• We had all known each other for so long that there was no way we could conceivably live apart from each other now. (Stone RF)Source: Stone RF
"Bullies stopped picking on us because they knew we had each other’s backs," writes Peter Papathanasiou.
By
Peter Papathanasiou

1 Jul 2020 - 9:24 AM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2020 - 10:01 AM

When I was at high school, I met a bunch of guys and we became mates. It’s now over 30 years later and we're still friends. And yet, it’s not quite the same. Over time, our differences, which were once small, have widened so that now, I wonder what we even have in common anymore.

But let me rewind back to 1987. It was then when our friendship group began to form, in Year 7. We came together as outsiders, as a circle of awkward, offbeat misfits. We were neither jocks nor cool kids nor delinquents nor nerds. We didn't all listen to the same kind of music or necessarily even enjoy the same activities. We were just a bunch of dudes who didn't seem to belong anywhere else. And that was potentially what brought us together – the universal teenage need for social acceptance.

Over the years at high school we became a tight brotherhood of about eight mates. We had winter video nights and long summer days at the pool. We were invited to house parties as a collective, where we knew we always had someone to hang out with. Bullies stopped picking on us because they knew we had each other’s backs. This was something for which I was especially appreciative. I had grown up without siblings and been a frequent target for bullies at primary school. In Australia during the 80s it hadn’t helped that I was the only Greek kid in my class, which only made me more conspicuous. That all changed in high school. I now had seven brothers.

Of course, there were also times when our union was questioned. I remember my parents being suspicious of all the strange Aussie kids with whom I was keeping company. But we had found a common frequency they didn't understand, and they made me feel both accepted and welcome, unburdened by the cultural differences of the past. High school, it seemed, was a different melting pot.

As we graduated from school, we began to move in different circles. Some of us went to university, others got jobs, some moved to other cities and even other countries. Waistlines expanded, hairlines receded. But we always found the time to get together to ensure we maintained the strong connection to each other’s lives. We went to clubs and bars and were there to mend each other’s broken hearts. We attended birthday dinners and weddings and baptisms, but also funerals for our parents. One of my friends had even been a pallbearer at my dad’s funeral in 2016, such was the connection that they had made over the years.

Some of us went to university, others got jobs, some moved to other cities and even other countries.

Occasionally, I bumped into an old school acquaintance and they were surprised to hear that I still kept company with this same bunch of mates. They weren't my only friends of course, but they were still a firm social slice of my life. You think I might have been embarrassed to admit that, but I wasn't. I was proud. By contrast, all their flimsy high school friendships had fallen by the wayside.

But in recent times, as our 40s became entrenched and life became even busier with careers and relationships and kids and responsibilities, I noticed the tight threads of friendship start to show signs of unravelling. Conversations and gatherings that I once relished and fully engaged with had started to become easier to disconnect from and even a little unsatisfying. Automatic RSVPs in the affirmative had begun to morph into ‘let me see how I’m placed’. Part of that was just life becoming busier, but I soon noticed myself feeling anxious at the prospective demise of such significant lifelong companionships. Two-thirds of my time on this earth had been with these seven brothers firmly by my side.

This brotherhood of friends had evolved to become – effectively – brothers.

It was only then that I realised what I had, the answer staring me in the face. This brotherhood of friends had evolved to become – effectively – brothers. We had all known each other for so long that there was no way we could conceivably live apart from each other now. Like any sibling relationship, frustrations flared from time to time, and you sometimes felt closer to one person than another. But what brought us all back together was the shared sense of history; we readily fell back into old habits and old in-jokes like wearing a comfortable sweater. We may not have been the same awkward adolescents anymore who came together with a sense of co-dependency to help us through a challenging phase of life. We had changed; it would've been weird if we hadn't. But we still genuinely cared for each other and each other’s families, be they loving partners, dependent children or ageing parents. And like any sibling relationship, whenever we got together, we could always be ourselves. There weren't many people in my life I could say that about.

Incredibly, during my twenties, I found out that I was adopted and had two biological brothers in Greece. I’ve since travelled abroad and met my brothers, and I love them, but they feel more like distant cousins than anything else. We hadn't grown up together, hadn't shared experiences. In my mind, that was meaningful. In the same way that my parents are always going to be the two people who raised me, the people with whom you grew can become your family. Sometimes, water can be just as thick as blood.

‘I’m pretty excited for my son,’ said one of my friends at a recent lunch gathering. ‘He’s about to start high school and it made me remember back to my Year 7 when we first all met as mates. I can only hope he’s lucky enough to meet a similar bunch of guys and for it to be the start of something special.’

Peter Papathanasiou is author of Little One and Son of Mine. Follow him on Twitter: @peteplastic

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