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This is a post about my friend John. I’d like to tell you that the above photo was instagrammed, but the fact of the matter is that it’s so old, I actually took a photo of it.

I met John just over 16 years ago, at university. John started a year behind me, and his girlfriend (now wife) started a year after he did. John was in a different residential college, and I was doing my own thing, and we didn’t meet until very late in my third year. His wife and I were training to be conflict resolution advisors, or student advocates, and John was around. He was reserved and funny and over the next two years we bonded over our mutual love of cribbage and music.

John and I went to Peterborough’s only “dance club”, where they played what is now referred to as electronic dance music, but which was then called “house music”. It was in the basement of the bar where they had a great friday night roast beef dinner, by the way.

We had lunch dates with the math department (it was a small university) where we played cribbage and trash talked. I won most of the time, and John kept trying to analyze what he had done that could have generated more points (he’s an analyst, I’m an instinctive player). I went to his house to play cards with his roommates when he went to Holly’s for the evening, and he came to my house for dessert and cards before studying. We both made fun of Holly, and she made fun of us. We danced and joked and laughed our faces off. He could make me laugh so hard, I’d cry – every, single time I saw him.

John and I went to grad school at the same time – he in the US, me in Kingston, with Holly back at Trent. My god, I missed them so much, it was painful. I got a special long distance plan so we could talk, and talk we did. A lot. We were both having a hard time at bigger schools where we were much more anonymous. I was having a hard time finding a circle of geeks like me; he was in a math program with people who had a different kind of math training. We both missed our regular chats with Holly.

Eventually, John decided he didn’t like that program and he moved on to bigger and better things at Simon Fraser, and he took Holly with him (across the country! in a tiny car! with everything they owned!). John told me on the phone one night that he wanted to propose to Holly and that he was so nervous. Not that she’d say no, but that he’d mess it up, or she wouldn’t like the ring, or oh god what if she said no? Um. She totally said yes.

John might be the only guy who ever took a card making class at the local paper store in Burnaby, so that he could effectively contribute to the making of the wedding invitations. (They were stunning.) When he asked me to be in the wedding on his side, I cried, just a little. (That’s our picture, on his wedding day. John just goosed me.) John and Holly high fived when she made it down the garden path to the altar area, because she hadn’t fallen. He cried. I wasn’t sure if he cried because the day before his brother had challenged him to down a side of aioli and he might be feeling the after effects, but no, it was because he was so damned happy that Holly was marrying him.

Our love of music has bonded us over the years. We went to see U2 after 9/11 in Montreal in seats so high up, you had to look down to see the scoreboard. We went to see a Lauryn Hill concert that was so bad, people walked away. Interestingly, John is a good enough dancer that he can keep up with the bad ass black kids in the front while Holly and I just hung back and swayed. We went to see Radiohead in Montreal with his brother from Winnipeg (best concert story ever: it was raining, and a bunch of people ahead of us were using their umbrellas. This very irate guy pulled out the best Quebeckism ever by shouting out “FUCK YOU, PARAPLUIE!” (fuck you umbrella!)

Last year we went to Coachella where John’s collection of amazingly hipster tshirts got him major props.

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At Coachella, John demonstrated his inspiring ability to sleep when it’s 4000 degrees. Also, to drink hot iced tea. So gross. We compared notes about bands we went to see (he bopped around a lot more, I stayed for a whole act and then moved on), and established meeting places and times because we were clearly the only two people in all of California without cell phones. He found me shade and escorted me on runs to the grocery store (blessed blessed air conditioning). We saw a MUCH better Lauryn Hill concert together, which totally made up for the terrible one here in Ottawa. Just last month, we went to see Radiohead, one of my all time favourite bands. Interesting to note about Radiohead: the only CDs I still own are mixes made by John (which permanently reside in my car), and a collector’s edition of Radiohead’s Kid A, which John got me for my birthday one year.

Over time, we’ve gotten older and slower. Ten years ago, we could play board games til 2am while eating crap food and giggling. Now we’re lucky to stay up past 10pm with three kids calling for him and Holly until 8:30. The trash talk is still amazing; when you have 16 years worth of dirt on someone, it’d be a total waste not to use it. Right? Right.

John’s one of those great people that everyone should have in their life. He’s there for you. He doesn’t probe, but he’s there if you want to talk. If you want to go swimming, he’ll go with you. If you want a ride to the airport, he’s on that. He’s unstintingly generous with his and his family’s time, and he is fantastic at giving hugs. John is actually my hug model – I strive to have a guy in my life permanently who gives great hugs like he does. Once, I went over to his house just for the hug. When I cried, he didn’t push, he didn’t ask why. He just kept hugging.

Perhaps most importantly, John has shown me a different side to parenting in the modern age. He’s very involved in his kids lives, studying up on what their development phases are and geeking out with flash cards and hipster tshirts in miniature sizes. He’s patient and chill and frustrated and mad and understanding that he’s human and all those things are going to play out how they are. He throws his kids in the air but also disciplines them, because there is no more good Dad, bad cop Mom. It’s shared. And that’s because he loves and respects his wife and the roles they’ve defined in their marriage. (Dudes, it is still hard to think that they’re married, and it’s been 11 years and three kids.)

I’ve had a lot of really great experiences with John. It’s his birthday today, and he’s impossible to buy a gift for, so I thought I’d post him this (platonic) love letter.

John, you’re awesome. I love your giggle, I love your passion, I love your studious nerdiness, I love the fact that you continue to try to teach me math even YEARS after I demonstrated that I just don’t get it. I love that you send me music suggestions and do research for me when I say I’m looking for new stuff. I love that you will take the kids to Calypso, then take them home and pick me up for late afternoon fun. I love your geeky tshirts and your constantly evolving hairstyles. I love that you could out-hipster Brooklyn some days and yet could easily hang out on the Big Bang Theory. I love that you went to Coachella with me, because it meant so much more sharing it with someone than it would have if I’d gone alone. I love that you will let me beat you 100 times in a row at Crib but never make me play scrabble.

I love that you’re my friend.

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Happy Birthday, John. You’re awesome.

PS – yes Holly, I have one of these lined up for your birthday too!

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