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Fox News
Fox News
2 Aug 2023

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"Can you tell me about your three closest friends?" 

This is a question a therapist friend of mine often asks married couples who come to him for counsel. The wife usually jumps right in, sometimes unable to stop at three. But, more often than not, the husband stares back at him, even asking, "What do you mean by ‘closest friends’?"

If you’re a man reading this, you understand, right? If you’re a wife and are paying attention to your husband’s world, you get it, too.

Here’s my message to men, whether married or single: You need a friend. A wingman. You should not be living the adventure of your life, alone. Flying solo.


As you likely know, wingman is a military word. To be exact, "a pilot whose aircraft is positioned behind and beside the leading aircraft in a formation." And, of course, this image conjures up visions of jets zooming right next to each other at breakneck speeds.

Seeing a wingman in action creates an adrenaline rush for me. Flyovers before the Super Bowl or the World Series speed my heart to fully aerobic. Sometimes create that old lump in the throat. The latest "Top Gun" movie did this for sure. The scenes of Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) in his F-14 Tomcat hustling along at almost 1500 miles an hour, would have been a thrill for even the most jaded moviegoer. If you were watching in a theater you felt almost as if you were riding along. 

But the biggest reason I enjoyed "Top Gun: Maverick" had little to do with jets screaming through the sky.

My wife will tell you that I’m a total sucker for cinematic tenderness around the idea of close friendships: a husband and his wife, a father and child, a man and a friend. So it’s no surprise that my favorite scene, following the plotline carried over from the original "Top Gun" release in 1986, was when Maverick paid a visit to his buddy and fellow pilot, Tom ("Iceman") Kazansky (Val Kilmer). 

FILE – A screenshot from the movie "Top Gun", directed by Tony Scott. Seen here, in front from left, Anthony Edwards as Lt. Nick "Goose" Bradshaw and Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell. Initial theatrical release May 16, 1986. Screen capture. Paramount Pictures.  (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

In the original film, we watch young studs Iceman and Maverick meet. Rather than celebrating the skills of the other guy, in predictable man-to-man fashion, they find themselves comparing and competing. But, at the close of the movie, there’s a huge celebration when the two men, after a deadly airborne dog fight, embrace with the words, "You can be my wingman anytime."


Now, in the sequel movie, many years later, Iceman is suffering from the ravages of throat cancer and can barely speak above a faint whisper. In this moment these men show the box-office millions who are there to see it, what "a wingman" actually looks like, not counting what happens in the sky. "The only reason I’m here is you," Maverick says to Iceman, choking back tears.  And as a tribute to their promise, they embrace. I’m reaching for my handkerchief.

On February 14, 2012, I found my own wingman. Though we never strapped into fighter jets and risked our lives at Mach One, our friendship experienced the same kind of risk and drama as if we had. 

The short walk from the parking lot to the hospital lobby that day seemed a lot longer than it really was. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Having just dropped my wife, Bobbie, and daughter Missy off at the door marked "Admissions" at MD Anderson in Orlando, I knew I was headed into an experience that would forever be etched in my memory. I was right.

American flag

FILE -- Blue Angels jets fly over the sky during the Fleet Week in San Francisco, California, United States on October 7, 2022. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Stepping into the spacious lobby of the world-renowned cancer hospital, I spotted Bobbie and Missy who were already chatting with our pastor, Dr. David Swanson. He knew this was going to be a big day for our family and, as we had come to expect, he was conveying his love for us by showing up. 

I embraced him in a wordless expression of my gratitude for him. Moments later, he looked me squarely in the face and promised to be my "wingman" during the ordeal. This was the first time I had heard that expression in the context of friendship, but I immediately understood what he meant. I will never forget this moment.

Here’s my message to men, whether married or single: You need a friend. A wingman. You should not be living the adventure of your life, alone. Flying solo.

After a few minutes of encouraging chatter, David, Bobbie, Missy, and I gathered in a tight circle in the main lobby. There David prayed. This is the kind of thing a wingman does. He earnestly invoked the presence of the Great Physician to give the surgeon wisdom and skill and to help my wife make it through with "little or no pain." 

Bobbie later confessed to me that although she genuinely appreciated David’s prayer, she was a little dubious about the "little or no pain" part. Six and a half hours later, as she was still sleeping, her oncologist gave Missy and me the diagnosis—Stage IV cancer. And the prognosis—a long, winding road ahead.


Bobbie, Missy, and I spent the next three days at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. As Bobbie began the healing process from the radical procedure that included a big, long incision on her tummy, multiple doctors and nurses visited. Every time they came to her room, they’d ask her, "On a scale of zero to ten, what would you say your pain level is?"

The first time they asked, I remember Bobbie wondering aloud if she had to answer the question because she had no pain. They said "yes." So, from then on, she’d just smile. "Oh, I’d say zero." The Lord so kindly answered my wingman’s forthright prayer.

From the summer of 2004 until I moved from Orlando to Michigan in 2015, David Swanson was my pastor and dearest friend. There are no superlatives adequate to describe how precious this man was to me.

Finish Line book cover image

In fact, in my book, "Finish Line," I talk about making plans for my own funeral. It would probably not come as a surprise to you that I’ve asked David Swanson to be one of the pastors to speak. This is the kind of thing a wingman would do.

But for now, I’m a thousand miles from my wingman. How can I find another? And what can I do to cultivate another wingman kind of friendship? 

Every once in a while, I’ll call a local friend and suggest breakfast. That kind of time over omelets or oatmeal with a wingman is always a treat. 

Or, here’s another way: My early morning time of solitude includes time to be quiet. To think. To pray. To be grateful. To open my Bible and read. But since moving away from friends in Florida, it has included something else. Putting my smartphone to good use, I’ve checked in with a couple of friends, every day, texting them a verse that inspired me in my daily reading. 

On February 14, 2012, I found my own wingman. Though we never strapped into fighter jets and risked our lives at Mach One, our friendship experienced the same kind of risk and drama as if we had. 

These men have responded with a verse of their own. These exchanges now number in the multiple thousands. We’ve also kept each other posted on things happening in our families, travel plans, and medical updates. And we often exchange personal words of encouragement. These are things a wingman does.

This daily support from friends is not nearly as dramatic as the image you and I have from the silver screen of what it means to be a wingman. But it has been a source of joy and deep gratitude. These guys make me feel loved. And whole. Every day.

If that therapist I mentioned above would ask me about my closest friends, I’d have a quick answer. What about you? 

Oh, and for what it’s worth, may I boldly suggest that tomorrow morning, as you’re sitting quietly and gathering your thoughts for the day ahead, you text a Bible verse to a friend? Then do it again the next day. And the next. If he qualifies as your wingman, he’ll respond. And you’ll both be stronger and better for it. 

Go ahead. See what happens.

Robert Wolgemuth is a former president of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the founder of the literary agency Wolgemuth & Associates, and the author of more than 20 books. His latest is "FINISH LINE: Dispelling Fear, Finding Peace, and Preparing for the End of Your Life" (HarperCollins Christian Publishers, March 7). For more click here.