With eleven days left before I marry the girl of my dreams, I wanted to take a minute to acknowledge the fellas that will be standing next to me as I say “I do”. We’ve all heard stories about guys having to fill out their groomsmen party for their wedding, and having a hard time getting a full slate. But when it was clear I was going to propose, there wasn’t a second thought about what guys would be standing next to me on the big day, not because they were a big group of friends, but because each individual guy means the world to me.
Dude friendships are rare, and seldom celebrated in our society, so rarely in fact that, when there seemed to be a genuine friendship between our former president Obama and vice president Biden, it became it’s own meme generator on the internet. Because of their friendship’s uniqueness, our collective population’s instinct was to characature-ize it.
Most guys are lucky to have one or two other guys they view as “brothers”. Somehow, I was blessed with dozens, including my five groomsmen. So, for a few hundred words, I will honor each them in a work I’ll call…
THE BROMANCE CHRONICLES
On a random Friday night, four of us decided to have dinner at a popular local restaurant called The Union. The Union is a restaurant with an open floor plan and high ceilings, a former church adapted into a world class eatery. Because of the architecture, the restaurant can get quite loud, with the combination of chatty patrons and bad acoustics. One of the guys in our group of four, having dinner, was Ryan French.
Group conversations are always lively when Ryan is involved. He’s well read on lots of interesting topics, and has a keen eye for social details. As we sat in the booth waiting for food, Ryan introduced to the rest of us the concept of “Manager Hands”. Manager Hands was the act of politely folding your hands together as you ask someone you’re serving if there’s anything more you can do for them, a position commonly held by restaurant managers as they check in with customers.
“I bet if I use Manager Hands, I can make people think I work here,” Ryan observed. Before we knew it, Ryan had risen from the table, and began making his way around the restaurant floor, stopping at each table, assuming the Manager Hands position, and asking the diners if they were enjoying their food. Each table assumed Ryan was floor manager, and answered politely before he moved on to the next table. Halfway around the restaurant, Ryan stopped at a table and repeated the routine...in front of the ACTUAL manager of the restaurant. But because he was so smooth in his presentation, the manager could only stand quietly and observe, hopefully taking mental notes of the perfect hand clasp position Ryan was demonstrating with his Manager Hands.
The three of us watched Ryan go around the entire place, laughing hysterically the entire time. Ryan nailed it. He returned to our booth, barely cracking a smile, saying something to the effect of “...and that’s how it’s done.”.
Cracking up the people around him is nothing new for Ryan. The guy is as fearless as he hilarious. But being funny isn’t a solitary attribute. Like most funny people I know, Ryan is impressively insightful. If there’s something that interests him that he doesn’t know, he’ll spend lots of time and energy to learn what he can about it. I’ve gotten to spend hours of my life accidentally learning things because I was just hanging with Ryan. He freely shares what he learns with his friends, which leads to some great experiences that come as a byproduct of being his friend.
Another reason for Ryan’s humor is his ability to empathize. One particular Saturday afternoon a few years back, Ryan and I got some one-on-one time in his living room. As we were chilling/snacking, Ryan made the face like he had an idea, scurried out of the room, and returned with a box full of cards, which looked like it was from some sort of board game. He then proceeded to start asking questions from the cards. “I want to hear stories about you,” he said, “Tell me as many good stories as you can.” So, for an hour, he would ask a short question, and then sit and actively listen as I tried to answer with an interesting story from my past. After an hour of just listening to stories he hadn’t heard before, he said, “That was awesome!”, and put the board game cards away. Ryan genuinely wanted to hear where I was coming from, and took the time to try to understand his friend better. That’s who he is, a guy who never tires of learning, and experiences life to the fullest because of it.
I was never in Boy Scouts growing up, but I was jealous of kids that were. The idea of marking a learned activity/experience with a badge on your uniform seemed like a cool way to view life. We all accumulate skills and stories, some people more than others. Being friends with Ryan is like an adult version of a scout experience. Each time you hang with him, you’re accumulating new experience badges, learning along the way. You’re being coaxed by someone who obviously cares about you into things that you’re glad you did, and you realize more and more how full life is.
