The Greek bonds of brotherhood and secrecy
September often sparks anxiety in students and parents as another school year starts. My younger son is a high school senior in his second week of classes. My older son is a junior at college in his fourth week of classes and so far so good, but fraternity rush events begin this week.
I have John Heath to thank for my annual panic attack—he founded the first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa Society, at The College of William and Mary in 1776.
My frat fears started at a midnight screening of National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978 and escalated when my son announced his intent to go Greek.
As a freshman, my social son jumped at the chance to join the rush tradition. I responded by emailing him news reports about dangerous drinking games and risky hazing sometimes associated with Greek life.
He replied with emails about the merits of his hopeful fraternity’s respected social, academic and charitable status. The chapter’s Parent Board even mailed us a Parents’ Club Newsletter affirming the accolades of the organization. He rushed a few frats but set his heart on pledging only one. He’d call excited about rushing and I’d try being supportive but the Greek fraternity names all sound alike to me so he’d balk as I butchered the name of every house.
Most fraternities consist of just two or three Greek letters but it’s still confusing. The Greek alphabet contains 24 letters starting with alpha and ending with omega. The first three letters are alpha, beta, gamma—I thought it was a fraternity.
As rush came to a close, my son called ecstatic to report he’d received a bid from the fraternity of his dreams and an invitation to participate in a pledge weekend. I asked if he’d learned any secret passwords or handshakes. He didn’t answer and said he had to hang-up, adding he’d be too busy to talk over the weekend so he’d call us Sunday night.
Saturday afternoon I received a voicemail about possible fraudulent charges made to our credit card. I returned the call and spoke to a nice woman at the bank who informed me it wasn’t my credit card in question but my son’s.
She asked if my son was out of the state, to which I replied, “He’d better not be.” She laughed and said his credit card activity indicated he’d traveled to Las Vegas. My son’s credit card is only authorized in California. Reluctantly, I approved the out-of-state charges and got back down on my knees. Finally, my son called Sunday night elated and exhausted.
He explained his weekend involved a scavenger hunt of the Western states with a carload of his brothers taking turns driving to mapped locations to find an item, retrieve it and follow clues to the next destination.
I hate the Greek alphabet but there’s one thing I love about Greek life: their brotherhood of secrets. Their cloak of secrecy prevents my son from sharing much about his frat life and the less I know the better. My son kept his pledge experiences quiet but his real brother heard enough to declare he’s never joining a fraternity—a win-win situation for me.
Since joining his fraternity, my son has embraced Greek life and taken on leadership roles: he’s board member of his fraternity and an interfraternity council member. Last month at freshman orientation he answered questions and calmed the nerves of parents facing future fraternity anxiety. Years of placating me prepared him well to pacify other parents—he’s yet to thank me.
The fraternity my son joined maintains its well-regarded reputation, impressive academic record and charitable community contributions. My son has found a big brother who’s a great mentor, succeeded at internships and forged lifelong friendships.
As much as my neck hurts at times from turning my head the other way, I do respect his bonds of brotherhood and am happy he found his house away from home. But, from alpha to omega, it’s all Greek to me.