By Gregory Keer
When I was 12, my father took me to a college basketball game where we met up with a colleague of his named Herbie and his son.
“This is my boy Eric,” Herbie announced. “Give him a kiss hello.”
Could a father say anything more uncomfortable to two adolescent boys? Still, Eric and I laughed and managed to refocus our attention on the more macho pursuit of commenting on the ball game. Eric was as much a wise-cracker as his dad and that night was the beginning of a fast friendship.
This August, like we have for the past eight summers, Eric and I saw each other at a family camp run by the very college whose basketball team we cheered for 30 years ago. As is our tradition, we greeted each other with a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Why did you guys kiss?” my nine-year-old, Jacob, asked.
“Because I love this guy,” I said. “Eric and I were BFFs before there was a term ‘BFF.’ Now we’re DFFs – Dad Friends Forever.”
In the last year, my friendship with Eric has strengthened. While we were constant companions all the way through college, divergent career pursuits and widening geographical distance made our bonding time scarcer during our 30s. But, spurred by the annual connection our families share at camp, we’ve returned to “man dates” of going to basketball games and dinners.
In my 40s, making time for my buddies is more important than ever. And it’s not just because my wife has urged me to follow the scenario of the film I Love You, Man. It’s that, after the long years of struggling to mature into the man I want to be, I must now function as the man I am. The male friends I choose to hang out with make it easier because they’re no longer so concerned about competing with each other to see who can get the hotter chick, drain the most jump shots, or get the more prestigious job. We are all humbled by the challenges of life and are looking for ways to support each other. Perhaps we’re taking a page out of our wives’ social manuals to maintain more communication, but we’re man enough to admit it works.
In the past, one of the reasons I fell out of touch with my buddies was because I wanted to spend as many non-working hours with my kids as possible. I thought that I would be stealing time from them to go out for grown-up “playdates.” Even when the kids fell asleep, I remained unmotivated to go back out for coffee with a friend once in a while because, frankly, I was dead tired. With my sons getting older, having homework and other preoccupations of their own – such as maintaining good friendships — I find more opportunities for guy time.
I’ve even made room for new buddies, though building relationships from the ground up takes significant investment for guys in their 40s on up. So it’s really cool to get out for black-and-tan beers with my pal Jonathan, who is one of those people whose wisdom and humility help me navigate the sometimes stormy waters of modern malehood. Also, one of his sons is a bit older than Benjamin, which makes him a great mentor about what lies ahead on the road of fatherhood.
Yes, some of the stuff we men discuss actually goes beyond baseball and action movies. Talking with my dudes has been a true benefit to my sanity on the seemingly never-ending road of responsibility. I value my daily communication with my wife about parenting and other life management issues, but I need to rap with other guys about the masculine pressures of being a role model, of balancing leisure time vs. making more cash, and wondering whether we’ve fulfilled the goals we set out for ourselves.
This is why I’m picking up the phone more often, using email, and mastering Facebook to be in better touch with friends like Jeff, who lives across the country. It’s difficult to connect, given a three-hour time difference, but I value his quick wit and the similarities we have as husbands to energetic working wives, fathers to three sons, and practitioners in the writing and education fields.
This Thanksgiving, along with being grateful for all the blessings of family and health, I want to give thanks to my friends. Because of you guys, I can forgo the facetiousness when I say, I love you, man.