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 his life story and have a feeling for who he is. 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. Jed, a colleague at a new corporate tech-writing gig, taught me the ropes not only of the work, but of the personalities and layered politics of the workplace, 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 way surpassed his job description.

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 Jay, have dropped by and offered to help me limb, buck, and split it. If I lift the hood of my car and peer in, my across-the-street neighbor wanders over to ask if I need help.

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

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

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

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

Michael Chabon’s finely observed and deftly written, “The Hand on My Shoulder,” will be in the print book but is not here due to licensing issues. Chabon, in his first paragraph, with 128 words, paints a masterful portrait of his father-in-law and himself.

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 of being shipwrecked. The story reads like fiction, sounds like a yarn, but is in fact reportage – an exemplar of “new journalism” a half-century before the style appeared. Crane tells a ripping tale about the subtle fraternity of four men in a 10-foot dinghy, on the open sea, in a storm.

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

Here are stories about the rich friendships and unstated brotherhood of men, felt … sensed.

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