Of Being Dads, Being Brothers, Being Friends
Friendship is held to be the severest test of character. It is easy, we think, to be loyal to family and clan, whose blood is in our own veins. Love between man and woman is founded on the mating instinct and is not free from desire and self-seeking. But to have a friend, and to be true under any and all trials, is the mark of a man!
The highest type of friendship is the relation of “brother-friend” or “life-and-death friend.” This bond is between man and man, is usually formed in early youth, and can only be broken by death. It is the essence of comradeship and fraternal love, without thought of pleasure or gain, but rather for moral support and inspiration. Each is vowed to die for the other, if need be, and nothing is denied the brother-friend, but neither is anything required that is not in accord with the highest conception of the Indian mind.
– Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa) –
On July 4th this year I got to hang out with my best friend from high school. We haven’t seen each other in over sixteen years. Prior to that, we hadn’t seen each other in an additional ten. In effect, we’ve only seen each other twice since I got out of the Army in 1995.
Still, time marches on and the space between those we know tends to lengthen. You look in the mirror one morning and notice you’ve got crow’s feet, gray hairs have sprouted in your beard. It happens fast.
Jason was in Colorado with his seventeen-year-old daughter Brylee, who was playing double-headers for a week at a major softball tournament. They were staying in Longmont, a few hours’ drive from where I live in Pueblo.
They didn’t have much downtime but on the 4th we rendezvoused at the gateway to Pike’s Peak. I hopped in his rental and over the next few hours as we drove to the top and back, there wasn’t an idle moment in our conversation. Just like old times. Brylee was in the backseat, politely taking it all in.
We talked a lot about becoming a Dad, and how the process has changed us for the better. It has given us a chance to right the wrongs of the past.
We also talked a lot about the old days. Jason told a lot of stories I had completely forgotten, and some I’d like to forget. My days in high school seem like several lifetimes ago, in my Forrest Gump of a life.
Back then, I was being raised in a tumultuous situation. I moved a lot, my mother was unstable to put it mildly, there was abuse, neglect, ignorance, cultic religion and mental illness wherever I happened to be living. Jason and his family basically adopted me.
His parents either felt pity or saw some sort of promise in me, or both, but they opened their home to me and kept it open throughout high school. I slept there, ate their food, I wore Jason’s clothes – 3-4 days out of the week from my sophomore year till I graduated. Jason and I played soccer together, we ran track together, went on dates together, we were brothers in every sense of the word. My God, at our soccer games his dad would cheer just as loud for me as he did for Jason.
Our conversation took a turn there, because I always respected Jason’s dad, Mike, for being such a good Dad to his three boys. He was a model for me and the Dad I would one day want to become.
Once a California hippie, Mike was a business owner in Northwest Houston and was providing a great standard of living for his family. He was a hard worker, I never saw him drink, and though I was slightly intimidated by him he always had a kind twinkle in his eye. He’s a generous man.
Jason and his two brothers grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood, large two-story home with a pool. The boys were all intelligent and creative and Mike sent them to one of the best private schools around. The boys were also athletic, and Mike registered the boys with the best traveling club teams for soccer. When the boys hit 16, Mike got them killer rides. Jason’s first car? Sweet Screaming Jesus, a 1964 ½ Mustang, cherry red paint with gold metallic flake, Crager mag wheels, and I don’t know what Mike had done to the engine, but you could hear that thing rumbling like a Sheridan tank from two blocks away. I actually bought my first car from Mike – a 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix – he gave me such a great “family discount” I think he lost money on the deal.
The boys turned out pretty well. The oldest, Shane, pursued a career in the Air Force. Jason won a full-ride soccer scholarship to the University of South Alabama and has had a successful career in industrial marketing & sales living near the Smokies of Tennessee. Kevin, the youngest, won a full academic scholarship to St. John’s University and is a successful business owner in Houston.
For all intents and purposes, I’d say Mike has done a good job. Of course, I don’t want to be dismissive of the struggles and scars – there were certainly inevitable times of turmoil – but in the grand scheme of things, at least from where I’m sitting, I want to do what Mike has done.
Mike’s boys have in turn become good dads themselves. Again, I’m not saying things are perfect – they never are – or that the boys didn’t have to work at it, but comparing apples to apples, I’d say they’ve become good men. I hope Mike, who is in his 70s now, is proud.
Jason and his wife, Alyse, have three kids. Their oldest, Bailen, has already left the nest and is an intelligent, creative, private young man. Takes after his Uncle Kevin. Brylee is about to enter her senior year of high school and is already signed to a full softball scholarship at the University of Tennessee. Their youngest, Briell, is a gifted artist at 14 years old – seriously, she draws anime like a seasoned professional.
I asked him what his secret was, to being a good Dad.
“It happens when your hobbies take a backseat to your kids – their passions become yours,” he told me. “It’s no longer about what you want to do, what you want to be successful at. It’s about them being successful.”
That certainly appears to be the cross each good Dad must bear – while still attempting to acquire more success in your career and pursuits, you must also launch your children into successful lives of their own.
Before we knew it, we were back at the parking lot. After making vows to rendezvous on Tennessee time, I hopped out of Jason’s rental, we gave each other hugs, and parted ways.
As I was driving back to Pueblo, I noticed some moisture developing in the corners of my eyes. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. Jason remembers who I was before the world beat me into tomato paste. He told the story about watching Rocky and Rambo movies with me repeatedly, not because I necessarily liked the stories (though I did), but because Stallone reminded me so much of the Dad I missed. I forgot that shit.
Jason remembers a detailed past I have nearly forgotten, because in truth my high school years were a nightmare and I’ve suppressed so much of that time in my life it appears there’s only a few beacons of memory left, one of the brightest on that shore being my friendship with Jason and his family being a safe harbor for a lost kid.
Now here we are on the downhill slide to 50 and we are still encouraging each other to be better. Just like old times.
I’m proud of who Jason has become. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but he’s grown into a good man, a good dad, a good husband. And after all these years and miles between us, he remains a damn good friend – the best.
Mesusan Reunion 2021
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