Saturday, October 17, 2015

Men as Friends: True Intimacy or Covert Intimacy-Chuck Fink

"A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you just the same."- Martin Luther King, Jr.

How many of you engage in "covert intimacy?" So, you're probably wondering, "What is covert intimacy?"  This evocative term best describes the way men express fondness for each other, especially in the United States.

Rather than express how we really feel about each other, men have been conditioned instead to throw a punch line or a friendly put down to the other man.  It’s safe.  It's fun.  It is not truly intimate. By engaging in covert intimacy we easily avoid expressing our true feelings and outward affection for each other.  We mask our feelings affirming our friendships with phrases like , “Hey ass wipe”, “Yeah, douche bag”, “You’re a dick wad”. 

It gets even more graphic, but I'll spare you.  Upon hearing these “manly terms of endearment”, most women react with disgust.  They’re right to express this reaction.  It is disgusting to sublimate close and deep feelings about another human to macho conditioning.

Because of Men’s Wisdom Works (MWW) I’ve been fortunate to develop many deep friendships, and among them stand men I consider my intimate friends.  To me, these men hold a special place in my emotional domain. How shallow these relationships would have been if they remained bound by covert intimacy alone.  

A few years ago I developed what I venture to say was one of the deepest male friendships I've enjoyed in my 65 years.  My friend and non-related brother, Steve and I played terrible golf, went to local eateries and events, and stopped for some beer at one of the 19 craft breweries in Asheville.  Our wives enjoyed the social time we all shared as couples.  My "brother" and I grew closer.  

Steve and I headed to Charlotte and back once a month for tongue sandwiches at a Jewish deli in Charlotte.  Seven hours round trip for a delicacy whose very name causes a gigantic gag reaction in the uninitiated. But for us this was Mecca.  During those sojourns we dug deep into our life experiences, and shared personal disclosures even beyond what occurs in some MWW meetings.

Then a few years after building our close bond, my friend Steve told me he had terminal cancer with just a month or two to go.  Steve kept this one disclosure very close to the vest.  He didn’t want pity and he didn’t want to be treated differently.  Others questioned why he waited so long to disclose his truth.  I did not.  I knew Steve lived life fiercely on his terms.  This was no different.  He wanted the little time that remained for him to be as much of a normal continuance of his life as possible.  He wasn't dramatic.

I knew this required a great balancing act on my part.  I expressed my care, love, and support, directly and often.  But I understood "normal" also meant playfulness, humor, and covert intimacy.  Steve needed both normal and "weird normal".  So we resumed our loving expressions, some cloaked in covert intimacy.

Steve’s 70th birthday preceded his death by just a few weeks.  His wonderful wife, Karen, threw a huge birthday party at the fanciest hotel in Asheville.  It was Steve’s celebratory farewell to friends and family from around the country.  He didn’t want a funeral or memorial service.  He chose to hang with people from his past and present while he was still converting oxygen to carbon dioxide.  "Steve" stories filled the evening.  Unfortunately, I had a family obligation that I had to attend out of town.  So, I missed the party.
Karen and Steve asked his close friends who were going to miss the party to send in video messages of well wishes.  Mine began with “Hey Ass Wipe, I love you”.  The rest of the love video related goofy things we had done together in just the three years we knew each other, followed by my deepest expression of love and affection for my friend, my brother.

Some of those in attendance were shocked by my raunchy salutation to Steve.  Steve, Karen, and members of his MWW group were not shocked.  They knew Steve intimately and appreciated that I had achieved balance between true intimacy and the covert kind.  My expressions of covert intimacy acted as a thin veil.  When I lifted that veil, my love for Steve poured out. I miss him everyday, especially when I eat a tongue sandwich.
For men like me, friendship had always been about work and play.  Most of my male friends were, well, guys I played golf with or with whom I tipped a few beers.  When we relocated from Cincinnati to Asheville, those once strong friendships based on hanging out together slowly withdrew to the vastness of my past.  Some of my old buddies from Ohio and I still anchor our friendships via the drinking hole, that soul sucking game of golf, and reminiscing over old stories.  These were good times.  A good friend seemed only a laugh and a beer away.

Work and fun served as a warm backdrop, but you wouldn’t find deep and intimate friendships even with a depth finder.  I truly enjoy my old friends.  The problem is we’ve been conditioned not to disclose too much of ourselves.  We clung to the belief that being intimate with one another weakens us to other men, or so we believed.   WRONG!

Retirement and Men’s Wisdom Works introduced me and the other men to a whole new definition of what it means for a man to have friends, deep friendships, the kind of friends you can fully expose your life to, because these men truly care.  In fact, our fellow MWW brothers prove our commitment to one another every day, for the big things like transportation to chemotherapy or to our being there for the widow of a member who passed.  The new widow needs us as we need one another.  Our brotherhood includes sisters too.

We still engage in plenty of play and some work.  We eat together, visit breweries, plan trips to a nearby lake, host house concerts, and engage in the little acts of brotherhood, like just hanging out, volunteering at schools, or going to our local minor league baseball game as a team of men.  As older men we finally appreciate both the big and little aspects of life.

But the greatest glue holding us together takes form at our bi-monthly meetings where we discuss in an intimate manner deeply personal issues or topics that have a great impact on men of our certain age.  It is here where we break the old, self-limiting code of avoiding self revelation.  It is here where we learn about the authentic man in each of us.  The authentic men we've come to know starts with getting familiar with our own authentic self.  For many of us, that “real” guy lurked in the background of covert intimacy rarely able to have seen the light of day.

Not anymore.