Time to Honor Our Friends

Not to encourage the greeting-card industry into more spasms of sentimentality, but what this nation needs is a Friends Day. We have a Mother’s Day, a Father’s Day, a Valentine’s Day, a Groundhog Day, a St. Patrick’s Day and many other days that you could stay up nights trying to remember.

But there’s no Friends Day. (A Google search reveals some paltry attempts, but the idea of a universally accepted day dedicated to friendship remains more or less friendless.) It is a curious omission. For example, any fool can became a mother or a father _ all it requires is a dark night, a certain amount of friskiness and a deep ignorance of the cost of college tuition.

As it happens, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and all the rest encourage people and things that need no encouragement. Folks don’t need cards to tell them to have babies, for the nights are naturally dark if the light switch is left off. As a prelude to the landing of storks, would-be lovers don’t require an excuse to infiltrate a special person’s affections with chocolates or flowers.

For that matter, groundhogs don’t need men in top hats to wake them up in midwinter in order to predict the weather; in fact, groundhogs are quite happy to provide long-range forecasts in the fall, but nobody asks then because it is the wrong time of the year for a party.

But friendship needs the encouragement of an official day because the American people take it largely for granted and, as a result, both its importance and its basic rules are increasingly not understood.

Fortunately, two examples freshly plucked from the headlines provide instruction. Both involve the Bush family, but, then again, doesn’t everything? In the first instance, we have the growing friendship between Bill Clinton, the 42nd president, and George H.W. Bush, the 41st, put together by George W. Bush, the 43rd, in order to promote tsunami relief.

This is a heartwarming development and it illustrates two important considerations in the forming of friendships. The most important of these is that politics should have nothing to do with it.

I have many friends who have political opinions that are completely nuts and, of course, they say the same of me. That is why we are friends. We recognize that politics is not the measure of a person; merely the perch on which rests various half-baked theories and intuitions that have little to do with reality but do provide interesting conversations in taverns. We should pick our friends on the basis of whether they are pregnant with celestial fire, not because of their views on, say, Social Security reform.

The second aspect of the Clinton-Bush the Elder friendship is that sweeping moral judgments have no place in forming friendships.

A well-rounded portfolio of friends will include a few likable rogues, of which I would cite Clinton in the above relationship as Example A. Although slimmed down recently, he could, with a few more cheeseburgers under his belt, be another Sir John Falstaff, the all-round friend of Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s plays. (If only he would wear tights, the fun would be complete.)

An example of what friendship is not is provided by Doug Wead, who secretly taped George W. before he became president. In my book, Wead is this year’s early favorite for the Linda Tripp award for false friends. Tripp was the woman who befriended and then ratted out Monica Lewinsky, thus getting everybody’s knickers in a twist, although, admittedly, twisted knickers were the original cause of the problem, if I remember correctly.

Friends – real friends – keep their tape recorders off. The sacred rule states that what is said in the friendship stays in the friendship, unless, of course, it is scurrilous, highly amusing gossip.

None of us would be safe if it were otherwise. Take my example. I am always witty and speak in coherent sentences shimmering with wisdom. But if one of my boon companions were to reveal that I am currently off the beer, and drank Diet Coke at the Australia Day party last month, I would be a ruined man.

With President Bush, the taped revelations had another very disturbing effect. The betrayal made him seem sympathetic, perhaps even human. That is the sort of awful outcome that can result when the rules of friendship are flouted.

The time is ripe for a Friends Day. While I am not currently recruiting friends of my own, I could do with a better class of enemy. Can anyone help with any of this?

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenty(at)post-gazette.com)