How many friends do you need to make your life complete? For me, it’s only a handful. I’ve always had trouble making friends and therefore, I’ve never been a people person. People usually get on my nerves – especially when they’re driving. Earlier today, I had lunch with a good friend, Preston*, who I’ve mentioned before. We try to meet for lunch on a Saturday whenever our schedules permit. He’s definitely been busier than me lately. Married with 3 kids, he and his wife have their hands full. I’ve always envied Preston; he has a beautiful wife and 3 equally beautiful children, all living a pleasant suburban existence. I would have liked to have that for myself, but it never happened. I’ve told him that in past conversations, and he’s always expressed appreciation for my candor.
But, today he said something that surprised me: he envied me because of my close relationship with my parents, especially my father. I met Preston at a tae kwon do studio around 1995. We struck up a casual friendship, but found we had a lot in common; mainly exercise, jogging and rock n’ roll. He’s an avid runner, though; having competed in a few marathons. I just like to run around the block at my own pace. That year, 1995, had been a bad one for me. Everything in my personal and work life seemed to be going wrong. Occasionally, in between flying fists and legs at the tae kwon do studio, I’d tell Preston what was happening. He became one of the few friends who could relate to my dilemmas. But, he honestly couldn’t comprehend whatever situations I encountered with my parents. He wished he could though.
Preston’s parents had divorced when he was young. I never exhorted him for details, but I suspect he was never close to his father. His dad had moved to coastal Texas not long after the divorce and died several years ago. He had perused his father’s belongings with a strange sense of detachment; occasionally surprised to find a curious bit of information about the man, or learn of a relative he never knew existed. I don’t know the exact nature of his relationship with his mother – knowing how sensitive those subjects can be – but I gathered they weren’t too close either. About the spring of 2003, he sent me an email with ‘Feeling kind of blue’ in the subject line. I called him and asked what happened. His mother had planned to visit and see her grandson for the first time. Preston and his wife already had a daughter, and their son had just turned one. Why Preston’s mother waited more than a year to come visit for the first time bothered me; but again, I just didn’t want to ask. He was upset, though, because his mother had cancelled at the last minute; something else more pertinent had arisen. From what I recall, it was nothing Earth-shattering; like a sudden illness. It was more of a ‘I need to buy a wedding gift for a friend’ type of thing.
‘That’s more important than the grandkids?’ I asked myself. “Don’t feel too bad,” I assured Preston. “You get to spend time with your own family.”
His voice brightened. “Yeah!”
On that level, I can’t relate to Preston. I can’t imagine either of my parents passing up an opportunity to see their grandkids. Of course, the closest they have to a grandchild is my dog.
Even though I’ve been unemployed for the better part of a year and will start a new job next week, I bought lunch for both us today.
“You’re unemployed!” he retorted.
“And, you have three kids!” I said.
Besides, I was feeling good. I’m approaching this new job with caution, I told him, especially since it’s a contract position. In that regard, he can certainly relate; contract work is pretty much all he’s done since about 2001, when the tech bubble burst. Except for a brief stint at a home improvement store, he’s labored at a number of different software programming jobs; forced to jump from one place to another to keep a steady paycheck.
Like most men, we discussed work and family. But, we also talked about religion. Preston and his wife are devout Baptists; their two oldest kids have been to church summer camp since school ended. Having been raised Roman Catholic, the Baptist religion had always been a distant entity; to Catholics, Baptists are the heathens of Christianity. Another close friend calls them “heretics.” Neither of those terms apply to Preston and his wife. But, I emphasized that I am very spiritual. I believe in a Great Creator and an afterlife. I just don’t care to worship in the confines of a religious environment. Yet, when we said a prayer over our meal, Preston expressed some concern that casual observers might “look at us funny.”
“Well, let them come over and say something,” I replied.
As we left, I reminded Preston that he’s one of the few friends I have. A loner and an introvert, I no longer crave the attention and approval of others. Their rules don’t apply to me. I generally prefer the company of my dog to most people. But, Preston’s friendship is too important to dismiss. His thoughts and opinions rest comfortably with me. I guess his quiet, unimposing demeanor have managed to work their way into my mind without being intrusive. And, that’s just fine. We men often have trouble forming friendships with other men in this society that says a man isn’t whole unless he has a woman in his life. But, I can’t bring myself to follow those confines anymore. One good friend, a simple Saturday lunch, and that’s all I need to make my life complete.
*Name has been changed.