Dear Jack: Your “Pokemon Card Business Meeting” with Your Best Friend, Duncan

6 years, 11 months.

Dear Jack,

You were so excited all last week to know that your best friend, Duncan, was going to be coming over to our house on Saturday morning. Now that fall soccer season is over, this made the first weekend in which you wouldn’t be seeing each other.

But for two hours, the two of you got hang out and just do whatever you wanted to.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, you were noticeably much calmer and self-contained with him over. Instead of two nearly 7-year olds running around crazy in the living room, the two of you spent most of the time having what I am calling a “Pokemon Card Business Meeting.”

It looked, and sounded, quite serious. You both brought out your huge Pokemon card binders and committed to what seemed to me as a never-ended business meeting.

As you both traded and bartered, I kept hearing stats that I couldn’t keep up worth, as I heard these strangely named Pokemon characters and how much damage each one does, and whether it’s an EX or not…

I am convinced the two of you had so much fun. But I have to say, it looked all business to me!

These days, I recognize it’s often a challenge for you to figure out what to do when you’re at home; as the temptation to play with your sister, even if she is already occupied, is always there. It feels like a daily occurrence that I have to say, “Jack, find something to do before I assign you some mandatory fun myself…”

With Duncan over at our house, I never said that once.

If Duncan is the kind of company you keep, and that is the kind of activity you choose to do, I say, hey… Let’s have Duncan over more often!

Love,

Daddy

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The Politics of Making Friends

Sometimes a friend is just that not into you.  As for myself, I live by The Orange Cat Theory.

In 1985, when I began preschool at Mother’s Day Out at the First Methodist Church of Fort Payne, I was introduced to the concept of friendship.  For the first time in my life, really.  Because from ages 0 to 4 all I really knew was family.  But now that I had been dropped off with kids my own age, I began to grasp was a society was.  Within this group of people were even closer groups of people.  Called friends.

The catch phrase of 1985, the thing I heard the most at preschool was this:  “I’ll be your best friend…”  If a classmate of mine wanted one of my cookies, wanted to hold my stuffed animal, wanted to cut ahead of me in line, I heard:

“I’ll be your best friend…”

What went through my head as a 4 ½ year old was, “What if I don’t want you to be my best friend?”  Did my classmates not assume I already had a best friend?  Should my true best friend lose their status with me on account of a cookie?  Did I look like the kind of kid who was “best friend deprived”?

Was it not enough that Alex Igou and I played with our toy fire engine trucks together during “free time?  And that Simon Millazzo and I always sat next to each other everyday as we waited for our moms to pick us up?  And what about the fact that I went over to Russell McElhaney’s house and saw the GI Joe fort his brother made in the backyard and that his mom was the first to introduce me to a delicious dessert called the “brownie”?

The promise to be my best friend was being held over me as a bribe, but I had no interest in taking it.  And this, in 1985, was my introduction to friendship.  Twenty-five years later, I don’t have acquaintances offering their conditional friendship.  Because I know, just like I did as a 4 year-old, friendship shouldn’t have to be conditional.

Yet I still see some complication in adult friendships.  When the relationship is perfectly mutual, 50/50, that’s when things come easy.  But looking back on my lifetime of friendships, even starting around age 10, I can think of several friendships where it wasn’t a 50/50 deal.

I was always the one going to their house; they wouldn’t come to mine.  I was always the one to call them; they wouldn’t call me.  I was always the one to set up plans; they didn’t include me in their own.  I took the initiative in the friendship.  And I never questioned the authenticity of us being friends.  Because it’s in my nature to be the initiator, the one who calls first, the planner.

But by high school, I realized that I felt I was having to “earn” certain friendships.  That I was having to prove myself good enough, or even more illogically, that I was cool enough for them.

It all goes back to the summer of 1988 when my mom took my sister and I to this lady’s house to both choose a pet cat for ourselves.  We got out of our Bronco II and went into the friendly woman’s kitchen, where we saw a litter of kittens.

For some reason I was always drawn to the orange cats (probably had something to do with Morris the Cat).  So I wanted the orange cat in the litter.  I stretched my arm to him.  The orange cat seemed indifferent towards me.  While that was happening, my mom must have noticed the white and brown spotted cat fighting for my attention:  “Nick, pick the cat that comes to you on his own.”  So I walked away with that cat.  I named him Gabriel.  He liked me.

Most importantly, from that day I learned a valuable lesson about relationships:  Choose to be close to the people that show the most interest in you.  Because that’s a sign of a good friend.  Choosing my friends this way has definitely paid off.

And sure enough, the few times I did spend effort on recruiting an “orange cat” for a friend (applies to romantic interests as well) it never worked out.  My Orange Cat Theory has proven true in my own life.  When it all comes down to it, Morris the Cat isn’t as cool as he thinks he is.

The Orange Cat Theory:

As opposed to choosing a relationship based on your own preconceived notions about someone who seems really cool but causes you to reach out to them, instead look around first to see if someone is reaching out for you.  Choose “the cat that comes to you on their own”, not the orange cat.