Friends come and go

Douglas Ian Berman

I don’t make friends easily. I’m terribly shy, but in my adulthood I have learned to overcompensate.

Many of you have heard me speak of Aristotle and Friendship. Aristotle defined 3 types of friends, Transactional, Activity and Ethos. As the theory goes, if you wanted for nothing but were alone in the world you would not be happy. One needs interaction, to share experiences with other people to be happy. Transactional friends are shopkeepers and the like that you deal with on a day to day basis. Some people keep their personal relationships transactional, keeping score and making change. Activity friends are people that you do things with. Sports, theater – the boundaries are clear, you may not know much about them but you enjoy doing activities with them. The highest level of friendship is Ethos (true) friendships – which Aristotle observes is the gateway to happiness. Without transactions or activities what is it that makes people ‘ethos’ friends? Ethos friends admire each other’s character.

How do we find friends? I’ve met some people that I knew we were friends the moment we met. Some people have befriended me knowing that I was someone they wanted as a friend. Sometimes transactional or activity buddies over a period of time “suddenly” turn into ethos friends when you experience them display admirable character in a situation. Well not really, but you discover, when you look closely that they ARE ethos friends and that it happened somewhere along the line. Either a mass of experiences, or a turning point that makes me say ‘I thought he was a transactional friend or an activity buddy but, what do you know, s/he’s really an ethos friend.’ What a wonderful revelation that moment is!

It gives foundation to the notion that we have two families. A family of birth, and a family of choice. I’m fortunate enough to know that those two sets can intersect.

Doug was one of those people that befriended me. He knew he wanted to be my friend. I needed crew for my Hobiecat (Transactional), especially in the winter, when you needed a wetsuit and nobody was sailing. He was fearless, fine and excited about that. At the time we met, my mother was terminal with cancer. Mom had many ethos friends and I had several. Everytime I had to interact with one, I got the concerned questions with the pitiful looks – “How is she?” I had to recount the story over and over again, day by day, decline through decline. Besides taking care of mom and being in the middle of it, this “routine” was exhausting and the constant recounting was emotionally draining.

I never told Doug my mom was sick. He’d never even met her. In our early friendship my time with Doug, on and off the sailboat, gave me my only escape from taking care of and reporting to friends on my mothers brutal decline. One might think that odd for an ethos friend. At the time I considered Doug an activity buddy, but he was always more. My relationship with Doug provided me with a regular escape from the horrid reality my family was living. I don’t know if he ever knew that. I don’t know now.

Shortly after I met Doug he was responsible for me making acquaintances with another of my ethos friends. Doug and I were sailing in a blow, in December, after the first Ice Storm on my Hobie 18 in Long Island Sound out of Port Jefferson. It was a dreary overcast day, but the sailing was exhilarating. If I knew then, what I know now we never would have gone out. We were the only boat on the water. We saw a Hobie 16 inside the harbor, and I stated “It’s only a 16, he’ll never come out here”. Well he did and we raced to middle ground and back. Starting to get hypothermic we sailed back into Port Jefferson and this clown on the 16 comes in and talks to us. My friendship with John is also nearly 4 decades long. Had Doug not crewed for me that day in 1985, I would likely have not met another dear Ethos friend. Tendrils of Dougs exist in places we don’t realize.

I am the one who is responsible, I take the blame for getting Doug hooked on sailing. He was fearless. He was damn good at it too. He spent a lifetime sailing, crewing, taking his family around the British Virgin Islands. We had many great times sailing the waters of Long Island and San Francisco. He managed to avoid the political land mines and became an extremely capable and lionized commodore of his yacht club. I enjoyed listening to the stories of what he did and how good he was at it. I avoid the politics in my sailing by NOT getting involved in the ranked positions. He had no fear. He embraced it and was great at it.

We met at Grumman Data Systems Institute as teenagers. He was taking a programming course, I was taking graduate classes in systems design and analysis. He wasn’t a very good programmer, I tried to get him jobs but ultimately he found his way into management of gargantuan IT projects, at GTE then at Ascend communications. He was fearless. He brought me in as a consultant. He did the politics, the project management and budgets, I fixed the problems. It was an excellent working relationship. Our work never got in the way of our friendship.

Doug lived his life impressively well. He made mistakes and publically and transparently owned up to them. That fearlessness was the part of the character I admired most. Even when he had to take his lumps for his mistakes, he never, ever, once complained. He just did the right thing. I aspire to be that open and transparent about my mistakes. I admired his character.

I was involved in every different phase of Dougs life over the years and he mine. I am grateful that he chose to share those times and be involved in mine. He Had impact on my life, more than I would ever have thought. I consider myself fortunate to have worked and played with him so closely and for so long. The last few years, as he was involved raising his new family and changing careers, we didn’t speak often. When we did, it was like no time had passed. He was diligent to make sure that I met his new wife, but he lived in a different city and the limited time he had he spent doting on his new family.

I got the news over facebook. Doug Had been posting the most incredible photo’s of his family and the wonderful trips he took them on. Love was pouring out of Dougs facebook page. His adventures with his family was my favorite thing to read about. So much love!

There was a post in Dougs name, but it said something odd, “my late husband…”. I was really busy at the time, and said to myself – ‘his account must be hacked, I’ll get back to this in a little while’. I actually internally denied what I read. This is not the first time I completely denied the death of a dear friend. A few hours later, when I did get back to it I realized it was deeply disturbing and probably not a hack. I confirmed the story.

My friend of 4 decades, who intersected and impacted my life many times in each and every one, died suddenly of a heart attack at 54 years old. He was 6 years younger than me. He was young. He has a young family.

We are not supposed to lose a man so young, so suddenly. It is a terrible thing. The void is black. The loss is real. The pain, unbearable.

We have memories. We have legacy. We have a character we admired and behavior that we have incorporated into our own lives, and those of people who admire us.

When you find yourself doing something you learned from Doug, directly or by observation, stop, consider, remember. When you teach it to others, or they learn a Doug behavoir from you, Stop, consider and tell that person who you learned it from and how.

When you find yourself remembering, impacted, perhaps even hearing his voice in a difficult situation (what would Doug do?), drop a note, a text, an email. Better yet call his family, share your memory.

His beloved family is on a long road that has barely started. As the years and decades go by you may find what you admired about Doug in his children. They may find traits that Doug found admirable in us

I hope I can be friends with his children. I intend to try.

That is immortality.

Doug’s life had great impact on a great many people as has his sudden passing. He is sorely missed. The world is diminished by his death.


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4 thoughts on “Friends come and go

  1. So sorry, Dan.


  2. Your concern and compassion is a fitting tribute to his kindness.


  3. What a lovely tribute


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