Category Archives: Friendships

Recommended Reading

In this guest blog post, David Figura, a newsman and author of the book “So What Are The Guys Doing?”, was invited by his former colleague Chris Mele to answer some questions about about men and friendships.

David’s book offers a brutally honest first-person appraisal of men facing middle age, their marriages, friendships and lives and how they can go sideways unless we nourish them.

At what point did you come to realize and appreciate the importance of male friendships? How old were you?

It was after I turned 50. Over the years, my attitude toward the need for getting together on some regular basis with male friends was eroded by my commitment to work and family – with an emphasis on work.

I didn’t get or understand the need for having balance in my life.

I was a workaholic – and what free time I had leftover I gave to my kids and to my relationship with my wife, in that order. I was a soccer coach, president of the school’s boys and girls varsity soccer booster club. I went away on Boy Scout outings.

Unfortunately, I often gave lip service (failed to act or carry through) on time alone and doing fun things with just my wife, Laura.

As the empty nest years got closer and closer with the kids going to or eyeing college, I was miserable and constantly arguing with Laura.

It sucks when your wife is your best and only friend and you’re having marital problems.

Laura started actively taking steps toward spending more time with her friends. This developed into more “girlfriend getaways” and weekly gatherings with her female friends.

And me?

My free time was often spent often alone, feeling resentful about Laura and all her friends and their activities. I had no one to go out with for a beer, breakfast or to go fishing.

I was in a bad place.

Add to all that, a woman I had dated long ago looked me up and wanted to have an affair – which I nearly took her up on.

What I did afterward – specifically, the changes I made (including seeking marriage counseling) — set me on a different course in my life.

Steps included initiating marriage counseling, changing jobs — and starting a low-stakes poker club that meets monthly, a co-ed volleyball team that plays throughout the winter and a summer horseshoe throwing group that meets weekly and goes out for beer afterward.

What are the major obstacles to guys starting or maintaining friendships among other men?

Inertia is a powerful thing.

Change, taking risks – even though you know deep down it’s the right thing — can be difficult. The biggest obstacle for me was initially I didn’t want to, or failed to see the need for change.

Like many guys, I was reluctant to reach out, to join something – to actually schedule time with male friends. I had nothing going and that lack of activities was reflected on the family calendar on the kitchen refrigerator. That calendar was full, though, of my wife’s get-togethers with her friends.

Another big obstacle to getting my friendship network again – and for many guys, for that matter – was that I was rusty at it.  I had let my friendship garden go, always depending on my wife to orchestrate or schedule our social agenda – even our vacations.

Moving around didn’t help.

With several different jobs and moves in my newspaper career, my friendship garden was full of weeds. There was no group of high school friends or nearby family my age to turn to for day-to-day activities. I parachuted into several communities and responded by focusing even more on work.

I reached a point, though, where I decided I was in charge of my own happiness and I began acting on it.

I taped a note on my bathroom mirror that read, “It won’t happen unless I do it.”

At first, it was difficult getting together with guys. I had to commit.

However, I pressed on. I’m glad I did.

What are the benefits to having male friends vs. turning to your partner/spouse as your friend?

For me, I didn’t realize what I was missing until I got balance back in my life. I found that having something to look forward to each week, each month – apart from my marriage and family – has been rejuvenating, stress-relieving, fun.

More important, my friends are there for me, and I’m there for them.

I could give numerous examples of where that’s happened. It’s great, comforting to have guys you can rely on in tough situations, and who rely on you.

Surprisingly, it’s really helped bolster and enrich my relationship with my wife.

I look forward our time together. I appreciate her more. She has her activities, I have mine. I came to realize I’m the best husband, father and friend when I’m happy with myself.

Any advice for icebreakers or ways to get friendships started if you feel like you are in friendship desert?

Like I said, inertia can be a powerful thing. You’re in charge of your own happiness. It’s all about attitude and acting on that attitude.

My advice is to start small and don’t get discouraged. Ask another guy out for breakfast, or for a drink after work, or to get together to shoot baskets at the local Y.

If it works, think about making it a regular thing. Schedule it.

Next, make a list of your passions, activities that interest you.

Start doing some research online and scan the local newspaper about opportunities. Talk to folks at work, acquaintances. Have your wife or girlfriend ask her friends about what’s out there in your interest area (s).

It really helps to join a league, a club that’s already doing your preferred activity. I started off by joining a co-ed volleyball league without my wife. She was initially busy doing her thing those evenings, but after a couple of years ended up joining the team and is still a member.

