Best Man

Whenever I have a speech to give, or I have a presentation I have to write, before I actually put pen to page- or I guess, before I put fingers to keyboard- I always do a dry run first. I find a quiet place, where there is solitude, so it’s less embarrassing, and then I just start speaking. 

It’s a weird stream-of-consciousness kind of conversation. It’s as if I am verbally story-boarding the speech. It’s a great way for me to see what works and what doesn’t work, as well as linguistically listening to how it sounds. 

This has proven to be very helpful to me, and it helps me unpack what I am truly trying to say, as well as stay on message. I have a tendency to get lost if I am not careful. I tell you this for a purpose. I need you to understand my process, how I operate when I know a speech is coming up. 

I was on a long drive home, from central Michigan to the Chicagoland area. And I started thinking about everything that was approaching in the coming weeks. I had a moment that doesn’t happen all too often, I had very few glaring deadlines. So, I started to drift far off into the future, and decided I would start to tackle some future ideas. One of which was a best man speech I knew I would have to give a little less than a year in the future.

I started to speak, working through stories and memories of the groom. I talked about meeting the bride for the first time. First impressions are important. I told jokes, and I talked about how I believed this couple was a good example of love. However, every time I tried to talk about what the groom meant to me, I broke down in tears. How could I ever fully describe what this man meant to me, how he shaped me, supported and encouraged me, and how he protected me? 

It is now months after that initial story-board, and I have tried since to practice. Still the same result. Tears, sobbing, and lack of adequate words. The wedding is edging closer, and all I can think about is how awkward this is going to be if I can’t get a grip and have a conclusion to the speech.

There are three kinds of wedding speech givers. 1) The person who talks WAY too long. This is the guy or gal whose speech never seems to end, and they just keeping adding on more points and stories. It goes from being a celebration to a eulogy very fast. 2) The person who can’t read a room. This is person who tells jokes that would make you laugh, but you don’t want your great-aunt Edna hearing, or they try way too hard to make people laugh, and it just isn’t working. 3) The person who is way too emotional. Some tears are good, but a full-on cry is awkward for everyone, and it will be edited out of the wedding video. Trust me. 

There is an elusive fourth type, but it is as rare as seeing a shooting star. Actually, it’s more rare. 4) This is the person who can combine humor, sentimentality, emotion, and brevity, combined into a beautiful amalgam. This is the speech that goes viral on YouTube. This is the one that everyone talks about. I strive to be the 4th type of speech-giver, but I fear this best-man speech will fall very short.

I have two older brothers.

Jonathan is the oldest. He is five years older than me, and he was always my hero. He was the guy who I tried to be exactly like, which often frustrated him. Jonathan is the kind of guy who wants to know, not only how something works, but why it works as well. Much like how Shrek describes ogres, Jonathan is like an onion. He has layers.

Jonathan is also married and has two kids. His wife Katrina has known me through my awkward teen years. She has become one of my best friends. Their kids, Lily and Jack are crazy, funny, adorable, and continually make me smile.

I remember when Lily was born having this weird epiphany moment. I looked at Jonathan, the light gently lingering on his face, giving him a golden hue, and I thought to myself; That guy once threw a cantaloupe at my chest just to see if I would dodge it. [1] He’s a dad now. Crazy. 

That was several years ago now, and the novelty of Jonathan being all grown up has worn off. It’s status quo now. Jonathan has grown into a loving father, and a wonderful husband. I’m proud of him.

David is the middle son. He is the closest to me in age, and we often ran in similar circles. I remember having this immense jealousy of him, always thinking he was going to steal my friends or girlfriends away. I know it’s silly, but you must know that David is an extremely relatable person and people gravitate towards him. He’s amazing that way.

He’s funny; like funny in the way where he can make me belt out a laugh at practically any time. He’s smart too; smarter than he will ever let people know. He knows quite a bit about a lot of different things. He was the closest to me in age, which meant that he was my comrade in arms. Jonathan was my hero. David was my support system.

I remember when we were much younger, in elementary school, I was invited into one of the older kids’ football games. David and some other kids from his class had put together a touch-football scrimmage.

