Friendship has been on my mind lately.
Maybe it was a visit from a childhood friend or watching my stepson light up when he came home from college and reconnected with his best buddy—but the older I get the more I find myself treasuring the friends I have made over the years. I am so grateful for friends; the people you can count on year after year for fun, laughs, good conversation, advice and just plain hanging out. The best ones are there for you when you are up and when you’re down. They are real, sincere and sometimes painfully honest.
They give you the benefit of the doubt when you mess up—as we all do from time to time –and they are happy when you succeed; sad when you suffer a setback. As I approach yet another birthday I have been reflecting on the magical times in my life and they all revolve around family and friends. That’s not a profound discovery, but I also realize that I have had several very special eras of friendships and a few professional experiences that can only be described as magic (sorry, there’s no other word). And in talking to people I have come to understand that not everybody gets to have that in their life, either personally or professionally. So I feel a whole lot of gratitude for the magic and that’s what I will always look for in my work and relationships.
I’ve been blessed with several friends that I have had since early childhood. I have a core of guys who I have known since I was 6, 7 and 8 years old and I am very aware of how special and how rare that is.
We’ve kept it going through junior high cliques and high school crushes, college, first real jobs, marriages, kids and now middle age. We are spread throughout the country—California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, New Jersey and our native New York. We don’t see each other much, but we are in touch. And when we do get together for reunions or milestones we pick up where we left off.
Truth be told, the talk of glory days gone by is rare. We typically talk about our present day lives and our plans for the future, which shockingly now includes talk of retirement and yes mortality (in another 50 years or so).
To be able to share those conversations with guys who knew your 4th grade teacher, met your grandparents, went to your bar mitzvah and know who you took to the prom is nothing short of remarkable. Past embarrassments become the source of warm memories, like the time you pretended your car broke down just so you could linger at the local fast food joint and talk to the cute girl from your social studies class or the time when a friend painted a rock with the phrase “the search is over” (a cheesy 80s song by Survivor) only to have the object of this sure thing say she never wanted to see him again when she drove by and saw it.
We have gone through cancer—(parents and one of us), experienced marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, business ups and downs, births and deaths— together. We have also experienced a whole lot on our own. We have close friends that the others don’t know, experiences that we didn’t share and a whole life separate from each other. But we know that if something ever happened to any of us, we could reach out and find whatever help we needed within our circle. No questions asked. These are the brothers I never had.
I live in Delray Beach because of my friend Scott, who is one of the guys I’ve known for over 40 years. So blame him if you must. After we graduated high school, Scott went off to SUNY Oswego and I spent a year at Stony Brook University before joining him in a place that was so cold, snowy and windy that we didn’t thaw out until four years after graduation. So the prospects of warm weather made it an easy decision for me to seek a newspaper job in either Florida or California, where another guy from our circle was going to chiropractic school. The Florida offer came first and off I went to join Scott who was already here sitting by the pool.
Florida in the late 80s was an interesting place. I thought it was summer camp. Every morning we went for bagels with Scott’s dad Mickey and after work we played tennis, went to the pool and explored the area.
I was assigned to cover Delray and it was like discovering journalistic heaven: political bickering, horrific crime, City Hall intrigue and interesting people everywhere you turned. This place put the fun in dysfunction. But despite the myriad of serious problems there was a vision in place and a whole lot of aspiration and talent aligned to turn the city around. And I got to write about it and eventually participate.
The newspaper office was in Boca on East Rogers Circle and the newsroom was filled with off the charts characters and a lot of gifted writers, editors and photographers. It was a golden age of community newspapers and we were growing by leaps and bounds—the Monday-Thursday Papers was a great place for me to learn from older and much more experienced journalists who spent a lot of time showing me the ropes and teaching me how to spot news and dig deep for the telling detail that made a story resonate.
It was a magical time and again friendship drove a lot of the creativity, fun and success of the venture. We enjoyed each other, hung out together at Dirty Moe’s, went to lunch at Spinnakers, Tom Sawyer’s, Boston’s, Ken and Hazel’s and George’s Diner. We pushed each other to succeed and laughed along the way. I couldn’t wait to go to work in those days.
Over time, the era came to an end. People move on, to other jobs, me included. The industry changed, technology changed, the characters that made newsrooms so amazing faded away. And I miss them. I think the world misses them.
I next experienced magic– driven by friendship and relationships– during my 7 years as an elected official in Delray Beach. In hindsight, it was a special era. The great initiatives and visions that I covered as a reporter were largely completed by 2000 and so the group I served with and the staff I worked alongside were given the gift of a blank slate.
When that happens, you have two options. Build on what came before and put your own stamp on things or go in another direction. We chose to build on. And we did.
We engaged people in a Downtown Master Plan, we did a plan for parks, we did a cultural plan, we focused on neighborhoods, we delved into race relations, worked to engage citizens, addressed recruitment and attrition issues in police and fire, adopted a southwest neighborhood plan, revamped our historic preservation policies and invested in assets like Old School Square and the library which moved to West Atlantic which became a major focus. We moved the high school and focused on schools. But we did more than just plan and dream. We got things done. And we did it as a team.
We celebrated our successes and we came together during the hard times too—hurricanes, the death of Jerrod Miller and the myriad controversies that occur in a place that people are passionate about.
Along the way, you make friends—and a few enemies– but you realize in hindsight that it is all about relationships and the ability to touch people; to make their lives better if you can.
I served with commissioners, citizens and city staff who talked about the need to listen, work together and take responsibility for trying to make a positive difference on whatever challenges we faced. They believed in building a great city and we were willing to try new approaches in order to make things happen. We were bold and ambitious and took some risks. Some stuff worked, some things fell short. But we learned together and it was a whole lot of fun.
I served with a Commissioner named Alberta McCarthy and she talked about community unity and we adopted the slogan. As we see divisions in our nation get wider by the day during a particularly brutal election season; as we witness bickering at city commission meetings and negativity on social media, I think about that phrase. Maybe some think it’s trite and corny. But it isn’t. It’s a big thought, an ideal, something to strive for. It may or may not be achievable. But it’s everything, isn’t it? It’s about coming together to build a better future for as many people possible; hopefully everybody.
We never achieved it totally, but I think we came close enough to see what it looked like.
Magic occurs when caring people commit to each other; whether it’s a childhood friendship that never ends; a successful business or a city that wants to make something happen.
You can have all the raw material—money, strategy, resources galore but you need the people part. That’s a must.
It’s all about the relationships…there is no short cut around people and you can’t achieve great things in isolation. You need friends. It’s just that simple.
Friendship has been on my mind lately.