CBS Sunday Morning recently featured a story about ten childhood friends, now middle-aged, who meet annually to reenact a ritual from their school days: the game of tag. The game is really a pretext for these men to practice what is seldom practiced by men in our society: enduring friendship. Male friendship is difficult to practice for many reasons, including the primacy of heterosexual romance and the perceived homoeroticism of same-gender friendship.
Correspondent Lee Cowan says:
It may be tempting to pass the Tag Brothers off as childish, even crazy. But I’ve never met a funnier, friendlier group of guys. Their camaraderie is infectious—and, frankly, enviable.
“I’m pretty proud of the fact that I still keep in touch with ten really good guys,” said Brian Dennehy. “And if that’s not the definition of maturity and loyalty, I’m not sure what is.
If more men conceived of enduring friendship as a hallmark of maturity, not only would they be happier but I suspect their marriages and workplaces would also be happier. Men need men: spouses and coworkers are no substitute. Joe Tombari, who teaches math at the gang’s old high school, shares an important lesson with students based on The Tag Brothers’ experience: “Be friends. Care for each other. Don’t be afraid to push yourself to go out and connect with somebody. Tell ’em you care about ’em.” It is always fear that robs men of vital opportunities to care and be cared for. Young boys, in particular, need models of enduring friendship, proving that strong men connect with each other not only to play a round of golf or close a business deal but to live well.
While it is impossible to judge the depth of the friendships based on the reportage, I noticed that their time together is marked by a healthy blend of levity and gravity, conversation and activity. These men know how to play like boys, and that’s a good thing, too. Adult men forget their sense of play when they assume “grown-up” responsibilities. As a consequence, I wonder if friendship becomes a casualty of socialization, a relic of childhood rather than a treasure for life. Most of all, I admire how these men have the courage to say No to the distance of geography, the insularity of marriages and families, and the busyness of professions in order to say Yes to friendships that matter.