A Fraternity Life at Forty

Here I stand.
Brothers in 1998

Brothers in 2016
A man at 40.

Check that – a fraternity man at 40.

My brotherhood now is a cluster of three whimsical, invincible boys. And my wife is my lifelong sweetheart.

A fraternity man at 40.

How did I get here so quickly? How did I reach this age that when I was in college, was the age of mentors and advisors and coaches and teachers? How can I possibly have reached a halfway point of the typical American male life?

And do I deserve to be here?

(And where did those gray hairs come from?)

No matter what, there is no escaping this point in my life. 40 years in. And hopefully at least those many yet to come.

Of those 40 years, one-tenth of them were spent as an undergraduate member of Theta Chi fraternity at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

For a lot – maybe most – of the men who join a fraternity, that one-tenth is what they will consider their fraternity years. Not for me.

My fraternity years started in January 1995, and are still going. I took to heart what my Ritual told me about lifelong commitments and obligations. In addition, I’ve come to understand that a fraternity life is actually better understood outside of the walls of the undergraduate house, or beyond the lush landscape of the college campus.

Fraternity is like most complex endeavors in life in that it takes on new and more profound meaning when it is studied and reflected upon. It was Socrates who said that the “unexamined life is not worth living.” Well, the unexamined fraternity is a profound experience wasted.

At 40, life has taught me a few things. For example, if you love someone, don’t wait to tell them. Listening is the greatest gift you can give another person. Vulnerability is as important a leadership skill as public speaking. Brussels sprouts can actually be good when cooked with bacon. And the list goes on.

In regards to fraternity, I now look upon that experience much differently than when I was a young undergraduate member. I’ve determined the ten inalienable truths of the fraternity experience (at least until I’m 50 and change my mind). In no particular order…

1: Initiation into a fraternity is the starting gate, and not the finish line. When we see it as the opposite, then we limit the true lifelong nature of this experience. Don't tell me that when pledging was over I reached my destination. I'm still going.

2: The values in the fraternity Ritual can be life-directing. There is wisdom and guidance and roadmaps in those words but we too often treat them as only pretty ceremonies. Understand, adsorb, and live these teachings. I use them in my life today as a parent, husband, nonprofit executive, community volunteer, etc.

3: The undergraduate fraternity experience is one of the last bastions of preparation for real life leadership. I’m recalling more of the things I learned in my undergrad fraternity years in my leadership experiences right now than anything else. Leadership in so many places on campus these days is over-coached and over-structured. For me, the experience of leading my brothers was messy, difficult, and emotionally exhausting. It was real.

4: The party/entertainment aspect of a fraternity matters and can be a fondly-remembered aspect. However, it is but one branch of the fraternity tree, and not the root.

5: Hazing is absolutely unnecessary to experience fraternity. I experienced it, it did nothing for me as a fraternity member then or now, and it is actually a scar on the original vision of the fraternity movement

6: Brotherhood is much greater than friendship and is built upon fidelity to shared values. On this blog, I have defined brotherhood as
the bonding of men of various backgrounds, beliefs, places, and eras around a singular set of life-directing commitments. I have many friends in this world, but very few true brothers.

7: In order for the undergraduate fraternity experience to be profound, it needs to be self-governed. And there may be no greater self-imposed threat to our future than our desires to manage and control this feature away.I wouldn't be the fraternity man I am today if my Greek advisor hadn't let me lead.

8: Relationships take work. Fraternity didn’t just instantly make my chapter-mates and I lifelong friends. Fraternity created brotherhood, which created the opportunity for lifelong friendship to thrive. But the real honest work of relationship-building was needed and still is to this day.

9: Fraternity is a truly powerful experience if we accept that it can be, and treat it that way.

10: I am a fraternity man because at age 40, I still believe in it, practice it, fight for it, and adhere to its teachings. And you can too, no matter how many gray hairs you have.
This is a fraternal life at forty, and the road ahead is looking pretty good. Another year older, and another year deeper into the richness of fraternity. I can't wait to learn more.

To read this essay, as well as many others, order your copy of Forever Fraternity: Essays to Challenge, Celebrate and Advance the College Fraternity