The other day on the way down to the barn we were listening to Anna’s music and the Avicii song “Hey Brother” came on. She got that song from me – I think it made the best-of 2013 CD – but Heidi doesn’t really like it very much because we had a farrier who, while trimming the horse’s feet would always say “hey brother” and “ok brother” and it just reminds her of him. But Anna and I enjoy it quite a bit. Mostly I love that it’s Dan Tyminski of O Brother Where Art Thou fame singing to EDM. It’s like my musical worlds colliding.
I love the video but it always reduces me to a puddle because of the story it tells. Two brothers growing up in the 60s, doing the things that brothers do and then, inevitably, the older brother ends up in Vietnam and he doesn’t come home. Oh let’s just watch it.
The video always makes me think about my own brother, who lives thousands of miles away in Arizona. Despite the distance, we keep in touch and while we are brothers, we don’t see eye to eye on everything (especially during this highly divisive political season), but who in the hell does? The one thing I know for sure is that I can count on him for anything. Once I posted a political post on Facebook and someone replied with a nasty remark, prompting me to take the whole post down rather than have to get into it with people. He instantly texted me and said “I’m sorry that you took that post down, I was going to rip him to shreds for you. Those guys fold faster than Superman on laundry day.” I don’t think I say it enough, but I really am glad that he’s my brother. We’re definitely not the same, but I think at this point in our lives, we have a quiet understanding of each other. He’s my brother and I love him and well, what can you say?
One of the things that has always been super important to me in my life is to cultivate friendships with other men, but wow, is that a hard thing to do. I’ve always connected well with women – most of my friends in high school were girls and in college, I always hung out with the female members of my class, having a harder time connecting with the guys. For so long, it’s felt like this big empty spot in me that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot fill. The answer to that question is that it cannot be filled by anyone but yourself – a particularly annoying answer but the truth nonetheless. Through the Internet and mostly via blogging, I’ve found tons of like-minded men to bond with, but they are scattered throughout the world and well, that doesn’t make it easy to meet for coffee. One of my “favorite” things to do was to sit and rue (McClanahan) the fact that I had “no close male friends that are local.” But when you really look at my life, I have not only one, but in fact, I have three. I will not call them out by name because I don’t want to embarrass them (although I did get their permission to write about them), but I want to recognize them for the difference they have all made in my life. They are brothers in many ways, blood being the only way they are not.
The first person has been in my life for as long as I can remember. We grew up in the same town, went to the same elementary school where he allegedly hated my guts for winning the student council presidency by virtue of being the only 5th grader to run, thereby locking up the entire 5th grade vote. The first time we ever really connected was in high school in a class we both dreaded – P.E. When most of the other people were participating in whatever passed as physical “education” in those days, we were talking about Madonna, specifically the “La Isla Bonita” video. We didn’t hang out much until college, but bonded by our love for all things Madonna, we kept in touch even after I left for Iowa City, after spending two years in Ames at Iowa State. I remember buying Erotica in the fall of 1992 and not being able to wait to call him to deconstruct its tracks. (“Secret Garden” is a good song!) Somehow throughout our lives, we’ve always managed to live in relatively close proximity to each other and since 2001, we’ve been to every Madonna tour. It’s not a matter of if we go to the show, it’s a matter of where we will see it. Our friendship is buoyed by the jokes and stories we tell over and over again like they are the first time we have ever told them and our deep thoughts conversations every time we are on a road trip to a concert. Honestly, I can’t imagine my life without him in it, even though we are always pretending to secretly hate each other. He’s a friend to our family, the godfather to my daughter, and the reason that Heidi and I even know each other in the first place.
The second person is someone who I probably never would have become friends with had I not stepped outside my comfort zone. My normal modus operandi is to wait for people to come to me – not always the most successful strategy. But one Sunday almost 10 years ago now, I had a fun interaction with him at a church we had joined (and have since left), so I went through my old e-mails and found his e-mail in a group e-mail from when we were both in a Unitarian Universalist history class. I e-mailed him and initiated contact and through that initial interaction, we discovered we had a mutual Fleetwood Mac obsession. Trouble was, his was much more Lindsey Buckingham centered where I was all Stevie, all the time. Not that we were going to let a little thing like that stop us. Our friendship began with a flurry of e-mails and trading of songs and progressed to grabbing coffee a few times. Through that, we discovered that we both had a fondness for horror films and neither of our wives did. We hit more cheesy horror films at the now defunct North Grand Dollar Theater than I care to think about. Thirty Days of Night has the distinction of being the coldest movie we ever saw – the movie we saw in the dead of winter that took place in Alaska after the sun goes down for a month. I don’t know that we ever saw anything truly awful there – although we were traumatized by the ending of The Mist – but there were a lot of movies we were glad that we didn’t pay any more than a dollar to see. Our movie-going days are fewer and further between these days as paying full price to see a movie takes commitment. So now it’s mostly jumbo margaritas and fast, cheap Mexican food at El Azteca. Because of the jumbo margaritas and since neither of us can hold our liquor, we are usually stuck there for a good hour after we finish our food, which lets us catch up on everything. We both have busy lives – teenage daughters and demanding jobs – so we probably see each other roughly quarterly, but I never doubt his friendship ever – not even a little bit. We text a lot and I can’t count the number of political freak-outs he’s had to talk me out of. For that, I will be forever grateful.
The third of these guys is someone I’ve known for quite a while, but with whom I have only recently became social. Our paths crossed only tangentially most of the time, but when my daughter started babysitting for his son, our lives started intersecting a little more frequently. He was always someone that I thought was a cool guy and really good at his job, but even though we lived in the same neighborhood, we were just never social. I guess that’s the way it goes for men a lot of the time – if you don’t have a shared project or something, there’s no reason to get to know each other. A crisis in his life which he shared with me proved to be the impetus for us to get to know each other. We met for coffee and supper a lot, sometimes at his house, sometimes out and about. When my wife needed a wall built for her office, it was with a little trepidation that I approached him to see if he could help. I knew he was handy and could build things, but it felt like an awful lot to ask from someone who I was just getting to know. The two days we spent building the wall were two great days because not only did I learn a shit-ton, I got to spend it with a guy who has become a close friend. Much like the other two, we don’t see each other tons, although I would say I see him more than the other two only because he lives so close to me whereas the other two guys live out of town. Our interactions are always equal parts serious and hilarious, which, for me, makes the best kinds of friends.
People float in and out of our lives all the time – if there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s that. Sometimes they are there for a long time, other times for a few fleeting moments. But I can’t imagine my life without these three guys in it. I view them as brothers and that’s important to me because it’s relationships like that that my life needs most. I don’t think it’s possible to have too many of these. Different people meet different needs in us, and to expect one person to meet all those needs is grossly unfair to them and completely unrealistic.
But back to Avicii’s “Hey Brother.” The song will always mean a lot to me, and my message to these men I talked about in this post comes straight from the song – “Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you/There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.”