I noticed a while back a phrase that Ryan uses often with me. If we’re talking about our days, or reflecting on stuff we’re going through, Ryan will listen, and then start his response with “I bet you felt like…” or “I bet you thought…”. This is what a friendship with him is like; another dude who is actively trying empathize with what you’re experiencing. That’s my dude. In a world where most people can’t see outside of themselves, Ryan French has my back. You’re just as lucky as me if he’s got your back, too.
At the age of 27, I moved back to Michigan from the south. It had been nearly a decade since I’d lived in my home state, and I was in a bad place. I had moved to multiple cities over a few years, and because of it, had a lack of deep relationships. Even more, most of my friends were way older than me, and I was starting to feel like I was the only 27 year old, single guy in the world.
Growing up, my family had brought me to a summer camp every year called Simpson Park Camp. Because of the timing of my move back to Michigan, I was able to visit my family at SPC that summer. While I was there, I ran into people I’d been friends with while attending the camp in high school. I hadn’t seen most of them in nearly a decade, but slight familiarity is better nothing, so I struck up conversations with people who were acquaintances of mine from what seemed like a lifetime ago. One of the guys, Nick, was now a truck driver, and had brought his big rig to the camp. As we chatted, he said “Hey man, later tonight, during quiet hours, a bunch of us are gonna come hang out in the truck. You’re welcome to join us.” So with nothing else much to do, I walked up to strange semi-truck around 11pm, knocked on the door, and climbed up to join about 18 other people who were chatting and playing around on a couple acoustic guitars. (Who knew those trucks could hold 18 people?)
As we sat in there, a sing-along broke out. We started singing some of our favorite mid-to-late 90’s hits as a crew, with a couple of the truck sitters harmonizing throughout the songs. Thirty minutes into it, I decided to speak up. “Guys, lately I’ve been into this really obscure pop/bluegrass band you kind of remind me of. I can’t get enough of their latest song. You probably haven’t heard of them...they’re called Nickel Creek.” Without missing a beat, Nick immediately started playing the chords to Nickel Creek’s latest hit and my at-the-time song obsession, This Side. Before I knew it, fifteen 20-somethings were singing a song I thought no one else loved, with multiple harmonies and guitar parts. It was a moment I’ll never forget; it was a moment of connection. At a time in my life where I was very alone, I all of a sudden felt like I was with people who got me.
That’s the thing about Nick; he has the uncanny ability to connect with his friends, no matter what they’re going through. In short, Nick is one of the most loyal guys I know. Over the years, he’s gone above and beyond to put his time and energy into things his friends think are important. More personally, he’s made sure I had help with whatever endeavor I decided to take on.
In 2007, I wanted to put a band together for my job. That band evolved into a local cover band called The Hook, and Nick was the guitarist.
In 2009, I was starting a new worship service/program at my church called 611. Nick didn’t miss a Sunday.
In 2010, I needed to drive to South Carolina to pick up my old motorcycle. Nick was my co-pilot.
In 2012, I started a nonprofit disaster relief agency based around buckets, and I wanted to assemble a bucket drumline. Nick’s played the 5 gallon bucket in nearly every parade we’ve had a float.
In 2014, I decided DRAW needed a new website. Nick designed it.
He doesn’t just punch the clock, either. Whenever Nick gets involved, he has a charisma to be able to bring the other people involved together. As part of 611, we once went to a local lacrosse tournament to pass out free snacks and drinks. Some of the youth involved were timid at first, until Nick noticed their timidity, marched into the middle of a crowded bleachers, and screamed at the top of his lungs “I’ve got bags of juice, here! Free bags of juice! It’s hot out here...anyone want a free bag of juice!” Within seconds, the fans were asking for Capri Suns, and the youth involved got excited to give away free snacks. Because, really, who doesn’t want to be the one who’s giving away free stuff just to be nice...that’s a fun person to be. Nick brought them together, just like he’s done at parades, camp meetings, and the night he invited me to hang in his semi-truck.
