I am the worst military spouse friend ever, but I also stink at being a friend in general.
I know you’ve all seen the posts along the lines of “Five Friends Every Spouse Needs Now” or “Seven Tribe Members You Should Have.” We’ve read the articles and we’ve nodded our heads in agreement. You have learned the rules of good friendship so you either have those friends or you are those friends.
Fade out and cut scene to me.
I think of myself like Tacky the Penguin. Tacky is a character in a children’s book of the same name by Helen Lester. He is described as “an odd bird” who does things his own way. His companions think that his social graces leave something to be desired. But eventually Tacky fends off the evil hunters and protects his tribe. In the end, his friends realize that he is a great friend to have around.
I’m with Tacky the whole length of the book. I like to think that I don’t adhere to the status quo. I do things the way I want and I don’t worry what others think. Just as Tacky doesn’t march in a straight line like the other penguins, I tend to zig and zag instead. Somehow I get there but my path is my own.
I’m also not the best person when it comes to decorum. Tacky’s companions greeted each other with a polite, succinct “hi.” Instead, he would slap them on the back and be boisterous. I’ll greet friends with either a slow-motion run culminating in a hug or a crazy run that ends the same way. I’m Italian so hugs are always in the equation of a greeting.
I’ve ignored military protocol too, at least from what I was told by a male protocol officer. I’m not disrespectful in any way, I just don’t think that women should have to keep their shoes on at dining outs. I mean, who is comfortable staying in 3-inch heels all night after social hour. And who else wants to dance in said heels? I’m much happier kicking those things off and having fun.
Where I deviate (in more ways than one) from Tacky is at the end of the book. Tacky’s friends realize that he is a good bird “to have around.” While I am at a base, I believe that my friends would say that I’m also “nice to have around.” I am engaged with them. We have lunch. We go get coffee. We call each other. It’s when I’m gone that I fail.
And I fail epically.
Before the onset of social media, being a long-distance friend meant writing or phone calls. When we would PCS, I would have the best of intentions in staying connected. I would call my friends initially and then it would taper off. Phone calls are so hard, you see, because you need to set aside a good chunk of time to talk. Kids and life get in the way and then we forget to make the effort.
I thought that texting would be a good solution when that was no longer a cost-prohibitive measure. For those that don’t remember, you used to have to pay per text and there was a limit to the number of characters you could use. But that didn’t happen. My arthritic fingers made typing on the small keyboard difficult.
Then came social media. I was late to the game so I delayed contacting friends even more. When I finally hooked in, I added all of my pals. Perfect! An easy way to stay connected. And it was at first. As a newbie, I would post and comment on everyone’s wall. Eventually your postings slow down and so do your friends’. And with that tapering, your connections minimize too.
But don’t fear because there is a happy ending to this tale of woe. So if I can succeed, so can you.
As I look back on our career, I notice that while I have many acquaintances during our assignments, I leave with one or two FRIENDS. That small number increases each time we PCS. And while I may not keep in contact on a daily basis, I know that I have my tribe. I can call on any one of my friends (civilian or military) and know that they have my back. I can call them up to gripe about my situation or because I need a place to crash while we are moving across the country.
They are there for me and I am there for them. Your tribe understands you and accepts you for who you are. Mine know that while I stay radio silent for months on end, they are always on my mind. They’ve accepted me for who I am, warts and all. And just like Tacky, I am loyal. So I guess I’m more like him than I thought and therefore I’m not so bad after all.
I’m an odd bird but I’m a good bird to have around.