June 10, 2022

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

A ridiculous question about friendship, and a Father’s Day wish

John ShaughnessyIt ranks as one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve ever asked.

The thing is, I knew it had the potential to reach that status even before I asked it. That’s because I was asking it of a group of about 40 men. And there are just some questions that you should never ask men when they are in a large group.

I had been invited to give a talk to a group of Catholic men at their parish—a talk about the tremendous gift of friendship in our lives, the friendships we have with other people and especially the friendship that God offers us.

Of course, I had no delusions that I was the main reason they had come together, especially after I saw the keg of beer and tasted some of the best London Broil I’ve ever had—part of a mouth-watering meal made by two men from the parish.

Still, I like to think it’s a fun and faith-filled talk, loaded with stories that make people laugh, touch them and even surprise them.

At the beginning of the talk, I ask people to think of one of their closest friends. Someone who has a way of making them smile and laugh. Someone they can count on. Someone they would reach out to—to help them through a tough time in their life. Someone who would have their back even if they did something wrong—and maybe even challenge them to be better. Someone who would be thrilled for them when they have good news to share.

From there, I share stories that strive to prove this point: In many ways, God makes his goodness known through the surprising ways he puts people in our lives—and how they become the friends who sustain us, lift us and inspire us. But he doesn’t stop there. He also offers the stunning gift of his friendship to all of us. It’s a friendship marked by his desire to walk through this life with us while inviting us to share an eternal life with him.

After I finish the talk, some groups like to ask me questions. But this time, for the first time, I decided to start the question-and-answer part with a question of my own—the really ridiculous one.

I said, “Near the beginning of my talk, I asked you to think of one of your closest friends. Does anyone want to share who they were thinking of, and why?”

Their response? Complete silence, marked by looks that suggested, “What is wrong with you, Shaughnessy, asking guys to share personal details among a group of guys?!”

So right away, I smiled and made a joke about how ridiculous that question was, how I was only kidding to ask it, and now they could ask me whatever they wanted. It was a fun and lively exchange, and when it ended, some surprising and uplifting moments happened.

A few men came up and quietly told me how they reacted when I asked that question. They said they had looked across the room at their close friend and smiled and nodded at each other. They also admitted they didn’t feel comfortable talking about that close bond in a large group.

Others shared stories with me, stories that made me laugh, touched me and surprised me.

In those moments, I had been given an indirect answer to my ridiculous question. There was no sharing of details about a close friend, but it was a fun evening of sharing our bonds of faith, family, friendship and fatherhood—over a beer, a meal, a conversation that sometimes had us roaring with laughter.

With that memory in mind, I raise a glass in celebration of that group—and all men who share these bonds. I wish you all a Happy Father’s Day, and I thank God for the friendships he has given us, including his.

(John Shaughnessy is the assistant editor of The Criterion. Besides his talk on friendship, he also gives one on sports and one on marriage. If you’re interested, you can e-mail him at jshaughnessy@archindy.org. If the request is to have him give a talk to a men’s group, he promises to not ask that ridiculous question.)

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