It’s ironic that Nick is known for loving crushed red pepper on his pizza. Seriously...he’s KNOWN for it. But crushed red pepper is great, because it makes something that’s already good even better. It’s ironic, because, really, that’s Nick. In any situation, he’ll use his guitar playing skills, his great grasp on social humor, or his obscure knowledge of random trivia, to take anything he’s a part of and make it better.
So, for more than a decade, I’ve been blessed to call Nick “my dude”. Because he’s been there for me at key points in my life, he’s been the crushed red pepper to my pepperoni pizza, making it just a little bit better.
Sam Van Wagoner
A few years back, a couple guys and I went on a road trip to Chicago. Though we’d gone to Chi-town a couple times in the past, this particular trip had a purpose. Earlier that year, a newly married couple had moved in next door to my apartment. The husband was a local musician named Sam. As we got to know Sam, we learned that he’d been playing professionally locally for nearly a decade, and after we met, occasionally we’d go to places like the Clarkston Tap and the Irish Tavern to hear him play.
Sam was a good musician, and great at interacting with the crowd. It was clear that he’d mastered the art of working the room when he was playing, which served him well in his quest to book gigs all around the area. But Sam had recently made friends with people who worked at a Chicago music venue that was reasonably well known, a venue called the Elbo Room. Because he was going to Chicago to play at the Elbo Room on a weekday, a buddy and I wanted to go with him, partly because we wanted to be supportive, and partly because we knew Chicago would be a good hang.
And a good hang it was. After the gig at the Elbo Room, the three of us ventured to a couple open mics in busier sections of town. We even went to blues hotspot Kingston Mines to see some of the best blues music Chicago had to offer. The trip itself was a blast, but one obscure story from the trip still sticks out to me.
During the next day, the three of us went to a big mall near the downtown Chicago area. Because of the long night before, we were in need of caffeine, and there was a food court at the mall with a coffee shop...a win. We got our coffee and sat in the middle of a crowded common area. At the time we had known Sam for a little less than a year. This was a our first road trip together. We sat and chatted for a while, and in the middle of our conversation, without breaking eye contact or interrupting, Sam slowly started to slide out of his chair, and move toward an adjacent table. It was then that I realized that the woman sitting next to us had unknowingly knocked her coat off of the back of her chair where she’d hung it, and it had fallen onto a wet floor. Before I had fully processed what happened, Sam had slid over, picked up the coat, re-hung it on the back of the woman’s seat, and returned to our table conversation. He never said anything to the woman (or to us, for that matter), and she never knew that he had saved her winter coat from being drenched in dirty water from everyone’s boots.
That story seems insignificant, but it isn’t. It stuck with me. As Sam and I’s friendship has grown since he moved into apartment 2, I keep coming back to it.
Most people who know Sam know he’s a lot of fun. If you ever get to hang with Sam, if you get to form a friendship with him, I guarantee you’ll think he’s one of the funnest people you’ll meet. He’ll play a private party gig, and stay after to joke and have a nightcap with the host, because they insisted. You’ll have a meal with him, and before you know it, you’ll have been sitting there for 2 hours because the banter has been hilarious.
If you haven’t seen him perform live, you should. Sam’s a great musician. But part of the fun is to watch after his set is done, as he interacts, one by one, with everyone who stuck around to see him play. It’s almost as if he’s running for local office (which he could easily do one day). His positive outlook and ability to make strangers laugh makes him one of the most fun hangs I know.
That’s the Sam you see on the surface, the Sam you see with a giant smile on Instagram. But if you get know Sam, you see a guy who’s a new-ish father, and can’t get enough of his one year old daughter. If you get to know Sam, you’ll see a dude who brags and brags about his wife, the basketball coach, telling anecdote after anecdote about the woman he makes sound like a future hall-of-famer. If you get to know Sam, you’ll see him in the middle of a crowded mall with a ton going on, making the effort to help a stranger, but not even wanting a second of thank you or credit.