Finally, don’t get discouraged.

Think of fishing. Keep casting. You can’t catch a fish unless you wet your line, and you won’t catch one on every cast.

How far back do you and your closest friends go? And how do you keep it going?

I have lot of close friends from way back (high school, college). However, as a journalist I’ve moved around a lot, to the West Coast and back. It’s been hard to keep in contact unless I make the effort.

That means traveling to visit them, attending reunions, scheduling annual get-togethers, such as fishing trips.

However, you can’t always be looking back. The friends I’ve made from the activities I’m currently involved in are definitely among my closest friends.

We have had memorable experiences together, shared each other’s joys and concerns. Attended the weddings, graduations and other celebrations of each other’s children.

They have taught me that good friends make for a good life.

help on homework for history

David Figura is the outdoors writer for NYUP.com and The Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y.

For more about his book, “So What Are The Guys Doing?” go to www.davidjfigura.com

 

A New Year’s I’d Rather Forget!

Have you ever read something that flicked a switch in your brain, that suddenly filled your head with a memory long forgotten or repressed?

Recently my good friend John recounted a story about a visit to Guatemala. You can read it here.

His memory of his first visit to a Central American country was of an official of the army or police pointing an automatic weapon at him.

I have a similar story.

During one of my parents’ trips to our mother country, Argentina, I learned a powerful lesson about not provoking the powerful in charge.

It was the summer of 1979. Summer in the Southern Hemisphere meant Christmas and New Year’s festivities.

Part of the traditional festivities, still observed in the middle and lower class neighborhoods of the Buenos Aires suburbs, was visiting house after house — and eating and drinking at each one — to celebrate the new year.

It was New Year’s Eve 1979, and together with my cousin and a mutual friend, we headed out to uphold old traditions.

We went from house to house and celebrated with people we barely knew. But we ate at every home, and more important to this story, we drank cider at every house.

At age 16 and without the tolerance I have today, I can say I was probably pretty plastered by the time we reached our fourth or fifth house.

All I can remember is that we left a house and started to walk along a main avenue of this depressed neighborhood.

As we walked in a bit of a stupor, I noticed flashing lights up ahead.

Uh-oh! Cops, or worse, I thought.

I told my cousin that we should cut through an alley or double back because we were drunk and under age.

Nah, he said, and gestured most drunkenly. He said that it was just repairs being done on a pharmacy sign on the main road.

Now If I hadn’t been drunk, 16 and stupid, I might have said: “Who the fu#& is gonna be fixing the pharmacy sign on New Year’s Day at 3 in the morning!?!?!?”

But I was 16 and drunk and proceeded on the path.

As we got closer to the flashing lights I felt dread as I could see that this was no sign repair crew. It WAS the cops. Or as they were known in the dictator days of Argentina, the para-police!

I could see multiple vehicles starting to pass us as and I hoped they would let us go because we were only a couple of harmless kids.

Nope.

Brakes squealed, jeeps and cars stopped and all manner of uniformed and non-uniformed authorities came out shouting out orders all at once.

Halt and up against the wall were the ones I heeded.

I slapped the wall and spread my legs.

“Turn around,” I heard a very authoritative voice say.

We all did.

A man in civilian clothes approached the three of us. He held a very large pistol in his hand.

He motioned with the gun and said, let’s see some documents.

In Argentina, at that time, all civilians had to carry a national ID called a Cedula de Identificacion. It was a picture ID with a current address (Lord help you if it wasn’t current) and a seven-digit number.

You better have it memorized too.

As I fumbled for my ID card, I spied the uniformed officers holding automatic weapons forming a perimeter around the man in charge asking for our papers.

My cousin produced his document and walked toward the man. I found mine too and also started to walk toward him.

At the sight of two scared teenagers moving toward him at the same time, documents in hand, this para police jerk must have felt his life was in danger because he leveled his pistol straight at my forehead and said, “I didn’t call you. Back against the wall.”

I got back on that wall like Spiderman! Facing it and back in a spread-eagle position, scared like I had never been before.

I was probably muttering to myself, or possibly crying, when I did not hear the first strongly worded request for me to turn around. At the second shout, I pivoted around and slammed my back up against the wall.

The non-uniformed man in charge beckoned me with his pistol.

I remember him calling me hot shot. I still don’t know why.

