Author’s program note. I’d forgotten this song by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, but when I went in search of just the right tune, the right sound for this article there it was…. the perfect choice. It’s “That’s what friends are for”. It was introduced by that raspy voiced charmer with the emotive tug Rod Stewart for the 1982 film “Night Shift” .You’ll find it in any search engine. Go now, find it and play. It’s the easiest listening with corny lyrics that just happen to be completely true.
To tell you the truth, when this number came out I didn’t pay much attention. It was “pop” music, my attitude about the entire genre skating perilously near to contempt. But things have changed a lot over the last several decades… or maybe I’ve just mellowed like people constantly tell me, especially people like Ned whose opinion on this matter is worth hearing since as my oldest friend he’s in a position to know. Let’s see how that happened…
Edmund V. Henry.
Many years ago, my father Donald Marshall Lant impressed a man named Edmund V. Henry. This fact was to have the greatest possible influence on my life, as I have never admitted before. Not from malice, but from something far worse and more destructive… sloth. Now I aim to correct this grievous fault and make, I hope, generous amends… starting with the man my octogenarian father still calls “Mr. Henry” though “Mr. Henry” is now no longer amongst the living.
Mr. Henry liked my father and my father liked him which makes theirs the first significant friendship in this multi-generational story. What would have attracted Mr. Henry’s sharp notice (and he was amply stocked with keen perception) was my father’s strongest suit — loyalty. People not only liked him (easy to do) but came to rely on him to do what he said he would do… and never let them down. A person on the way to managerial success always needs such people on his team, can never have too many and goes out of his way to support those fate delivers. It is what smart leaders do.
Mr. Henry saw a man of skills, of dependability… and, above all, of fidelity. And so as Edmund V. Henry moved up, Donald Marshall Lant moved up… and far away from where they both started, in suburban Chicago…
“California here I come” — reluctantly.
Edmund V. Henry was the kind of man who expected success… and was willing to do what it took to achieve it. Hard work never bothered him. He had every virtue prized by the Rotary Club, to which he should have belonged if he didn’t. He was manly, athletic, a person who inspired trust, backed by his scrupulously kept word. You knew where you were with Ed Henry. He believed in God, the Great Republic, family — and the full panoply of infallible dogma assiduously propounded by the Vatican. This fact could hardly have been more significant… particularly for his dozen children.
When my father told me towards the end of my freshman year at Downers Grove (Illinois) high school that we were leaving for Los Angeles, I was despondent, angry, seeing no opportunity in the Golden State… but only unbearable loss as only a dramatically inclined teen-ager could see things. Mr. Henry, who offered my father promotion if he’d go West was Nemesis, not benefactor. And being capable of smoldering (none better) I am sure my adamant opinion was heard… but not followed.
And so because of Mr. Henry and the bright promise of California, a beacon not yet obscured or tainted, we left all the verities behind… loved grandparents, a town where we knew everyone and everyone knew us, the very school itself built by my grandfather. Aunts, uncles, cousins, every path and sidewalk intimately known and cherished… even the acres of violets which carpeted the verdant way to the ambling creek… all this gone. Who was responsible? Edmund V. Henry and a lifelong friendship that far transcended any business relationship. My father literally bet the ranch on this accord.
It is now time to introduce you to the protagonist of this story, Edmund Junior, always called Ned, though I artfully plied him with any number of clever variations and rearrangements, “Nedrick” being amongst the more mild. You’ll be glad to meet him and learn more. Here’s your opportunity.
Ned is the first son of Edmund V. and Rosemary Henry. He is now 60-something, right smack between me (65) and my brother Kevin, a smidgeon over 60. I have known him virtually since the moment of conception. I am therefore his oldest friend and qualified to comment.
The different path.
In his early days Ned was the fervent Roman Catholic son his ardent father desired. Thus, the subject arose naturally of Ned becoming a priest, credit to God, his bishop, his priestly order, his father, his family, and himself. And Ned, then, embraced this possibility, the more so as it was strongly recommended by Los Angeles Bishop Timothy (later Cardinal) Manning, Ned’s staunch benefactor. He first saw the priest in Ned, ensured his father saw it, and then, Ned himself… the glowing altar boy who embraced his future with a glad heart and enthusiasm… at first.
Thus one sunny California day I, the heir of Protestant Reformation, beheld the dramatic fact of Ned at seminary, garbed in the first of the many sacerdotal outfits his father was sure would follow — priest, monseigneur, bishop, even cardinal, prince of the church. Why not? Bishop Manning was on the fast track. Why not his acolyte Ned? Every father has great dreams for his first-born son, and Mr. Henry had his. The problem was, and this is perhaps the tragedy of Mr. Henry’s life, once in seminary Ned’s fervor waned. After two years or so, he wanted to leave, his vocation gone, only one thing yet to do — let his father down easy.
One thing distinguished Ned then and now. Sweet tempered, good mannered, always determined to make the people he loved and cared for happy, he had tried what his father so profoundly desired. However as his commitment dripped away, his heart no longer in his vocation, he wished for something impossible to deliver… a solution that would give him freedom without hurting his father. Such a solution did not exist…
And so he left the seminary breaking his father’s heart and put foot on the path for the most serious journey of his life, to find himself and find comfort and self acceptance in the result. His father, dismayed and afflicted though he was, supported Ned, something the more valued because so unexpected, under circumstances so bitter. But Ned was the first-born son, and loved. Bishop Manning, however, never spoke to him again.
“The sharp edge of the razor…”
During these years he bore a distinct resemblance to the character Larry Darrell in W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel “The Razor’s Edge” which became in1946 a compelling film starring Tyrone Power. The title referred to a line in Katha-Upanishad: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over, thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” No one knew this better than Ned… or me.
For I was a constant if often attenuated presence in his life, as one secure of the warmest of greetings despite long absences. I have watched as the lovable boy I knew has grown into the equally lovable man I know; a supremely valuable trait that has often proven the catalyst for anything other than serenity and comfort. Throughout all these many years, literally since his birth remember, I have been a factor. As “his oldest friend” that is my right and I cherish it accordingly.
That is why just the other day, my sister having provided his current telephone number, I called, saying “This is your oldest friend…” He knew and the years evaporated before our onrushing memories.
Ned is coming to visit me soon. It will be the greatest possible fun. Irreverence will be the order of the day. Things profound will be mixed with jokes from long ago. Our much loved dead will rise again and live in us. Truths will be uttered about each other… and about ourselves. And we will laugh…. for we are both masters at that.
And so the saga of this lifelong friendship will continue, another chapter added, these words sung by Stewart more true than ever:
“And I never thought I’d feel this way/ And as far as I’m concerned/ I’m glad I got the chance to say/ I do believe I love you.” And, remember, Ned, Larry Darrell, who started in Chicagoland like both of us, found the secret to happiness.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today.
Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.