As his friend, I’m also lucky enough to get to hear his catch phrase over and over whenever we hang out. You see, Sam has a pretty remarkable life. He’s gigging constantly, sometimes playing in different states and in unique venues. Many guys in his shoes would spend your time jamming humblebrags into conversation about his music career. But that’s not Sam. Every time we talk, at least once or twice, I get to hear Sam say, “Dude, that’s awesome.” I can hear it in his voice in my head as I type it. Because if we’re talking, he’s determined to encourage me. He’ll inevitably ask me about DRAW, about driving for uber, about being in love with Michelle, or anything else I have going on. And nearly every time, his natural response is “Dude, that’s awesome.”
It’s as if Sam, himself, is a magic trick. I love watching magicians, and after they perform, I almost inevitably think, “Man, how’d they do that?” But I know that they did it by some form of trickery, getting me to focus on one hand, while their other hand is making the magic happen. That’s Sam. While I was enjoying meeting him, enjoying getting to know him, because he’s such a fun guy to be around, he slowly started to encourage ME, to be thoughtful of ME. Before I knew it, over time, it’s clear that while we were having fun, I became great friends with one of the most encouraging, thoughtful dudes I’ll ever meet. That’s the magic trick. That’s Sam. That’s my dude.
On a brisk spring morning, more than 70 volunteers from Oakland Christian Schools came to DRAW’s former HQ to help us move our more-than-2500 sq ft. of inventory to our new HQ in Pontiac, MI. To move that amount of supplies, I needed to find a volunteer willing to pull our 8’x20’ trailer with their large vehicle between the two locations. Recruiting volunteers for specific tasks like this can be difficult, and I knew that Danny was my ace-in-the-hole.
We probably all have that one person we know we can ask for help, and they’ll be there, no questions asked. For me, that person is Danny Kimosh. What makes it difficult is that Danny is so good at so many things, and I don’t want to overdo it. But in this case, with such a big project, I just needed the peace of mind that Danny brings by volunteering.
When Danny arrived, my mind was going 100 miles a minute, so I greeted him with a quick, “Hey, man”. Without saying anything, he walked up to me, and pulled me into him for a brief man hug, almost as a way of saying, “Dude, calm down. It’s good to see you.”. That’s a total Danny move, to make sure he lets you know he’s glad to see you before you move on to anything else. The 70 students arrived shortly after, and immediately we set up an assembly line, of sorts, to move our inventory from the crowded warehouse to the mobile trailer.
There was one shelving unit with our supplies on every shelf, along with supplies that were on the ground. The shelving unit was surrounded by office chairs stored by another one of the tenants of the warehouse. Because it was difficult to get to different parts of the shelves, I climbed to the top shelf myself to hand down supplies so that no students would have to do it. As I stood at the top of a 12 foot shelf, I briefly lost my balance, and before i knew it, I was falling backward off the top shelf, and i landed on the back of an office chair setup on the ground below.
All the volunteers close by gasped. I laid there in intense pain, just missing the chair hitting my spine directly. I tried to tell everyone I was fine, but with the back of my jeans ripped, and the intense pain shooting up my back with every attempted step, it became increasingly clear I needed to get to the ER as soon as possible. Without much explanation, I went to Danny, told him I needed to get to a hospital, and asked if he could “handle this”, without much explanation. He said, “Don’t worry about this, man. I got it. Go get checked out.”
Hours later, after being released from the hospital, I checked in with OCS’s Volunteer Coordinator. I nervously asked how the rest of the day went, and she said, “Oh, it was great! Our students had a great experience. You’re assistant handled everything very well.” She had no idea Danny didn’t work for our organization, nor did she realize I had given him zero instruction. He just handled it.
“He just handled it” should be Danny Kimosh’s motto. I’ve watched him over the course of a decade of friendship handle everything life could possibly throw at him.