So I moved meekly towards him, document in hand straight out as a shield or religious artifact warding off evil.

He snatched it from my hand, glaring at me and still motioning at me with his pistol.

Next came a quick interrogation of name, address and ID number. I blurted everything out, all correctly. Then the question that caught me off guard: “What are you doing here?”

Thankfully I stammered, “Nothing…just visiting friends and family for the New Year.”

My meek response satisfied him because he handed me back my ID, gestured with his head rather than his pistol to disappear.

I ran away, rounded the corner and heard a “psssst” from my cousin huddled behind a car.

I fell in next to him and watched how our friend and another pedestrian who must have somehow been near us when the police descended on us were shuffled into the paddy wagon.

They didn’t have their IDs on them. Holy shit!! Now what?!

Together with my cousin and a clear head that was scared sober from the encounter, we went searching for our friend’s mother who was in one of the houses we had visited earlier.

Fortunately there was a very peaceful ending.

We found our friend’s mom, we all went down to the precinct, getting there before the squad and paddy wagon. Our friend’s mom signed him out and the police asked her to sign out the other minors too.

Our friend recounted his trip to the station in the wagon. He witnessed a few more stops and saw a few individuals tossed into the wagon with bleeding heads.

I am so glad I had my ID — and that I was smart enough to not mouth off.

 

Making Male Friends Is Not Easy

It’s hard to make a good male friend.

When I was younger, I used to have many friends and I was able to say anything to them and laugh about everything with them.

But as I’ve gotten older, it’s been harder to make a good friend. I almost thought I never would again.

Then Selman came along.

I met Selman in an intensive German course I took last fall.

On the first day of class, both Selman and I arrived early and we began to talk after he sat down  next to me. He told me that he was from Guatemala but had recently moved to Germany because he had had a child with a German woman and he wanted to be closer to his child.

I thought that that was honorable of him and by the time the teacher
called the class to attention, I figured I had made a new acquaintance.

But then something happened.

As the class progressed, Selman and I began to bond. We both found humor in the same things and this seemed to bring us together.

For example, when another student in the class asked the teacher a mildly stupid question, Selman and I looked at each other and snickered. We also exchanged a smile after the teacher
made an off-color comment.

We continued to bond on the second day of class.

We spent the entire 45-minute break together, talking about things both important and insignificant and by the time the week was over, it had become clear: I had again made a good male friend.

It was, in fact, possible.

So I guess it’s only fair now to ask why. Why was I able to bond so
well with Selman?

Well, for one thing, Selman truly listened to me when I spoke. I got the sense that he truly cared about what I had to say and really wanted to know more.

We were also able to laugh about anything together – the smallest thing could get us going – and he wasn’t scared to discuss his vulnerabilities with me.

You know, it’s funny. The qualities that drew me to Selman were
similar to those that would draw me to a mate.

I recognize that that may sound kind of strange, but it may help explain why making a good male friend had been so difficult for me. I needed it to be like love.

And we all know love is hard to find.

Chad Smith is a freelance journalist and English teacher who is originally from Queens, New York. He now lives in Hamburg, Germany. Some of his hobbies include swimming, chess, reading and photography.

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The AMR Posse Reunites in Florida!

The About Men Radio posse recently got together for the first time as a group since 1985.

Thankfully, the intervening decades have not changed us: Stupid jokes, endless ball-busting and side-splitting laughing were all the rage for our get-together.

Here then is an array of the photos from our get-together, with my snarky captions.

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Rich is like: “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout Willis?!”
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Manly men in Silvio’s backyard.
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Do these headphones make my head look fat?
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Be the Buddha!
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Do not mess with these Sith Lord Dads.
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Is that a pink drink Pedro has? Why yes. Yes, I think it is.
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Just pucker your lips and whistle.
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Before we set out on a Florida fan boat ride through an alligator-infested lake.
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And if you don’t survive, tip your captain overboard.
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Our ride.
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Holy crap. They were not kidding about the gators.
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The ear protection is so I cannot hear myself screaming.
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Pedro evidently had something in his eye.
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Good friends and good times!

Getting the Band Back Together

I’ve always been pretty good at making friends in school and work, but none of those relationships are as close as the ones that I have with my About Men Radio posse.

As I look back, Pedro and I worked together in two different jobs as did Pedro and Chris.

Chris and I worked together briefly and I was his backup newspaper delivery boy when he went to Disney World with his family. Silvio and Rich also worked together on a neighbor’s food truck.