I act as if this was well organized, with a recess football commissioner and all. It was not. It barely had a referee. It was a bunch of 8-year-olds acting like they knew the rules, and they very much didn’t have a clue. I was only six at the time, but they needed an extra teammate.

This was my shot. I was called up the big leagues. Coach needed me, and I would no longer be riding the bench. This was my time to shine, and I did what anyone would do. I tapped into the knowledge I had gleaned from the many games I had watched with my dad. I sought out my inner Brian Urlacher. The first play of the game I ran like a panther, found the kid with the ball, and tackled him to the ground. It was the hit heard ‘round the world.’

I stood up, pleased with myself. Embracing the humility that my dad always talked about admiring in certain athletes. My dad would say “Act like you’ve been there before.” So, I got up, brushed myself off, and walked back to the huddle. I was ready for round two. My stats were looking good, and I knew I would definitely be a fantasy league starter next week. There was no way they were sending me back to minors after this. 

Although, what I didn’t see was the angry look on the face of the kid I just plastered. He got up and yelled out my name, and started walking towards me, in more of a stomp than an amble. He wasn’t happy, and I was confused. I hadn’t been filled in, nor had I received the memo that this was touch-football. He had both fists closed and was readying himself for a fight.

I was taller than him, but also significantly less confrontational. This wasn’t going to be good. I didn’t know what to do, so I stood there frozen.

David stepped in at the last minute, only moments before the kid and I would meet in bloody combat. He stopped the kid and pushed him to the ground. He made a hard thud as he hit the dirt and grass. And as I am sure you know, when you fall on your tailbone, it shoots a sharp and unpleasant pain through the bulk of your upper torso, as well as much of your thighs. The kid yelped at the pain. He got back up, even more ready to fight, stifling his tears. 

David again stopping him, looked at him with a fierce anger, “Don’t you dare touch my brother.” And that was the end of it. 

My brothers always looked out for me and protected me. In spite of the many times we fought each other. Although, they never left me and I never left them. They are my brothers, and I would do anything for them.

I have always joked that my parents were saints, because they had to take care of three sons, all of which were perfectly separated by two-and-a-half years. To say things were tumultuous at times would be an understatement.

Siblings are an odd relationship, because they walk the fence of being the exact person you want to punch in the face, and yet they are also about the only person from which you seek validation. Hanging onto every single word as if it is scripture, or apart of the Constitution or Magna Carta. Maybe this is why even the littlest verbal jab made at a sibling’s expense, leaves a lasting impact. Our words matter because like a hammer, they can build or they can break.

Family relationship is interesting because it’s a bit forced in the beginning. Jonathan noted when we were kids, many times, that my parents didn’t pick me, they were stuck with me. Hurtful as it was, to an extent he was right. We don’t always get the luxury to choose our family. And so, it is a forced communion, and not one we would always happily select for ourselves, if given the option. 

As I look back, I would be lying if I said that my relationship with my brothers has always been perfect. Since there were three of us, there was always a duo, and one of us left out. These roles changed day to day, which only means we all knew what it felt like to be the odd man out. It was tough and taxing, but not unusual for sibling dynamics.

Our relationship struggled at times. There were years were some of us were massively at odds with the others, times where we followed our mom’s advice, and since we didn’t have anything nice to say, we just didn’t talk to each other. Although, we have grown up and grown closer. We still have times where we argue, fight, or say some downright terrible things.

Although, with that being said, Jonathan and David are not merely my brothers. They are my best friends. I would do anything for them, and I trust that they would do the same for me. 

In-between high school and college, David took two years off to work. He never liked school much, and really didn’t desire to go to college. Although, to do what he felt he was called to do, he needed a degree. So, he applied and was accepted to the same university as me, and we started freshman year together. 

As first, I had my hesitations. I had always lived under a somewhat self-imposed shadow of David, and I didn’t want that to be the case at college too. We were roommates freshman year, and while I was hesitant, I must say, I felt at ease knowing that my big brother wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. 

We would go on to share many of the same friends, classes, and we also lived together all but one of the four years. I cannot think back about college without thinking about David, because he was the one who kept me sane through much of my time there. 

