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The Dad Next Door: BFFs



Any day now, it could happen. You won't know it right away. In fact, you may not be sure of it for years. But the next friend your kid makes could become their best friend. Forever.

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Like so much of our children's lives, this is something we can't control. We can't just hand-pick that smart little kid down the block whose parents we really like, even if it would be super convenient for carpooling. We can't post a profile on BabyMatch.com listing our turn-offs and describing our ideal play date. All we can do is watch, and listen, and nurture our children's friendships as if the course of their lives and their future happiness depended on it. Because actually, they may.

BFFs find each other by some uncanny alchemy of instinct, fortune and fate. Sometimes against all odds, two mismatched lives come together and weave an unbreakable bond. Never doubt the mysterious logic of those unlikely pairs. They can alter destinies and change lives.

You know that little girl from toddler play-group with the misshapen head? Someday she might rescue your drunken daughter from a frat party at 2 a.m., beating back would-be suitors with an empty tequila bottle. That kid at preschool who taught your son to eat his own boogers? He may be the best man whose toast makes all the wedding guests howl with laughter, then well up with tears. And that baby in the pediatrician's office with the blotchy skin? Someday she may talk your baby out of a "Hot Stuff" ass-crack tattoo.

Of course, not all best friends are forever. There's nothing more heartbreaking than watching your child and their best buddy growing slowly and painfully apart. But when it really is forever, it's a beautiful thing.

My daughter, Maddie, has a BFF named Hannah. They've been in each other's lives since prenatal days. Some years they've been closer than others, but they've always come back together in the end. Hannah has been on family vacations with us. She's slept over more times than I can count. I've fumbled through the three different ways she's pronounced her name, and I've cooked her breakfast during every one of her half-dozen dietary regimens. In other words, she's family.

I remember when Maddie and I had our first screaming-and-crying, you're-ruining-my-life, slam-the-door-behind-you argument. She ran from the house like a bat out of hell – and got about half a block before she reached Hannah's door. They stayed up late watching Lord of the Rings that night, while Maddie described the uncanny similarities between me and Sauron. It gave us both the breather we needed. I knew she was with Hannah, and that made it okay.

Maddie makes friends easily, and in her life she'll have many, but I'll never know any of them the way I know Hannah. And knowing that Hannah will always be there for her is a comfort that's hard to describe. I did everything I could to nurture their friendship, for reasons both selfish and pure. But the bottom line is this: I know there'll always be someone who has Maddie's back, even when I'm gone.

A BFF isn't pushed aside by boyfriends and girlfriends, or even spouses. They aren't replaced by siblings and other friends. You might not see them every day, or every year, or even every decade – but when you do see them, you don't have to start from scratch. The secrets you gave them are safe in their keeping. And somehow, they still remember the song of your heart, even when you've forgotten how it goes.

A few weeks ago, I traveled back east to catch up with my own BFFs. Donna, whom I've known since we were sloshing around in our mothers' pregnant bellies, spent a day with me sloshing around our favorite fishing hole. And Scott, with whom I once set the Guinness World Record for consecutive late-night conversations about Girls, Sports, and The Universe, stayed up with me most of the night, then drove me to the airport at 5 a.m.

I had to change my plane reservations because my dad became very ill, and was hospitalized in San Diego. It brought up a lot of stuff for me – the kind of stuff you can't talk about with just anyone. Luckily, Donna and Scott aren't just anyone. They know my dad. They know me. And there were all kinds of things I just didn't have to explain. That's how it's been with them since … since I can't even remember when.

It feels like forever.

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