Monday, May 19, 2008

What Makes a Friend?/Papa A

My friend Michael writes a blog named Megaloi. He wrote a post on religion and spirituality recently that really gave me pause. Here's a excerpt from the post:

"Here's a weird story to start things off. Hal Johnson has a blog and makes comments here regularly. He's a guy I only know online, so our friendship is 100% virtual, in a sense. Yet I've been able to meet some of my internet friends in real life and it's always a seamless transition, so at the same time I realize that my friendship with Hal is 100% real, even if we've never shaken hands or eaten a meal together."

A few years ago, I might have disagreed with Michael on that friendship point. I tended to take the position that to really know someone, personal contact was vital. Writing, talking on the phone, and smoke signals just didn't cut it.

I've come around to Michael's way of thinking on friendship, and part of the reason I've come around is because of the only two bloggers on my list that I know in "real life."

Bob is a fellow helicopter pilot. For thirteen years, he worked for my current employer, PHI Inc. (Formerly Petroleum Helicopters, Inc.) I knew him only well enough to say "hello" for a good while, but I ended up having a long conversation with him during a dinner gathering of pilots and wives one evening. A few years would pass before I discovered his blog, his talent as a writer, and the richness of his life experiences.

Uncle E has a daughter who attends school with my son. I first got to know him at a campout, when we discovered a mutual fondness for Mexican beer. We've been planning to have a "dude happy hour," but life tends to get in the way of such plans, especially for two guys who actually enjoy being with their families.

And yeah, I suppose I know those guys in a way that I don't know my strictly online friends. Yet, I've also grown to know them in a fuller, different way than if I'd never discovered their writings.

So, I've come to think of my "100% virtual" friends as quite real. Different folks have different ideas as to what constitutes friendship, so they may not feel the same. That's okay.
One of my longest-term online friends is Algernon, who writes a blog titled Notes from a Burning House. I got to know him through a website named PearlSoup, which, as I've mentioned before, served as sort of a prelude to blogging for me.

Alg has written in the past that he didn't think he'd ever become a father, for several reasons. I inferred that those reasons had mostly to do with the state of the world. Still, when he announced on PearlSoup a few months back that Sarah was expecting, I wasn't exactly shocked. As John Lennon wrote, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." I did manage to avoid writing him to say "I told you so," if for no other reason than I'd never written that "I told you so" in the first place. I was pleased to read the news, because I think Alg has a lot to offer as a dad.

Alg wrote a post back in January titled, "What Do You Want to Be Called by Your Son?" I was quick with my opinion, and quick to post it as a comment: "Oh for heaven's sake, A. You're Italian, after all. Isn't it some sort of cosmic rule that you must be 'Papa'?"

Little Gabriel was born last night, shortly before midnight. I've never met Algernon in person. I've never shared a beer, a cup of coffee, or dinner with him. Yet, when I saw the photo of little Gabriel on Papa A's blog, tears came to my eyes. I guess that's because, yeah, I think of Algernon as a friend.

And because he's a friend, it makes me happy that little Gabriel is in the world.

Congratulations to Sarah and Papa A. You're gonna be exhausted for a while, but it's the magic that you'll remember.


Anonymous said...

Gee, Hal... between you and David (he has a great new post about friendship on his 360) I'm feeling quite sentimental about all my friends, both "real" and online!

I'm one of those who, despite my previous statement, considers online friends to be real friends. This was confirmed during the recent weekend get-together a few of us PS/360 folks had. It was everything I anticipated and more!

Yep...I was touched when I saw Gabriel's photo this morning on Alg's blog.

Here's to good friends!

Redlefty said...

Thank you, Al Gore, for the miracle of the internet and making these friendships possible! :)

Bob Barbanes said...

A very thought-provoking post, Hal. I *do* consider my blogger friends "friends," in a way, especially the ones I know IRL, as the kids say. That's not to say I'd bail any of them out of jail or lie to wives for them. (That's not to say I wouldn't, either.)

The worry is that young people will find their virtual relationships so compelling that they'll substitute them for real-live friendships and personal interaction. And I know a few of them who are headed in that direction.

But you're right, our blogs do provide peeks into our lives and allow people to to "get to know" us as we similarly get to know others we might not have if not for this awesome device.

Uncle E said...

I started my silly little blog with the intent of it being read by perhaps a couple of close local friends, and as a means to deal with the stress inherant in working for the "changing" newspaper industry. Many unexpected things occured, though, that surprised me, in a great way. I started to reconnect with friends from Canada that I hadn't heard from in over 20 years. I met new folks with similiar interests and have had many great cyber debates with them since November 2007, the inception of my typo-ridden weblog. AND I discovered that local friends like Phil, ThomG, and you, Hal, have a gift for writing which provides a greater insight to your characters. Thanks for another great post, Hal!
We STILL need to have that beer, though...

jeanie said...

Very thought provoking - sent to you by your unreal friend Debby to say Happy Birthday!

Algernon said...

Happy birthday, Hal!

It is odd to recognize friendship in someone whom one has never met, yet there seems to be a long-standing and warm friendship between us that I enjoy.

Thanks very much for your good wishes on the arrival of Gabriel. You are quite right, of course, that fatherhood was not part of my plans - until nine months ago, that is, from which point there was never any doubt.

I will still have the same troubling questions to work with, and now I will be working with them much more intimately as a father. There is no longer any choice for me but to work with the catastrophe of human life, with the care of a lovely young boy in my hands.

So the work begins and yeah, we're already exhausted.

Mary Paddock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Paddock said...

My husband jokingly calls my online acquaintances my "imaginary friends". Two of those "imaginary friends" and I have talked on the phone to each other for years (still haven't met yet).

Happy Birthday Hal and many happy returns.


PS. I've loved reading your blog, by the way. 'Just took my time saying so.

quid said...

This was downright beautiful, Hal.