Each weekday at 2:10 pm I pick up my fifteen year old son from high school. He opens the truck door, throws his back pack on the floor and climbs in. Then, I start asking questions: “How was your day”, “Anything interesting happen?”, “Do you have any homework?” He responds with one-word answers and grunts. We do this dance every day.
Something different happened the other day: We had a conversation. He told me a story about a guy who suffered a bad concussion and came out of it changed. He suddenly became a math and physics genius, but lost his ability to connect, socially, with people.
Prior to the accident, the man had lots of friends and family and was not particularly “mathletic”. Following his injury, his life was vastly different. This story inspired me to ask my boy which of the two qualities he would prefer: solid social life or high-level math function?
He responded without hesitation: “Social skills. I think it would be very hard to be happy when you’re alone.” I nearly drove off the road. My pride and relief at this answer was profound. My kid “got it.” I was not an abject failure as a dad, in spite of much evidence to the contrary. My son understood the key to a happy life: people.
In a life filled with stress and stuff to do having a solid foundation of good friends and family makes it all worthwhile. They are what’s important. We are reminded of this when we need to be reminded. In times of struggle and worry (which is much of the time), a note, a call or a beer with an old buddy reminds us that life is still pretty good.
Life is not an easy business. Bills, work, kids require something of us. Our friends require nothing…at least the good ones don’t. They require nothing except being a friend in return and this is easy to do. They are vital to any joy we achieve. They are the real or fabled “meaning of life”. A conversation with a friend is all we need to step back off the ledge and feel pretty good about the world.
I’m very happy my son understands this mature insight. As a dad, I spend plenty of energy concerned about my kids’ futures. I don’t really care about what they do or where they live. I care very much that they are happy doing it. Having a healthy store of good relationships is at the heart of this joy. This is true for all of us. When we have friends, we have everything we need. I am relieved to know that for all the things my son doesn’t yet understand about the world, he understands perhaps the most powerful thing there is to understand about life. I have not completely failed!! Yippee!!
In the early morning hours of my birthday, while I was fretting over much to do, I received a couple of texts from an old buddy. “Happy Birthday” was the first one, followed by “Jackass”. I felt loved. In the complex language of old friends love and hope and connection and history was conveyed. And I got it. And it’s the most important thing to get.
[EDITOR'S NOTE:"Feel Good Friday" is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who just published his first book called "A Feel Good Life" (buy it on Amazon here). Dave also extols to all neighbors: "Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!" Also, you can "friend" Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]