He met Katie in the latter half of our Junior year. A few weeks before they first went out, I remember he and I were talking on the phone. I told him about how I was pretty content being single at that place in my life. I was very focused on my own stuff and knew I would be an absolutely abysmal boyfriend.

He responded back, “Yeah man, I’m with you. I just haven’t met a girl who has made me want to care again. Dating requires you to put so much of yourself on the line. I just haven’t wanted to care enough to do that. When I meet the girl that makes me want to care again, I’ll let you know.” 

Two weeks later, we were on the phone again, and he said “I met this girl tonight. There’s something pretty special about her.” He told me all about how they met through a mutual friend, saw a movie together, and then went on to hang out the better half of the evening. I knew this was different. 

They dated, and then took a break, and then dated again. They have been together ever since. Katie is sweet. Almost unbelievably so. I’m not joking. I have never met someone this intentionally nice and kind-hearted. She is funny which is so important to be with my brother. Katie is a nice compliment to David, and vice versa. They work in tandem. 

When he told me he was going to propose, I knew there was something different about this. I went to a Christian college, so I heard a lot of students talk about popping the question, and only half of them were level-headed. Many of them fall victim to the high of a potential spouse, and the opportunity for sex. I can spot the difference by listening to their inflection as they speak and by looking at their eyes. Some are over-excited, like it’s a romantic fever dream. David’s eyes were calm, settled, honest.

I knew he meant it when he said loved her. I knew he meant it when he said he wanted to marry her and share his life with her. I knew he meant it when he said she made him want to care again.

As we grew up, my dad gave each of us boys the same command, “Protect your brothers.” It was almost a rite of passage. In my dad’s mind, besides our relationship with God, he knew our most important relationship was our family. He wanted us to have what he never had as kid, which was the ability to trust that someone has your back.

In their song, “So Long, Honey”, indie-folk duo, Caamp screams out, in the final words of the song;

“Be good to your mothers, oh, they did they best they could! And Bleed for your brother, Lord knows that they would!” [2]

The first time I heard this song, I was dumbfounded. I just sat in the car and listened to it over and over again. Those words ringing in my head. I nodded because I could understand the beauty and truth in knowing that your family has your back. Through the good and the bad. Knowing that you will bleed for your brothers, because God knows they’ll bleed for you. 

That’s a hard bond to replicate, and an even harder bond to break. 

When Jonathan got married, I was only 14-years-old. I had a blast at their wedding. I got to eat, dance, and I was groomsman, so I walked around with the swagger of a man who knew he belonged. As David began his best man speech, he eloquently and beautifully put how Jonathan and Katrina had modeled love to us all. I thought, there are three types of wedding speech givers, well really, there are four, but the last one is very rare. 

1) The person who talks WAY too long. 2) The person who can’t read a room. 3) The person who is way too emotional. 4) This is the person who can combine humor, sentimentality, emotion, and brevity, combined into a beautiful amalgam. 

As David spoke, paying homage to Jonathan and his new wife, I thought, David fell into the fourth category. 

David told me that weekend, all those years ago, that I would be his best man. He then continued to reiterate that point throughout the years. I vowed that I would give the best speech I could. I needed to honor my brother. To give him the best that I could offer; he deserved it. 

His wedding is in a few short months, and I don’t think I will be ready in time. I told him that I was struggling. I explained that I didn’t want to be the person who gets up and babbles, or cries, or tells jokes that aren’t funny. I told him that I didn’t want to ruin the wedding. 

He responded, “I want you to say what you have now. Whatever it is. Even if you cry, or talk too much, or whatever. I want you say something that matters, because this speech isn’t for the people who are attending. It’s for me and Katie. Who cares what they think?”

He gave me the freedom to talk to my brother, my best friend, and my new sister. It is no longer a speech. It is the ability to stand before the man that means more than everything in the world to me and say, “thank you.” 

It is the chance to look my brother in the eyes and say, “I love you.” 

It is the opportunity to let him know, “No matter what; I will always protect you.”

[1]I did not dodge it. 

[2]Taylor Meier, Caamp, “So Long, Honey.” 

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