Thirty-four years is the time it took me to realize something that probably most others have known considerably earlier in their lives. I’m stupid, I’ll be the first to admit that. All signs indicate my nearly-two-year old daughter will be smarter than me by age 10—she can already say most letters of the alphabet, with just a little prompting. But my stupidity is not the subject of this entry. What I realized this past week is something I had not really ever thought about before. Something, that as an avid computer programmer, was not high on my list of priorities. Until now.

Real friends. These are not the people that you greet casually at work in the morning, or that you occasionally talk to at the local watering hole. No, real friends are those people in your life that you remember forever. They’re the ones for which you actually commit brain cells to remembering their stories, their tribulations, and their triumphs. I have two such friends that fall into this classification, aside from my wife. To help me understand what makes these friendships special, I’ve put some thought into just what it is that makes them important to me.

Loyalty. This is an important, though not necessarily the most important, quality of real friends. Loyalty is that special quality friends exhibit, that even when you’ve said something stupid, they still talk to you. Even if it means you just unintentionally insulted them. I especially appreciate this quality because I frequently make mistakes like this. It’s a particular problem for me because I’m white, male, and straight, so I often have the typical thought processes that go along with a white, straight male. What’s more, I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, no where near the massive melting pot of the big city. I rode the bus to school with dozens of kids that were just like me, and as a result I have the cultural diversity of a sea cucumber. That my friends are willing to put up with my occasionally idiotic statements is, in a word, precious.

Discretion. This has more to do with my level of ability in this regard than that of my friends, though they retain this quality as well. Personally I don’t have anything too super-secret to hide from others, but rather I have a certain level of discretion when it comes to keeping the secrets of others. Both of my friends have shared things with me that I will never tell another person. Fortunately for me this is getting a little easier since all three of us are close friends, so we’re sharing more and more with each other all the time. This is good, because I’d rather use my brain cells for remembering what’s important than for what I need to keep private.

Respect. Too often I am not respectful of others. I suppose it is a function of my cynicism and the jaded lens in front of my eyes. In general, I hate people. They are annoying, self-centered, and quite often stupid to the point of making me wonder how the human race got this far. I don’t mean my friends and family, but rather the nameless masses that I pass by each day. I can’t speak for others, but I am willing to bet this is not an uncommon trait among people living in a megalopolis like the Bay Area. What my friends have made me realize is that I want to be more loving and giving of myself. I want to make myself available to my friends and family in ways I had not considered before. I used to think spending more time in front of the computer screen was the best use of my resources, but now I realize the less time I spend sitting in this chair, the better.

There are other qualities that real friends exemplify, but there’s something else I want to say first. Real friends bridge divides.

Real friends bridge the racial divide. Does it matter that one of my friends is hapa? Not at all. Of course, why would it, I married a Chinese and have a beautiful hapa child. Sitting here at my desk I look out the front window and see that most of the kids walking by have formed groups along racial boundaries. In five years, I’m convinced those same friends will have gone their separate ways, never to see each other again. My friends and I are close because we like one another, not because we have suitable ethnic backgrounds. And therein lies one of the key elements of what I consider true friendship, blindness to all things superficial.

Real friends bridge the gender divide. One of my friends happens to be a girl, and she happens to be attractive. While this makes sorting out my feelings a little more difficult, it too has brought me a new understanding that I otherwise would have lacked. Significant Others cannot do this to the same extent, as each of you is often trying to make the other happy by whatever reasonable means are necessary. Friends, however, do not have to make the same compromises. I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned from my girl friend, and I hope she’ll continue to help me have a better understanding of the fairer sex.

Real friends bridge the orientation divide. Fifteen years ago I would have choked if you told me that one of my best friends was gay. Fifteen years later, one of my best friends is gay. How, or even when, that change came about I’ll never quite understand, but I have grown more in the last three years than in the last 15. This friend has been especially patient with me, as you can probably imagine, and for that I am extremely thankful.

Jim. Shannon. There are no words that I know of that can express the impact you have had on my life. Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for showing me what real friends are, and what’s important in life. For that, I will never forget you, no matter where life takes us in the years to come. For now, let’s keep having lunch at the usual time and place. Unless the food offerings are especially dismal, in which case we should go off-campus.