Oh the stories….

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Chris was the first to get married and moved way upstate. We’d exchange cassette tapes to give him an inkling of what we were doing.

Pedro was the next to take the dive.

Upon his breakup and with no place to go, he called me, and Father John’s chalet was open for him until he was back on his feet.

Pedro may have seen it as me helping him out, but he helped me through the grieving process of losing my dad.

Several years later, I was again cleaning out the apartment for my then-wife.

Joe McNulty, another longtime friend, helped paint and install some phone extensions in the house. Once the apartment was cleared out, my wife then thought it was suitable to move in.

The apartment was then redecorated with most of her things, which she took with her when she left.

What I didn’t realize is that Pedro and the guys would email me, but my wife (now ex-wife) was deleting the emails.

I eventually met Pedro for lunch and we re-connected. After my divorce, Pedro, Rich and I were driving around and I had a million questions of what I had missed over the previous three years.

Surprisingly, not very much.

Back in college hanging out with Pedro, Gary and Rich became relatively the same each weekend.

We’d get into the car and Pedro would say, “Rich, where do you wanna go?”

Rich: “I dunno. John?”

John: “I dunno. Gary?”

Gary would say that since he was driving that we could pick a place. Pedro would usually offer his suggestion, which was fine with us because we didn’t really have anything in mind.

Chris and crew-3

Years later when we reconnected, it was the same. It felt a bit like “Waiting for Godot.”

Godot never came and I thought in those three years that I missed out on things. Yes, there were moments that I did miss but rejoining the posse felt good.

The same thing happened over 10 years ago when I reached out to Carla, Chris’s then-fiancée, and Pedro and I drove out to Pennsylvania.

Upon seeing Chris, there was a feeling of no passage of time.

The band was finally back together.

Read more blog posts at www.aboutmenradio.com and at http://aboutmenradio.net

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Friends Fill a 14-Year Void in My Life

Men, how many of you have male friends?

I mean close friends — not just co-workers, a brother-in-law or virtual friends on Facebook. And I don’t mean your “bros” with whom you might watch a game once in a while.

I mean flesh-and-blood friends whose numbers you have programmed on your phone and who you could call and rely on to help you out of a jam at 2:30 in the morning?

I bet that most of you can count on one hand – or less — the number of friends who truly qualify.

A recent story in The Telegraph from the UK reported that 11 percent of single men said they had no friends to turn to in a “serious situation” and that figure rose to 15 percent among married men.

Those numbers came from research conducted by the Movember Foundation, which is raising awareness of mental health issues among men.

It’s a stunning statistic but one that I can readily attest to.

I had about a 14-year stretch where my friends from my childhood — truly my only friends — were out of my life.

It was, to borrow a cliché, “just one of those things.”

I had gotten married and moved 300 miles away, and then when I moved closer to my friends, so much time had passed that it felt difficult to pick up their trail. Plus, I was busy raising a family, advancing my career, etc.

You get the picture.

I would pick up morsels of news from my mother, who was still living in my old neighborhood and remained plugged in about whose parents had died, who was working where, etc.

I pined to reconnect but somehow just could not get out of my own way to make it happen.

Then a crazy thing happened: Unbeknownst to me, my then-fiancée connected with Pedro and John by email and arranged for them to make a surprise visit at home.

The night of their arrival, she was acting all kinds of peculiar. I wanted to go to bed early and, she was like: “Don’t you dare! Stay up!”

Meanwhile, she would leave the room and have these furtive phone conversations with the guys, who in keeping with a time-honored tradition, were lost and late.

If memory serves, I think they were supposed to arrive at around 8:30 p.m. and instead showed up at 10:30 p.m.

It could have been 2:30 in the morning and I would have been just as thrilled.

In the years since, my circle of friends and I have made it a point to be in contact and to get together regularly. One of the side benefits of the About Men Radio podcast and website is that it bonds us and allows us to share our feelings for one another in a way that is funny and genuine.

A photo that Carla took of me the night of their surprise visit captured the absolute shock and joy I felt at seeing them as they came up the stairs.

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Doing my best to be an impromptu host, I got out the grill and whipped up barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs, all the while Pedro busted my stones: “What? We come to your house at 10:30 at night and there’s no lobster and filet mignon?”

It was as if nothing had changed and I knew then that a great hole in my life had been filled.

