On Being an Avuncular Uncle

Most people eventually pair up with someone of the opposite sex, enter into a serious relationship and reproduce themselves. However, certain individuals have chosen, for whatever reason, to refrain from reproduction and exist entirely heirless (although ideally not hairless). As one of those people, I have an interesting slant on the adult/child relationship. Which is to say, I’ve always enjoyed being an uncle.

My brother Drew had two children, a boy Colton (now 28), and a younger girl, Llewellyn. Sister Melissa had one child, a girl named Haley, and the oldest of my nephew and nieces (going on 30). This means my unclehood goes back almost three decades now. They’re all good “kids,” smart and successful. This made being an uncle a piece of cake. Basically, I just encouraged their parents to keep doing whatever they’d been doing, which was terribly convenient. I also tried to spoil them, just a little, just in case they were lacking in that area.

To me, being a good uncle meant being incessantly pleasant and upbeat, which is of course beyond the capabilities of a parent who must be in charge all the time. My time with my N & N’s (nephew and nieces) was extremely limited compared to that contributed by their actual parents, which was another huge advantage. Plus, when I saw them, it was often a holiday or other special occasion, not at all representative of a typical boring weekday at home.

Since they were basically on vacation when I saw them, my N & N’s were also upbeat and generally in a good mood. We’d often do special things — going hunting or fishing, going to a fair or carnival, going to a special restaurant — which usually made it easy to have a good time. And if you have good times with someone, you’ll have good memories of that person. I counted heavily on this as I accumulated uncle points.

My best friend Tony also had two children, both girls (Madison and Megan). They’re both in their teens now, and I’ve always considered them to be my “pseudonieces.” It just seemed like I was their uncle, even though we’re not technically related. It really didn’t matter; I love them just as much as my real relatives. I always tried to do special things for them, also, just as I did for actual kin. I dubbed them the M & M girls for their names, and they’ve been as important to me as my N & N’s.

When they were old enough to figure things out, the M & M girls asked their father if I was really their uncle (they’d always called me Uncle Rob). Tony said something like, “No, but he might as well be.” I considered this the ultimate compliment! I’ve treated them to ball games, hunting trips, etc., just like any of my other uncle underlings.

I recognize an uncle’s perspective is totally different from the parents’. I only see them for a short time, as I pointed out, and others don’t blame the uncle if the kids don’t turn out alright. Not having to deal with the daily drudgery, the uncle can pretty much stay in the spotlight and entertain everyone. Our role is to provide a spark and some creativity, and show the young people what adults are capable of when the pressure is off.

Only one of the five young people I mentioned has gotten married so far, so apparently, they’re at least considering going the aunt and uncle route. Seems like marriage has gotten less and less popular during my lifetime. Perhaps I was just ahead of the game.

But the best part of being an uncle is you can give the kids back to the parents, their “owners,” at the end of the day, which I pointed out in a previous article. Especially for us aunts and uncles who don’t have kids of our own, nieces and nephews are a wonderful escape from our usual life, and a beacon of hope for the future. Jocularity and avuncularity go hand in hand. Just slip them some money now and then, and they’ll love you back. May the farce be with you!