I heard some radio blather driving to work recently. When the DJ said the 25th anniversary of the death of disco was upon us, I remembered: 1979. I was in fourth grade that spring, and met Kieran. We became the vague friends boys that age become. I wasnít in his core group and he wasnít in mine; we belonged to a larger boyish amoeba of torn jeans, skinned elbows, and kickball rivalries. By spring weíd cemented a friendship thatís now 25 years old.
Weíre from Irish-Catholic families, our parents worked in education, and weíre both the youngest. Our fathers were ill through our adolescence, both died when we were young, and each thought he was the funniest man on the planet. We were good students in different ways, and good at sports in different ways. (He was good at them; I was good at telling him heíd played well.) Weíre both too introspective for our own good. He introduced me to Elvis Costello and I introduced him to night frisbee. I shared pilfered Johnnie Walker while he favored Jameson. Weíre both funny. (Heís got better timing, but Iíve got better material.) We survived nine years of school: tests, parties, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-ex-girlfriends, epic ski trips, sleepless sleepovers, concerts, proms, then college visits, applications, and acceptances. We got into our first choices ó and my first choice was his safety. But Iíve forgiven that.
The summer we were 15, we worked for my father at the local beach-snack stand. (Fathers: donít employ 15-year-old sons or their friends.) We were on the tennis team together, to the extent that I showed up for practice, and appeared in a few plays together, to the extent that he did. It was a good system, a basic, complementary one, and it saw us through bone-crushingly boring rural winters, unspeakably beautiful summers, mutual friends whoíd come and go in cycles, and the general absurdity of American adolescence.
We had too much binding us together by graduation to come unbound, and each year since has made that truer, through the deaths of fathers, the births of nieces and nephews, college and graduate schools, moves, jobs. The night before my wedding, he did his best manís duty of calming my jitters by talking about what a big event it was for him. Heís back in our hometown now, and we still share a common circle of friends and family ó even more so than at any point since, well, 1979.
As we are men and good friends, we rarely talk except when we see each other ó often at several-month intervals. Twenty-five years later, heís still my friend, no matter how little we converse, and despite the fact that heís never visited my wife and me. (Ahem.) But heís in my life: fixed, trusted, sure. For more than two decades.
Shouldnít there be gifts for this? Cards, at least? Do we even get to acknowledge such milestones? Romantic couples of all configurations tally up their time together, from Grandma and Grandpa celebrating their 75th to the couple down the hall loudly honoring their first six months. Stay at your job long enough and youíll get an office party. My gym gives out free passes after a year of membership. A bookstore sends me gift certificates every year, like a thoughtful spouse. But ask most people ó especially men ó how long theyíve been friends, and youíll get vague answers. "Coupla decades, I guess." "Since we were kids." "Longer than he deserves." Iíve never heard of a party for a friendship anniversary, never seen a card for one.
So, big deal. Weíre busy people. We donít pause to acknowledge many things that we should, because if we noted everything thatís important in our lives weíd have no time for anything else.
But that feels stingy. Ungracious. And itís at odds with a culture that idealizes male friendship in the media. Did you get choked up over Frodo and Sam? Still enjoy Butch and Sundance jumping off that cliff? Think Joey and Chandler were the only functional pair? Remember Ishmael and Queequeg?
Menís friendships matter to us, but weíre rarely encouraged to mark their significant moments. Thereís the fishing trip, and some bachelor parties have hints of momentousness. But these are escapes from real life, often too scripted and inebriated. Sober men donít often say to a friend, "Iím glad youíve been in my life," and women arenít really encouraged to either, Carrie Bradshaw notwithstanding.
But long-term friends are among the most significant people in our lives. "Chosen families" can be more important to us, and often know more about whatís important to us, than our relatives. We donít call them just when we need help moving. We give them our secrets. We tell them the diagnosis is bad and the coming nights will be long. We look to them first when we need to celebrate big. We count on them to look out for our interests, trusting they know our interests without being told. We regard their other close friends with a trust and respect we accord to few. We know our oldest friends will care for those we care about if something happens to us. To whom else do we entrust as much? To spouses, partners, siblings, grown children. A small group. Itís worth noting the time weíve spent with them.
So, my friend, happy anniversary. This is your card. Letís figure out how to mark this occasion before the year is out. Iíll bring the Jameson.
George Grattan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue Date: June 25 - July 1, 2004
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