I had friends. Not a lot and maybe they didn’t consider me their friend but I was at least someone they could toss a ball around with when throwing the ball against a wall and other inanimate objects became dull and boring. But when you grow old friends begin to disappear from your life because they move on, they find better friends, or they find out that you are just as dull and boring as that wall that kept bouncing the ball back in the same monotonous rhythm. But in those moments when we were carefree, when we were just hanging out, playing ball, trying to impress girls and making fools of ourselves in the process – we were friends. We were tied together by camaraderie, by familiarity, by commonality.
Sometimes friendships are forged when we are thrown together and by some odd accidental, unplanned and unexplained phenomenon we find cheer, encouragement and solace in the companionship of a friend. But if what if our friends are not coincidental? What if our friends are bonded to us because they are born to us?
My wife (poor patient woman that she is) was pregnant five times. The first time she was pregnant because we wanted to make sure that our biology was in sync and working properly. The result was a beautiful (he hates when we describe him that way) baby boy. Before the second one was born I secretly prayed that it would be a girl – a pretty one with delicate features, tiny feet and hands and stunning blue eyes like her mothers. When son number two tumbled into the world and I couldn’t get a good look at his plumbing because the doctor was in the way I saw that baby’s head, broad shoulders and beefy cheeks and thought to myself, “Please God I know you have a sense of humor but….” Disaster averted that massive kid turned out to be a boy.
Every baby after that I kept praying, hoping that it would be a precious little girl that I could fawn over and be proud of and have mothers at the mall say, ‘You’re daughter is gorgeous’ while I waited for the day when I could smack the first guy who came calling for her hand in marriage. And even though I kept this secret to myself I knew that my wife wanted it badly too – for me of course because she was quite happy to only have sons which is what she told me after our first handful of dates.
Five sons later I came to the realization that God probably couldn’t trust me with a daughter – I got that sinking feeling that God probably knew I would have been in jail by the time any daughter of mine reached her teens. So there I was, stuck with five boys who made a lot of noise, loved to build things with my tools and then throw the tools in the trash; they literally hung around from the rafters and generally got into all kinds of trouble. Boys will be boys right? Whining, screaming, yelling, smelling little codgers who ate everything in sight and destroyed every ounce of sanity from sun up until sun down.
But something happened right around the time my oldest son turned twelve – I actually enjoyed having conversations, playing games and being around these guys. I found myself fully engaged in everything they did and not in the same way that they are dependent on us for nourishment and a dirty diaper change but in the way that they are extremely interesting and it is reciprocated. Suddenly I had these friends that never go home, they don’t talk bad about you with their other friends and they actually enjoy spending time with you. Yes, I was and will perpetually be pathetic but I thought that bit of fatherly illumination was mind-blowing.
I have four teenagers now and the fifth acts like a little old soul stuck in a ten-year-olds body. In the years that followed their births, their nurturing, their development into young men we have gone on countless camping trips and trips to parts unknown and I have watched them become men as they witnessed my own evolution into an actual dad. The times that I have spent on the road whether it was in a plane or in a vehicle speeding towards another adventure have been the most enjoyable times in my life. Every bit of fun that I experienced in my childhood and youth undeniably pale in comparison to the fun that I have had bonding with my sons over the years.
My oldest graduated from high school over a month ago. In the weeks leading up to his graduation his mother and I began to experience periods of extreme melancholy knowing that his life, his independence, his coming of age was rapidly upon us and subsequently, each of his brothers will be leaving the roost in the coming (short) years. I’m feeling anxiety far beyond the disappointment of losing a friend. I’m feeling the despair of a parent losing a piece of ones-self, an extension of me. Our roles in a sense are reversed: The dependent is independent and the independent is dependent.
I know that it is necessary and moving on for him is essential but as his parents we can’t help but long for the days when he and his brothers clung to us in public and nestled up to us in private. They say that we should never be friends with our children. I think what they meant to say is, be a loving, nurturing parent and they naturally become your best friend.
I am so grateful for parents who did their best for me and became my truest first friends. I’m thankful for a loving wife who taught me the importance of humility and patience when dealing with our boys – she is my eternal friend. I’m so blessed to have been given this short time teaching, learning from and loving five wonderful young men who I proudly call my sons and humbly call my friends.