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Friendships That Endured Through Moves and Time

In my youth, going out after school down the block or to the park was where we met up with our friends. Even kids we just met, after a spirited game of war, or tag or anything else, those new acquaintances became friends.

Through my childhood years, I migrated back and forth between the Bronx and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each of these moves usually had us staying a year or two in a city before packing up and moving back.

This happened a few times during my school years. So I would harvest a circle of friends and then leave them to start anew.

My earliest friends I have pretty much forgotten by name. I remember some activities and a few kids from the block, but nobody that I would contact today.

But in one of my returns to the Bronx, I met a group of guys that I would never forget.

Our moves were always disruptive of the school year.

With the switch from southern to northern hemispheres and of seasons, a migration to the United States usually meant coming in the middle of a grade and being that kid that was introduced to the class as “… joining us from Argentina.”

In sixth grade at PS 36, I did not make any enduring school friends.

Instead I met a kid from around the block who happened to go to the same school but we never interacted there much.

Anyway, Rich and I hit it off pretty well, sharing a love for comic books, Legos, science fiction and classic horror. These similarities bonded us as friends despite being polar opposites in our baseball love. (He is a rabid Mets fan and I am a diehard Yankees fan.)

Regardless, our friendship grew.

We played pickup softball at the schoolyard, sometimes just him and me hitting and catching for what seemed like glorious hours days on end.

When we weren’t outside, it was games, comics and pool — he had a great pool table in his family room. We battled constantly at 8-ball, with him besting me probably 85 percent of the time.

When the next school year started, I went to a Catholic school that was two parishes away from home.

On Day One, the kids in the yard lining up by grade all knew each other.

This was seventh grade and many of these kids knew each other from kindergarten at St. Raymond’s. I had left all of those early friends behind after several relocations, and my friend Rich was at a different public school.

So I scanned the faces for another guy who also looked new. I found him: Pedro. We chatted briefly and said maybe we would get lucky enough to end up in the same class. We did.

Once we were in our class and lined up again, I was standing behind a flattop-haired kid, taller than me and with a jacket with Boy Scout patches. Having enjoyed my Cub Scout years, I tapped his shoulder and asked him about his troop and patches.

We hit it off and Chris and I became friends. He later introduced me to his longtime friend John and a new kid he met that also lived nearby in his neighborhood: Pedro!

We became close friends and I was fortunate to spend some after-school days with them, but my neighborhood was about 14 blocks away, so my after-school days were spent more with Rich.

Through birthday parties and other gatherings at home I introduced both groups and we became five best friends.

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After two full school years I once again whisked off down south, starting high school in Argentina.

Two years later we once again returned.

This time though I had kept in touch with my “bros.” The long-distance friendship back then was through letters, cards and packages. Phone calls were prohibitively expensive and, of course, no one knew what an Internet was yet.

We traded letters, books, photos and cassette tapes. I wish I kept one of those. I still remember the one where Chris recorded latest hits off the radio and had everyone, including his sister and mom, talk up a song. I know I played that tape incessantly

When I returned, and with heavy long-distance help from Chris, I was able to attend the same Catholic high school as John, Pedro and Chris. Rich was at the Bronx High School of Science.

We all again went our separate ways to college, but we were all still in New York City, so again we did everything together, until again I departed.

This time it was of my own accord, testing out my future plans in my native Argentina. Since conscription was still a thing then, I had to complete a year in the Army there.

But the country was still in disarray after regaining democracy, and it stood on the verge of a takeover at any time (two failed coups did occur), so once again I returned to the United States.

Together with my new wife, we moved south again, but this time staying in the northern hemisphere and landing in Orlando, Fla. It would be 16 years before I got back together with the gang.

I located each of my AMR pals and connected through Facebook.

This led to a reintegration with a group of guys with whom I shared so many experiences and an online gathering space allowed us to catch up.

After a while, it’s as if we never went our separate ways.

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Although it’s been harder for me to meet up, I have taken full advantage of trips made to reconnect with one friend at a time or the group as we did for an elementary school reunion.

Now we share our anecdotes in our writings and podcasts. I look forward to those like a kid waiting for Santa.

And this week there will be a full reunion of the original AMR boys in a visit to sunny Florida.

I am so thankful for my friends, the real ones with whom I have shared a childhood and early adulthood.

I now look forward to those middle-age memories still to come. I don’t want to call it a bucket list, but when we get to those formative years, I hope I will still have these AMR brothers to share them with.

