Brotherhood & Friendship

The brotherhood of men is not spoken; it is felt. We feel its undercurrent with all men, but most strongly with our friends.

For most men, I imagine, our closest friends are some of our oldest; Pete and I go back decades. I know him and his life story; he knows me and mine.

But other factors define “friend.”

One of these is trust. I can rely on my men friends, all of them. If one makes a promise, it is kept. As the saying has it, “Word is bond.”

We support each other in deed as well. Steve is my implicit second. He would back me in a fight, and what’s more, he’d push me aside and take over the fighting for me.

Men mentor and coach each other at their home workshops, on playing fields, and noticeably, on the job. At a new corporate tech-writing gig, Tom, a colleague, taught me the ropes not only of the work, but of the woven politics and personalities of our department, strands that would have taken me months to unbraid. I took him to lunch.

“You don’t have to buy me a meal,” he said. “I was just doing my job.”

He’d eclipsed his job description; he’d been a brother.

Men volunteer to help each other, especially with physical work, even when unasked. I have a downed tree in my front yard, felled three months ago. Two friends, Marc and Pat, have dropped by and offered to help me limb, buck, and split it. When I lift the hood of my car, Jay, my across-the-street neighbor, wanders over, peers into the engine compartment with me, and says, “What’s up?”

We keep each other’s confidences without being asked, though sometimes we do ask. We take risks and understand when our friends take risks. We tend to not judge each other.

I understand that both the sexes can display some of these traits and behaviors. Women mentor and coach other women all the time. But I sense that many men choose their male friends on these bases.

Men’s friendships are strong and deeply meaningful to us. Blogs casting them as less than women’s – less intimate, less supportive – can be found on the web. But as Dr. Roger Gould, a psychiatrist, said of men’s relationships: “It is true that men do not easily show intimacies and … emotional responses. It does not mean the relationships are not filled with trust, deep regard and respect, fun, and sometimes crisis support.” 

Amen, Dr. Gould.

The stories in this section bring the undercurrent of brotherhood and men’s friendships to the surface.

Here is Michael Chabon’s finely observed and deftly written, “The Hand on My Shoulder.” With his first paragraph, Chabon paints a masterful portrait of his father-in-law and himself. With the next, he links his in-law’s face and persona in a bravura display of observation, insight, and writing.

I wasn’t planning on including poetry in this anthology until Richard Schiffman’s “Buddies” arrived via email, his bromantic verse changing my prose/poetry calculus.

Stephen Crane wrote in the late 1800s. In “The Open Boat,” he tells a tale of shipwreck, one that reads like fiction but is in fact reportage – an exemplar of “new journalism” a half-century before the style appeared. Crane writes a ripping story about the “subtle brotherhood” of four men in a 10-foot dinghy, on the open sea, in a storm.

I asked a renowned union organizer to suggest works on men’s labor. He recommended Mike Cherry’s book, On High Steel, for its stories about the ironworkers who erect bridges, towers, and tall buildings. The subtext of Cherry’s chapter here, “Over the Side,” is the disposability of men.

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