot back, "You have a blog?" More electronically-delivered hilarity quickly ensued. 



Thanks, guys. How blessed am I. 

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