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‘I Love Them Like Brothers’

​I was deeply unnerved by what I read but I could not deny the truth of it:​​ A significant number of men have no close male friends they can turn to for help or advice.

An article in The Telegraph also suggests making close friends as adults is rare, and for​​ some guys, almost impossible.

Careers, marriages and kids eat into our free time and myriad distractions like television, the Internet and video ​games become substitutes for real, person-to-person, non-virtual social interaction.

Playing Fallout 4 or binging on Netflix during your downtime, rather than​ ​developing new relationships, is just easier. ​

​While 11 percent of single men said they had no friends to turn to in a serious​ situation, that rose to 15 per cent among married men.​

I’m no math wiz but that is 26 percent of adult men who have ZERO male friends to turn to​ ​when they need support.

The harsh reality is that there are some things​ ​a wife or a  mother just can’t help us with.

That brings me to the About Men Posse.

I’ve known Chris, John, Rich and Silvio since we were in grade school and while we​ ​​have occasionally drifted apart for a few years, I know every one of them would be there for me in a crisis.

Let me rephrase that.

Each and every one of them HAS been there for me in a crisis​ ​and they know that I have their back 24/7. ​

At the risk of a being on the receiving end of a merciless roasting from the dirtbags, I will go on record as saying I’m honored to be their friend and I love them like​ ​ ​brothers.

 

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Modern-Day Man and His Lack of Friends

Recently I read an article from the UK on how “2.5 million men have no close friends.”

Fifty percent of them have two or less friends, while 1 in 8 said they have no close friends they could to turn to in times of need.

This really piqued my interest, especially when thinking of my crew from About Men Radio.

We were all friends early in our lives — some of us from grade school and then through high school and college.

After that, many of us went off in different directions to pursue careers, marriages, family, kids, etc.

Twenty-plus years later, we have reunited as a group and have picked up our friendships just where we left off.

What makes this article about us men having few or no close friends really hit home is when I think about how many close male friends I’ve had in the interim.

The friendships are very few and not the lasting friendships like the ones fostered from when we were kids.

So, can I be considered to be part of this group of men that do not have close friends?

It seems that being married and raising a family definitely has limited the time and desire to make lasting friendships with other men.

Now that my kids are older, I have found that I allow myself to foster more male bonding with some work friends and some dads who have kids who are friends with my kids. (It makes it easier.)

Twenty-one years at the same place of employment also helped to allow me to build some good friendships of both men and women, but again nothing like the relationships that I have with the About Men group.

What is it that makes these older relationships stand the test of time while the newer friendships typically fade without much consequence and we can easily live without them?

I will be interested to know what others in my age bracket think and what experiences they’ve had with friendships over the years.

Email us at amr@aboutmenshow.com to share your experiences of friendship.

 

Busting Balls as an Art Form

Among my buddies busting chops is an art.

While these exchanges are teasing in nature, they do not take the form of malicious putdowns or “snaps” such as  “Your mother is so dumb, she takes an hour to make minute rice.”

No, our repartee has roots in the expression: “Do a good job and you won’t hear a thing, but screw up once and you will never hear the end of it!”

Such are the ways with us. It’s a harmless method for us to bond and show affection but to also have fun — at each other’s expense, of course.

There is the chop-buster and the bustee, the person who is on the receiving end of getting his shoes squeezed.

For instance, my friend John has a home in the Poconos where we have crashed many weekends and engaged in our customary goofy antics.

On one of our very first visits, the house was sparsely furnished but a kitchen cabinet was brimming with boxes and boxes of Gevalia gourmet coffee.

At some point, I asked for a cup of coffee, and John busted out a jar of some cruddy freeze-dried instant grinds.

Well, not one to let a fertile moment go by, the No. 1 horn-breaker in our group, Pedro, seized it. He mockingly berated John for making us feel unworthy of his quality stash.

The whole weekend, the leitmotif became: “Gee, I really could use a cup up of coffee.” Or: “Wow, I would love some Gevalia. Do you know John where I might get some?”

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There are a bounty of moments like these that get dusted off and replayed. We are equal-opportunity in our teasing. There are no sacred cows.

And all it takes is one event – just one – for a chop-busting theme to take hold. There is no statute of limitations.

Just ask my dad.

Sixty years ago when he was in the Navy, he was put in charge of showing a movie to the crew one night and installed the reels in the incorrect order, forever earning him the moniker “Wrong Reel.”

