Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Being Friends Without Being Friends

I plan on always being friends with my sons. Having kids, especially boys, was like manufacturing playmates in my mind to a degree. I pictured us playing basketball in the alley, watching hockey games together and, when they get old enough, talking about grilling techniques in the backyard over beers.

My vow to remain lifelong friends with them has already met a challenge, or at least a technical glich, however. The modern day definition of “friends” has changed.

My boys are years off from having a Facebook account, but they undoubtedly will someday. Once they are old enough for me to trust that they will not arrange a meeting with the deposed prince of Uganda in order to give him just the small amount of cash he needs to make a glorious return to his country, which he will then repay sevenfold, I’ll let them have one. Maybe it won’t be Facebook, but there will be some social networking site that all the cool kids will be using and they will beg and plead to have a profile. My wife and I will concede before they figure out a way to go behind our backs and create one anyway.

You may think my chagrin over what Facebook and other sites have done to the social landscape has something to do with my reluctance to allow them to use new technology. You may picture me as some button down sweater, black socks and slippers wearing, grey haired old fuddy-duddy who thinks social networking and rock ‘n roll are the devil’s work and won’t have any son of mine messing around with them new fangled things and such.

Rest assured that I am nothing like this. I much prefer pullover sweaters and only have a smattering of grey hair. Hear that? A smattering. And it’s a very distinguished smattering at that.

Furthermore, I am all about wanting my kids to be more tech savvy than I am. I have no problem accepting the fact that they will know how to do things that are totally beyond my skill set. My dad didn’t have a computer or video games as a kid while I’ve heard stories that I was born with an Atari 2600 in my hand. Still, we have a perfectly healthy bond. A father and son being friends has more to do with the commonality of their experiences. If they didn’t like Star Wars, Marvel comics or sports in general, we would have a problem on our hands.

My concern about the potential strain Facebook may cause on our friendship has to do with “friend” as Facebook uses the term. We all friend (verb, to request or accept a request to link social network profiles) one another. If you are my friend, I’ll friend you. If you aren’t, I won’t friend you, but I might friend you if you friend me first. But for some reason, I have no problem friending the guy who I just met yesterday who used to be friends (real life friends) with my friend’s (real life friend) college roommate. We work with a pretty loose definition of the word and the line between friend and non-friend is blurred to say the least. While you may be FB friends with someone you aren’t real life friends with, you are FB friends with all of your real life friends.

I want to be friends with my sons. Forever. They will eventually be on Facebook. It would make sense then that I will have to be friends with them. I would be insulted, in fact, were I not to receive a friend request from them within the first five minutes after their profile is created.

But I may not want to know everything they are posting on Facebook. Sure, there will be a time for it, when they have their own families and I want to see the grandkids’ pictures, but there will be other times when I want to enjoy blissful ignorance as to their behavior. I’m thinking high school through the first few years of college.

I won’t want to see the drunken posts in all their misspelled glory and hope that they didn’t fall asleep in the bushes out in front of the frat house. I won’t want to see their relationship status change every other day and worry about become a grandfather in my mid forties. I don’t want to be the over-protective parent who call every day and asks, “Are you okay? Your status says…”

There is also the potential to have my sons try and tell me something via Facebook that I would much rather have a face-to-face conversation about. Sometimes people try to use the detached nature of status updates to avoid breaking tough news to their loved ones in person. I’m telling you right now that if I see the Green Bay Packers or the St. Louis Cardinals in their “like” section, I am totally defriending them.

So I’m wondering if I can be real life friends with them without being Facebook friends for a little while during the “years of questionable judgment”. Hopefully, they love me enough to understand and accept my friend request later on down the road. And hopefully they’ve gotten Farmville and Mafia Wars out of their system by then because I hate getting updates and requests about those stupid games.

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