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Friends more valuable than fights over politics

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By Doug Gardner
Columnist

Sunday, July 22, 2018

My good friend, Frank, and I seem to agree on little lately.

I supported Donald Trump. He voted, but not for Trump.

Frank has an elaborate geothermal heating/cooling system snaking under his front yard. I'm sanguine about the rush to address climate change.

I see entitlement spending as a dire threat to the Republic. Frank thinks the government made promises that it should keep.

But, there is one thing that we do agree on: we are not going to let these political, scientific and policy differences ruin a friendship of almost 40 years.

It didn't start out auspiciously.

Across the table at a regional dinner theater, Frank asked if he could light up his pipe. Diana told him, sure, so long as he didn't exhale. It went downhill from there. By intermission I was chastising this Catholic college graduate about believing in religious fairy tales.

Frank became my spiritual punching bag soon after, eventually leading me to a 180-degree turn on religion. I wonder if our religious differences could have permanently driven us apart if we’d had access to the cornucopia of electronic communication media we have today?

Frank and I are working together on a local board for the first time in three decades. His first edict as president is, no personal attacks behind members’ back.

We’ve learned much about each other and the issues from our face to face discussions in the era before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram became vehicles for hurling insults through the ether. It’s amazing what happens when you put away your cellphone.

In time Frank and his wife became a crucial part of the 10-member "Varsity" group of friends coalescing around our now middle-aged children and their school and church activities. While I couldn't teach my sons how to build a birdhouse or skin a deer, I did bequeath them these friends. Frank and spouse became god parents to our older grandson. A second grandson and a granddaughter followed suit with sponsors from the Varsity group.

What nurtured these friendships was seeing our friends in person. Get-togethers often involved food. The talk usually revolved around money-saving ideas or work as we struggled to live on budgets and advance our careers.

As more time passed, conversations migrated to joint replacement surgeries, 401(k) withdrawal strategies, and what to buy grandchildren for their birthdays.

We all noticed a growing testiness in discussions of current events beginning three or four years ago. One couple dropped out of sight altogether. They voted differently than us. Was that why? We don’t know because we no longer talk. Another couple lament that cousins who rarely see each other, now do battle on Facebook over politics.

A friend has become active in an ultra-liberal group that stands in counterpoint to virtually everything I believe. I learned over lunch with this friend that his daughter is gay. Like any dad, he worries about her future and the struggles that she faces. He aims to mitigate that with his activism. I never would have been privy to any of this if we hadn’t shared chicken salads at a popular downtown eatery. It’s become a regular event.

This friend observed that it’s a whole lot harder to be rude to someone in person than it is online.

I think he’s on to something.

Doug Gardner is a resident of the Weeksville section of Pasquotank County.

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