A best man supports the marriage of his friends, long after the reception.
When Kevin and I moved to this college town, almost nine years ago, we became friends with a number of students. Some of them moved away, and some come back to visit, but Shrek is from an old Massachusetts family, so though we met him in his college days, and call him by his fraternity pledge name, he has stayed here and is raising a family. He is a good friend to us, and was best man at our wedding, two and a half years ago.
Here are just a few of the things that Shrek and his family have taught me.
That men can have egalitarian friendships across generations.
Shrek is my husband’s best friend, though they are almost twenty years apart in age. I admire him for many of his qualities: he’s kind, pragmatic, reliable, and positive. He’s a good worker, friend, and father. He likes us, too: we’re older and wiser, we encourage him as much as we respect him, and we are openly appreciative of him, love him and his family. It took me longer to write the last two sentences about what he might see in us than to write the rest of this whole post.
Love motivates us to become more than we are.
Shrek was his pledge name, and how I was introduced to him. But just as the Shrek in the movies evolves from a recluse into a family man over the course of the movies, so did our friend over the years we’ve known him. Even when he was a bachelor in an untidy apartment, he was kind and articulate, but it was hard to say which way he was going to head: future bouncer, or future company president? Meeting his future wife had a lot to do with where he’s ended up, though that was even less predictable. She wasn’t any more buttoned up than he was—if anything, she was wilder—but they had a reason to shape up in one another. They’d had their own troubles, individually, before meeting, but having turned around, now they’re both very focused, and beat us to the altar by a couple of years.
Experience helps in all things.
Having been married, with the support of his own best friend from childhood, Shrek knew what we would need at our own wedding. Always nearby, ready to place a drink in my hand or to lead me to a plate of food, scanning the crowd like a lifeguard, Shrek did everything that we couldn’t—and this was a wedding where, immediately after taking our vows, I returned to the makeshift kitchen to finish prepping food for the reception with friends and a few local queer activists we hired to staff the buffet. Everything about it was DIY.
Being a best man doesn’t stop when the honeymoon starts.
Since the day I married Kevin, Shrek has been our best man. Beside me, he’s the other guy who’s going to help me catch Kevin if he ever should fall. And if anything happens to me, I know Kevin has a solid support in our best man. I’ve been going through a difficult time with disabling physical and mental conditions, putting a lot of pressure on Kevin. It is comforting to know that Kevin has someone he can unburden himself to when they get together.
Shrek works hard and has the self respect and discipline not to waste his energy. When their twin boys were babies, and Shrek was unemployed and studying toward becoming an electrician, the four of them seemed to be living on air, Shrek managed their money so tightly. Now he works too many hours, but he knows it’s not forever, just a phase of life, and the fruits of his labor are beginning to appear: his family has recently moved from a cramped apartment into their own house.
How loving families work.
It’s inspiring to see people who come together despite the stresses of finances and babies, instead of splintering under the pressure. When the twins were born, and for many months afterward, friends and family were there on a schedule, every night, to help the new parents. Back then, even a 1:1 ratio of adults to babies seemed cruelly understaffed, when considered on a 24/7 basis. When we all helped them move into their new house, it was a celebration. Everyone showed up and was given a role, including the boys.
Family is who you make it.
Birthday parties and other celebrations at their house are family affairs, to which we’re invited along with grandparents and cousins, to make s’mores over the fire pit and take a ride on the boys’ plastic roller coaster, the family labradoodle racing us down the hill (that’s me in the photo above). I wouldn’t trade these for anything, even though it’s hard for me to just be there, sometimes. There’s so much about family time that triggers a lump in my throat, or the urge to run away. I spent hours in yards like this as a kid with my cousins and the children of my parents’ friends. Now I’m one of the grown ups. I know that it’s important for me to be here, in a way it’s impossible to understand when you’re just a kid and take these gatherings for granted.
There is a traditional role for me to fill, should I choose.
The boys are four, now. When they were two, they and my niece spread rose petals at our wedding. I’ve missed a lot of avuncular duty. When I show up, they don’t always remember my name, and will call me “Uncle Kevin,” then shake their head, already realizing their error, and Ben politely asks my name. Jack said this to me not long ago, in that way I recognize from when my son was little, a way that sounds challenging and needs an answer, even though it sounds declarative: “We haven’t seen you around here much.” I told him I’ve been sick and I hope to be around more in the future. I don’t push this because I know the proof’s in the pudding, especially when you’re four.
Friendships with people unlike ourselves make us greater.
There are parts of who we are that we cannot know except in the context of our relationships. Shrek’s family is kind; they invite us to join them in these celebrations. Everyone has to work to overcome the ways in which we have been conditioned, objectify others, or make assumptions—straight, gay, children and grownups, every category and identifier of our histories and diseases and relationships—to find our shared humanity. I get to find out who Shrek is to his mom, and to his mother-in-law. They get to see who a couple of his friends are. Ben and Jack get two more male role models and people who love them.
Why it’s scary is why it’s important.
It’s terrifying trying to overcome social anxiety to connect with people: easiest with the dog (I once found a dog in a crowded bar and was grateful to scratch him), easier with children than adults, hardest of all with adults I know I will see again, because I don’t remember what we talk about when I dissociate to get through it. The risk is for this possible gain: every time I reach out and maintain contact both with myself and another person, I can be who I am, and find that it is greater. That’s what marriage and family and love and friendships are all about.