I I I I I I I  

AustinMama offers up some Daddy props.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein

Best Friends

On our way up to visit my mom’s house, the car in front of us unexpectedly slammed on the brakes and Janice had to follow suit, screeching tires to avoid a collision.  After we assessed that all were okay and got underway again, Hugh piped up “Remind me about this later so I remember to tell Oma about it.”  Whenever an experience stands out to him, this is his response – our next host or visitor has to hear the tale.  It’s as if he hasn’t really had an experience until he tells someone about it.  There’s a quintessentially human quality about that – it’s our stories that define us as individuals, both to ourselves and each other.  For so many years of my life I would come home when anything remotely remarkable happened to me and call my best friend immediately to talk about it – to make the experience real.

Who your best friend is can be a very fluid concept.  With the immediacy of a six-year-old, Hugh’s idea of his best friend is often influenced by what playmate he anticipates seeing soonest.  One day it is a schoolmate who shares his interests, and the next it is one of Janice’s drama students who visits.  Some names come up more often than others, and naturally he remembers who loans the best toys or who forgets their manners, but really, Hugh’s best friends at this time are clearly mommy and Keefe and me.  We are the constants that provide context for his life, we provide for and understand him best, and can only be challenged for the role of favored playmates by the combination of another child’s energy level and novelty factor.  As he enters grade one and shares playground time with an entire school-ful of children, he will be forming alliances and identifying cliques as an unavoidable facet of human social dynamics, and he will find a new best friend in the changed landscape of his classmates.

Keefe’s best friends are also at least partly dependent on proximity or frequency of association, but more so are a matter of shared interests and perspectives.  His fascination with science fiction or comic books can provide a shared language of friendship, for example, but he isn’t in any rush to start dating, so the eleven-going-on-nineteen set holds little interest for him.  Keefe is both an extremely savvy social chameleon able to relate to very disparate people and a fierce individualist determined to prove his bright pink fedora a manly accessory.  He is also enormously loyal.  His best friend today may still be Benjamin, who lived two blocks from us for about seven years since they met near Keefe’s second birthday.  We don’t see quite as much of him since his parents split and he moved elsewhere in the city, but they’ve formed the bond that comes from being in each other’s lives through a lot of change and personal growth – a touchstone for not only who they used to be but also how far they’ve come since.  Shared anecdotes, a history of mutual stories, are the bricks and mortar of defining friendships.

Back in the prehistory of single life, the best friend I ever had was Phil.  For at least a decade he was good company when I was lonely or bored, a panic button when the poop hit the fan, and an outstanding foil for my deplorable excesses of character.  When we were dating psycho chicks and feeling wounded or baffled we’d jump in his car and trek out to a peaceful spot in the small town we’d grown up in and talk it out, deconstruct the whole thing and emerge feeling like we knew what we were talking about as effective and adaptable human beings.  We survived women coming between us, therapied ourselves out of near-breakdowns, and laughed hysterically in the wee hours of the morning.  One day a bunch of things in my life all sundered at once: my relationship, my job, the lease on the apartment I loved.  A basketcase,  I wrote a novella on Phil’s computer before deciding to get away.  Phil knew a fantastic place for me to escape to in central Arizona and helped get me there.  When I returned home a year later, he met me at the station.

Finally, several of the things I’d been looking for began to fall into place.  I moved in with another close long-term friend, which led eventually to marriage and a family.  Janice and I had already seen each other at our best and worst.  I had offered her my shoulder through the breakup of her second marriage and Keefe’s birth, and she’d been a reassuring and loving voice through my own holocaust and the long road that led me away from it.  I have always contended that our marriage owes much of its strength to its beginning as a significant friendship.  Not only is it by a colossal margin the most enduring romance I’ve ever enjoyed, but the profoundest friendship as well.  There’s no substitute for good talk and mutual companionship for making you a better parent or a more functional human being, not to mention a happier one.

The only downside to your spouse being your best friend is that when you get fed up with each other, you can’t go and gripe to your best friend about it.  When Keefe and I start acting like poster boys for chronic testosterone poisoning, where is Jan supposed to vent?  When I run out of patience or words for her, to whom do I look for them?  Sometimes we get so busy as a family we feel like a closed loop, paradoxically isolated in the midst of a flood of houseguests and projects. What are commonly mutually supportive silences can become awfully loud.

But take heart.  Storytelling, as Hugh instinctively knows, is the heart of friendship, as well as a central component of defining ourselves.  Whether I’m walking through a place near my mom’s where I spent long hours with Phil trying to understand women, looking through photo albums at moments from my childhood, or building a fire with the boys to share something that I loved long ago, the stories that come to mind for me come in three varieties: the ones I’ve found joy sharing with Jan and the boys, some others that remind me how much happier I am in the life I’m living now, and those that I can take inspiration from in creating new memories.  Heck, all best friends get sick of each other from time to time, but you can never stay mad at your best friend.  Especially when she’s waiting in bed when you’re done your column, and she’s so darned cuddly.  Every story I know about Janice has a happy ending.
Michael Nabert
is a Canadian writer who loves to talk and sing, and writes mainly about parenting, the art of wooing and paleontology. Widely traveled, with an opinion about everything, his friends often describe him as having "a deplorable excess of character." He is currently stay-at-home dad to Hugh and Keefe.  


I I I I I I I  

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