For John, it might be about the coffee, or his lead foot driving, which has earned him the title of “Mannix,” or his many DIY talents with a soldering gun and duct tape, leading to his “MacGyver” nickname.

For Pedro, there is fodder in his Casanova-like ways of flirting with waitresses. Rich and Silvio find way too much pleasure in horror and gore movies – Rich especially, who, disturbingly to us, has been known to laugh through most slasher flicks.

And me?

Well, let’s just say I have a well-earned reputation for being a fraidy-cat of horror movies and scary haunted Halloween attractions.

So naturally, to show they love me, horror meisters Rich and Silvio want to lock me in a room for three days, strap me in a chair, pry open my eyeballs “A Clockwork Orange”-style and subject me to the worst horror films imaginable.

After all, what are friends for?

giphy clock

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My Haunted Scarehouse Visit: Screaming, and Lots of It

When it comes to visiting Halloween haunted houses, let’s just say that I sprout feathers and Frank Perdue is sizing me up.

My earliest recollection of visiting a spooky attraction came when I was about four years old. My dad and I went with a neighbor to the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey.

We went on Casper the Friendly Ghost’s Ghostland ride and I recall being positively petrified, clinging to my dad and screaming my brains out.

It was Casper the FRIENDLY Ghost, for crying out loud.

Fast-forward almost 50 years, and little has changed.

For example, my friend Silvio posted on Facebook a story about a California attraction that is so scary that you need to sign a waiver and it has a safe word, “mercy,” to let you exit.

He asked when we could go. I replied: “Does ‘never’ work for you?”

So you have to wonder what I was thinking when I suggested to my About Men Radio brethren that we visit a Halloween attraction in Wharton, N.J., called the Haunted Scarehouse.

(They called my bluff since I never thought anyone would actually take me up on the idea!)

So it was that John and Rich, accompanied by one of Rich’s daughters and two of her friends, plus my brother-in-law Ed gathered at a warehouse transformed into what Scarehouse described as “two terrifying attractions…spread over two floors of fear.”

Pffffttt. Mere Halloween hyperbole, I thought. This will be as spooky as Disney World’s Haunted Mansion, right?

My first mistake was somehow ending up at the head of our group as we made our way through darkened mazes, creepy sets and blind turns.

So I did what any full-blooded, macho manly man would do: I pushed the three 14-year-old girls to the head of our group.

Haha! Just kidding: No, instead, I pushed John to the front and then held onto his jacket like a security blanket.

John was fearless, moving through the corridors like a linebacker. But my admiration wore off when he began cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” and making all kinds of spooky noises in an effort to freak me out further.

This, in turn, prompted me to frequently threaten to kill him.

(Sorry about that, John.)

The sets had high production values, with moving walls and floors, huge hydraulic-powered monsters jumping forward at you, strobe lights and loud sound effects that left you disoriented and breathing heavy.

I was sweating and my heart felt like I had just gotten off a treadmill.

As we pushed onward, more and more costumed characters jumped out at us, from behind, from the sides and from hiding places.

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Photo courtesy of The Haunted Scarehouse

While some of them scared you silly by screaming or revving up a chainsaw, others just silently got in your face, like this one actress with a crooked Joker-like smile caressing a headless doll.

What. The. Hell?!

The real trick came when you saw what you thought was a mannequin – was it a mannequin or was it a costumed character staying real still? I made a several wrong calls and the damned fright they gave me had me doing plyometric cardio.

It also prompted me to swear. Colorfully. Often. And loudly. Very, very loudly.

(Sorry about that, girls.)

When we got to the second floor, the attraction operators split up our group, so that it was now just Ed, John and I. Yeah, just like in the horror movies, the group gets split up and you know what happens next!

hauned scare 2
Photo courtesy of The Haunted Scarehouse

I tried at this point to keep a sense of humor, such as when a character with a stump of a wrist waved it in my face and I told him I could not lend a hand.

But in the end, I did a lot more screaming (OK, shrieking) than I did laughing.

What I discovered was that yes, things really DO go bump in the night — though actually that was me stomping on my brother-in-law’s foot when I jumped back in fright.

(Sorry about that, Ed.)

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Pedal Power Fuels Friendships

If you want to gauge who your true friends are, come up with a ridiculous idea for an adventure that requires five hours of driving (one way) to visit an attraction for 90 minutes and then see how many of your buddies raise their hands.

In my case, it was a perfect score: Three out of three.

