If it was down to me, it might never have happened

In Stories

Cafe owner, father of three, and life-long muso, one of Kevin’s closest people today is someone he almost lost contact with.

Kevin’s been playing music since high school and more than 20 years later he’s still gigging most weekends. He has a few bands going, including a Rage Against the Machine tribute group. He doesn’t keep it up for dreams of money or fame, he says, but simply because he loves it.

Naturally, most of Kevin’s close friends are people he’s met through music. One of those friends, though, who’s practically family, is someone he almost lost contact with.

Roy was the owner of Union Music. I worked for him for 13 years. Roy has known me since I was four years old, since we moved to Adelaide.

My grandmother worked for him when he owned a fruit and veg shop. So he always makes a joke that when I came in the pram he’d spit on me over the counter. He’s an old-school funny guy.

After 13 years managing Roy’s store, Kevin and his wife Tracey had their first child, and Kevin decided to take a job as a rep with a music wholesaler. It was a big step up for Kevin in pay and professionalism.

For six months after he took the new job, though, Kevin said Roy basically didn’t want to know him. He’d find reasons to be out of the store when Kevin had to call in as a rep. So they fell out of touch.

But when Aaron was probably eight months, nine months old, Tracey started catching up with Roy’s wife, Mary. As time goes on, she’s catching up with them and catching up with them, and eventually we both start going over.

And Roy finally gets over the fact that I’ve left. Things kind of get back to a different normal… We went from a working relationship into a complete family friendship.

These days Roy and Mary are a big part of their lives. They pick up the kids from school most Fridays and Kevin’s family has dinner with them. Tracey got sick recently and the kids pretty much lived there for a week.

Not to mention Roy loves that Kevin and Tracey are running their own business now, and when he’s at the markets he’s always on the lookout for a good deal on pumpkins or whatever he thinks they might need.

They’re not family, but we call them family. I would do anything for those guys because they’ve done just about anything for us.

Kevin says that the transition from just work friends to family was largely down to Tracey and Mary’s connection and Roy and Mary wanting to see how the new baby was growing up.

Credit to Trace. If it was up to me, though, and I wasn’t married… it might not have ever happened. I know that she’s been the creator of some of these things.

That connecting role that women play in the lives of men is widely known. While Kevin has made most of his closer friends through his music, this isn’t the case for many men.

As Susan Pinker discusses in her book The Village Effect, men’s wives are often the ones who “surround themselves with a tight circle of close friends and family.”

“This ‘village’ is not only indispensable to their own health and happiness, but provides a protective umbrella for men they marry.” (Pinker, The Village Effect, 2014)

The importance their wives play in social connection shows up most starkly when the wives are gone. In what’s commonly called the widowhood effect, men are at a much higher risk of sudden death after the loss of a partner than women are when the situation is reversed.

“Unacknowledged while they’re married, this warm web of connections often evaporates once a man becomes widowed. Not only has the man in question lost his only confidante and main source of social support, but after the post-funeral casseroles are gone, the invitations often vanish too.” (Pinker, The Village Effect, 2014).

For men that beat the widowhood effect, it’s often about having a variety of social encounters. As Susan says,

“If there’s any scientific consensus at all about the impact of our relationships on our health, it’s that a single bond—no matter how intimate—isn’t sufficient on its own to protect us.

“When epidemiologists make mortality predictions based on decades of data, it’s social integration that matters most: being married and belonging to a religious group and playing bridge every Wednesday and volunteering at the church. The more types of face-to-face ties you sustain—both close relationships and the weaker ties with people who regularly cross your path—the better you will be at warding off the Grim Reaper.” (Pinker, The Village Effect, 2014).

The widowhood effect might feel like a slightly morbid connection to Kevin and Tracey who are both in the midst of active, healthy lives. What this and Kevin’s story both highlight, though, are the different roles that people play for each other in forming friendships. Thinking about these roles helps us ask questions like:

  1. To help an individual grow stronger friendships, what role might his or her partner or other friends play in facilitating or maintaining connections?
  2. Should we embrace or reject traditional gender roles in building friendships? To what degree?
  3. What are the roles that kids play for bringing friends and families together?
  4. How do whole-family friendships play a different role from individual friendships in people’s lives?

At any rate, Kevin wouldn’t be at nearly as high a risk for the widowhood effect as most men. He’s got his family, his old friends, his cafe, and his band mates.

Not to mention good ol’ Roy.


Submit a comment