Toronto Star

My son sees value of backup friends


“I need a third backup friend,” Sam, 5, tells me as we drive to his weekly swimming lesson.

I look at him perplexed. “What do you mean, a third backup friend?”

“I have a best friend,” he says, annoyed by my ignorance. “And a backup friend. But he was nice and then one day he wasn’t. So I need a third backup friend.”

“What about Billy?” I say, underestim­ating the subtleties of kindergart­en power struggles. “He seems like a nice kid.”

“He’s my fourth backup friend,” he says. What about Lucy? “She’s my fifth backup friend.” “Listen, kid,” I interject, growing impatient. “How many friends do you need?” He shrugs. “Do you know how many friends I have?” I count on my fingers: “Zero.” Well, that’s not totally true. There’s my friend Drue from high school, who I see once every two years for a 20-minute coffee when our schedules align. And my friend Alan from high school, who sends an email on my birthday to express shock and disbelief that we’re no longer teenagers and what happened to our hair? And my friend Cameron from my student newspaper days, a busy film festival director who sends me eightword emails from his travels around the globe.

You know who your friends are?” I tell Sam. “Me. And Mommy. And Max. And Meghan. And Daniel. And Jessie.”

“Those are my family,” he shoots back, not buying it for a second. “And Jessie’s a cat.”

Sensing I’m in over my head, I defer to my wife, who understand­s the needs of my precocious younger son without the necessity of turning her brain into a pretzel.

“It’s from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” says Alicia, who has been reading the children’s book at bedtime. “He obviously took it to heart. This is much ado about nothing.”

But Sam is adamant he needs a third best friend, so every time we head out for a walk, we screen kids in the neighbourh­ood for candidates.

“What about him?” I ask as one likely prospect rides by on his bike. Sam shakes his head: “Too snobby.” What about that kid over there? “He goes to another school.” “Maybe we need to discuss the logistics,” I offer helpfully. “What exactly does a third best friend do?”

He sighs with exasperati­on. “If the first best friend and second best don’t want to play with you, the third best friend will be used as your best friend.”

“Hmm,” I respond. “So why don’t you just move your fourth best friend into the third position and solve the whole problem?”

He mulls this over. “Because then I won’t have a FOURTH best friend.”

The whole issue is put to rest when Sam confides he has a more pressing issue on his mind: he’s in love with, gulp, an older woman.

“Is it Mommy?” I ask, aware of the enduring crush that sees him presenting Alicia with beaded hearts and elaborate drawings of flowers.

He shakes his head and turns red. “Nope.” “Wait, is it an actual girl?” More blushing. Suffice it to say that, two years out of training pants, he’s decided friends are overrated.

And, while Mommy will always have a special place in his life, it’s a little blond-haired girl with a captivatin­g smile who holds the key to his heart.

“We play together at recess,” he tells me. “I like the way she talks and that she’s friendly. I love her.”

I extend my hand. “Congratula­tions, son. You’ve entered the realm of manhood . . . and you’re only 5.”

“Please don’t tell Mom,” he begs, sensitive to the implicatio­ns. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

He’s a sweet, sincere little boy, and he’s growing up fast. Joel Rubinoff is at home, scoping out wedding invitation­s with pictures of SpongeBob SquarePant­s. Email him at

“If the first best friend and second best don’t want to play with you, the third best friend will be your best friend.” SAM RUBINOFF, 5 FRIEND EXPERT

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