Two kids? No problem.
Buying a fixer upper house and making it livable in a couple months? Sure.
Two jobs at once? That’s nothing.
A career change to self employment in his early 30’s? At least give me a challenge.
But here’s what makes it more remarkable: You won’t ever hear Danny have an ego about what he does. The guy can be as resourceful as a modern day Macguyver, yet he’ll just go about his business without tooting his own horn. The morning I fell off the shelf, after I called OCS, I called Danny to get his take on how everything went. His response; “It was cool. Kids were great. We got it done.” No victory lap, no “I can’t believe you left me in charge”, not a hint of complaint. He knew the move was important to me, so he made it happen so I could make sure I hadn’t broken my insides.
Alan Thicke recently passed away, which had me reflecting on the 80’s sitcom dad. Those dads were like Teflon, man. Tony Micelli, Danny Tanner, Carl Winslow, Jason Seaver. They always had the right amount of wisdom at the right time, they always let their family and friends know how much they loved them, and they always made sure stuff was taken care of for the people they loved. Danny Kimosh is a throwback, a modern day 80’s sitcom dad. Steady with his words, proficient with his actions, pure with his intentions.
Even as an engaged couple, Michelle and I have had questions about household things, mechanical things, etc. Every time there’s a question, and I respond that I’ll do some research and figure it out, Michelle’s first suggestion is to say “Well, why don’t you check with Danny and see what he says about it?” Even to my future wife, it’s clear that Danny cares, that he probably knows more than me, and he’ll help me figure it out. And when I stop by his place to have the conversation with him, he’ll meet me in the driveway, and before I can say anything, I know he’ll pull me in for a man hug. Almost as his way of saying, “Dude, calm down. It’s good to see you.”
Before Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook were ever mainstays in the palm of your hand, keeping up with friends was difficult. If you were like me, and had gone to college out of state, or taken your first full time job in another region of the country, it didn’t take long for you to lose touch with nearly all of your friends from high school. Maybe there was one or two that you would intentionally touch base with, but as a young adult, I wasn’t very good at tending to those type of long distance friendships. By the age of 25, I had lived in 5 different cities from 5 different states since graduating high school. When I got to the 5th city, Greenville, South Carolina, I was very aware of the relationship attrition that had taken place in my life, and people who had always meant something to me were not much more than a name and a memory. On one Sunday night in 2005, I decided to see if I could do something about it.
Back in ‘05, you could dial 411 on your phone, and ask to find the phone number of a particular person in a particular city. This is back when people still kind of used landlines regularly. I hadn’t talked to Don in nearly 5 years, but on that Sunday night, I thought, “I wonder what Donnie’s up to?” So I dialed 411, and asked if they had a number for Don Hudson in Davison, MI. The operator said they had a listing for a Don Hudson, gave me the number to write down, then connected me to the listing. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the operator had called Don Hudson II, Don’s father. When the female voice on the phone answered, I asked if Don was available, to which she responded “Which Don?” I told her I was looking for the young one, and she said, “Oh, Donnie? Yeah he’s here visiting. Hold on, I’ll get him.” Within seconds, a vaguely familiar voice came through the phone.
“Hey, is this Don?”
“Yeah, this is me.”
“Hey, man, it’s Greg.”
For 45 minutes, Don and I caught up on life from the past 7-8 years. We barely scratched the surface before we both needed to get off the phone. “Next time you’re in town, let’s grab dinner or something.” “Of course,” I said, exchanging info, but not knowing when “next time” would be.
Just over a year later, after my dad had survived a stroke, I decided to move back to Michigan, and Don was my first call. It turns out that we lived about a mile from each other after my move back, even closer than when we were in high school. Because we both lived off the beaten path and had long commutes, we would hang out all the time, sometimes carpooling, and our friendship grew, almost like we hadn’t missed out on 8 years of young adulthood together.