That says three things about my friends: They are committed to maintaining and keeping alive connections among us that date back 40 years. They are giving of themselves. And they’re completely nuts.

Last fall, I convinced two of my buds to come with me to Minnesota to drive a tank at a place cleverly called Drive A Tank.

This fall, it was the (railroad) ties that bind.

I read a story in The New York Times about this rail biking adventure in my former stomping grounds in Saranac Lake and Lake Clear, N.Y.

Rail Explorers puts you on open-air cars the deep red color of Radio Flyers that are equipped with seats, safety belts and pedals. The cars can accommodate from one to four passengers.

The premise is simple: You pedal six miles along a section of an old rail line through the Adirondack wilderness, passing lakes, ponds and woodlands during the fall foliage.

Now picture four middle-aged guys on one of these contraptions. We were not exactly the “Fast and Furious.” More like the “Evenly Paced and Moderately Angry.”

That said, we did reach downhill speeds of about 20 mph (nowhere near the sound-barrier-smashing speed of 516.7 mph Pedro and I achieved in our feat of derring-do on the Olympic bobsled run in Lake Placid).

Rail bikes like the ones we rode have been operating in South Korea for about 10 years, according to Alex Catchpoole, the owner/managing director of Rail Explorers.

The ones in the Adirondacks mark the first operation to bring these specially engineered and designed vehicles outside of South Korea, he said.

Since its start in July, the company has hosted 10,000 riders.

It’s easy to see why: The scenery is magnificent and you get to easily access parts of the woodlands that ordinarily would require you to hike.

The big question we faced before we got to Rail Explorers was whether two of the About Men Radio crew – Rich and John – were going to make it on time.

Pedro and I drove up the night before and stayed at a hotel. But Rich and John were going to have to get up at zero-dark-thirty to drive five hours to make our 11:30 a.m. start time.

Not only were they on time, but John – aka “Mannix” – got them there early! (Talk about pedal power! He applied it to both his car AND the rail bike!)

The outing was a chance to enjoy a glorious day in the breathtaking outdoors of the Adirondacks. We also enjoyed a delicious homemade lunch overlooking the lake at the Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat courtesy of Ernest and Cathy Hohmeyer.

But more important, it was a day punctuated by ceaseless chop-busting, laughter bordering on tears and great company.

I got a chance to spend five hours in a car with Pedro heading north and got caught up on things in his life, and then five hours back with Rich catching up on things in his life.

For busy career guys/dads/husbands, this was important time we had together.

Much the same way we enjoyed the rail biking from Lake Clear to Saranac Lake, this trip was not about reaching our destination, but very much about the journey.

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Our Breakfast Club Therapy

It started out as a single get-together about three years ago.

My buddy Rich, who lives about an hour away, was going through a challenging time, so we got together for a breakfast to talk.

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That might not seem so monumental on its face but consider that for us to meet, we each have to travel about 40 minutes to reach a place somewhere convenient for both of us in rural New Jersey.

But the travel was worth it since the purpose was to talk — about our jobs, our families and our anxieties.

That meeting turned out to be just as important for me as it was for him.

One of the things that I’ve come to realize as a guy north of 50 is the almost impossible challenge of cultivating new friendships and the importance of maintaining existing ones.

At this age, there is so much history and so little time to get involved with others, thanks to the commitments of work and family.

By contrast, with Rich, who I’ve known for close to 40 years, there is a built-in intimacy and understanding of our shared experiences.

That breakfast meeting has led to many more since then.

The one-on-one conversations have a different dynamic than when the larger group of my buddies – the About Men Radio posse — gets together.

In a group of three or more, the conversations will inevitably devolve into hilarity of penis jokes, double entendres or a marathon of chop-busting but seldom anything heavy.

But when there is time and space for just two of us to talk, a stillness pervades, the kinetic energy subsides and a focus on more serious topics takes over.

Rich and I do not solve all of our problems over omelets and toast, but we do engage in connected conversations about our families, jobs, aspirations, limitations, etc.

How the hell are we paying for our kids’ college?

What roles are we playing as dads? As breadwinners?

What do our futures look like? What keeps us up at night?

The meetings were an epiphany that it’s O.K. to ask for help or simply just vent.

During our last get-together, Rich replied to a note I sent:

“Good to see you too. …It’ll be interesting 20 years from now when we walk into a place with our canes or walkers to have toast and coffee together. Need to keep taking pics so we’ll have a chronicle of our meetings.”

Indeed, Rich. I look forward to it.

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