I listened with some concern to a podcast titled "Middle Aged Men Need More Friends." It turns out that social isolation, in even small bites, can be as dangerous to men's long-term health as smoking or obesity. Even Alzheimer's disease occurs more often in men who are socially isolated.
it made me think: Socially isolated? I certainly had the kind of life that checked the boxes, viz:
Family obligations. For years, it seemed as if I was a cog in a well-oiled youth hockey machine. Drive to practices and games. Parents' meetings. Email chains.
It was exhausting, probably because it was also for three kids. We ate at Taco Bell and did our laundry at midnight. Friends? Not unless they were in the traveling gas shortage known as the team car pool.
Travel. I work with my clients the way an ornithologist studies birds: where they nest. You cannot be an effective alter ego to a company leader from the spare bedroom of your own house. You've got to get out.
And so I do, often for long stretches, then come home to mow the lawn and join the sports report once again.
Career. Not only do I travel during the week, from a friend's perspective, sometimes I travel for years. Because at various periods I took CEO or CFO jobs that took the family 700 miles away from friends. Hard to stay in touch with Brooklyn, New York when you're living in Brooklyn, Wisconsin. Those periods were hard on friendships.
But it turns out I wasn't the only one who heard the podcast. So did my son, a young adult with a truly mature sensibility--and a teenager's ability to harp on a subject until you give in. He asked me if I heard it--of course, I had--then started in on me.
"Dad," he said. "I'm mad at you."
At this I raised the proverbial eyebrow.
"You don't stay in touch with Bill." Bill being a friend since junior high, who is now a prominent physician in New York."You gotta stay in touch with your friends." He glanced at the phone in his hand, which he had just used to listen to the NPR podcast.
"Let's get together at a baseball game." We remembered that Bill is a big Mets fan, and I loved the "let's get together" part.
So, to prevent further discord in the family, I called Bill, arranged for tickets for three of us a couple of months out, and felt that somehow we were attached even during the waiting period.
The game itself was terrific. Bill sprung for barbecue and showed my son how to score the game. A true physician, his handwriting is so bad that the backwards K symbol for strike looked like a normal K.
Turns out that my boy had never been to a professional baseball game before--at least not that he remembered. We took him when he was six weeks old, but because he started his 50-week a year hockey schedule just a month or so later (at least, that's my memory of the timing now) he never got to go back. Now, 19 years later, he felt that he had missed out on a secret that seemingly everyone else knew about. You know how he brought this up?
"Dad, I'm mad at you."
He (and we) loved the quiet moments of the game followed by actions scenes and real drama. In between pitches, we all caught up. Somehow it is easier for friends sometimes to be talking with each other--that is, side-by side at a game--than at each other, face-to-face. At least for guys.
And surprise, surprise--this morning Bill wrote to suggest we get together again, a couple of months out.
For a basketball game.