It’s hard to sum up the next 6-7 years with just one anecdote. We once had a push-up contest that almost killed me, literally. He would help out occasionally at the youth group where I was the youth director, and made such an impression that, on the weeks he wasn’t there, the kids would ask, “When is Don coming back?” We’d catch local concerts whenever we could. He flew down to join me in Alabama on the first disaster relief trip I’d ever gone on. He was involved in all kinds of outdoors activities, and he’d involve us all in things like trying to walk on a slack line, or letting us relax in his hammock that was packaged the size of small wallet. We started dabbling in music (the guy always had crazy amounts of raw musical talent), and we connected with other friends of mine to form a cover band, a band that started by playing 2-3 times a year, and grew to playing 2-3 times a month. Everyone from the band and their families would come to Don’s place once a week to have dinner, rehearse, and sometimes get on his boat for a sunset ride. Don even picked up photography along the way, and was naturally talented at that, too. It wasn’t long before he decided to quit his desk job, and try to see if he could survive as a professional photographer. (Which...of course he could/did)
The previous paragraph could be pages longer, but doesn’t sum up what makes Don great. What makes Don a great friend is the one-on-one conversations we’ve had. Some dude relationships get stereotyped as a couple guys drinking beer, staring at a game on TV, and occasionally grunting. But I’ve been blessed enough to have countless times where Don and I would just sit and chat about every piece of life you can discuss; family, relationships, career, art, faith, what it means to be a man, what it means to build something with your life. Each of us would weigh in on the other’s stories. Don genuinely cares about his friends’ lives, and invests himself intentionally into helping them be and achieve what they want. I’m living proof of it.
If Don was just this way with me, that’d be cool, but he’s more than that. If you meet any of Don’s friends, they’ll inevitably be able to tell you that they’ve experienced something similar. Last fall, I had to stop through Chicago for a night for a work trip, and Don invited me out to hang with his Chicago friends. He’s lived in the windy city for nearly five years, and to meet his friends there, you would think he’s been there his whole life. You could tell each person there felt like Don was one of their best friends, because he has such a positive way that he engages people authentically. Even friends of mine here in Michigan, who met Don through me years ago, will ask me, “So, Don is gonna be at the wedding, right?” Mark Twain said “No man is a failure who has friends”: If this is true, Don is as successful as they come.
Most Super Bowls don’t match the hype they are given leading up to the game. Usually, 2 weeks of press and events end with a subpar football game that leaves people disappointed. This year bucked that trend. Super Bowl LI was incredible, with the Patriots staging the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. The whole time you watched the game unfold, you were thinking, “This is crazy. I can’t believe this is happening.” And then it did. For once, the Super Bowl lived up to the hype.
Don Hudson is Super Bowl LI. It seems impossible for him to live up to the hype, but then he does. He can’t possibly be that good of a musician; but he is. He can’t possibly have that great of an eye for photography; but he does. He can’t possibly surprise you with another creative idea; but he does. And he can’t possibly be as good hearted/personable/engaging while being that talented; but he is. Don creates a lot of hype, and once you befriend him, he exceeds it.
A year and a half ago, a few months after Michelle and I started dating, we made a trip to Chicago. It was a must to have the woman I was falling in love with meet Don. When we got there, Don and his girlfriend joined us on two nights to get dinner, experience the city, and just talk. Leading up to the visit, he and I chatted and texted often about the visit. Don could sense pretty early on that Michelle was special, and he was noticeably excited about our visit. After our Chicago trip, Michelle immediately said, “I love those two. I wish they lived closer so we could hang out with them more.” Of course she was sold on Don, who wouldn’t be? A couple months after the trip, I had decided I was going to propose to Michelle, and my first call was to Don. He was nearly as excited as I was. He’d lived through 12 years of my single life with me, and he came to the same conclusion I had. “This is amazing, man. It’s a total no-brainer. You guys are meant for each other...I’m pumped for you. Let me know when the proposal happens and I’ll make the drive.” As we hung up that day, I couldn’t help but think “That’s what a best man sounds like.” And of course he’s the best man. That’s also a no-brainer.