Pals

It’s likely that every male who is a member of Generation X watched 1988’s movie, Young Guns, many times.

I know I did. It’s quite possible that I watched it a hundred or more times.  

The movie was a romanticized telling of the story of Billy the Kid and the Regulators, a group of young men Billy was associated with who sought to avenge local merchant John Tunstall, whose murder kicked off the Lincoln County War in New Mexico.

The Old West.

Outlaws.

Betrayal.

Guns.

Friendship.

What’s not to love. 

Young Guns II gave us Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, which I continue to believe is one of the best songs in their collection.

In the first movie Billy, played by Emilio Estevez, gave his famous “Pals” speech when Chavez, ably played by Lou Diamond Philips, sought to leave the Regulators, saying:  

“See, if you got three or four good pals, why, then you got yourself a tribe. There ain’t nothin’ stronger than that.”

This speech was created for the movie, but it captures a real truth that all men should internalize and strive to achieve.

Find Your Tribe

Although the word “tribe” traditionally refers to a group of families who share the same culture, language, and traditions who have banded together, it has been co-opted in modern colloquial parlance to refer to a group of unrelated friends bonded by common interests who have, in a real sense, become a family, even though they are not blood related.

Tribe equals family.

The fictional version of Billy the Kid was on to something.

Now, I know the term “tribe” is used by marketers when identifying the demographics of potential customers, but I am using it in a much more important and personal sense.   

Every man should have at least one, but preferably several good male friends that become, in effect, family to them.

In the modern world where extended families often live far apart from each other the concept of “family” has a different understanding than it did hundreds of years ago when multi-generations of blood relatives lived together or nearby in the same village.

Today, many people don’t have the fortune of having extended family nearby. And, when they are, oftentimes deep-seated family issues exacerbated by the modern world prevent families from getting along, let alone acting like a “family.”

We all simply need family support and structures, and our friends can – indeed should – provide that for us in part.  

What Does Male Friendship Look Like?

There is mature friendship and immature friendship.

Immature friendship includes the posturing and flexing you see competitive young men sometimes do in the presence of other young men. Not yet experienced at life and its complications, and unsure how to manage their emotions, some friendships among young men is of the immature variety. They constantly seek to outdo one another and impress each other. Some of the features of these immature friendships are what far too many writers on culture call “toxic masculinity” and unfairly and incorrectly ascribe to all men.   

Another feature of immature friendships is the tendency of some groups of young men to lack a moral compass – in effect they lack the ability to say “no” to each other – and there is no one friend willing to step up to be the moral lodestar of the group.  

Let me explain. True friends don’t let other friends get themselves into trouble by doing stupid things without calling them out or trying to talk them out of it. True friends know each other well, and care for each other and seek to stop each other from doing something that might mess up his life. They look out for each other. Within immature friendships, too often no one looks out for the other to say, “maybe we shouldn’t do this since it’s not right or it will hurt us or someone else.”  

Finally, immature friendships include an element of non-friendly competition. Men are by nature, competitive and, yes, my goal is still to outlift my friends in the gym. That’s friendly competition. There are no consequences if they lift more than I do, nor will I try to sabotage their efforts. Within immature friendships it becomes unfriendly when, deep down, your “friends” are hoping for you to fail, or in extreme cases, actively working to ensure your failure.

Until the last five years, I would say many of my own friendships were of the immature variety. There was simply no one there to tell me “Chris, you are fucking up and you are being an asshole, cut the shit.” Instead, most of these immature friendships had the complete opposite dynamic, and my friends encouraged me to do stupid shit, because that’s just what we were all doing, and I would ruin the fun if I didn’t.   

Mature friendship, on the other hand, the “pals” mentioned in the quote I began with, is characterized by a deep concern for the well-being of the other, which means looking out for each other at all times.  

This concern is manifested in your friends calling you out on your bullshit. The fact is they probably know you better than almost anyone and know when you are posturing or acting in a way antithetical to your values or well-being. I think of the scenes in the old cartoons where there is an angel on one shoulder of the protagonist and a devil on the other shoulder, and both are telling him to act in certain way. A mature friend acts as the angel on your shoulder calling you to be the best version of yourself, and the immature friend can be viewed as the devil on your shoulder telling you the complete opposite.    

True friends celebrate your victories with you unconditionally. They root for your success and are genuinely pleased when you achieve it. Likewise, they mourn with you when you don’t.

With mature friends, you can completely be yourself without any filter. You can express concerns, fears, disappointments, and confusion and, likewise, don’t have to hide your joy when you succeed. Immature friends want what’s best for them, and the relationship is built around how they can benefit from the friendship. Mature friends truly want what’s best for each other and think about how they can be helpful to the other friend.  

My Life

For the past five years I have been blessed with mature friendships with two guys. In many ways, we couldn’t be more different; in fact, the only thing I think we have in common is our shared love of working out. We don’t all get together in person too often since it’s hard to make that work with our busy lives and kids and wives. Yet, we talk in some way pretty much every day. We help each other in our various business pursuits without any expectation of compensation. We are a sounding board for each other about business, marriage, fatherhood and, yes, working out. We share our daily ups and downs with each other. Yes, there is a lot of shit-talking that takes place, but it’s all in good fun.

They know everything about me and know how I think, and the same is true vice versa. By now, they can tell from the tone of a text message if something negative is going on in my life that I haven’t shared and will not be shy about asking what’s going on.

They have been there for me, selflessly, whenever times have been rough, and I know they will continue to be there in the future. I hope I have also been there for them in the same way.

They have seen me and heard me at my worst, and also at my best.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through some difficult situations, all of which were caused by my own faulty thinking, without them recognizing it and showing me my errors, even when I resisted. And, oh do I resist when I think I’m right about something and someone confronts me about it.

These are the people I would want my wife to call for help if anything were to happen to me who I can trust with my family, my finances, and any secrets I may have.

This is mature friendship, and I am thankful for it. They make up my tribe, family in the deepest sense of the word.

I know it is not easy to develop such friendships, though I do believe men have an easier time forming them than women do. As an observer it appears to me that some women are more likely to smile at a friend to her face and talk negatively about her behind her back than men are. That’s just my own observation unsupported by any empirical evidence that I know of.

In recent months, my own circle of trusted men has increased with my membership in the Fraternity of Excellence (FOE). Just last night, I participated in a face-to-face Zoom call with about 30 other men where we discussed the concepts of integrity and authenticity with each other. Besides getting to know each other online and through face to face calls, it seems that every day there is some kind of unofficial FOE in-person meetup happening.

If you are a man who is having difficulty finding mature friendship, as I defined it above, I encourage you to give FOE a try, even for a month. The men inside push each other to be the best we can be, call each other out when we are not acting the best we can, and support each other through difficult times. I know, besides the friends I described above, that the men in FOE are also there for me, and I for them.

That’s priceless.

To learn more about FOE, click here.