This past week we went on vacation with friends of ours who have 5 young boys to match our 4 young girls. They’re all the same ages, in stair-steps from 11 down to 2 and they’ve essentially grown up together in school. As most parents with young kids tend to do, we initially became friends because of the kids. Incidentally, I read somewhere that men over 35 don’t make new friends. We either keep the friends we already have, or we tend to become more isolated as we get older. How depressing right?
On the other hand, Jedidiah Jenkins writes in his book Like Streams to the Ocean, there are two main kinds of friends: circumstantial and kindred. Circumstantial friends are with you for a season, born out of similar temporary situations. But kindred friends are those on the same journey as you through life, headed in the same direction, aligned in values, the way you see the world, etc. They’re more than journeying companions, they can quite often be windows into your own soul.
For men in particular, it’s tough. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a handful of really close friends that I’ve known and who have known me well since high-school and college. Over the past two decades we’ve grown from boys to men, and it’s been amazing to experience life alongside each other. The difference is, for my two closest friends, we’ve been in different stages of life. I’ve been married for nearly 16 years, with 4 kids. Neither of them have children and only one recently got married. There’s only so much we can share.
Which is what makes finding your tribe at various seasons of life even more important, because it’s so rare and difficult to do. Who are the people that you can be your full self with? Who are the folks who know you well enough to know when to call you in with a kind word or call you out with an accountable reminder of who you are at your best? And how do you know when you’ve found those people? For me it has everything to do with vulnerability and values.
This past week we rented a cabin that had to be at the top of the highest mountain I’ve even driven up (if anything convinces me to trade in our mini-van for an SUV- it’ll be this trip for sure). One day after hiking to the top of Amicolola Falls, the largest waterfall in the southeast, on the drive home we got lost. As usually happens in the mountains, our GPS failed us, and took us to the wrong mountain. Suddenly, not only did we find ourselves at the top of the wrong mountain, but we also found ourselves out of gas. Literally, the tank was on empty, and I didn’t know how much further it would last. Talk about an oh sh*t moment. There I was, staring at a dramatic incline of a hill to get back over to the other side of the mountain, out of gas, and lost. Add to this drama, a van full of tired kids and our traveling companions following us in their SUV with their own tired kids. We were all headed for a meltdown.
Of course I was the one who freaked out first. It was scary, and embarrassing, but ultimately I was relieved that we could laugh it off later with our friends. (We ended up making it back safely to our cabin atop another mountain). Later that night around the fire-pit that evening with the kids, roasting marshmallows I introduced a game called 4 questions that I made up on the spot. It was really to get the kids talking too, but it was revealing as well for what the adults shared. One of the questions I posed was, what are you afraid of? My initial joking answer was, a broad spectrum of human emotions. But afterwards I admitted that vulnerability was my bugaboo. That felt good to acknowledge, it felt good being seen and heard in that moment.
As I’ve gotten older, finding and maintaining friendships has been a choice and a challenge. You may have to attend a lot of birthday parties and playdates, but it’s worth it if you find your people. As it turns out, we hit the jackpot with this emerging friendship, as we have found some fellow kindred spirits. People adventurous enough to have a large family, and know what it’s like to navigate the world through that lens. Bonus points- we also saw our first black bear! Inside jokes and memories are the love language of kindred friends. Can’t wait to share more over the years.